Sequels lead the Hong Kong box-office ratings this season

Sequels are flooding local screens and they're raking in the big bucks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 12:15pm

If the mid-year box office results from the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association are anything to go by, sequels are all the rage in the city.


Almost half of the top 10 grossing films this year have been extensions of a franchise. Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man 3 - the last of a trilogy based on the Marvel Comics character starring Robert Downey Jnr - performed the best, taking in HK$106 million, making it the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong so far this year.

The only people who don't like sequels are critics who claim that sequels show a lack of imagination
David Bordwell, film scholar

Other top earners - A Good Day to Die Hard (HK$28.68 million), Journey to the West (HK$28.4 million), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (HK$25.37 million) and Fast & Furious 6 (HK$24.26 million) - are also sequels.

What the figures suggest is that originality is not necessarily a prerequisite for cinematic popularity. In fact, sequels have been known to rake in much more than the original.

Box office income for Iron Man 3, for instance, dwarfed that of the first two, which earned HK$22 million and HK$29 million respectively.

The final instalment is the third-highest grossing film of all time in Hong Kong. It trails only James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic, which took HK$178 million and HK$115 million respectively. It knocked off last year's smash hit The Avengers, which grossed HK$97 million, from the top three.

Walt Disney Studios Hong Kong's general manager and vice-president John Hsu says Iron Man 3 - which saw Downey return as the Iron Man - has piggybacked on the success of The Avengers.

"To be only the third film in history to cross the HK$100 million box office threshold is not only a testament to the popularity of the Iron Man character but to the strength of the Marvel brand in Hong Kong," he says.

The Die Hard action movies have also proved popular

among local cinema-goers.

The HK$28.68 million total take of A Good Day to Die Hard shows Bruce Willis has lost little of his appeal as the foul-mouthed, wisecracking, no-nonsense action man.

But the timing of the release also helped boost attendance. The fifth film in the franchise, which has Willis' character John McClane travelling to Russia to get his son Jack out of trouble, emerged as the box office champion for this year's Lunar New Year period - a time when local comedies dominate.

That is because the action flick had "the good fortune to be the only Hollywood blockbuster opening during the Chinese New Year period", says a marketing spokesman for Kentac Investments, the film's local distributor.

Similarly, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the third-best performer among the trio of franchise films in the mid-year top five, opened over Easter when "there were no similar movies to compete with it", says Mandy Lam, senior film booking manager at Broadway Theatre Company.

Lam also points to a trend of audiences favouring the tried and tested.

"Hong Kong movie-goers are quite sceptical. They don't want to risk their money watching something they are not sure about. And sequels like Iron Man 3 and Fast & Furious 6 have good track records," she says.

Of the major Chinese-language films, Stephen Chow Sing-chi's Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons performed the best at the box office, raking in HK$28.4 million, and is fourth on the top 10 list.

Though not exactly a follow-up to his earlier films - A Chinese Odyssey part one and two in which Chow stars and which were loosely based on the Chinese literary classic - it is nonetheless a rendering of the Monkey King story.

It was released over the Lunar New Year so had to compete with Vincent Kok Tak-chiu's Hotel Deluxe and Chung Shu-kai's I Love Hong Kong 2013.

The popularity of sequels comes as no surprise to David Bordwell, a film studies professor at the University of Wisconsin,

who says their commercial success has been one of the most noticeable trends of the Hollywood film industry for quite a while.

"Some of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels did better worldwide than the original. It also happened with Fast & Furious," he says.

And the trend isn't confined to Hollywood. "The French have their own sequels, such as the Taxi, Camping and Les Bronzes series," says Bordwell, whose publications include Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment.

He also says a string of local movie sequels have become silver-screen classics. "The world of film would be a poorer place if critics had by fiat banned all the fine Hong Kong sequels, notably those spawned by Police Story, A Better Tomorrow, Drunken Master, Once Upon a Time in China, Swordsman and so on."

Franchised films have fans within and outside film industries worldwide.

"Producers and studios like sequels because they guarantee name recognition; the project is in a sense pre-sold. Audiences like sequels because they usually feature the same stars that they liked before, and they come to the story with some idea about what they are likely to get," Bordwell says.

Sequels such as Star Trek into Darkness, Monsters University, The Hangover Part III, The Wolverine and Despicable Me 2 have flooded the city's cinemas in the past couple of months. And there are more to come: Kick Ass 2 ,

The Smurfs 2, Thor: The Dark World and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.

Box office takings aside, are sequels a good or a bad thing?

"The only people who don't like sequels are critics who claim that sequels show a lack of imagination," Bordwell says.

"But sequels and series are an inescapable part of popular cinema, going back to the 1910s, and they don't have to be mere repetitions. The Mission: Impossible series shows interesting differences among the directors and the Infernal Affairs trio show an imaginative approach to the central story."

1Iron Man 3 - HK$106.39 million

2Les Misérables - HK$40.85 million

3A Good Day to Die Hard - HK$28.68 million

4Journey to the West - HK$28.4 million

5G.I. Joe: Retaliation - HK$25.37 million

6Fast & Furious 6 - HK$24.26 million

7The Grandmaster - HK$21.29 million

8The Croods - HK$20.93 million

9Hotel Deluxe - HK$19.44 million

10Oz The Great and Powerful - HK$17.37 million

Source: Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association