Hollywood’s Obsession with the Sequel

We all love a good movie. The film industry hasn’t survived and flourished since the late 19th century for the general public to hate movies. That feeling when you emotionally connect with a story, or a character, is the best feeling in the world. But then the movie ends. You’re left with wanting to know more, to know what happens next. You want another movie. The problem is, Hollywood knows this all too well. They know that people will pay to go see a sequel to a good movie, no matter whether the sequel is any good. The story doesn’t really matter to them, they only see the cash cow that are franchises and sequels.

Sequels aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They allow for a story to be told in greater depth, for characters to be developed even more fully. Star Wars Episode V & VI both expanded the universe the story takes place in and allowed its characters to grow and flourish under the challenges they faced. If George Lucas had ended A New Hope with the Rebels winning and celebrating, it would be a good enough ending, but we would always be left with that niggling feeling over whether the story was truly finished. We would never have known about Luke’s internal struggle with good and evil or the true might of the Empire. We wouldn’t have even known that Vader was Luke and Leia’s father! Creating those two sequels allowed a generation—and even future generations—to fall in love with Star Wars. The dark side to this, though, was that Episode IV made so much money, exceeding expectations and setting box office records, that there was no way Hollywood was going to just let it pass. In some ways, Star Wars was the death of the Hollywood Renaissance and the beginning of the blockbuster and franchises.

Pixar’s Monsters Inc. also has a well done sequel. Pixar waited until the kids that fell in love with the original were of college age and then came out with a film that detailed Mike and Sully’s adventures at college—Monster’s University. It played on the nostalgia heart strings of a generation struggling with growing up in an economically unstable world. This film not only showed us how the two monsters became good friends, but it also expanded on the world we only caught glimpses of in the first movie. Hopefully Finding Dory—Finding Nemo’s sequel, set for 2016—will follow the same path as Monster’s University and expand upon the already established story and delve deeper in its characters. Sequels are good when they tell us something we don’t know. When sequels are made for money and the story suffers, that’s when Hollywood loses artistic integrity.

A few weekends ago, Fast and Furious 7 came out; it’s still dominating the box office. This is the seventh movie in a franchise where the story is mostly cheap thrills and fast cars, repeating itself into increasingly farfetched plots. This movie has already made $1.1 billion worldwide this year and, in total, the Fast and the Furious franchise has made over $3.5 billion since its first film came out in 2001. With this much money, you can guarantee that an eighth, ninth, and tenth movie will be made. For fans of the movie, this is a dream come true, but you have to wonder how many times Hollywood can recycle the same plot before people start to notice. Rambo and Rocky have the same problem. Curiously, both series star Sylvester Stallone, but both pretty much copy the first film in their respective series. Rocky and First Blood are good films in their own right, but their successors mimic the high testosterone, male angst stories that made them famous. Rocky has had so many sequels its hard to keep track and Rambo came out with the latest installment in 2008, with the prospect of another film to follow.

The Fast and the Furious isn’t the only series to keep on expanding. Star Wars Episode VII is set to come out this December and, though it is highly anticipated, it has fallen prey to Hollywood’s sequelitis problem, with two more films to follow it, plus a bunch of spin offs. Marvel has done the same thing with their cinematic universe. Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out May 2nd, but that’s only the end of Phase 2 for the company. Phase 3 will see Iron Man 4, Captain America 3, Thor 3, and many new heroes will be introduced. Their television show Agents of Shield has a spinoff coming and Marvel’s Daredevil just premiered on Netflix—the first in a series. While Marvel was the first to create a franchise of multiple, interconnected films, the company has now settled into a familiar groove, comfortably churning out films that are no longer innovative. Maybe if they tweaked their lineup a little, introducing a woman superhero in her own, standalone movie, or an actor of color to star in a leading role, their films wouldn’t seem so stale. Captain Marvel and Black Panther will fulfill this missing link, but after so many films starring a white man named Chris, they seem too far away to fix the problem.

Disney—coincidentally the owner of Marvel and Star Wars—has also been known to squeeze their original movies for every last cent. After the Disney Renaissance ended in the early 90s, Disney began making sequels for their popular films. Hercules, Aladdin, and Ariel were introduced to the silver screen in spinoff television shows, while Mulan, Peter Pan, and Cinderella have gotten sequels, for better or worse. They just announced that their hit movie Frozen will also have a sequel coming soon. Disney Pixar’s Cars series has expanded into Planes and Toy Story is getting a fourth movie, despite Toy Story 3 being arguably the best sequel in history. It’s understandable why Disney would continue making sequels of movies that sold well. It’s just that, sometimes, a story can be told in just one film and then can be put to rest.

