What do Tony Stark, Michael Corleone, Dirty Harry, and the Woody/Buzz duo have in common with each other?
Besides being kickass male (super) heroes and having a dry/laconic sense of humour, they have all managed to be such great protagonists in their films that each of them has had at least two or three sequels dedicated to them and their exploits.
With billions of dollars at stake, that’s hardly surprising.
Take the Marvel movies for example: we know that they have three things in common between them: (1) they all feature a fun Stan Lee cameo, (2) they always have a post-credit scene expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe even further, and (3) they’re all such blockbuster hits at the box office that ALL of them get sequels.
And it’s not just Marvel. Last month was Finding Dory, Disney-Pixar’s $600 million grosser about the lovably amnesiac fish Dory and a sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. This month, there’s Ice Age: Collision Course, the laughably bad fifth installment (yikes!) in the Ice Age movies. Last year, of course, was the long-awaited (and that’s no exaggeration) Stars Wars sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
What is it about sequels (or prequels and trilogies) that we, as the audience, can’t seem to get enough of? Does the money involved justify them being made, even when some of the movies in the franchise aren’t great (think Shrek The Third and Shrek Forever After)? And which solo movies would we love to see have their sequels or prequels? First world problems, all of these, but let’s think about it.
Thirty-forty years ago, when Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Jurassic Park), George Lucas (Indiana Jones and Star Wars), Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), or James Cameron (Alien) made movies and their sequels/prequels, there was a certain anticipation in waiting for the release of these movies. Pictures of people excitedly waiting in line outside movie theaters for the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back are the stuff of legend! That may not have changed entirely, at least not for certain movie franchises, but there are others, like The Fast and the Furious, that have made a habit of churning out less-than-satisfactory movie sequels at a great speed (no pun intended) without really bothering to stop and think about where they’re going. Then there was Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth installment in Michael Bay’s robot franchise, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 percent.
But it’s not just mindless action thrillers that have suffered the embarrassment of being nominated for The Razzies. In light of The BFG’s disappointing box office turn, even a master like Spielberg admitted, in an interview with New York Times, that his sequels aren’t as good as the originals: “My sequels aren’t as good as my originals….This movie made a kazillion dollars, which justifies the sequel, so I come in like it’s going to be a slam dunk and I wind up making an inferior movie to the one before.” If Spielberg can’t be spared, the likes of Michael Bay don’t stand a chance!
And yet these movies continue to be made. Many have started to refer to sequels as versions of the originals, made by the people who made a lot of money from the originals, except with a lot of mistakes and a number upward of “2” in the title. Of course there are exceptions (see the 100 percent ratings for Toy Story 2, the universal acclaim for Toy Story 3, Back to the Future, Kung Fu Panda and The Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal series). Even Marvel, which at this point has its entire array of movies/TV shows lined up for the next three years and doesn’t really need to worry about box office records, ensured with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War that plot, narrative, and acting needn’t be affected because of the billions already in their pockets. Frenzied audience anticipation or not, these movies have indubitably proven that it is possible to have interesting and well-executed plot-lines in movies beyond the originals, that it’s not necessary to just ham up the dialogue and acting (unless it’s the “it’s so bad, it’s good” Sharknado franchise, in which case all is game!) just because the movies are (still/somehow) raking in the moolah.
We know the movies that did it well, those that faltered, and the ones that deliberately messed it up, but what about those movies that deserve to have (at least) one more go on the big screen, either as a prequel or a sequel?
There have been movies that were left open-ended for sequels that never happened, and common sense says that some of the movies on that list would absolutely rock in the sequel/prequel category (looking at you, The Incredibles, which hopefully is getting a sequel in the next couple of years).
But even movies that seem to be neatly tied up and served to us on a wonderfully balanced platter could have room for exploring potentially new ideas: who wouldn’t want to see Kill Bill’s Bride “kung fuing” her way through the Japanese yakuza or the Chinese triads? Maybe she could team up with Hattori Hanzo and take them down with the same stylish genius that Tarantino displayed in Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2 (apparently, Tarantino had a more non-Bride, more-Sofie Fatale storyline in place for a sequel).
Or how about a prequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon about Li Mu Bai’s younger days as a Wudan warrior? Over the years, while some sequels have had to be shelved because of the deaths of the stars from the originals (The Bodyguard, Mrs Doubtfire), many are finally getting (or have gotten) sequels or complete reboots (Independence Day, Cloverfield, and Ghostbusters).
There’s plenty of scope for a whole lot of movies. Let’s hope there’s a sequel or prequel in the pipeline that’s going to make us all want to camp outside of movie theaters to buy tickets, with wide-eyed anticipation and childlike glee, ready to discover something spectacularly new and comfortingly familiar at the same time. Fingers crossed!