Hollywood's always looking for the next big thing. So when a movie does well, you often see a flood of imitators in its wake. How well does this strategy generally work out? Not great. Here are eight huge hit movies that failed to launch successful genres.
Once upon a time, Star Wars started a boom of space opera fantasy adventures, and Jurassic Park started a "giant monster" craze. You could argue Spider-Man and X-Men helped give us the superhero boom of the past dozen years. But it doesn't always work out that way. Observe:
After the first Harry Potter movie was a huge success, you saw a wave of imitators, most notably the unsuccessful The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. There were lots of films about teenagers learning about magic powers and going to school. (Remember The Covenant? The "weeotch" movie?) And they pretty much all sank without a trace.
This one might be too early to tell — maybe Divergent will be the movie that proves The Hunger Games does have coattails. But thus far, every futuristic teen dystopia film that's come out since Katniss hit big has been a bust, including The Host and Ender's Game. In general, movies based on young-adult novels or featuring YA themes have not done that well at the movies unless they're based on mega-successful books, which brings us to...
There have been a few waves of paranormal romance films since Twilight became a massive hit. Most recently, Beautiful Creatures and Mortal Instruments both tried to make a splash, and fell flat instead. There's been a steady trickle of vampire movies — some of them arthouse-oriented — but there were vampire movies before Twilight. What hasn't happened is a successful batch of teen paranormal romance films, which build on Twilight's huge audience. Basically, if the book wasn't a phenomenon, the movie still isn't a guaranteed hit.
There were plenty of other kid-friendly science fiction and fantasy films in the 1980s, but nobody was able to bottle the magic of Spielberg's tale of a lovable alien who befriends a fatherless boy. I'm hard-pressed to think of any successful films since E.T. that feature a friendship with a cute alien as the main axis. The most obvious failed imitator was the widely reviled Mac and Me, but you could also argue that Howard the Duck and DARYL tried and failed to capture the cuteness and sweetness of E.T.
The Narnia films (which had their own hugely popular book series to draw on) are the closest things to hit epic fantasy movies in the wake of Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptations. But even Narnia petered out after the first film. And other attempts to capitalize on Rings, like Golden Compass and Eragon, failed domestically. (Eragon did do well overseas, however, which counts for something.) It's actually kind of surprising how little epic fantasy there is on the big screen.
At one point, there were a million toy-and-game inspired movies in the pipeline, including Stretch Armstrong, Monopoly (directed by Ridley Scott!), and too many others to count. Then we were denied the pleasure of seeing Sorry: The Movie at the theater, after the first G.I. Joe underperformed and Battleship tanked. (Not to mention that we'll never get Boggle 2: The Final Sesquicentennial. Sob.)
What's fascinating about Avatar is that it was one of the biggest-selling movies of all time, and nobody really tried to copy it. There are no failed Avatar imitators, because there were no Avatar imitators. (You could argue that Avatar itself copied tons of stuff, but that's a topic for another day.) The only thing anybody copied from this film? The fact that it was in 3-D. There were no attempts at doing other movies about going to alien worlds, going native, colonialism, inhabiting an alien body, any of it.
Update: The secret ingredient is phone suggests that John Carter was an attempt to capitalize on Avatar's success, even though Avatar was partly based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. That still makes sense, though.
This is the other huge mega-hit from the past several years, that absolutely nobody has even tried to copy. Other than the "BRAAAM" noise.