Probably one of the worst things Hollywood can do to a series is to split the last movie into two parts. Twilight was one of the first books to begin this trend when it split its last book, Breaking Dawn, into two separate films after seeing how much money the series brought in. To be fair, the fourth book of the saga is huge—at 768 pages—and had a lot of plot to cover, but it’s the principle of it all. Two recent major blockbusters, the Hobbit and the Hunger Games, have also committed this sin and they don’t have the excuse of Twilight’s massive word count, seeing as the books they are based off of aren’t that long. The Hobbit is only about three hundred pages give or take, yet Peter Jackson squeezed three movies that were well over two hours long each out of the tiny story. The movies were artfully shot, had wonderful acting and epic action scenes, but at times it was dreadfully boring because there wasn’t enough substance to move the plot along. You can only get so much action out of a children’s story even if you have help Tolkien’s extra notes. The Hunger Games has also split their last film of the trilogy, Mockingjay, into two parts, with the last installment slated to come out in November. Fans were left in a tizzy after the news came out because Mockingjay is also not a very large book. People were worried about where the split would happen and whether or not the split was even necessary to finish the story. Two part endings are just another way for Hollywood to guarantee more money.

Sometimes, sequels are known for being notoriously bad. Ghostbusters had a sequel in the 80s that no one talks about because it was terrible. Yet, they are rebooting the series with two new movies—an all male cast and an all female cast. The studio has their fingers crossed that this reboot could lead to a new franchise. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is another example of a movie that didn’t need a sequel, but got one anyway. The first movie, starring Kevin James, had a few laughs and a heartwarming story about being yourself and the importance of family. It was a nice enough story and had a good ending where Blart thwarted his enemies while being true to himself and even got the girl. It was done; finished. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 came out last weekend and currently has a 2% on Rotten Tomatoes. Apparently, it was so laughably bad that critics have been trying to outdo one another in their reviews by being as ruthless as they can and despairing over the state of the film industry. Bill Hanstock from SB Nation said in his review that, “It’s a bad movie with almost no movie in it.”

Something is wrong, though, when over half the movies being made this year—and in 2014—are sequels. The amount of sequels currently in development is staggering. From Blade Runner 2 to Die Hard 6, any obscure film that doesn’t need a sequel is probably getting one anyway. You have to wonder where all of the original ideas went. Hollywood is playing it safe by making films that they know will sell and that the audience are familiar with., but few have the nerve to try something new or daring. One of the few original films to come out in the past year is Jupiter Ascending and, while its script is laughably bad, you have to admire the way the sibling duo of writers tried new things, experimenting with old tropes and reinventing the genre. Mila Kunis stars in the Sci Fi adventure and Channing Tatum, quite literally, follows her around like a puppy, helping her save Earth. It’s something new and exciting and the space CGI is breathtakingly beautiful to watch. If more movies like Jupiter Ascending were given the same hype as the seventh Fast and the Furious, the world—and Hollywood—would be a better place.

What is Hollywood’s fascination with the sequel? Maybe it’s the nostalgia that the millennials feel from being forced to grow up through a constantly changing technological environment. From the perceived innocence of the 90s to post 9/11 America, Generation Y “grew up in the age of transition and [has] become the generation of nostalgia,” depending on movies to escape from economic and political instability. Maybe Hollywood is giving the people what they want while also cashing in on the need for familiar stories. Franchises allow the audience to get to know their favorite characters better by extending the journey and also gives consumers themed apparel and toys to enjoy well after the credits roll. Or maybe Hollywood is inherently greedy because it’s the product of a capitalist society. Sequels are not innately bad, most of them are just not necessary. They are tools to make more money off of moviegoing America. Sequels only become bad when filmmakers sacrifice the story for the allure of the money they hope to make. When these sacrifices are made, the audience suffers and Hollywood laughs its way to the bank. It’s up to the viewer to decide what kind of movies are worth seeing.

This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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1 Comment on Hollywood’s Obsession with the Sequel

  1. Thanks for the link. I agree. I’m ready for the sequels to go away.

    Like

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