Cracking the case: The mysterious success of ‘The Final Destination’


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If there were ever a movie that shouldn’t end up making as much as $190 million around the world, it is ‘The Final Destination,’ a homely horror thriller that is the third, and least-loved sequel in New Line’s low-budget ‘Final Destination’ horror franchise. The first three movies, released from 2000 to 2006, were modest successes, each one earning around $50 million in the U.S., and only slightly more overseas. It’s a sign of the franchise’s below-the-radar consistency that ‘FD3,’ released in 2006, had virtually the same exact box-office numbers as the original film, earning $54 million domestically and $58.7 million overseas.

So how on earth did the fourth film in the series, released on Aug.28th -- an end-of-the-summer weekend that is normally a dumping ground for studio dregs -- end up breaking all the ‘FD’ franchise records, making $65.8 million domestically and $95.7 million overseas, with Warner Bros. predicting it will eventually do close to $125 million in the international market? (The film still hasn’t opened in Japan, Australia, Italy or Spain.)


It certainly isn’t because ‘Final Destination’ was a better movie than its predecessors, since it earned a lowly 28 at Rotten Tomatoes, making it the worst-reviewed installment in the series. The reason for ‘The Final Destination’s’ success is simple, says New Line chief Toby Emmerich. It was in 3-D. ‘These days, instead of asking myself what movies am I making in 3-D, I’m asking what movies am I actually not making in 3-D,’ says Emmerich. ‘All the numbers we’ve seen have pointed to the fact that 3-D played a huge role in numbers we got for ‘Final Destination.’’

After the third movie in the series was released in 2006, Emmerich was ready to put the franchise to bed. ‘I really thought ‘Final Destination’ was dead as a franchise, but when we saw how well ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ did in 3-D, we thought we could justify doing another installment of ‘Final Destination,’ ‘ he said. ‘It obviously really paid off.’ The movie also benefited from WB’s overseas marketing clout, which New Line never had until it was brought into the Warners fold.

Emmerich says New Line is now also planning a 3-D sequel for its ‘Friday the 13th’ series which could be released as early as next summer, with August 13, 2010 (when Friday falls on the 13th) as a likely date. Like everyone else in Hollywood, he is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Jim Cameron’s ‘Avatar,’ which should set a new benchmark for 3-D creativity and audience interest.

When I asked Emmerich if New Line could envision making a ‘Final Destination 5,’ he laughed. ‘Trust me,’ he said. ‘[Warners chief] Alan Horn just asked me the same question. 3-D is obviously making us look at a lot of our movie production decisions in a different way.’