The Era of the Sequel - Part 1
by Alex Billington
August 19, 2006
Written by guest contributor Jason Kaleko
Take a moment to ask yourself this question: what movie are you looking forward to the most in 2007? Is it a sequel to a previous movie? More likely than not, it is. America's movie culture is falling to the wayside as truly original scripts are being discarded for surefire moneymaking strategies.
Big screen attendance over the last few years has slowly gotten worse due to a plethora of variables (not the least of which is America's love affair with the internet and alternate media sources) and to fight back against the declining numbers, Hollywood has been forced to produce movies that will be definite successes. And what's the best way to ensure Americans will lay down their hard-earned money for a big screen showing? Give them something they are already familiar with. It's that simple. And it doesn't even have to be a sequel.
Take Spider-Man, for instance. Not a sequel, but how many people didn't know who Mary Jane was before entering the theatre? Very few. And needless to say, the film grossed nearly $115 million in its opening weekend and to this day makes about $100,000 a week in DVD and merchandise sales.
Sure, there's always the occasional hit that comes out of nowhere. Take Pirates of the Caribbean (one, not two). Aside from being based on a theme-park ride, Pirates had a genuinely original script with great characters and incredible scenery, and holds a spot in millions of personal top ten lists across America. It did well enough: $46 mil in its opening weekend and $305 mil total to date. But unfortunately, movies like Pirates are few and far between. With the rise of comic-based films and Hollywood's obsession with cashing in on sequels to anything that even remotely hits (take 2007's The Hills Have Eyes II), movies have become a parade of tired images revamped for the new millennium.
But who cares? Spider-Man was a great movie! Why does it matter the content of the films that are made as long as they are entertaining? The truth is that there's really nothing wrong with it. Movies are meant to entertain first and foremost. However, the domination of the sequel in modern society is a potential draw from true artistic classics. Check out AFI's Top 100, a list that doesn't take into account any movies past the year 2000. How many of these films are sequels? Just one - The Godfather: Part 2. Classics are made from great, original works in an arena where attempting to achieve the maximum potential financial gain does not adulterate the quality and vision of the film.
A hundred years from now, what will be the next Godfather? Or the next Casablanca? Who is going to create an entirely new world like that of Star Wars? Who is going to outshine the legend of Orson Welles if every work is being recut by money-hungry studio execs? Something has been lost under the avalanche of rehashed ideas in the Hollywood system. Is it creativity? Originality? The danger of the avant-garde? It's hard to say, but somewhere in the system, something has been lost, and artistic freedom muffled.
In all of this, there is a beacon of hope that might be changing the entire world of film: the independents. Independent film has been the last refuge of the art on the screen, and as more and more great independent films are being picked up and distributed by production companies, hopefully Americans will understand the incredible nature of a truly new experience. Maybe Hollywood's obsession with cashing in is just the first symptom of its demise as independent films slowly creep in and change the industry completely.
Check back next weekend for Part 2!