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Dreamworks Sequels Dreamworks Sequels

Dreamworks Animation will relaunch its popular Kung Fu Panda film series this weekend with the franchise’s fourth theatrical feature. Releasing wide today, the film is predicted to draw in second highest domestic opening in Kung Fu Panda history with more than $50 million from 3,900 theaters. That figure would also be the second biggest start for a Dreamworks title since Universal acquired the studio in 2016.

With so many studios favoring catalog IPs lately, we wanted to take a closer look at Dreamwork’s record regarding follow-up features. How have the studio’s animated sequels compared to their earlier counterparts, and when do franchises start to hit diminishing returns?

Of course, for any film to succeed, it must be good, or at least something audiences are willing to pay to see in cinemas. But we’ve seen bad franchise movies make big money and great original films go bust, so we think this is a worthwhile exercise in furthering the discussion around sequels, reboots, and remakes.

We reviewed seven major Dreamworks franchises and collected box office numbers, domestic and global, for each film that had a theatrical run. Here is the raw data, as cataloged by The Numbers. The franchises are listed in the order that the first film from each was released:

Shrek

Title Year of Release Domestic Gross Worldwide Gross
Shrek 2001 $268M $492.2M
Shrek 2 2004 $441.4M $935.5M
Shrek the Third 2007 $322.7M $807.3M
Shrek Forever After 2010 $238.7M $756.2M
Puss in Boots 2011 $149.2M $555M
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish 2022 $186.1M $485.3

Spirit

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron 2002 $73.2M $106.5M
Spirit Untamed 2021 $17.1M $42.2M

Madagascar

Madagascar 2005 $193.6M $556.6M
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 2008 $180.2M $599.7M
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted 2013 $216.4M $746.9M
Penguins of Madagascar 2014 $83.4M $366.9M

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda 2008 $215.4M $631.9M
Kung Fu Panda 2 2011 $165.2M $664.8M
Kung Fu Panda 3 2016 $143.5M $521.2M

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon 2010 $217.6M $494.9M
How to Train Your Dragon 2 2014 $177M $614.6M
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 2019 $160.8M $521.6M

The Croods

The Croods 2013 $187.2M $573.2M
The Croods: A New Age 2020 $58.6M $214.8M

Trolls

Trolls 2016 $153.9M $342.8M
Trolls: World Tour 2020 No U.S. Theatrical Release $48.9M
Trolls Band Together 2023 $103M $210M

At first glance, we can see that box office figures for longer-running franchises tend to have a bell curve that peaks with early sequels and drops for later entries. It’s rare for a franchise’s original or first film to have the highest box office gross and rarer still for the final film in a string of sequels to be the biggest. That could mean trouble for Kung Fu Panda 4.

However, a significant gap between sequels can perhaps offset diminishing returns, as was the case with Puss in Boots (2011) and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) or The Croods (2013) and The Croods: A New Age (2020).

The numbers for the latter, without context, can be misleading because A New Age was hit hard by the pandemic. It’s more useful, perhaps, to look at how the two Croods films fared against other films released under similar circumstances. The first Croods film was 2013’s 11th highest-grossing film worldwide, while its sequel was 2020’s 10th highest-grossing film globally. Again, this supports the theory that a longer layoff between films can help fight off audience fatigue.

Certainly, there are more contributing factors than just time, The Last Wish was a wonderful film with cutting-edge aesthetics that fit in with the best and biggest studio features of the last several years and A New Age was only the second film from that franchise. But there is evidence to support the claim that Dreamworks has found success in taking long breaks between animated films from the same franchise. Perhaps Kung Fu Panda 4 will be the studio’s next film to fit that trend.

A next step in evaluating this data would be to compare the numbers for these sequels to box office totals for Dreamworks’ original films and see if the sequel strategy provides better returns than putting out new titles. But that’s another article for another time.

Pictured at top: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Kung Fu Panda 4, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Jamie Lang

Jamie Lang is the Editor-in-Chief of Cartoon Brew.