Box Office: A ‘Shrek’ Reboot Is A Mistake, But A Sequel Could Work

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Box Office: A ‘Shrek’ Reboot Is A Mistake, But A Sequel Could Work

‘Shrek Forever After’ image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

I’m not sure how the Variety article stating that Comcast, and Chris Meledandri intends to reboot the Shrek franchise (and Puss in Boots) is all that different from the relatively identical statements made to Deadline in June of 2016. That announcement came during the final stretch for the Secret Life of Pets marketing campaign, while this announcement comes just before The Grinch opens (on Nov. 9). Either way, the notion that Comcast Corp. (which owns Universal and Focus Features) would procure DreamWorks Animation and not do something with the Shrek franchise is about as likely as Disney buying Lucasfilm and not making new Star Wars movies.

The word that got everyone’s attention is “reboot,” which could just be catch-all lingo for reviving a long-dormant franchise. Since the Variety article makes it clear that Meledandri and friends want the core vocal cast (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas) to return, the likeliest path isn’t a “wipe the slate clean” reboot but rather a straight-up sequel. What worked for Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Halloween and Rocky will surely work for Shrek. And in this nostalgia-obsessed pop culture era, a sequel is a way to have your cake (revive the dormant brand) and eat it too (appeal to the older/adult fans of the original four Shrek movies.

And among dormant IP, Shrek is one of the very biggest 1980’s-2000’s juggernauts that hasn’t been rebooted or revived over the last few years, presuming it (like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean) never really went away. The other super-duper early-to-mid 2000’s franchise, Harry Potter, currently lives on in the Fantastic Beasts saga. As you recall, the Shrek franchise, four films-strong from 2001 to 2010, is basically a fantasy adventure that slowly became a domestic melodrama. The marketing emphasized the “poke at Disney” jokes, and the kids laughed at Eddie Murphy’s shtick, but Shrek was a romantic comedy between Mike Meyers’s good-hearted ogre and Cameron Diaz’s headstrong princess.

The first film, loosely based on William Steig’s picture book, offered a man beaten down by societal prejudice who found love with a woman who had issues with the destiny laid out before her. Shrek 2 had our title character wondering if he was worthy of Fiona’s love and feeling guilty for the changes she had made for him. Shrek the Third dealt with his fear of the responsibilities and challenges of fatherhood. Shrek Forever After dealt with the realization of those fears along with the realities of an “unplanned life.” While the films had their share of action and spectacle, they were not action movies.

Warts and all, and I will say that the first two Shrek movies are much better than the last two, they were among the most realistic and “adult” romantic comedies to come out during this period. Now the impact wasn’t entirely positive. Shrek, along with The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, showed Hollywood that both men and women would line up for male-driven romantic comedies. Shrek basically killed the G rating as a viable option for animated films. They basically sent every studio (including DWA) clamoring for their own wacky, pop-culture-friendly, manic, zany, male-driven talking-animal animated feature. It changed the very DNA of the mainstream American animated film.

And, needless to say, all four of them were massive hits. Shrek parlayed a $42 million debut into a $267m domestic total, a stunning 6.3x multiplier that still holds up as one of the leggiest post-Titanic blockbusters of the modern age. Shrek 2 ($108m Fri-Sun/$128m Wed-Sun) is still the leggiest $100m+ opener of all time, and in 2004 its $441m domestic total was A) the biggest toon gross and B) the third-biggest domestic finish behind Titanic ($600m) and Star Wars ($460m counting reissues). It also climaxes with one of the best action sequences of the last 30 years.

Shrek the Third is probably the weakest of the three movies, to the point that it arguably dragged down Shrek Forever After. But, opening (again) in the same pre-Memorial Day weekend frame as the last two, started things off with a record-breaking bang. Its $122 million Fri-Sun launch was the biggest animated opening until Finding Dory ($135m in 2016). It’s still in second place adjusted for inflation behind Incredibles 2 ($184m last summer). Both due to relatively “meh” quality and ridiculous early summer competition (Spider-Man 3, Pirates 3, Ocean’s Thirteen), the third Shrek earned “just” $322m domestic and $799m worldwide. And three years later, a fourth installment sold itself as “the final chapter.”

Heck, the movie ends with Shrek literally closing the book on the story of his life. Shrek Forever After was a bit less successful than the first three, it wasn’t by much. The film opened with a shockingly low $70 million in May of 2010 which led to all sorts of handwringing, including (relatively speaking) from me. But 2010 was also a famously miserable summer. So the halfway decent family-friendly animated feature that was released in 3D back when 3D was still cool and could justify keeping larger auditoriums for longer periods turned out to be much leggier than the last movie. It eventually made its way to $237m domestic (3.3x versus the last film’s 2.6x multiplier) and earned a whopping $752m worldwide.

