What makes an entertainment franchise great?
Once in a while, the Harry Potter vs. Star Wars debate flares up on Theme Park Insider, as it did this week in our Fix This Park feature on Universal Studios Hollywood
. To me, the most interesting thing about this argument is the essential question it raises: What makes one entertainment franchise better than another?
Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, opens the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in June 2010, with Rupert Grint, left, and Warwick Davis.
Allow me to suggest a simple answer: The better franchise is the one that entertains and engages the larger number of people over the longer period of time. The best franchises don't just hit with people for a year or two - they endure across generations, as new readers and viewers each year discover the characters and stories in that franchise.
In short, check with me in 30 years, and I'll tell you which turned out to be the better franchise.
That said, let's take a look at the top five all-time entertainment franchises, in U.S. box office receipts and books sold, to see who our "best franchise" candidates might be:
- Harry Potter
- Star Wars
- James Bond
And for books:
- Harry Potter
- Peter Rabbit
- Lord of the Rings
- Chronicles of Narnia
Harry Potter tops both lists, with 450 million books sold and more than $2.4 billion in domestic gross. Figure a conservative $8 a ticket, and that's 300 million tickets sold.
That's three quarters of a billion paid customers. Pretty impressive. But I know an entertainment franchise that's drawn even more paid eyeballs over the past decade and a half that Harry Potter's been filling his Gringotts vault:
The Walt Disney theme parks.
With 121 million visitors last year, according to TEA/AECOM, the Disney theme parks drew nearly three times its nearest competitor (Merlin) and more than its next four competitors combined (Merlin, Universal, Parques Reunidos, and Six Flags). And with an average of more than 100 million visitors a year over the past decade, it's conceivable that more people have visited a Disney theme park than own a Harry Potter book or have seen a Harry Potter movie. (You'd need to know repeat customers for both to know for sure.) Throw in all the visitors to Disney Parks before Potter burst onto the scene, and the score isn't even close.
Which brings me to my point: The popularity of an entertainment franchise isn't nearly as important to a theme park as what the park does with that franchise. Fat lot of good the Batman franchise has done for Six Flags, which failed to place any of its parks among the top 15 North American theme parks for annual attendance last year. Does anyone remember Goosebumps at the SeaWorld family of parks? Or James Bond in Paramount Parks?
If you click through to the complete list of top movie franchises, you'll find occupying the eighth spot Pirates of the Caribbean, a franchise launched by a Disney theme park attraction. So when it comes to theme parks and entertainment franchises, Disney's parks drive franchises - not the other way around.
So does Harry Potter matter? Of course it does. Harry Potter went to Universal, not to Disney. That influx of Potter fans has allowed Universal to introduce itself to millions of new customers, and the income Universal's earned from them is allowing the company to expand its parks around the world. But if Universal Creative hadn't hit one over the fences with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, that franchise would have done as much for Universal as the Dark Knight Coaster did for the Six Flags park - zilch.
Ultimately, as we're trying to guess the long-term impact on theme parks, it doesn't matter how successful a franchise has been in other media. It matters only how well that franchise is developed within the parks, and how much people want to keep coming back to experience those attractions, again and again, over the years.
Harry Potter's a great franchise for Universal not because it's sold a ton of books and movie tickets. It's a great franchise because it has inspired and enabled Universal Creative to do some awesome work. If some other franchise does the same for Disney, or SeaWorld, or Six Flags, or Universal again, well, then that's a great entertainment franchise, too.
Kind of like the old adage, "it's the singer, not the song," it is the attraction, not the...uh...Avatar! Or, in other words, a great attraction will transcend its source material.
What if the Star Wars films were adjusted for inflation? If that was the case, all of the films minus Episode II would have grossed more money than any HP film. But I strongly agree with you on this article Robert.
What about Star Trek. From what I heard with people like Jim Hill Universal made lots of money back when both Universal parks had the Star Trek licensce before Paramount pull it out for thier own theme park devision which later they give up on. I still think Star Trek attraction belongs to a theme park not Vegas. Not the right demo area for a family/geek franchise.
I even think mediocre franchises can make great theme park attractions.
I hate to be "that guy," but 300 million is three tenths of a billion, not three quarters. Three quarters would be 750 million.
You're really going to hate being "that guy" now, Jack. 300 million + 450 million = 750 million which just happens to be 3/4s of a billion. ;)
One note to make is that Lord of the Rings unlike Star Wars & Harry Potter still has three more films to come from what some consider its better source material in The Hobbit.
Interesting, no Perry Rhodan like long term series in the US, or did they exclude those from the list.
I love games, I have a PS3 and love Uncharted and Journey. But the movie licensed games are horrible. James Bond, Harry Potter, Star Wars, most of them (with a few exceptions) are crap. So a successful franchise will move crappy games but they will played a few times and very fast gather dust.
Speaking of the LotR properties, I think that Disney could make an end run and snag the rights to it and put it into Animal Kingdom, holding off on Avatar until they know if the further films will even be made. Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit would be an excellent replacement for the Beastly Kingdom, and there's ample room in the source material for all manner of attractions. I could just see Sauron's Tower over there looking down over the whole thing...
I believe you can not determine which is the "best franchise" only by looking at the box office revenue or book sales,
Thanks for that post Robert!
Francisco; That sums it up pretty well.
Francisco, Disney fans on this site are generally Universal fans, too. It is not an either/or thing, so I am not sure where you get your information. Regardless, I know I am huge fan of both companies. And I am grateful that the Forbidden Journey was such a hit, because without it, IOA might have closed its doors by now. And that would have made me very sad (Spider-Man is still the best attraction ever built, imho).
One problem is that a great novel (or series of novels) doesn't automatically translate into a great movie. Just look at the rather tepid response to Disney's efforts with the Narnia books. Look at earlier efforts to turn LOTR into movies (or animated features).
First: Rob Pastor, thanks man appreciate that!! I was waiting the first comment to be on the hater "how dare you" side. (lol) It wasn't! Thanks!
Forgot to put name!! Duh!
Francisco, talk about blinders! Universal's IOA has only one new ride addition since June of 2006 (Forbidden Journey). One. You're touting the virtues of a park that has been largely stagnant for six years and you say love has made
James, It is extremely long cause I don't want to be seemed as if I'm against Disney, I'm not. So "short and sweet", so is easily followable. Disney is a better experience the whole day, food, theme in general. In short? Yes. Although I would debate the whole day experience since I love attractions, and that features into my whole theme park experience. More importantly it features into my I'm going to Orlando for that experience. Something that clearly HP thrives at. So although I want to go to Disney to "hang out" cause It's beautiful, I don't necessarily want to ride many rides (at this time) in any of the parks anymore.
Again forgot to put name... But back on point:
I am not sure which of my posts you disagree with as I have touted both Universal and Disney in everything I have written. If you would rather I just write
I think the question being discussed has been lost in the war of universal vs disney argument; i will tell my personal experience; i was a universal fan, i dont live in the US and its not a short trip, every year i spend my vacations in orlando, and after the first 2 years i decided not to go to disney and instead only to IOA and Universal studios, there was something magical about entering jurassic park, or going inside the delorean. So they had great themed areas with JP, Marvel land, etc; but the attendance was low, until they decided to build potter land; since then everything they have done has been in order to remain popular and in the process lost the original charm. what do i mean:
Realisation of the Book/Film franchise into an immersive theme park environment constitutes the major determinant of the resulting success. The basic point of adapting a franchise is that it usurps guests familiarity and emotional investment in an intellectual property to augment the first person experience. As such the popularity of a franchise prior to theme park admission will color, but not dictate, the experience.
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