AngelouEconomics Blog: On Hollywood and Money, Part 17.5

By November 19, 2015Blog

The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay, Part 2.  Probably the only things longer than that title are the lines of enthusiastic teenage girls and economic development consultants who will be queuing up to watch it come Friday night.  Its lengthy moniker, however, is more than just a headache for marquee designers everywhere; it’s also the most recent example of a growing trend in Hollywood to turn a single book into two (or more) on-screen adaptations.

The modern trailblazer for this phenomenon was the final installment of the Harry Potter series, which Warner Bros. split into the cleverly dubbed “the Deathly Hollows Part 1” and “the Deathly Hollows Part 2.”  Since “Part 2’s” 2011 release, several other prominent franchises have followed suit.  By far the most egregious, of course, was Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit which turned a single 95,000 word book into three (very) full length movie.  The trilogy’s combined 476 minute run time works out to roughly one minute of film for every 200 written words.  To put it another way, the average reader could finish the book faster than they could the movies.  It’s an almost mind-blowing achievement (or travesty, depending on your point of view) that leaves many wondering just how exactly the pulled it off.

Much easier to answer, however, is the question of why: money.  The Hobbit trilogy grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide on a budget of $765 million.  Even ignoring economies of scale, some back of the envelop math shows Peter Jackson et al. would have missed out on nearly $1.5 billion in profits had they opted for a more faithful interpretation.  “Mockingjay, Part 2” will likely bring an additional $500 million profit to Lionsgate on top of the $2+ billion they grossed on the first three movies.  Those are hard numbers to argue with.

But the trend has not come entirely without backlash.  A quick google search will reveal no shortage Tolkien purists angry at the liberties Jackson took with The Hobbit or the blatant money grabbing tactic in general.  The broader public, however, still seems eager to watch its favorite actors extend the screen time for beloved franchises.  As long as that’s the case, it’s unlikely we’ll see the tide of “Part 2s” recede anytime soon.  But no matter how you feel about it the broader trend, let’s just all be thankful that the makers of 50 Shades of Grey have decided not to jump on board.   

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