Why Hollywood loves sequels

Film sequels get better and better but why does Hollywood love them so?

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Given the huge success of the original, it was never going to be long before Paranormal Activity 2 made it onto our screens. But far from the plot-less (supposed) cash cows that have often tarnished the reputation
of sequels, from the staggeringly awful Grease 2 to anything with the words Final Destination in front of it, today’s sequels are often heralded as better than the originals. Directors are freed from the constraints of introducing the main characters in all their detail, and can instead focus on developing an exciting story.

Most recently Iron Man 2 saw huge success at the global box office, raking in almost US$622 million, compared with takings of US$585m from the first instalment. Our appetite for sequels seems to be anything but waning.

Superhero flick X-Men 2, is often referred to as the best comic-book film of all time, while Transformers saw a similar surge in popularity, including in Dubai. A total of 191,891 moviegoers here saw the original in 2007, while 263,405 saw the sequel, Transformers 2, in 2009. With the exception of Alice in Wonderland and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, the most popular films of the past two years in Dubai’s cinemas have all been sequels of one variety or another. Way back in 2002, the first Spiderman movie was watched in theatres by 127,214 Dubaians, but by the time we reached the third instalment of the franchise, 281,426 turned out to watch our hero battle his demons.

On the other hand, some suggest Hollywood is simply running out of ideas. Transforming books into movies has worked like a charm: the success of last year’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which broke records for the biggest worldwide gross in a single day (eventually taking US$934m), is a good example, and will no doubt continue with the release of the seventh instalment this November. But what about cinema post-Potter? Rumours abound of a Hangover 2 – apparently to be set in Bangkok – but this doesn’t mean the sequel trend will continue to dominate: studio execs are said to be pushing for more new material, panicked by slumping cinema attendance in the US. Following the release of Paramount’s Shrek Forever After, which missed revenue targets by several million dollars, American magazine The Hollywood Reporter quoted one studio boss as saying, ‘There could be some burnout with moviegoers, who are looking for something new.’

And new is what they’re getting. Universal is said to have recently paid US$1m for a comedy pitch called Most Wanted, which would see The Proposal team reunited – though in entirely different roles – while Summit Entertainment apparently bought the script Now You See Me, about a gang of criminal illusionists who use their skills to conduct a multi-million-dollar bank job. Eat your heart out, David Blaine.

In an interview with New York Magazine, Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the US’s National Association of Theatre Owners, declared, ‘What makes this business work are the things nobody expects.’ He’s probably right. In the traditional way of thinking, no-one expects a sequel to be any good, so the fact that recent movies have surpassed expectations means we now expect it.

So it seems we can look forward to more original scripts hitting our screens in future. But will Dubai’s audiences respond as well to this new material as they have to second, third and fourth instalments over the past two years? The box-office figures will do the talking.

Paranormal Activity 2 is in cinemas on October 28.


Highest-grossing sequels of all time

1 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
This adaptation of Tolkien’s last LOTR book raked in US$1.1bn and won all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated.

2 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Johnny Depp stole the show in this sequel, which became the third highest-grossing film of all time when it took in US$1.07bn.

3 Toy Story 3 (2010)
Released 15 years after the first Toy Story movie, this animation wowed critics and made US$1.05bn.

4 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
It may not have been as successful as its predecessor, but this third instalment still made US$960.9m.

5 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
The longest Potter book wound up as one of the shortest films, but this didn’t stop it taking an impressive US$938.4m worldwide.

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