Ah, Hollywood. Tinseltown. The Dream Factory. The place where you can take any vision and either refine or corrupt it with money and star power. Original ideas used to flow around these parts rather freely. Then something happened, something we can’t quite pinpoint the start of, but we can surely see the effects of. Blockbuster films prompted the studios that made them to think, “What if we gave them more?”; and thus, the movie sequel was born. Some projects are destined sequels (The Lord of the Rings was a three book trilogy), while others have them thrust upon them (Avatar and Independence Day surely don’t need any more entries into the canon.) While sequels exist, they don’t always have to be acknowledged. Superman III and IV were disregarded by Superman Returns, the Scary Movie franchise has about a good of a memory as it does a sense of humor, and if they had learned their lesson after Police Academy 4, 5-8 would have never existed. (And who do we have to blame for these shenanigans? MA-HOOOOOOO-NEEEEEYYYYY!)
That said, you’re going to need a guide: something that might help you spot what’s what in the Hollywood canon and help you make your choices wisely. There are six subcategories of sequels that I’ve identified as of this writing, and they all carry their own perils, pitfalls, and payoffs. Knowing these criteria, and how to spot them, will help you spend your hard earned money on entertainment that should be worth your while. Though I must confess, while this guide aims to be helpful, it is not completely scientific. Hollywood are a tricky bunch, and they’ll lure you with as many bells and baubles as they can, so be cautious.
The lights have dimmed, the trailers have ended, and that baby in the first row has finally drifted off to sleep. Let’s go Sequel Hunting!
6. The Standard Continuation
Description: We start with your standard sequel template, in which we explore the continuing adventures of, the return of, or sometimes the last temptation of our intrepid protagonists from the first installment. Having been made all the wiser from the first installment, they’ve been on a bit of a break. After all, defeating Evil is hard work that doesn’t really pay well, and you’re not always guaranteed a romantic companion at the end. But what’s this? Evil hasn’t been properly vanquished, or has inspired others to take up arms against our intrepid heroes?!
Of course, if your series is more grounded in reality, it’s not that dramatic. Basically, everything that happened in the last installment will come home to roost in this one. Maybe a couple other people from Part I will come back to make your life a living hell again. But if I had to give you one word to keep in mind for this type of film it’s this: Secrets. If you have them, the probability of them coming out grows greater with each film, so you may want to reveal those secrets or dispose of those who know about them before it’s too late.
The Right Way: You build upon the framework from your first film, learning from the events that have transpired. Or you haven’t learned from those events, and they’re poised to happen again. Basically, it’s all about story-growth when it comes to the actual plot. Film-making wise, you’ve got the same helmer as Part I (because they did such a good job) or you’ve got a new person navigating their way through the world (because the previous occupant wasn’t available/sucked.) Either way, you’re ideally improving upon what made the first one successful, while striking out for new territory.
(Example: The Empire Strikes Back. It took the Star Wars universe and built upon it, taking the light and fun tone and turning it gradually darker. It also set up the next installment rather well. Most of all, it kept the momentum of the first film’s ending from start to finish, propelling the story with hardly a hitch. And if you want to talk about endings, this is the one to talk about. Remember the first time you experienced the ending to this one? Luke’s Darth Vader’s kid, he loses an arm, and his friend is frozen and kidnapped to collect a debt. How the hell did we go from “Yay, we blew up the Death Star” to “Frankly…I don’t know where we go from here”? Very carefully, that’s how. )
The Wrong Way: You really didn’t have anywhere to with this, did you? You made some money on the last one, and who wouldn’t want to repeat that? But the fact that you didn’t take the time to even craft something resembling a decent throughline from the beginning really hurts, especially if people happened to like one. Really, all you did is just craft a narrative that involved a slight re-hashing of the last one, but with a different result. It’s not a total re-hash, as you took the time to throw in some extra bull for us to care about, but at the same time it’s not something that screams essential sequel territory. Just admit you really like money, and we’ll go from there. It’s the first step to solving your problem.
(Example: Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Hilarity aside, the most they did was re-write Home Alone in New York, add a toy store heist and a Five Star hotel into the mix, and let Tim Curry do his thing. Also, for a family that not only lets a young kid get onto the wrong flight, but also continues to have some sort of contempt for him the holiday after the SAME DAMNED THING HAPPENED, maybe they shouldn’t be going on vacation and instead going to a shrink.)
This article was first posted on February 2, 2013