Box Office Mojo has done the math for us, and it’s official: 2011 will hold the record of the most sequels released in a year, with a total of 27 various major release part 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s (and more!) in the pipeline. Box Office Mojo also points out that this year will set the record for most “Part Fours” in a year [Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Scream 4, Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One)] and “Part Fives” [Fast Five, Final Destination 5, Puss in Boots, X-Men: First Class, Winnie the Pooh], too, so this isn’t just a “Part 2” issue (although there’s nine of those scheduled for 2011 release). While some will argue some of the listed films aren’t sequels but “spinoffs,” the idea is the same — franchises are the standard at the multiplex more this year than ever before.
It’s not hard to imagine why: as I mentioned above, sequels rule at the box office. Want proof? Of the top 10 films of 2010, six were sequels (Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and I’m counting Alice In Wonderland, too, although that’s certainly up for debate). Studios know that a “brand name” will have a better chance at selling where an unknown commodity is a bigger gamble — after all, people still pluck down more money to buy Coca-Cola and Pepsi even though store brand Cola is cheaper. Even if a sequel has a noticeable drop in quality from the original it still has a chance of outperforming the original on name value alone: take Iron Man 2, which nearly made as much at the box office as the original domestically and blew its predecessor away when foreign receipts are taken into account, even though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the sequel was a better film than the original.
Furthermore, we’re in the era of franchises, where Samuel L. Jackson is signed to play Nick Fury in nine films, where Chris Evans will appear as Captain America in Captain America this year and already again in The Avengers next year. Remember the days where we typically had to wait three years between sequels? That waiting time is more-often-than not being cut down to two years or, in the case of movie sequels shot back-to-back, to one year or less. Studios are actively looking for opportunities to make a film series that will continue to produce revenue for years to come. After all, when you look at how Disney has been able to utilize its princess characters as revenue streams for decades, is it any wonder that Universal intends to move on with a fourth Bourne film even without franchise star Matt Damon. Even if it just gives them an excuse to sell yet another box set of Bourne films, it’s probably worth it for the studio financially. Even actors have learned that franchises can save their careers — Sylvester Stallone went from being a fifty year-old box office failure to a sixty year-old box office hero by returning to his two most famous characters, Rocky and Rambo. So is it any wonder why Tom Cruise is trying to jump start his stalled career with a fourth Mission: Impossible film? Or that within the next several years Mike Myers will surely try to rehabilitate his failing movie career with a fourth Austin Powers movie? Familiarity sells — hell, Arnold Schwartzenegger arguably made Terminator 3 as a way to catapult himself back in the public eye before he ran for Governor of California, and I’d say that worked out pretty well for him. Obviously sequels play a key role in keeping film properties and actors selling years or decades after the original film is released.
Sure, it didn’t used to “be that way” — you’d be hard pressed to name 27 sequels produced in the three decades between 1940 and 1970 — but we all know that the film industry has changed perhaps more dramatically in the last twenty years than it had in the previous fifty. Movies, for a variety of reasons, cost a heck of a lot more money to make now than they did during that era. We can complain about sequels all we want, but we have to remember that even bad sequels usually make money, and all that sequel revenue bankrolls smaller, more artistically challenging films that (sadly) don’t make as much money from the major studios’ smaller divisions like Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics. We wouldn’t have one without the other, and for that alone I’m thankful. I doubt Fox would bother producing Wes Anderson‘s films — which I love, but have never killed at the box office — if it wasn’t for the revenue generated from films like the Star Wars prequels and the X-Men franchise. If you love quirky, independent films like I do that wouldn’t have a prayer of being made if it wasn’t for a studio feeling generous (or looking for awards), you have to grit your teeth and accept that, for many of those films, blockbuster sequels are what allow them to happen at all.
So I for one am one film connoisseur that doesn’t mind that we live in the era of the franchise. Franchises play a variety of key roles in the film industry, especially since we wouldn’t have so many of the smaller films that we all love if it wasn’t for the blockbuster sequels giving the studios money to take risks on small them. For those of you who complain that sequels somehow “ruin” the spirit of the original film — guess what? Don’t watch them! Godfather Part III was an average film, but it doesn’t make the first two parts any less groundbreaking or captivating. But Godfather Part III isn’t going to go away any more than Dumb and Dumberer unless you just decide not to watch them — as most people, including myself, decided not to see the latter. So if you’re really against the “bad” sequels as opposed to the “good” ones, just vote with your wallet. Trust me, based on the box office alone we won’t see another bad sequel to Dumb and Dumber anytime soon. But don’t reject the whole idea of sequels outright, or you’re risking a lot more about the film industry than you might think.
That’s my take, anyway… but what’s yours? I’d love to hear your comments below!