It: Chapter Two has had, shall we say, mixed reviews. You can at least partly blame the business of moviemaking for that. The first outing for Pennywise, the world’s favourite frightening clown, was produced for just $35m (£28.4m) and went on to gross in excess of $700m, making it one of the most profitable films of 2017.
As a result, Chapter Two didn’t just get the go ahead. It got a much bigger budget, double the original according to director Andy Muschietti, with plenty more where that came from for marketing and promotion.
With all that extra money he made… not a stinker but a collection of great individual scenes without a coherent narrative behind them. An ok film that is arguably less than the sum of its parts. That is at least, one of the charges that has been laid at the door of the sequel.
A lack of cash, or at least a limit on it, clearly puts storytelling on a premium. Oodles of it often leads to filmmakers becoming focused upon spending it at the cost of a good tale.
But if the end product proves popular, who cares? A franchise can be built upon its shoulders. Which is why studios like Warner Bros are willing to commit big piles of bucks to follow up a hit.
Filmmaking is an appallingly expensive and risky business, with ruinously high upfront costs and no guarantee of a return on them. Each outing is a stab in the dark.
That risk is much reduced if the film is part of an established franchise which can get people into theatres regardless of what critics say. Just ask Disney shareholders. It took a risk on establishing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has gone on to prove that there really is such a thing as a golden goose. The name “Marvel Studios” on a film all but guarantees an opening.
Hang on a minute, though, I hear you say.
Isn’t there a problem with It: Chapter Two here? Haven’t Warner’s executives allowed Muschietti to shoot them in the foot?
The film, after all, does something rare, particularly with the horror genre, which could be said to have set the franchise ball rolling given that there were a plethora of them around before the MCU was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Mild spoiler alert.
The movie serves up an ending. A definitive one.
There thus wouldn’t appear to be any scope for a third outing, much less an extended franchise.
Oh ye of little faith. For a start, those who slogged through the 1,400 or so pages of the source novel and paid attention to the role played by Ben Anscombe in the final act will be aware that there’s the potential for a literary sequel should Stephen King be so minded. What if Ben, shall we say, missed something, in the tunnels beneath Derry, the fictional New England town where the story is set?
The film plays out differently. But a bit of exposition here, a flashback there… it’s not as if it hasn’t been done before.
Much more likely, given what’s been said about the future of the franchise, is a prequel and perhaps a multiple of prequels given the years of history Pennywise has in Derry’s violent streets.
It will ultimately depend on the returns. It: Chapter Two made $91m in North America plus $94m internationally over its opening weekend. That is quite a bit less than the first outing.
But that makes it a disappointment only by comparison to its predecessor. For an R- or 15-rating movie it’s still one of the best openings of all time. Factor in that it did this despite a 169-minute running time, and the lukewarm critical response, and the financial side of the endeavour looks very promising.
Forbes put the over/under for the total at $450m, which is, again, more than respectable for a horror film with a certificate that restricts its audience.
Anything north of that would make the return of Pennywise in some form or another a financial imperative. And thus a virtual certainty.