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Why Universal Can’t Afford To Stop Making ‘Jurassic World’ Movies

Frank Marshall, while speaking to Collider, noted that Jurassic World: Dominion would not be the final film in the Jurassic franchise, but rather the “start of a new era.” The conventional wisdom was that Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World 3, which would combine the new cast (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda) with the old cast (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and B.D. Wong), would mark the end of the line for the six-film saga. But it would appear that Jurassic World is playing even closer to the Fast & Furious playbook than I presumed. While Fast Five certainly could have been a series finale (wonky continuity notwithstanding), it merely cleared the board for the next stage of bigger and more action-centric Fast & Furious movies.

Dominion, still set for June 11, 2021, will still seemingly play as a hybrid of X-Men: Days of Future Past and Fast Five, whereby the original cast teams up with the newbies to save the proverbial day. The new status quo of Fallen Kingdom’s finale, one where dinosaurs are now loose in the world, seemed to set up a final chapter of sorts. But, no, so sayeth Marshall, unless Jurassic World 3 suffers a Transformers: The Last Knight-level downturn (and that’s highly unlikely), the Universal UVV /Amblin action fantasy will potentially both close the book on the Jurassic World portion of the saga while setting the stage for whatever comes next. Maybe it’ll be Jurassic World 4, maybe it’ll be Jurassic Park 7, or maybe it’ll be the first, I dunno, Jurassic Universe.

I wish Marshall hadn’t said anything, because one thing I’ve enjoyed about the latest batch of Jurassic movies is how the marketing has generally focused on the specific movie in play rather than whispering about future installments. That goes for the movies themselves too, as nothing in Jurassic World hinted at a potential plot for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, while even the final twist of Fallen Kingdom, which was unspoiled in the pre-release marketing sprint, came at the end of an otherwise self-contained and stand-alone sequel which was itself predicated on the 104% likelihood of there being a Jurassic World 3. But even that epilogue merely offered a new wrinkle in the franchise’s status quo, offering few clues about how the third film would deal with the “welcome to Jurassic World…” cliffhanger.

Nonetheless, it may have been better for folks to not walk into Jurassic World: Dominion expecting an explicitly closed-ended narrative, and this certainly doesn’t mean that the movie won’t be the end for any of the existing characters. While I hope B.D. Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu lives forever, I could easily see the likes of Pratt, Howard, Goldblum and/or Neill going out in style either as a curtain raiser, a mid-film shock or a climactic sacrifice. Speculation alert, but I’m curious if the marketing will play like Avengers: Endgame, selling Dominion not as the end of the series but the end of the road for certain flagship characters. Continuing after Dominion further makes the series into an old-fashioned movie franchise. Universal will presumably make Jurassic movies until folks stop seeing them.

Universal and Amblin’s Jurassic movies are the most profitable, in terms of budget versus global gross, of any big-budget, live-action Hollywood franchise. The five films have earned $5.009 billion worldwide (yes, counting the 2013 3-D reissue of Jurassic Park) on a combined production budget (not counting marketing) of $616 million. That’s an average budget of $123 million and an average global gross of $1.001 billion worldwide, for an average 8.14x rate of return. The films were frugal when Steven Spielberg directed them ($65 million for Jurassic Park and $75 million for The Lost World) and the $150 million-$170 million budgets of Trevorrow’s Jurassic World and J.A. Bayona’s Fallen Kingdom were almost cheap compared to the $225-$350 million likes of Disney DIS ’s Star Wars episodes, Avengers films and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.

The last two Jurassic World movies earned 9.3x their combined budget, with Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III ($369 million in 2001 on a still-frugal $93 million budget) playing the outlier among the whole five-movie franchise. Even that installment earned 3.9x its budget, or on par with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ($1.074 billion on a $275 million budget). Unless the next film severely underperforms on an over/under $200 million budget (not yet factoring coronavirus-related delays and expenses), Universal would be foolish to arbitrarily end their biggest cinematic franchise. With Fast & Furious still potentially ending at Fast 10 (as was explicitly announced back in February of 2016) and the “Dark Universe” franchise obviously not becoming a “thing,” I’d argue that Universal can’t really afford to end the Jurassic franchise.

That’s not just Universal’s problem. The potential/scheduled natural end of many non-MCU/DC franchises (Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films, Daniel Craig’s James Bond series, Fast & Furious, the “Skywalker Saga” Star Wars movies, etc.) threatens to leave studios and theater chains in a pickle. If audiences won’t show up (at least at the $600 million-plus level) for “new” franchises outside of the Marvel or DC superhero brands, and most current popular series are wrapping up, what happens to theaters and producers of would-be tentpole entertainments after 2022 or 2023? If the big tentpoles are almost entirely made up of Disney, Sony and 20th Century’s Marvel movies and Warner Bros.’ DC Films flicks, a top-tier cash cow like Jurassic would be even more valuable as a prime summer 2024 – and beyond – attraction.

I can understand why the powers that be are hesitant to close the book on the Jurassic film franchise. Film Twitter treats them like the scourges of cinema, but they generally received mixed-positive reviews while nabbing massive debut weekends (three out of five entries set new opening weekend records in 1993, 1997 and 2015), decent legs (Jurassic World was leggier than The Avengers) and huge global grosses ($912 million, $619 million, $369 million, $1.671 billion and $1.308 billion) for comparatively responsible budgets ($65 million, $75 million, $93 million, $150 million and $170 million). The films mix quirky characters with the “giant dinosaurs eating people” premise and always stand out as “looks great in IMAX” popcorn entertainment. Until audiences vote “no” with their wallets, the Jurassic franchise won’t be going extinct anytime soon.

Source: Forbes Business

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