What's with all the movie sequels lately? This year, it seems as though every other movie released in the cinemas has been a sequel.
In 2016 alone, there are at least 20 sequels on the cards, including (deep breath) X-Men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory, Now You See Me 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Purge: Election Year, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Mechanic: Resurrection, Bridget Jones’s Baby, Underworld: Blood Wars, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and Rings.
It’s not just the Hollywood films that are sequels either: there’s also Hong Kong’s Cold War 2, Singapore’s Long Long Time Ago 2 and Fullhouse 3 from India.
Then there are remakes like Ghostbusters and Ben-Hur, as well as films that are part of a larger cinematic universe – movies that are not exactly direct sequels, but are set in the same universe that may or may not star the same characters.
The best example of this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which has spawned massive hits like The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and the recent Captain America: Civil War.
The success of the MCU has prompted other franchises to come up with their own version of cinematic universes – Warner Bros is taking its first steps towards a DC Comics cinematic universe with this year’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be the Star Wars franchise’s first live-action feature film that is not a direct sequel; and Harry Potter fans can look forward to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them in November.
Tried and tested formula
To understand why there are so many sequels these days, one needs to understand the reason sequels are made in the first place.
“Movie sequels could be conceived different ways – there are movie sequels that are produced out of a series of stories, and sequels that were produced as a result of the amazing performance of an original movie,” says GSC Movies general manager Tung Yow Kong.
“The appeal of sequels is that they are familiar to audiences. And with the rise of TV, sequels are used as a form of serialised storytelling, such as with the MCU and Star Wars,” says local filmmaker Edmund Yeo.
There is no denying that sequels are a lucrative business, and it is probably easier for studios to justify making a sequel to a popular movie than taking risks with new, original ideas. Just take a look at the worldwide highest grossing movies of all-time – 17 out of the top 20 are sequels (or in the case of Minions, a spin-off), with only Avatar and Titanic holding firm at the top, and Frozen sneaking into the Top 10 (though one could argue that it is part of the larger “Disney Princess” franchise).
In Malaysia, the all-time box-office champion is last year’s Fast & Furious 7, which grossed more than RM65mil, according to box-office tracker Box Office Mojo. In fact, nine out of the 10 top-grossing films of 2015 were sequels, with the Dwayne Johnson-starring disaster flick San Andreas the only non-sequel movie to crack the top 10 at No. 6.
Nicholas Yong, managing director of United International Pictures (UIP) Malaysia and Singapore, which released Fast & Furious 7, says that sequels do in fact fare better than the non-sequel films in term of ticket sales. “UIP’s biggest original film in 2015 was Everest, but its box-office was only 12% of Fast & Furious 7,” he adds.
Big box-office numbers for a movie usually results in more sequels being greenlit. For instance, despite taking a pummelling by critics, the Transformers franchise has two movies in the worldwide all-time top 20 (2011’s Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and 2014’s Transformers: Age Of Extinction) and shows no sign of slowing down with a fifth, yes, FIFTH movie coming out next year, titled Transformers: The Last Knight.
Likewise, this year’s Alice Through The Looking Glass was also greenlit after 2010’s Alice In Wonderland made a whole lot of money.
While it is not a 100% guarantee that a sequel will be a hit, there is less risk involved in releasing a sequel compared to an original film.
“Sequels in general carry lower risk as they are green-lighted based on the success of the first one. A sequel will only be greenlit if the first one does well,” says Chow Will Pin, managing director of Twentieth Century Fox Film (Malaya).
Established fan base
For movie fans, one of the greatest appeals of a sequel is that fans of a particular franchise get to go back and experience the same exhilaration and excitement they felt when the original movie came out.
Yong reckons that sequels usually do so well because there is already an established awareness and fan base created by the previous/original films.
“A sequel may have characters, effects or spectacular action or stunts which are already familiar and beloved by audiences from the first film, which means it is easier to market these points as reminders to the audience,” he states.
Sales manager, Kenneth Chirayil, 39, is a big fan of superhero movies, and says that his first pick at the cinema often would be a sequel, especially if it’s part of a franchise that he enjoys.
“Most of the time we all want more of the same. More Batman, more Avengers, more Deadpool...” he explains. “Also, most of what is considered original content today is still very much derivative. If it’s an original concept from a genre I enjoy, plus it has a combination of my favourite actors, then I’m invested.”
Marketing communications executive Brian J. Chong, 35, also agrees that he is more likely to watch a sequel than an original film. “I would have watched the previous ones already, so the characters and plot would be familiar to me,” he says, adding that he would watch an original film only if the plot is enticing enough.
Movie fan Regina Yau, who heads a non-profit organisation, agrees that there seems to be too many sequels, remakes and reboots these days compared to original films.
“In some cases – like the MCU – the sequels are very well done and linked together in an overarching storyline in a way that makes sense and enhances long-form storytelling that has previously only been available on television,” she says.
“However, in many cases it’s just sheer creative laziness or money-grubbing. Do we need anything beyond a trilogy for, say, a horror or action movie? Not for me.”
Death of original films
Does the influx of sequels mean that there is less room for original films then? Yeo certainly thinks so.
“Some sequels are great when they do things to reinvent themselves, like the Fast And Furious franchise, or expand upon the original in beautiful ways, like Godfather 2. But it’s troubling when everything in the cinema are sequels, because that leaves no room for original films,” he says.
According to Tung, the marketing and promotional investments are far heavier for original films than for sequels, which already have a head start in terms of branding and market base from the preceding titles.
“Original films require a bigger effort, as we have to build the brand from scratch,” he says, adding that marketing and promotion is a bigger factor than whether a movie is a sequel or not.
Chow doesn’t think that the influx of sequels is killing off the demand for original films though.
“Most sequels are based on a series of successful publications, games or TV series. Audiences would love to see them come alive on the big screen,” he says.
Yong concurs, saying that the influx of sequels is unavoidable because of the great demand for big effects-driven, action-packed blockbusters. “That being said, there will always be room for original films as audiences become more discerning and expectations rise.
“The studios will always seek to create standout original films that have the potential to grow into franchises. And when that happens, more sequels will follow!”