Tales From The Box Office: Jurassic World Is The Most Successful Legacy Sequel Ever

This weekend sees "Jurassic World Dominion" rolling into theaters, which means the franchise is reaching something that feels at least a little bit like a conclusion. While producer Frank Marshall has very much made it clear that Universal intends to make more movies after this, the sixth entry in the "Jurassic" franchise is being billed as the end of a journey that started way back in 1993 with Steven Spielberg's original blockbuster classic. But this is only made possible because in 2015, after a very long hiatus, this series of dino-fueled films returned to the big screen with one of the most successful sequels ever made in the form of "Jurassic World.

In honor of the release of "Dominion," we're going to look back at "Jurassic World," the long road it took to make it happen, how it absolutely blindsided the industry with its resounding success, and what lessons might be extracted from that success now that the new trilogy is in the books. Let's dig in, shall we?

The movie: Jurassic World

"Jurassic Park III" hit theaters in the summer of 2001 and, at the time, it was a gigantic commercial disappointment, taking in just $368 million worldwide, far below that of its predecessors. Not to mention that making the movie was an incredibly messy endeavor. The easy read of this is that the third entry killed the franchise for quite some time, but that's not exactly the case. As it happens, Steven Spielberg hatched plans for some version of "Jurassic Park 4" dating all the way back to 2001. And, not to exhaust you all with the details, but a great many versions of the film that could have been were cooked up before we got to "Jurassic World" as it exists.

William Monahan ("The Departed") was the first screenwriter to get a crack at JP4, but he would be far from the last, Most famously, John Sayles ("Lone Star") penned a version of the film that would have been absolutely bonkers, as it would have included dinosaur/human hybrids, as was confirmed via some leaked concept art several years back. Many details from this script have made their way online over the years but, primarily, it illustrates just how lost in development this movie truly was.

"Jurassic Park" was a contained story, and "The Lost World" took us to Site B, where the dinosaurs were nurtured before being moved to the main island. We even saw a T-rex terrorizing San Francisco. "Jurassic Park III" took a scaled-down approach with mixed results. From a financial standpoint, it's easy to understand why Universal and Spielberg wanted to solider on. But, from a creative point of view, it was clearly difficult to find a way in. That is, until time caught up with the notion of revisiting the past.

Things finally get real

Things finally got real in a meaningful way when Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes") were hired to pen a new version of the script in 2012. Things got even more real when Colin Trevorrow, who had just directed the indie sci-fi film "Safety Not Guaranteed," was hand-picked by Spielberg to direct the long-in-development sequel. However, as Trevorrow explained in 2015 around the time of the film's release, he and frequent collaborator Derek Connolly ended up mostly writing the whole thing over again, incorporating some key ideas that were mandated by Spielberg. Most importantly, the whole thing would revolve around a fully-functioning dinosaur theme park. Hence, the tagline, "The park is open." Trevorrow said:

"We started from scratch. There were three very fundamental ideas that Steven had mandated to Rick [Jaffa] and Amanda [Silver] and we kept those. The park is open, there is a raptor trainer and the dinosaur that breaks free and threatens the park. The only other thing that we kept from the Rick and Amanda script was that there were two boys. In their script, they were Chinese and were the sons of a Chinese paleontologist that was going to the park because the DNA of a dinosaur she had found had been stolen. So, obviously, very, very different movie. But, that was about it."

Not only was this a fresh hook, but it played perfectly into the nostalgia angle — people who grew up in the '90s have plenty of nostalgia for "Jurassic Park." This, in a big way, allowed them to revisit that fantasy. Not to mention that it had been 14 years since JP3, meaning there was a real appetite for more. With Owen Grady leading the way as the raptor trainer, Owen Grady, and Bryce Dallas Howard as the leader of this doomed park, Claire Dearing, the stage was set. But nobody could have reasonably predicted just how big the appetite for this movie was going to be.

The financial journey

After years and years of languishing in development hell, a long production process and a lengthy marketing campaign, "Jurassic World" finally made its way to theaters on June 12, 2015, right in the middle of the summer moviegoing season. Mind you, this was a very busy year that saw "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Furious 7," "Mad Max: Fury Road" arriving in the preceding weeks. But none of that mattered because Trevorrow's take on the franchise resonated with mainstream moviegoers in a major way to the tune of a record-breaking $208.8 million opening weekend. That was a record at the time, but it would be broken by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" several months later. 2015 was a big year all around.

When a movie opens that big, it always runs the risk of falling off a cliff in the ensuing weeks. That didn't happen. What was perhaps the movie's most amazing feat was its second weekend hold — it took in another $106.5 million, setting up for a straight-up ridiculous run the likes of which only a handful of other movies have ever touched before or since. All told, "Jurassic World" earned a staggering $652.2 million domestically to go along with just over $1 billion internationally for a dino-sized $1.67 billion total.

Top put that into perspective, it is still the seventh highest-grossing film of all time, just behind "Spider-Man: No Way Home" ($1.9 billion). But all but two of those movies — "Titanic" and "Avatar" — were released after June 2015. That means, at the time, "Jurassic World" ranked as the biggest movie ever not directed by James Cameron. It was that big. The only other movies on the list are "Avengers: Infinity War" ($2 billion), "The Force Awakens" ($2.06 billion), and "Avengers: Endgame" ($2.79 billion). That's not bad company to be in.

The lessons contained within

One thing I think about a lot right now with the Marvel Cinematic Universe doing three to four TV shows a year on Disney+, in addition to three or four movies in theaters, is how it's starting to feel like way too much, even for a hardcore fan such as myself. It's impossible to get excited in a genuine way about that much stuff all the time. Part of what I think helped "Jurassic World" so much was building genuine anticipation for the movie. Granted, no studio wants 14 years between installments of a hit franchise, but that is certainly something to think about. Do you want oversaturation for a short period of time, or the right amount of something in the long run?

Another thing I think about a lot is just how many different iterations of this film we could have had, dating all the way back to one that was put into development right around the time that "Jurassic Park III" disappointed critically and commercially. Yet, Spielberg and Universal exercised a surprising amount of patience in this regard and waited for the right idea, and for all of the pieces to snap into place. I know this movie has a lot of detractors, but nearly $1.7 billion can't be wrong. And hell, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," a movie most critics and audiences seemed to dislike strongly, still made $1.3 billion, suggesting a lot of goodwill was built up with that first film.

As for the future? It seems highly unlikely that Universal is going to let "Jurassic" go extinct for another 14 years, even if "Dominion" is serving as a conclusion of sorts. Even so, I would strongly encourage them to wait for the right idea and not continue to chase the ball down the same road merely because the dollars have continued to flow in up to this point. Eventually, audiences will wise up and you will get a "Transformers: Age of Extinction"/"Transformers: The Last Knight" situation where the sequel makes $500 million less than its predecessor. That doesn't have to happen here. Build some anticipation. Wait for the right story.