Well, this is a slight surprise. Focus Features just announced that Focus, Endeavor Content and Makeready have begun production on Book Club 2: The Next Chapter. If you recall, because it’s been four years, Paramount distributed Book Club, an original, star-driven, “aimed at older adults” comedy in early May of 2018.
It was one of three rock-solid spring/summer hits for the Viacom-owned studio, in between A Quiet Place ($341 million worldwide) and Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($792 million) which provided temporary hope that Paramount might recover after a commercially miserable 2016/2017 slate. Its existence is another example of the value of studio programmers, in that they can sometimes become accidental franchises.
That the sequel will now arrive courtesy of Focus makes some sense, as the Comcast-owned studio has become an unofficial indie studio for older-skewing films. They released both Downton Abbey movies and, well, you really ought to catch up with The Outfit now that it’s on Peacock. Likewise, they offered up Matt Damon’s underrated Stillwater last year and the terrific Let Him Go in late 2020.
It’s not a zero-sum game (and certainly not a criticism), mind you, as The Northman, Last Night in Soho and Promising Young Woman aren’t exactly aiming for the AARP demographics, but I digress. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen (who looked almost as hot in the last movie as she did in the sixth season of Justified) are back, alongside love interests Andy Garcia (looking stupidly hot both here and in Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! two months later), Don Johnson and Craig. T. Nelson.
Joining the fun will be Giancarlo Giannini (best known as the best part of Hannibal), Hugh Quarshie and Vincent Riotta. Bill Holderman will return as director with Holderman and Erin Simms writing and producing the film. The sequel will send the dames to Italy.
Whether it earns as much as its predecessor ($68 million domestic from a $13.5 million opening weekend and $104 million worldwide on a $14.1 million budget), it’s another example of what can happen when Hollywood bothers to make an old school movie-movie aimed at more than just teen boys and nostalgic men.
This used to be how it worked, whereby Lethal Weapon 2 got made because Lethal Weapon, a stand-alone action drama, was well-liked and made a lot of money. Even the first Star Wars was 90% stand-alone allowing for a complete narrative should the film not financially justify a continuation. Offhand, I’d argue (at least in modern times) that Batman Returns was the first preordained sequel, if only because everyone knew that Batman was going to be a box office monster.
Like Paul Feig’s Blake Lively/Anna Kendrick dramedy A Simple Favor, which earned $97 million global on a $20 million budget with a sequel in development or Bad Moms ($183 million/$20 million), the mere existence of Book Club allows for the potential existence of Book Club 2.
Sure, the sequel doesn’t always pop, and folks are sometimes just curious the first time, as we saw with The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, but Netflix doesn’t get to pay $450 million for Knives Out 2 and Knives Out 3 without Rian Johnson’s first Knives Out earning rave reviews and incredible legs for a $165 million domestic/$311 million worldwide cume in late 2019.
Ditto Crazy Rich Asians, Pitch Perfect, The Fast and the Furious, The Expendables, Austin Powers, Baby Driver (which might have gotten a sequel had Ansel Elgort and Kevin Spacey not become relatively problematic), Wonder and, of course, John Wick which spawned an R-rated, star-driven, B-level action contender to James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mission: Impossible and The Fast Saga.
As for Book Club, it’s a harmless and enjoyable diversion, “just a movie” from a time when that used to be enough. For those who are curious, it is currently on Paramount+. As for The Next Chapter, I wouldn’t be shocked if it ends up as a theatrical/Peacock dual release, presuming anyone still bothers with those in 2023 or 2024. After all, you must first make Top Gun before Top Gun: Maverick can make hundreds of millions of dollars 36 years later.