The Saturation of Film Sequels

Terminator: Genisys. Paranormal Activity 4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Can you honestly recall a single person that asked for (or was even looking forward to) any of these movies? If you can’t, it’s probably because that person doesn’t exist. Yet, despite this being the case, sequels are more common today than they’ve ever been. And it doesn’t end at sequels.

Everywhere we look, both in the physical and digital world, we are graced with posters and trailers for remakes, reboots, prequels, spin offs, the works. These formats are nothing new, though. The concept of taking a successful film and remaking it goes back decades. In fact, Stephen Follows states that “the fourth horror film ever made was a remake of the first horror film.” [1] Unfortunately, it seems that lately, this technique has been blown out of proportion.

This is a topic that, for me, has been a regular source of dismay for the last few years now. Every time you discover that a new picture is coming out, I’m willing to bet my hard-earned pennies that nine times out of ten, you think to yourself, “What? Another one?” And I’m sorry to be the bearer of awful news, but this trend isn’t going to stop any time soon. Yahoo! Movies claims that in 1984, 58.56% of major film releases were original creations. As of 2014, that percentage dropped to 24.72%. [2] What does this mean for the future of film? Let’s just say that with over 170 sequels already in the works, expect to see plenty of classic (and non-classic) movies being resurrected for modern day audiences – whether you like it or not.

Sure, with almost every subject matter, genre or era you can think already touched upon to some extent, one could rightly state that nothing nowadays is truly original. Every object of creativity that doesn’t originate from the dawn of mankind takes at least some inspiration from material that came before it. So, allow me to clarify. By ‘original’, I’m referring to movies that aren’t officially linked to any established source material. It can be similar to previous ideas, but because it hasn’t yet been produced in any other form – whether it’s a novel, a comic book, a play, a TV show or whatever – it can be considered original.

Today, movies that manage to fit this criteria have become somewhat of a delicacy. Nocturnal Animals and The Secret Life of Pets are the newest, original films that come to mind. Yet, regardless of their critical acclaim, the highest grossing pictures of this year have been (you guessed it) the sequels, the adaptations and the remakes. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Jungle BookJason Bourne. Captain America: Civil War. I can mope about it all I want, but facts are facts.

The reality is that I’m not totally against the idea of sequels. I believe that in capable hands, film makers can actually pull them off pretty darn well. One of my favourite films of all time is The Dark Knight. Directed by Christopher Nolan and boasting the scene-stealing presence that is Heath Ledger’s Joker, this is more than just a Batman film. It’s an undisputed masterpiece. But for all its thought-provoking themes and mind-blowing, realistic set pieces, I admit that once you strip away all it’s outer coating, it’s still a sequel. Well, actually – it’s worse than a sequel. It’s a sequel to a reboot of a film franchise which was based on a TV series which was in turn based on a comic book character. Errgh, what a mouthful.

Nevertheless, pictures like The Dark Knight, Aliens, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Terminator 2: Judgement Day – they all prove that with the right people at the helm, film makers can do justice to the source material and even, every so often, improve on it. But this presents a problem. When the few people who know what they’re doing manage to deliver a ground-breaking sequel – and receive widespread praise because of it – you’ll always get other people trying to follow suit. And anyone who has viewed the results of these ventures quickly realise that it doesn’t always turn out as hoped.



Image by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash


Now, one could argue that the reason why the film industry isn’t forking out for anything original anymore is simply because they’ve run out of ideas. Filmmakers are deprived of creativity because everything has now been done before. Every so often we might get a fresh, never-before-seen idea to grace the screen. But for now, the film industry is just making do with what’s available to it. It’s doing everything it can to reinvent past materials just keep the industry alive. Right?

Well, to those that believe this as fact, here’s my opinion on the matter. That is absolute bull. No ideas left to work from? Undoubtedly the laziest excuse I’ve ever heard. No, my trusty readers – if you think there is no creativity left in the world, then think again. Because if you were to look at what students of the arts are churning out at universities on a weekly, even daily basis, you’ll quickly learn that creativity is far from dead. Writers everywhere are a never ending, vibrant source of ideas, stories and above all, originality. So why doesn’t the film industry harness this? If all they seem to be making is sequel after sequel, why do they not draw on the hotbed of new creative concepts available to them? The answer is a simple and depressing one. As you may have guessed, it’s not due to a lack of creativity. It’s money.

With movie piracy and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime putting the integrity of cinema at increasing risk, studio executives can’t afford to make any mistakes when choosing what pictures to release to the public. It’s painful to contemplate, but because they are new and without established audiences, original ideas thought up by optimistic writers are just too much of a financial risk for major studios. So what do they do? They go with the safe option. They attempt to breathe life back into what has made tonnes of money in the past. Sometimes the result is only loosely related to the initial material; other times, they just end up creating a soulless, carbon copy of a classic – all in the hope that moviegoers will flock to the cinema for just one more nostalgia trip.

The sad thing is that everyone is doing it now. Even Disney, one of the most innovative movie creators of our time, has started to resort to sequels and remakes. The live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast may not be out yet, but if the trailers are anything to go by, it’s not bringing anything new to the table. Moreover, while Finding Dory is the highest grossing movie of 2016 so far (and rightly so) it’s still an obvious and unnecessary attempt to cash in on people’s fond memories of Finding Nemo. I feel heartbroken just admitting it.

The worst offenders out of everyone, however, are the dreaded two-parters. I love Harry Potter to bits, but as soon as the final book (or not, apparently) was split into two, very successful movies, every other YA film series jumped on the band wagon. The Hunger Games. The Maze Runner. Divergent. Twilight. They stretched the authors’ novels beyond what they were capable of, just so they could cash in on the undying devotion of fans. Disgraceful.

What worries me most, however, is that from now on – whenever an original film does come out – you can guarantee that the studio executive or producer responsible will be whispering that single, damning word to themselves over and over: Franchise. And suddenly, what used to be an original story is exploited for everything it’s worth, until the source material is barely recognisable even to the most devoted fan a decade later.

After all of this, one question remains. Is this end of original movies? It’s tempting to reach that conclusion, but I choose to believe not. Of course, things look pretty bleak. But I think we’re nearing a turning point in film history. Right now, money has taken over creativity and is actively dictating everything that makes it to the silver screen. But it won’t last forever.

I think people will start to wise up it the act. We’ll get sick of it. When the time comes that literally every new film you want to watch is a sequel of some form, we’ll stop enabling movie studios. We’ll stop paying to watch their trash. And when this happens, studios will have nowhere else to go. All their market research and trend graphs will point to one inevitable result: to give people what they’re willing to pay good money for, the film industry will have to start making original pictures again. This is the day that I long for. The day when movies makers come to their senses and start returning originality to its rightful place. Until that day, however, I suppose we’ll have to make do with Bad Boys 3, Madagascar 4, Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and Transformers 6. Yay …





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