Sequels are the new black

Art courtesy of  @leo_eats_art

Art courtesy of @leo_eats_art

Whatever happened to an original story?

Avocado on sourdough, oversharing on social media, and large film franchises are just some of the world’s latest fads. While both the debt-inducing smashed greenness and questionable lack of privacy may wash away on a rainy day, it seems that sequels are here to stay. Is it such a bad thing that one-and-dones are no longer en vogue?

With familiar worlds and characters, the slightly altered storylines of each film are a haven of expectations met.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe are recent additions to the franchise hall of fame. They’ve topped box offices, broken records worldwide, and have millions of fans; whether it’s the rise of real-life Quidditch teams (complete with an official governing body, the International Quidditch Association), or lightsaber battles, these franchises have left a lasting impression beyond the silver screen. The success of franchising as a whole is undeniable. Out of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time, eight of them are from franchises, with the top two - Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997) - being stand-alones (although the sequels to Avatar have been long spoken about, with one set to premiere in 2020). While they belong in two separate fictional worlds, Avatar and Titanic were both directed by James Cameron, who is arguably a brand himself.

It is clear why franchises are popular with audiences; they’re the epitome of a safe indulgence. With familiar worlds and characters, the slightly altered storylines of each film are a haven of expectations met. The appeal of sequels to suits is gratifying - they’re low-risk, guaranteed money-makers, which don’t require much advertising effort due to the previous film acting as advertising itself.

With guaranteed studio support and box office sales, it seems as though critical acclaim is peripheral. In a world shaped by Oscars and Golden Globes, how much impact do critics have on the success of these sequels? While in the past, consumers and producers alike would eagerly await the appraisal of the latest flick in the Sunday paper, these days, critical triumph has been overruled by frenzied fans. Followers who adored the first movie will almost always go and see the sequel, even if critics have given it a poor review. Time and time again this has been evident, from Legally Blonde 2 (2003) to Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), and yet studios and audiences keep coming back for more. Pitch Perfect 3 was released in 2017, bringing the total gross of the trilogy to an estimated $382 million worldwide. In June 2018, Reese Witherspoon confirmed the impending return of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde 3, with a release date currently unknown.

Franchises are the answer to any studio’s financial strife. And it can be hard sitting through pre-Pretty Little Liars Ashley Benson in Bring It On: In It to Win It (2007), I get it, but is it really such a bad thing? In defence of this creative capitalism, one tragic adaptation or sequel does not poison the well for the rest. For every Mean Girls 2 (2011), there is a Thor: Ragnarok (2017) - a shining diamond nestled in a field of charcoal. If anything, the Taika Waititi-directed masterpiece was a prime opportunity for world- and character-building, as evident through the opening scene of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and the sudden appearance of Cate Blanchett’s Hela, Thor’s half-sister; did this not cement the idea that Odin is, quite frankly, a ginormous ass? Think of each franchise instalment as an opportunity to get to know your favourite characters better, like you would in a Netflix series, only these are of a higher budget.

Not only do franchises provide the opportunity for in-depth world-building, but they also pave the way for ground-breaking remakes. With the success of the original Ghostbusters movies brought the all-female remake, Ghostbusters (2016), which showcased the talents of comedic powerhouses Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon, and empowered young girls worldwide. Simultaneously, the Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett-led spinoff, Ocean’s 8 (2018), took the world by storm, with full studio backing thanks to the original Ocean’s film series. “Somewhere out there, there is an eight- year-old girl lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal. Let’s do this for her” is a line we never thought we’d hear in cinemas.

And while you’re switching off in Jaws 2 (1978) or pulling The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) apart scene by scene, big-time studios are investing in smaller-scale films, such as feature-length music video Hearts Beat Loud (2018), and Academy Award-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). It’s because of our consumption of low-risk franchises that we are able to simultaneously expand our creative persuasions to that of a higher calibre, and therefore stimulate independent film. So to that, I say, bring on the next The Fast and The Furious film.

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.

Tayla Curry is a first-year Journalism student who often finds herself lost in Instagram quotes and 90s music. If you're looking for her in the summer, she’ll be down the beach.