There used to be a time where it was hard to predict what movie would number one for the year. Superheroes, sequels, and book adaptions weren't the biggest of the year. Movies about dinosaurs, toys, World War II, holidays, Beverly Hills, and Tom Cruise flying planes were the top attended, but by the turn of the century that has changed. Since 2002, 8 of the number one movies for the year were sequels. Another thing that used to be the norm was trilogies. It used to be 3 and out; seeing four movies in series was not too normal. That is changing as trilogies are becoming 4-quels.
This year has seen the release of Ice Age: Continental Drift, Bourne Legacy, American Reunion, Underworld 4, Step Up Revolution, and Paranormal Activity 4. Last year it was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mission Impossible- Ghost Protocol, X-Men First Class, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1, Tyler Perry's Big Happy Family, Scream 4, and don't forget Shrek Forever After from 2010 and Terminator Salvation from 2009. Transformers 4, Last Friday, and Mockingjay Part 2 have been confirmed.
So why? Why 4? It seemed like three was the perfect number. Well for some it had to happen- after Spider Man 4 was cancelled, Sony had to make The Amazing Spider Man in order to keep the film rights- yes it didn't have to be a reboot though, but it still made $752 million worldwide, so Sony doesn't really care. Some were planned from the beginning, like Shrek 4, and most, were for the surprise money aka Transformers and Pirates. Some also just don't make sense- yes we love Scream, but who asked for Scream 4? [chirps]. Twilight of course because their are four books- now is splitting it into two parts necessary though? No, but it's more money for the studio so Summit doesn't care either.
3D may be slowly getting shunned domestically, but overseas audiences are embracing it like hugs. Avatar from 2009 started it all, making $2.7 billion, which wouldn't of been possible with 3D- though it would have still been a monster. Ever since, Hollywood has been backing the format full force, even to the point of forcing directors to slap it on there film. Before 2009, only 5 films made $1 billion WW, all 2D. After 2009, 8 more films have, with only 1 not in 3D. Grosses don't lie.
Transformers 3 made a surpise killing overseas, $771 million with help from 3D, which is around what the original made with overseas and domestic combined. Paramount wasn't just going to let it end- even if the ending of TF3 made it seem that way. Disney too, once they saw how 3D had taken over and how Pirates was still strong, they made On Stranger Tides. Tides dropped majorly from At Worlds End domestically, but it did justice overseas. Alice in Wonderland was released in the right time. Coming three months after the 3D mammoth Avatar, audiences here and overseas yearned for more 3D. Alice grossed $1.024 billion worldwide and $690 million overseas which many believed was goodwill from Avatar. No non-sequel has broken the billion barrier since.
There have been talks for Madagascar 4, Toy Story 4, Rush Hour 4 and Austin Powers 4 (forever), and if Iron Man 3 blows past that $1 billion barrier next year, or comes close, Iron Man 4 shouldn't be a surprise.
Not a surprise is that 4th movies usually, but not always, fail to match the critical and financial success of their predecessors, but yet they're still made? Franchises may get tired here in the US, but again overseas, the next entry expands into a larger audience since the box office has been expanding wildly overseas. It's highly probable that sequels will make higher than theyre predecessors overseas. If Ice Age 5 is made, it won't be because kids in the US just cant fulfill their need for Scrat, it will be because kids in Latin America, Asia, and Europe can't. Animation has seen the biggest benefit; that is why Madagascar 4 and Ice Age 5 are on the table even though their franchises are growing old. Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky- all animation companies- have also practically made it a rule that ALL their future releases will be 3D. Until 4D comes out of course. At least you won't expect this from live action movies. Ted 3D anyone?
It's safe to say now that 4-quels will become more common practice. This is not necessarily a bad thing- Mission Impossible 4 and X-Men 4 were considered one of the best in their franchises. Though Pirates 4, American Reunion, Terminator 4, and Scream were seen as disappointments and/or cash grabs. Transformers doesn't really need to go on, but if there's a high probability that it will make $1 billion worldwide again- it will.
As long as the 4th movie brings fourth (pun intended) good quality and it actually makes sense to make, then the extra number on the title won't matter. If Hollywood keeps churning out fours though just to keep the money train going and the fourth movies keep sucking, then the public may take notice of the extra number- and may skip it. Here's hoping Transformers 4 can finally break "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes!