Ice Age is a perfect example of how a franchise drives itself to extinction.
Across five feature films and two television specials, Ice Age has been a profitable brand for Fox. But its slow trudge to creative pointlessness is an object lesson in putting commerce before art.
The premise of the original Ice Age was solid. Talking pre-historic animals (voiced by Ray Romano, Denis Leary and John Leguizamo) try to escape the encroaching ice age. It had strong reviews and healthy box office returns (approximately $176 million in North America and $382.2 million worldwide). A sequel was inevitable.
Except that Ice Age was a concept that didn’t really lend itself to sustaining a franchise. Fox contrived new scenarios. New voice actors joined (Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez). The movies made money. In North America, the franchise peaked with the third installment, with about $196.5 million. But the sequels felt like product-by-committee. There was no creative reason for them to exist.
The explosion in overseas movie receipts in recent years kept Ice Age profitable, even as its domestic fortunes dimmed. Receipts for fourth film Continental Drift dipped more than $30 million from its predecessor in North America, while at $877.7 million, the worldwide haul was down by only about $10 million.
More troubling was the plummeting critical reception. The original Ice Age scored a strong 77 on Rotten Tomatoes. Averages for the first three sequels declined steadily: 57 for The Meltdown, 45 for Dawn of the Dinosaurs and 37 for Continental Drift.
Budgets increased with each installment, but not outrageously. The original was made for about $59 million. The price tag for Continental Drift came in around $95 million. Not chump change, but relatively reasonable budgets that helped make the movies profitable.
Fifth entry Collision Course came out this weekend. And it’s not great. Reviews were lethal. The movie averaged a dismal 12 on Rotten Tomatoes. Worldwide receipts weren’t terrible, at about $199.1 million (on a budget that had drifted up to $105 million). But the North American reception was a disaster. With an opening weekend of only about $21.3 million, Collision Course is on track to be the lowest grossing entry in the franchise. By a lot.
International receipts will “save” the movie, to some extent. But those will still likely fall far short of the franchise’s high water mark and studio expectations.
For awhile, audiences starved for family-friendly experiences kept Ice Age going. But the past few months have seen a number of creative, well-reviewed family movies. Many of them have done big business. A half-assed cash grab like Collision Course wasn’t going to cut it.
Considering its ancillary profits, the Ice Age franchise will likely continue on in some form, even after this disaster. But really, Fox should let it go extinct.