Wait, So Why Are We Getting A Sequel To ‘Law Abiding Citizen’?

Village Roadshow made news on Saturday by announcing that they would be partnering with Rivulet Films to make a sequel to Law Abiding Citizen. For those who don’t remember, the F. Gary Gray-directed and Kurt Wimmer-penned crime thriller stars Gerard Butler as a man who watches his family die violently in a home invasion only to reemerge ten years later to seek elaborately lethal vengeance on both the murderers and the justice system he holds responsible for what he deems an inadequate prison sentence.

The film, which starred Jamie Foxx as a sympathetic DA, allowed audiences to relish Butler’s over-the-top murder schemes without condoning his bloodbath. It was a kind of “What if The Dark Knight was a real movie?” genre riff mixed with 1970’s vigilante sensibilities with no masked superhero racing to the rescue, and it earned $127 million on a $53 million budget in late 2009 and started Butler’s progression from A-level leading man wannabee to affirmed B-movie star.

It was also “just a movie with a good concept and two known movie stars” back when that was enough for theatrical success, although even in September 2009 I will admit being pleasantly surprised by its $22 million domestic debut weekend. Of course, spoilers for a 13-year-old movie, Butler’s larger-than-life antagonist perishes at the film’s end. Yes, the way it plays out (Butler tearfully holds his daughter’s bracelet as his jail cell explodes) left little reason to presume he survived because this was 2009 and not every high-concept hit was a franchise-in-the-making.

What’s odd about this greenlight is that the press release bragged about the film’s status as Netflix’s third-most watched film for December of 2021, behind Red Notice and The Unforgivable, as if forgotten, ignored or fondly remembered studio programmers don’t become momentary Netflix hits every single week. Best I can tell, Law Abiding Citizen was third in America on the week of December 6 and fifth on the week of December 13. It was never in the global top ten.

, Heck, last week, nine of the top ten English-language movies on Netflix in America were third-party flicks like U.S. Marshals, The Gentlemen and Rambo: Last Blood. I guarantee you that the moviegoing world is not waiting with bated breath at the notion of a third “Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard hunts a fugitive” movie. All due respect, greenlighting a sequel because the film was briefly hot on Netflix is either a willful misunderstanding of how the streaming era works or an attempt to convince investors that it means a lot more than it does. I’m not sure which notion would be worse.

Even infamous bombs like How Do You Know? and King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword had their moment as Netflix’s most-watched movie (at least in America). It was a running gag in 2020 and 2021 as audiences would catch up on or revisit older Hollywood flicks in the absence of new Hollywood movies. Once again, streaming platforms get a huge swath of their regular viewership from audiences randomly watching old-school Hollywood studio programmers. The great irony is how streaming is touted as a replacement for theatrical even as the platforms need a steady supply of theatrical films to survive.

Butler’s explosive death notwithstanding, I can get why investors and producers noticing sequels to Greenland and Den of Thieves (which was also momentarily popular on Netflix years after its $80.5 million global theatrical gross on a $30 million budget) might send them digging into other Butler action/genre films. Butler eventually figured out that he was more bankable as an action hero than a romantic lead, kind of an inverse Patrick Swayze/Channing Tatum. Between Law Abiding Citizen, Olympus Has Fallen and Den of Thieves, he’s become a genuine B-movie star for films where $15 million is a great opening and $75 million worldwide is a terrific result.

Considering its high concept I’m surprised Law Abiding Citizen didn’t spawn a few direct-to-DVD/VOD sequels. We can credit/blame Butler’s popularity, the appeal for films that deal with righteous vigilante justice (at least it’s more aware of its icky politics than Peppermint) and the always present threat of a film being franchise-ed by changing ownership. It’s also the kind of film that no longer is a commercial slam dunk precisely due to streamers removing many general moviegoers from the theatrical equation. If they believe that Law Abiding Citizen being momentarily popular on Netflix means a damn thing, well, I guess I should prep my script for a Mile 22 sequel.

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