Earlier this week, I was talking to an old friend, and I told her that I had bought tickets to “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” for me and my whole family the instant they went on sale. She wasn’t surprised; I had done the same thing for many movies in the past, like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Avengers: Endgame.” I am what you would call a little bit obsessed with movie franchises, and my family — especially my sister — shares my love of Disney movies in particular.
However, during our conversation, she made an offhand remark asking me if I could remember the last Disney movie that I had seen that wasn’t part of a franchise or a reboot. I told her of course I could name one, and then I sat there in shock realizing that I couldn’t. I have since realized that, as far as I can remember, it was back in 2016 with Disney’s “Moana.”
By the end of 2019, Disney will have released 11 movies in theaters (not including those of which are Fox properties, or Disney’s Fox releases): “Captain Marvel,” “Dumbo,” “Penguins” (a Disneynature film), “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “The Lion King,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” The wide variety of movies looks impressive, but with the exception of “Penguins” (a documentary), there is not a single original movie in that list. Every single one of them is either part of a series or a reboot of a classic.
I personally love Disney films. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a reboot or a sequel, if it’s animated or live-action: I love them all. But it is staggering to realize how many box-office hits in this day and age lack originality. All the Disney “Star Wars” movies are part of a larger franchise that began in the ’70s, and all the Disney Marvel movies are based on comic books dating back to 1939. All the live-action, remade classic movies are based on old Disney cartoons. Even Disney, arguably one of the most imaginative and creative film companies, seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to moviemaking. They are sticking to franchises and reboots because they know that those are the kinds of movies that will get them a return on investment.
And to be fair, those movies are successful. Disney dominated the box-office in 2019; as of this week, the top six movies in the domestic box-office charts this year are all Disney properties. They know what works to make money, and right now, it’s franchises and reboots.
Disney announced a number of upcoming films from 2019 to 2023 at its D23 expo earlier this year, and a majority of them fall under the franchise and reboot category. For instance, from 2020 to 2022, there are at least seven Marvel movies slated to come out, complete with release dates and everything. There are a few original movies sprinkled in, but not many.
And with the addition of Disney+ (release date Nov. 12, 2019), even more franchise and reboot movies and television shows are to be released outside of theaters. Disney is really banking on the nostalgia factor and the franchise frenzy with a lot of the Disney+ content: a new “Lizzie McGuire” TV show, a “Star Wars” universe TV show “The Mandalorian,” a live-action “Lady and the Tramp” movie and a number of lower-caliber Marvel heroes’ TV shows are just some of the new content to be added, not to mention the “oldie but goldie” Disney TV shows and movies that haven’t been on air or in theaters for years.
Disney is flourishing right now—that much is clear. But what will happen when the era of franchise and reboots finally ends? While they will probably always be a successful company, (how can they not be with entire theme parks based on their films?), they will have to understand their audience’s interests and make hasty adjustments based on what people want to see sooner or later.
Eventually, they’ll have to stop churning out sequels and remakes and finally create something new, something never-before seen. They’ve done it before: Back in 1950 when “Cinderella” came out, the scene where her ripped-up dress was transformed into her iconic ballroom dress amazed viewers, who had never seen animation like that. But that was 70 years ago. They’ll have to up their game a little, though I’m pretty sure they’ll catch up when the franchise era dies down.
In the meantime, I’ll still happily hop on the franchise train and see “The Rise of Skywalker” the night it comes out.