Tuesday, February 18, 2020

1440 Entertainment: The Leader in Direct-to-Video Sequels No One Asked For

  Photo: Universal

As I am wont to do, while on a recent excursion to my local Wal-Mart for some mundane item like socks or cat food, I wandered back into the electronics area, specifically to the DVDs. While I am many years removed from my bad habits of blind buying movies that I might have a passing interest in, I still like to peruse the new and new-ish releases for anything that catches my eye. On a recent trip, that title was Bulletproof 2.

That’s right, Bulletproof 2, the sequel 24 years in the making to an all but forgotten Adam Sandler and Damon Wayans film. Even having seen it in theaters, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the OG Bulletproof other than ... I think it was okay? Unlike other not-great mid 90s movies that have stuck in my head for some reason like Daylight or The Net, Bulletproof was a film quickly forgotten by just about everyone. Except for the folks at Universal’s home video division, 1440 Entertainment apparently.

In search of a question for why someone would greenlight a low-budget, direct-to-video (or direct-to-streaming is more apt nowadays I suppose) sequel to a movie no one really cared for in the first place, I became fascinated by 1440 Entertainment and what market they seem to be catering to. With the exception of a scant few original stories and kids’ releases, 1440 almost exclusively releases DTV sequels to past Universal titles that are 10 to 20 years old, or basically, way past the point of relevance.

Aside from Bulletproof 2, we have also been blessed recently with timeless films like:

  • Undercover Brother 2, a sequel to the 18-year-old film starring Eddie Griffin and Denise Richards.
  • Doom: Annihilation, a sequel to the 15-year-old film starring Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban
  • Jarhead: Law of Return, the third DTV sequel to the 15-year-old film directed by Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes
  • Inside Man: Most Wanted, a sequel to Spike Lee’s 14-year-old highly acclaimed film
  • Backdraft II, a sequel to the almost 30-year-old Ron Howard film

In many cases with these films, the sequels have very tenuous connections with the preceding film, if any at all. Top talent like Kurt Russell or Denzel Washington is replaced with actors you haven’t heard of, or at least have forgotten about over the past fifteen years or so. And the lack of veteran Hollywood directors and crew come with a marked decrease in quality. Based on user ratings from IMDb, the company’s last ten releases average to a pitiful 4.41 out of 10 stars. The validity of random internet people ratings notwithstanding, that’s not a great track record.

Which brings me back to my primary question: why? Given that these films are made on the cheap (budget and sales numbers are difficult, if not impossible to find), it stands to reason that a few weeks on the shelf at Wal-Mart or in a Redbox kiosk will move enough units to make something of a profit. When you factor in the inevitable sale to a streaming service like Netflix or a few discounted rentals from Amazon or iTunes, it becomes more lucrative. Another revenue stream I hadn’t considered before reading this piece on Jarhead 2 from Grantland is international markets where a property that quickly faded here may have more fans, even enough to merit a theatrical release in some countries.

For as optimistic and positive as that Grantland article is though, it acknowledges the challenges of tying a film to an existing property in the Universal vault, namely those who feel that a DTV sequel like Jarhead 2: Field of Fire is a shameless cash grab of the somewhat acclaimed original. But the benefits of having an established film, even one as random as 1993's Cop and a Half, seem to outweigh those negatives, probably when it comes to a typical retail shopper who looks at the DVD of Kindergarten Cop 2 and thinks, “well, I liked the original. Why not?”

Given that in 2019 alone, 1440 Entertainment put out eight titles not including children’s fare, there clearly must be enough demand for these sequel-in-name-only films to justify producing so many. And to be fair, Universal and their DTV arm are not the only offenders of this practice. Disney has been churning out half-assed sequels to their popular animated films since at least the early 1990s, countless horror franchises like The Prophecy, Children of the Corn, and Hellraiser have been prolonged way past their expiration from Dimension Films, and where would we as a society be without the defunct production company Trimark’s continuation of the Turbulence series and Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal which features a killer rock band or something ...?

But the main difference between these examples and 1440 Entertainment is time. Dimension Films cranks out a new Hellraiser every couple of years just to retain the rights while Fox continued its Wrong Turn series with a new installment every two years or so after the original. But who has wondered about a sequel to 2002's Big Fat Liar in the past fifteen years? Universal and 1440 Entertainment as it turns out. But clearly, they must be doing something right. The ninth chapter in the American Pie Extended Universe, Girls’ Rules, is due out this year.

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