Summer movie sequels may seldom be as good as the original but they do bring major profit for Hollywood studios.

Captain America, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Transformers are storming back into movie theatres, returning in sequels to save the world from mass destruction, while at the same time churning out profits for movie studios.

Studios generally don’t have to spend as much to raise awareness of sequels months in advance, as they do with other big-budget films, executives say. And when sequels reach the big screen, ticket sales in foreign markets, which can account for up to 80% of a film’s box office, often exceed their predecessors.

“When you can say, here’s Avatar 2, and you’ve got six billion people ready to see it, it doesn’t take a lot of marketing to get them into the theatre,” said chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment Jim Gianopulos. 

“It’s a self-propelling marketing message in a very big world.” The first installment of 20th Century Fox’s animated Ice Age series took in US$207mil (RM672mil) overseas in 2002. The fourth Ice Age from the studio owned by Twenty-First Century Fox earned US$716mil (RM2.3bil) at international box offices in 2012.

Sequels are hardly a new Hollywood phenomenon. But in recent years, as DVD sales crumbled, movie studios began to cut back on the numbers of films they produced to trim the risks.

One of Caesar’s troops vets an unwanted visitor in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Starting in 2008, they began to churn out more sequels and big-budget event films, turning away from riskier original films like independent dramas and romantic comedies.

This year’s sequels include superhero films The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Sony Corp, Fox’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes; Transformers: Age Of Extinction from Viacom Inc’s Paramount; animated movies Rio 2 from Fox and Dreamworks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon 2; and Sony comedies 22 Jump Street and Think Like A Man Too.

What mostly drives the studio top brass is that audiences keep buying tickets for sequels. In 2013, nine of the top 12 films in the United States and Canada were sequels or prequels, including Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and Lions Gate’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Those films generated US$2.6bil (RM8.4bil) in domestic ticket sales, nearly one-quarter of the year’s US$10.9bil (RM35.4bil) total, and another US$4.5bil (RM14.6bil) worldwide.

That shift away from riskier films has helped studios increase or stabilise their profits, said Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible.

Operating margins at Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter franchise and The Dark Knight Batman series, hovered around 7% in 2007 and 2008, Wible said, before rising to about 10% for each of the next five years.

At Walt Disney Co, the focus is on a smaller number of films with the potential to produce sequels, drive toy sales and inspire theme-park rides.

In a typical year, Disney is aiming to release one film each from Pixar, Disney Animation, and Star Wars producer Lucasfilm; two from Marvel, and four to six from its Disney live action division, said chairman of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn. “We choose our sequels carefully,” Horn said. “If we have a picture that has earned a right to have a sequel, it’s because the audiences loved it.” Next year’s crop of sequels may set even bigger records.

Studios are already planning to release new installments of some of the biggest films of all time, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Marvel’s The Avengers.

The rash of sequels has prompted even filmmakers to make fun of their world. In the opening number for Muppets Most Wanted, Disney’s sequel to its 2011 The Muppets movie, the furry puppets break into a song called We’re Doing A Sequel

“That’s what we do in Hollywood,” the puppets sing, “and everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.” – Reuters