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What Does The Future Of ‘Magic Mike’ Look Like After Its ‘Last Dance’?

Beware franchise movies with “last” or “final” in the title. They can be great, like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Or they can be crappy, like any number of Friday the 13th or Freddy Kreuger movies.

In any case, it’s a cynical attempt to manufacture urgency in a loyal audience, suggesting that this could be the last time you ever see your favorite character in a new story. Of course, it rarely is. Freddy and Jason always came back, and the return of Harrison Ford at 65 years old in Crystal Skull (and now at 80 in this year’s Dial of Destiny) proves there’s no such thing as “last” or “final” until your hero is dead in the ground. And maybe not even then, if the grosses stay good and the technology continues to evolve.

Magic Mike’s Last Dance, which hits theaters on February 10, might not be the last two hours we spend in this universe. There’s already a Magic Mike stage show in Las Vegas, London, and Miami, and a reality show, Finding Magic Mike on HBO Max, not to mention the future projects revolving around the franchise’s side characters that have been hinted at by director Steven Soderbergh. But it could be our final rendezvous with Magic Mike himself.

Channing Tatum, who plays Mike Lane, is 42 years old, not particularly ancient for a leading man, but still an age that raises questions. How long will his back hold up doing those pelvic thrusts, lifting those women, spinning them in the air, and simulating the most athletic copulation you’re likely to see outside of a wildlife video? The trailer hints at a transition for Mike from dancer to choreographer, so maybe his time has already passed. Or maybe they’re just saving the best stuff for their paying customers.

Even if Last Dance represents the end of Mike, it could be the beginning of something else. How it lands with the public could map out our moviegoing future. The Magic Mike franchise represents an anomaly in the movie landscape that becomes more special with every passing year. The streaming revolution has narrowed the path for a movie made for adults to get into theaters, let alone perform well there. Much has changed since 2015 when the most recent film in the franchise, Magic Mike XXL, made $122 million. Even more has changed since the original Magic Mike grossed $167 million in 2012.

Early on in its production, Last Dance was slated to premiere on HBO Max before executives at Warner Brothers thought better of it and put it in theaters. If it performs well, it would not only keep the franchise going, but it would also engender confidence that there’s a future for adult-driven franchises.

Magic Mike may not be a superhero movie — although the bodies on display surpass normal human expectations — but it still benefits from being seen on the big screen with a first-class sound system. The dance sequences are an amazing blend of creative choreography, athletic accomplishment, and bangin’ music, all of which play up in movie theaters. These films are essentially show-biz musicals. There are several big dance numbers expertly dropped into the story of Mike Lane (Tatum), a striver who dances at night to earn seed money for his custom furniture business. There’s drama between him and his boys, and a romance with a pretty outsider who needs to be convinced stripping is an honorable profession. When we see the dancing, the debate ends. Nothing that beautiful can be dishonorable.

The other thing the Magic Mike franchise has going for it is that its fans typically show up in large groups. We’re talking a lot of women (who made up 96% of the sequel’s opening weekend audience in 2015) and quite a few gay men. For these groups, it’s a night out with friends to see hot guys dance and disrobe. The films are designed to be these kinds of crowd pleasing events with the dance sequences often shot from the perspective of audience members. So while Tatum and company thrust and gyrate for the women packed into clubs and arenas on screen, the folks in the theater are just as ready to pull out a stack of singles. It’s both a justifiable artistic choice and a way to turn the outing into more than just a night at the movies.

The other nagging question about Magic Mike’s Last Dance is exactly what kind of film it is. So far, the franchise has been unafraid to pivot in tone and shape, as long as it delivers the sexy thrills the audience wants. The first film was a classic Soderbergh joint that used slick design and handsome dudes to make its critique of American capitalism go down smoothly (this is the man who gave us the Ocean’s trilogy, after all). Magic Mike XXL was a strange and wonderful divergence, a road trip movie that found Mike and his boys traveling to a stripper convention to perform their “last” show (remember what I said about “last”) while soulfully exploring themes ranging from artistic integrity and the value of personal expression to a full-throated embrace of female pleasure. The new one? It was described in the New York Times by its star as “a fish-out-of-water story, a reverse-role ‘Pretty Woman’ story that ends up with a lot of dancing in it.” Hard to tell exactly what that means, but it sure sounds different from the first two films.

It’s a franchise whose marketability is not exactly replicable, although Hollywood should still try. The studios aren’t likely to give up on franchises anytime soon, but if Magic Mike’s Last Dance is a hit — in this landscape, a gross approaching $100 million would qualify — it would demonstrate that making a franchise for adults is not only possible but highly profitable. It’s not so complicated. People want what they’ve always wanted: to watch beautiful people trade witticisms, fall in love, and do incredible things. The Magic Mike franchise just wants to a few more butt cheeks to the formula.