Why’d it Bomb? The Pokemon Sequels (In America)
In the late 90’s, right after the anime and games came out, Pokemon had its first movie. Critics hated it, especially the English dub. Parents and other adults didn’t care much for it, but it was still highly successful at the box office, grossing $85 million domestically and another $77 million offshore, leading to a box office gross of $163 million dollars on a $30 million dollar budget.
A sequel was fast tracked, which led to Pokemon: The Movie 2000. It also did reasonably well despite grossing roughly half of what the first movie made in the US. And most of its gross came from international numbers. It was still made on a budget of $30 million dollars but domestically it only made $43 million dollars. Internationally, however, it actually did a little better than the original, grossing $90 million dollars but, altogether, its box office intake was smaller, grossing about $133 million dollars. Still pretty good all things considered though.
Then came the third Pokemon movie. It didn’t entirely bomb but its BO intake was a LOT smaller than its predecessors. It was made on a smaller budget of only $16 million dollars and domestically it couldn’t make that back, making $17 million dollars. It was sorta saved internationally but even the foreign gross was smaller, making $51 million dollars internationally, leading to an overall gross of $68 million dollars. A far cry from $163 and $133 million.
The next two movies, Pokemon Heroes and Pokemon4Ever, only received limited releases in the United States while the rest of the movies were released in theaters in Japan and directly to DVD here, except for the odd Fathom event here and there (like I Choose You or The Power of Us).
So what happened? Why did the previous Pokemon franchise go from big events to going straight to DVD so quickly? At least in America, because that’s really the only country I can really talk about here?
Well Pokemon as a franchise never went away. Kinda like the MCU, in its hey day, it was a huge franchise that people assumed other people would eventually get sick of. And, like the MCU, it never really happened. But, unlike the MCU, while Pokemon‘s popularity didn’t die out, it did die DOWN, as far as the United States is concerned. The highest point of Pokemon‘s popularity in the states was definitely in the late 90’s, about 1998-1999. The hype really helped The First Movie become successful, as children who were obsessing over it at the time begged their parents to bring them to see their favorite Pokemon on the big screen. The marketing also helped, there were tons of ads for it, there were rare trading cards you had to go to the theater to get, there were Burger King toys, there was a soundtrack album featuring Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, AND N’Sync, they really marketed this thing up the wazoo.
They used similar marketing tactics for Pokemon The Movie 2000 but I think parents were less keen on bringing their kids around this time because many of them probably didn’t care much for bringing them the first time around. It probably didn’t help that the 2nd movie came out less than a year after the first one, as the first movie came out in November 1999 and the 2nd one came out in July 2000. That probably made many people, especially parents, think of these movies as nothing more than quickly made cash grabs and, while they may have been okay with paying for an extended TV episode the first time around, they probably weren’t willing to do it two times in a row.
And the prospect of seeing Pokemon on the big screen just wasn’t that special anymore to some kids. They already had their fix less than a year earlier, there was nothing special about it anymore. They could just watch the anime, buy the video games, and collect the trading cards, to some kids, it was probably enough to see the Pokemon on the big screen once. These two factors probably led to the movie making about $40 million less in the states, something that still did well but it wasn’t exactly breaking the bank.
And, by 2001, the phenomenon was pretty much over. Oh Pokemon was still going, the anime was still making new episodes, there were still new video games being released, new trading cards being printed out, new Pokemon being created (and all of this is true today), but it wasn’t really a phenomenon anymore, it was more of a niche franchise, a franchise that had a devoted group of fans who kept it being (admittedly very) successful but it wasn’t really EVERYWHERE like it was a couple years prior. And, because the Pokenomenon was mostly done, people just didn’t care that there was a 3rd Pokemon movie coming out. And that’s what led it to bomb in the states. And, even internationally, people just didn’t care anymore about seeing Pokemon on the big screen.