Marketing "U.S. Marshals"

If you’re wondering what the sequel “U.S. Marshals” (opening tomorrow) has in common with its predecessor, the 1993 smash “The Fugitive,” just watch the film’s trailer. In two-and-a-half minutes, you’ll see that Harrison Ford appears to be the only thing the films don’t have in common.

The deja vu preview shows the wrongfully accused fugitive, played this time by Wesley Snipes, fleeing a plane crash to freedom. (Ford escaped from a bus crash.) Tommy Lee Jones appears, reprising his Oscar-winning role as federal marshal Samuel Gerard, barking that he wants the cops to search for Snipes in every “hospital, hotel, back road and back water.” (In “The Fugitive,” he told them to check every “henhouse, outhouse and doghouse.”) Familiar scenes continue, culminating with Snipes’s leap off a tall building to freedom while Jones holds him at gunpoint. (Jones’s character is a slow learner: Ford escaped by jumping into a towering waterfall.)

Familiarity may breed contempt, but the film’s studio, Warner Bros., felt that stressing the similarities between “U.S. Marshals” and “The Fugitive” was necessary to alert audiences that this Ford-less flick was a sequel. “What you have to do strategically,” says Sandy Reisenbach, Warner Bros. executive VP of marketing, “is assure people who loved seeing ‘The Fugitive’ that this film is in the family tree.”

Industry analysts agree that this familial approach usually works. “A large part of the audience doesn’t say, ‘It’s the same old stuff, forget it,'” says Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the phenomenon of sequels doing so well.”

But as much as audiences are happy to cheer a two-minute trailer stuffed with recycled material, they can become impatient if the entire movie remains stuck in the past. “Studios want to give sequel audiences a familiar, warm-and-fuzzy feeling,” says Jae Kim, associate analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, “but if they go too far, word of mouth says that the sequel is basically the same thing as the original and the box office drops quickly.”

Kim points out that “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Batman & Robin” — widely considered weak retreads — suffered this fate: Roughly 40% of their total grosses were made during their opening weekends. So unless “U.S. Marshals” offers audiences some genuine surprises, the film could be met in theaters by the sounds of one arm clapping.

U.S. Marshals
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