Three is the magic number
The sun is teasing out those darling buds; the air echoes with the crack of willow against leather, while swallows reenact the Battle of Britain over woody glades and hedgerows… It must be blockbuster season again.
This summer three is the magic number: Spider-Man III is first off the bat (this Friday), Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End takes the plunge three weeks later (May 24), and Shrek The Third holds court a month after that (June 29).
It's true there are several big movies which don't come with the number three attached - like Ocean's Thirteen (June 8), Henry V (August 10) and The Bourne Ultimatum (August 17) - but mostly these are also third helpings by another name.
Of course this is all an accident of timing, and it's quite possible that in a couple of years we'll be watching these same characters in their fourth go-around. But for some reason there's something conclusive about a trilogy, perhaps because it mirrors the famous three-act structure that is the basis of so much drama: Set up; Confrontation; Resolution.
It tends to be make or break time for audiences too… there may yet be more X-Men films or Missions Impossible, but it was clear last time out that the enthusiasm for these franchises has peaked, so either the studios will have to tie back costs, or invest in a significant re-booting exercise. That's why it's taken so many years to get fourth outings for Die Hard and Indiana Jones up and running.
What's encouraging about the Spider-Man and Pirates films is that these were mapped out as potential trilogies, if not from the get-go, then at least early in the planning stages - giving the filmmakers the kind of scope normally reserved for series TV. They've also kept the same creative personnel on board - not just the stars, but the directors (Sam Raimi and Gore Verbinski respectively) and much of the behind the scenes talent.
That's some sort of quality guarantee - at least Joel Schumacher or Brett Ratner aren't going to come in and mess it up (not 'til next time anyway). It's also reason to suppose that these filmmakers will try to prove they've saved the best for last. Raimi, who has indicated he's calling it a day now, clearly wanted to go out with a bang. Spider-Man 3 delivers three villains for the price of one, Venom, Green Goblin 2 and Sandman. In the case of Ocean's Thirteen, we get Al Pacino&field=search_cast">Pacino.
For better or worse, that drive has made these three-quels among the most expensive movies ever made. Spider-Man 3 and Pirates both cost well over $250 million, and some claim the true figures could be closer to $350 million (more than twice the budgets for the first films in these series). Those numbers are so astronomical it means even sure-fire hits like these could end up in the red. If you hold stock in Sony or Disney that should be cause for concern. But as long as your investment only runs to the price of a movie ticket, you have to figure its more bang for your buck.
For now, then, let's take a look at how they measure up…
FRANCHISE: Spider-Man (2002/2004/2007)
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst
What's Next: Raimi says he's through and Maguire also feels he's getting too old for the part. But another screenplay is in development assuming this turns a profit. Shia LaBoeuf as the new Peter Parker anyone?
FRANCHISE:Pirates of the Caribbean (2003/2006/2007)
What's Next: A fourth remains a definite maybe, but don't hold your breath. There's no script yet and Keira Knightley has hinted she's calling it quits.
FRANCHISE: Shrek (2001/2004/2007)
What's Next: If Shrek the Third succeeds, it's not like anyone here has pressing business elsewhere. Look for IV in 2010.
FRANCHISE: Ocean's Thirteen (2001/2004/2007)
Who's Back: With the possible exception of Julia Roberts, the gang's all here.
What's Next: It's all over, Clooney and Soderbergh have agreed to go their separate ways.
FRANCHISE: The Bourne Ultimatum (2002/2004/2007)
What's Next: This is likely the last. There are no more Robert Ludlum Bourne books, not that the series has followed the novels in anything but name.
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