And eight years later, big money aside, Jeffrey Katzenberg and friends made good on their promise not to revive the Shrek franchise. But they did give us the shockingly terrific spin-off film Puss in Boots in late 2011. The Antonio Banderas/Salma Hayek fantasy/western adventure was far better than it needed to be, and it had one of the smaller non-holiday second weekend drops ever for a super-saturated release. The film opened with $34 million in late October (not a great number) but then earned $33m the next weekend before legging it to $149m domestic and $554m worldwide on a $130m budget.

And that brings us to today. It has been eight years since the last Shrek film. I won’t pretend that I’ve been dying for a return engagement, but nor am I remotely surprised that Comcast is trying to get back into the Shrek business. It remains, per entry, the second-biggest grossing animated franchise ever ($702.2 million per movie versus $643m for each of the five Ice Age films and $927m per each Despicable Me/Minions movie), but I will argue that it was the first real theatrical animated franchise. It showed that a big animated hit could spawn sequels just as well as any live-action fantasy franchise.

It’s no surprise that Shrek is set to presumably return. Wording notwithstanding, a sequel, whether it takes place years and years later (I’d give your left eye for a Logan-ish riff on Puss in Boots) or merely seconds after Shrek Forever After (like Incredibles 2), is a far better play, financially and artistically, than a reboot that acts as a glorified remake. Reboots worked for Batman Begins, Casino Royale and Star Trek, but those were brands whose outright origins had never been told on film. The first Shrek is essentially the “how Shrek and Fiona met and fell in love” origin story. A new Shrek origin would be like I dunno, making a Die Hard prequel.

Truth be told, I’m reasonable sure that the studio that just released Halloween and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (which was absolutely the fifth Jurassic Park movie) understand this distinction. Either way, a new Shrek would face the same disadvantage as any other revived IP, namely that it was a brand that broke out broke out 15 years ago because it was good, because it was entertaining and intelligent, and because (here we go again) it was wholly different from anything else in the marketplace at that time. And yet it will now bank on being more of the same, absent the need to prove that DWA could hold its own as Disney’s main rival.

Ironically, Shrek was partially fueled by a desire for DreamWorks Animation to show that they could offer something distinctly different from the stereotypical Walt Disney animated feature and exist as a competitor. 17 years later, a new Shrek film would instead have to distinguish itself from the DWA model that it essentially invented while justifying itself alongside the Illumination brand. That’s just another reason why a straight-up “time gone by” sequel would be far more useful to the brand than a remake or a reboot. Today is as good as any to give this DWA franchise the respect it deserves. 17.5 years later, Shrek is still an all-star.

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‘Shrek Forever After’ image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

I’m not sure how the Variety article stating that Comcast, and Chris Meledandri intends to reboot the Shrek franchise (and Puss in Boots) is all that different from the relatively identical statements made to Deadline in June of 2016. That announcement came during the final stretch for the Secret Life of Pets marketing campaign, while this announcement comes just before The Grinch opens (on Nov. 9). Either way, the notion that Comcast Corp. (which owns Universal and Focus Features) would procure DreamWorks Animation and not do something with the Shrek franchise is about as likely as Disney buying Lucasfilm and not making new Star Wars movies.

The word that got everyone’s attention is “reboot,” which could just be catch-all lingo for reviving a long-dormant franchise. Since the Variety article makes it clear that Meledandri and friends want the core vocal cast (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas) to return, the likeliest path isn’t a “wipe the slate clean” reboot but rather a straight-up sequel. What worked for Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Halloween and Rocky will surely work for Shrek. And in this nostalgia-obsessed pop culture era, a sequel is a way to have your cake (revive the dormant brand) and eat it too (appeal to the older/adult fans of the original four Shrek movies.

And among dormant IP, Shrek is one of the very biggest 1980’s-2000’s juggernauts that hasn’t been rebooted or revived over the last few years, presuming it (like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean) never really went away. The other super-duper early-to-mid 2000’s franchise, Harry Potter, currently lives on in the Fantastic Beasts saga. As you recall, the Shrek franchise, four films-strong from 2001 to 2010, is basically a fantasy adventure that slowly became a domestic melodrama. The marketing emphasized the “poke at Disney” jokes, and the kids laughed at Eddie Murphy’s shtick, but Shrek was a romantic comedy between Mike Meyers’s good-hearted ogre and Cameron Diaz’s headstrong princess.

The first film, loosely based on William Steig’s picture book, offered a man beaten down by societal prejudice who found love with a woman who had issues with the destiny laid out before her. Shrek 2 had our title character wondering if he was worthy of Fiona’s love and feeling guilty for the changes she had made for him. Shrek the Third dealt with his fear of the responsibilities and challenges of fatherhood. Shrek Forever After dealt with the realization of those fears along with the realities of an “unplanned life.” While the films had their share of action and spectacle, they were not action movies.

