By Sebastian Moronta, Staff Writer
Nowadays, it seems like the box office is crowded each week with the latest of Hollywood’s attempts to make money off of movies that have already been made, or characters that the public already know. Sequels, reboots, and remakes are a growing trend, and recently studios are hurrying to establish what they see as the next cash cow: cinematic universes.
Many folks are becoming increasingly discontent with this trend, clamoring instead for more original stories that aren’t watered down or pressed into the cookie-cutter molds of the rest of the films in a franchise. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. I welcome the onslaught of endless sequels and connected franchises, so long as studios reform their attitudes and approaches to prioritize story over mass appeal.
Sequels have been a tentpole of American cinema since the very beginning, and the concept dates back to the first literary sequels in the 18th century. So, what has changed? Well, up until now, studios generally spent less on sequels than they did the original. In the 70s and 80s, movies like Superman got a $55 million budget for the first instalment, which dwindled down to a measly $15 million by its fourth outing.
Compare that to more recent franchises: X-Men started with $75 million and the last film in the trilogy had a budget of $210 million; The Curse of the Black Pearl had an initial budget of $125 million, and each of its sequels cost no less than $230 million; and the next two-part Avengers film is rumored to have a budget in the billion range.
Not only are studios spending more money on sequels and franchise films, they’re getting more involved in production as well. The director is no longer the top of the food chain on set, it’s the producers, the studio execs, more of the “big picture” people. Take a look at the Star Wars franchise. In the past six months, Disney and Lucasfilm have fired the directors of two separate future films, each for their inability to cooperate with the studio’s vision.
A studio’s influence on a project is what breeds the cash-grabby, soulless spectacles that lost any semblance of purpose and impact long before they made it to the silver screen, and it’s because studios don’t care about the story, they care about the paycheck. When 20th Century Fox was adapting Deadpool for 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the team got notes from the studio to make lasers shoot out of his eyes, and to seal his mouth shut, thinking it would boost ticket sales. It was a massive deviation from the character, which upset fans and critics alike.
But if creators had the space they need to revisit a character or story in an inventive and fulfilling way, the concept of a sequel and a cinematic universe would be incredibly attractive. The more time an audience spends with a character, the more invested they become, and the impact of a major plot event is significantly greater if the audience has lived with a protagonist for a while.
Sequels have the opportunity to foster a deeper connection with a story, and explore more of its world. John Wick: Chapter Two is a perfect example, widening an already vibrant and expansive criminal underground that beams with style.
Even reboots have the potential to add value to the intellectual property, instead of dragging its name through the dirt. Take IT, a widely praised re-imagining that by all accounts seems to have done the source material justice, while stoking enthusiasm for a sequel in the process.
Sequels can be great, and they can feel better than a one-off story if they are approached with the intent of servicing the story and its characters, instead of the office chairs who pay top dollar to own them.