Last weekend, one of the most anticipated films of the year, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, hit theaters across the globe. And it was, to no one’s surprise, the No. 1 movie in America. But the news stories dissecting THG’s last opening weekend were hardly enthused about its success — because it barely grossed $100 million in domestic theaters.
To most of us, the word “only” in front of a figure like $100 million may seem laughable. But by box office standards — particularly where the record-breaking Hunger Games franchise is concerned — the opening weekend receipts are a bit surprising. In comparison, Mockingjay — Part 1 raked in $121 million in its opening days. And the film before that, Catching Fire, was the highest-grossing film of 2013.
None of this is to say that the final installment of this lauded film series is a failure. With favorable reviews from critics and legions of fans who have shown their appreciation for Lionsgate’s faithful adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s book series, there’s no doubt that The Hunger Games will be remembered as a success and a game changer.
But the fact that it limped to the finish line should send a clear message to other movie producers who have eagerly jumped on the young adult book adaptation bandwagon in recent years: Fans are tired of the “part 2″ trend.
How studios made “part 2″ into a habit
It started with Peter Jackson’s long-awaited adaptation of The Lord of the Rings back at the turn of the century. He and his producers decided — and rightfully so — to split the epic story into three films based on the novel’s three sections. It was a win all around. Jackson had the ability to tell the story the way the fans (mostly) wanted to see it. And each of the films was a huge box office success.
The LOTR franchise success ushered in a new era of book adaptations in the film industry. And it probably at least partly inspired the decision by Warner Bros. to split the final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows, into two parts and release them about seven months apart.
Though a change in strategy from LOTR, the Harry Potter move kick-started a more direct trend that has now spanned half a decade. From Twilight: Breaking Dawn and The Hobbit to the upcoming Divergent: Allegiant, it’s now par for the course for studios to split books into two or more parts. But even though devoted fans have proven that they’ll wait a full year for their favorite franchise’s conclusion, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily happy about it. And that could translate into waning success for studios that continue to pursue this approach.
Why studios do it
It’s easy to understand how splitting a popular book into two separate films could be a benefit to film studios. They can film the entire story at once, which should at least partially lower production costs. But they can also expect to significantly increase their earnings because they’re getting two films worth of revenue for the price of one. Take Mockingjay — even with the finale’s numbers trending lower so far, the two parts combined have already outgrossed Catching Fire’s final haul.
Plus, studios get the added benefit — in theory — of being able to capitalize on buzz and momentum for their series’ “epic” finales. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, studios saw an increase in ticket sales for the finale installment. The tendency for more people to show up for the second act is understandable. It speaks to a cultural imperative — get caught up in this exciting wave, or you’ll get left behind. And for a long time, both avid and casual fans have played along.
Why it’s time for them to stop
But, here’s the thing. We’ve all been through it enough times that the “part 2″ revolution feels tired and predictable. Things that used to get fans excited — like guessing where the filmmakers would split the book — have now become routine and easy to predict.
We live in a world where we routinely binge-watch our favorite TV shows. That’s made cliffhangers a lot harder for a casual moving-going audience to stomach, which means casual fans may just decide to move on and skip the conclusion.
It made sense for films like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to be broken apart, storytelling-wise. But a lot of fans felt like The Hobbit did not have to be stretched into three long films in order to tell Bilbo’s story. In fact, it seems more and more that studios are getting greedy and jumping the gun on many of the other splits we’ve seen since.
Did Mockingjay need to be two films? Maybe — but not definitely. And that could have been reason enough for the studio to contain it to a single film. Instead of milking a franchise for all its worth, it’s time for studios to figure out how to adapt a book’s story in a way that can appeal to both preexisting fans and new viewers.
Some series have already gotten the message. So far, there’s thankfully no indication that the smash-hit 50 Shades trilogy will try to split the final installment, 50 Shades Freed, into multiple parts. Let’s hope this is a sign that Hollywood is ready to buck the “part 2″ trend for good.