Warts and all, and I will say that the first two Shrek movies are much better than the last two, they were among the most realistic and “adult” romantic comedies to come out during this period. Now the impact wasn’t entirely positive. Shrek, along with The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, showed Hollywood that both men and women would line up for male-driven romantic comedies. Shrek basically killed the G rating as a viable option for animated films. They basically sent every studio (including DWA) clamoring for their own wacky, pop-culture-friendly, manic, zany, male-driven talking-animal animated feature. It changed the very DNA of the mainstream American animated film.

And, needless to say, all four of them were massive hits. Shrek parlayed a $42 million debut into a $267m domestic total, a stunning 6.3x multiplier that still holds up as one of the leggiest post-Titanic blockbusters of the modern age. Shrek 2 ($108m Fri-Sun/$128m Wed-Sun) is still the leggiest $100m+ opener of all time, and in 2004 its $441m domestic total was A) the biggest toon gross and B) the third-biggest domestic finish behind Titanic ($600m) and Star Wars ($460m counting reissues). It also climaxes with one of the best action sequences of the last 30 years.

Shrek the Third is probably the weakest of the three movies, to the point that it arguably dragged down Shrek Forever After. But, opening (again) in the same pre-Memorial Day weekend frame as the last two, started things off with a record-breaking bang. Its $122 million Fri-Sun launch was the biggest animated opening until Finding Dory ($135m in 2016). It’s still in second place adjusted for inflation behind Incredibles 2 ($184m last summer). Both due to relatively “meh” quality and ridiculous early summer competition (Spider-Man 3, Pirates 3, Ocean’s Thirteen), the third Shrek earned “just” $322m domestic and $799m worldwide. And three years later, a fourth installment sold itself as “the final chapter.”

Heck, the movie ends with Shrek literally closing the book on the story of his life. Shrek Forever After was a bit less successful than the first three, it wasn’t by much. The film opened with a shockingly low $70 million in May of 2010 which led to all sorts of handwringing, including (relatively speaking) from me. But 2010 was also a famously miserable summer. So the halfway decent family-friendly animated feature that was released in 3D back when 3D was still cool and could justify keeping larger auditoriums for longer periods turned out to be much leggier than the last movie. It eventually made its way to $237m domestic (3.3x versus the last film’s 2.6x multiplier) and earned a whopping $752m worldwide.

And eight years later, big money aside, Jeffrey Katzenberg and friends made good on their promise not to revive the Shrek franchise. But they did give us the shockingly terrific spin-off film Puss in Boots in late 2011. The Antonio Banderas/Salma Hayek fantasy/western adventure was far better than it needed to be, and it had one of the smaller non-holiday second weekend drops ever for a super-saturated release. The film opened with $34 million in late October (not a great number) but then earned $33m the next weekend before legging it to $149m domestic and $554m worldwide on a $130m budget.

And that brings us to today. It has been eight years since the last Shrek film. I won’t pretend that I’ve been dying for a return engagement, but nor am I remotely surprised that Comcast is trying to get back into the Shrek business. It remains, per entry, the second-biggest grossing animated franchise ever ($702.2 million per movie versus $643m for each of the five Ice Age films and $927m per each Despicable Me/Minions movie), but I will argue that it was the first real theatrical animated franchise. It showed that a big animated hit could spawn sequels just as well as any live-action fantasy franchise.

It’s no surprise that Shrek is set to presumably return. Wording notwithstanding, a sequel, whether it takes place years and years later (I’d give your left eye for a Logan-ish riff on Puss in Boots) or merely seconds after Shrek Forever After (like Incredibles 2), is a far better play, financially and artistically, than a reboot that acts as a glorified remake. Reboots worked for Batman Begins, Casino Royale and Star Trek, but those were brands whose outright origins had never been told on film. The first Shrek is essentially the “how Shrek and Fiona met and fell in love” origin story. A new Shrek origin would be like I dunno, making a Die Hard prequel.

Truth be told, I’m reasonable sure that the studio that just released Halloween and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (which was absolutely the fifth Jurassic Park movie) understand this distinction. Either way, a new Shrek would face the same disadvantage as any other revived IP, namely that it was a brand that broke out broke out 15 years ago because it was good, because it was entertaining and intelligent, and because (here we go again) it was wholly different from anything else in the marketplace at that time. And yet it will now bank on being more of the same, absent the need to prove that DWA could hold its own as Disney’s main rival.

Ironically, Shrek was partially fueled by a desire for DreamWorks Animation to show that they could offer something distinctly different from the stereotypical Walt Disney animated feature and exist as a competitor. 17 years later, a new Shrek film would instead have to distinguish itself from the DWA model that it essentially invented while justifying itself alongside the Illumination brand. That’s just another reason why a straight-up “time gone by” sequel would be far more useful to the brand than a remake or a reboot. Today is as good as any to give this DWA franchise the respect it deserves. 17.5 years later, Shrek is still an all-star.

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