Talking Point: Sequels

So many sequels, but how many are good?
So many sequels, but how many are good?

Sequels are certainly not a new thing. Even if you wouldn’t call The Odyssey a sequel to The Iliad, the idea of taking the same characters and recycling them in a new plot following the success of the first outing goes back a very long way, certainly long before Hollywood or even the movie business got involved.

But just looking at last year’s top grossing films, it’s not hard to see why the industry is so reliant on sequels. Those that aren’t directly sequels are either ‘reboots’ or part of a larger franchise (for example, Marvel’s The Avengers). Even many of the ones which are stand-alone were either consciously created as the first in a series (The Hunger Games) or at least have the potential to be sequelised (Pixar are either being ingenuous or very sweet to suggest that they don’t create films in order to make sequels, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a Brave 2 happens).

This is a heavy reliance on sequels, and though they’ve always featured prominently in the charts going back in time, it seems to be more and more the case. So how does this affect the moviegoer? Garrett over on Cinema Train did a similar post asking whether movies were getting worse, and I think he’s right in his conclusion. Sure it can seem lazy to rehash the same characters and plotlines, but then this has been done for years in all kinds of films (not just sequels) under the guise of hommage, or in-joke, or (more often) just brazen contempt for the intelligence of the audience.

This doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty of good films being made around the world. Even some of those sequels aren’t entirely worthless (for my own part, I found Fast Five to be deeper and more interesting than previous films in the same series). In some ways, the sequel at its best can be a way to open out characters and storylines — find greater depth of characterisation and richness of worldview — in a way that has always been the strength of episodic television.

So, do you think that every passing year of sequels and reboots represents a new low point for the art of film? Or is there anything good that can come from a sequel?

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8 thoughts on “Talking Point: Sequels

  1. Nice post Ewan. I think it is slightly worrying the amount sequels, spinoffs and remakes that are around nowadays. It really does show a dearth of original ideas and it’s clear that studios are just trying to cash in, they don’t actually care about the quality of the output. However, looking at the posters you’ve put at the top, I wouldn’t say they’re all sequels. I would say any of the Harry Potter films are sequels, as they’re all part of one larger story, same for Twilight. Sequels can be great, though. But they need to be made only if there is genuine mileage in the story and characters, rather than just churning them out for money.

    1. I think it’s a fine line between sequels and parts to a larger story. It’s probably likely that if the first Twilight had failed, the sequels wouldn’t have been made. But yes, characters and story should be the key to any film, sequel or not.

  2. Good question. For me, sequels are typically a way to cash in on the original. The best sequels are the ones that expand off the original, like The Godfather Part II. The worst just repeat the original formula.

    1. There is a certain formula even to The Godfather films, but the second one keeps it interesting. I remember the third was a bit more slavish to the formula, rehashing a lot of the conceits of the first two (I haven’t seen it in so long, I’m convinced it’s underrated, but now I’m going off topic; maybe I’ll re-watch it some day…).

  3. What does it mean that a film “has the potential to be sequelised”, though? Is it just you don’t kill or destroy the main characters? Certainly having characters and milieu that people are interested in is good, right?

    1. I take your point, I just feel as if sometimes films are set up as if with possible sequels in mind, not just because they don’t kill or destroy the main characters, but because they don’t close out the stories fully. Then again there’s nothing wrong with creating a narrative that’s too full to be contained in a single film, it’s just I get the sense sometimes (especially with a lot of big tentpole blockbuster films, as most animated films tend to be) that something cynical is being done by leaving certain narrative threads open, or certain possibilities for character/story development untapped. There are big films that all but wink at the audience in the final shot, as if to say, hey maybe there’ll be more…

  4. Sequels can be a good thing only if they are really needed and are integral to the story. Godfather part II and the Toy Story sequels are great examples. However, I think there are far too many sequels nowadays. Not only that, but prequels and far too many re makes. I feel there are not enough fresh ideas out there today that could be re-made in the future. Me and my friend were also discussing how there is a severe lack of potential for cult films these days. What do you guys think?

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