Sequels are not new. The New Testament is a sequel to the Old Testament and that’s one of the oldest books around. Do you know what else isn’t new? Complaining about sequels. Friedrich Neiztche considered the “glueing on” of the New Testament to the Old Testament to be ‘perhaps the greatest act of daring and "sin against the spirit" which literary Europe has on its conscience’.
However, the long vintage of sequels should not blind us to the fact that the quantity of sequels has been on the rise. It was recently announced that the sequel for World War Z is officially dead, but many sequels do, despite being thematically and soulfully as dead, make it to cinemas. How can we account for this rise?
An often-cited reason for this is that the increasing cost of production, labour costs, and marketing has made Hollywood producers more conservatives about the projects they are willing to back. This is coupled with the unavoidable fact of decreased revenue because of decreased cinema attendance and increased piracy.
We can also thank the relative failure of 3D film to take off commercially for the ubiquity of sequels. The reason that 3D appeared so suddenly in cineplexs was not because the technology crossed a threshold of immersion, but because movie executives were desperate to push a technology that meant films could not be pirated. This is because only cinemas have the capacity for 3D technology. Had 3D become to 2D what colour was to black and white film we may have seen fewer sequels as 3D screening would have been a draw, regardless of whether the film was a sequel or not. This would have enabled the suits in Hollywood to support new projects with less fear. Ultimately consumers have voted with their feet and 2D screenings are considerably more popular than 3D ones. Because it is fundamentally as easy to pirate a film as it is to pay for a cinema ticket or DVD investing in films nowadays is a leaky bucket. Who can blame the suits for trying to plug a few of the holes by sticking to tried-and-true formulas of Hollywood success stories?
If we, like Neittzche, want to see fewer sequels we need to see more distibutors like Netflix and Blumhouse.
Indeed, the only major distributor regarded as being ambitious in their support of new projects - Netflix- has a unique (for the moment) subscriber model that allows them to accurately predict revenue in the medium term. This level of confidence is something that big Hollywood studios, yet alone independent studios, can only dream of.
The example of Blumhouse Productions also serves as a counter-current to the overall narrative that I have painted. This company has produced recent movies such as Get Out, Split and The Purge. These movies were praised for their original plot and were successful enough to spawn sequels themselves. How have they done this? A look at their filmography list on Wikipedia reveals why. Blumhouse back a huge number of projects, despite being a relatively small studio. The studio spreads its risk by backing films with unusual setups and stories like Get Out, as well as more conventional films, such as sequels and franchises. If we, like Neittzche, want to see fewer sequels we need to see more distibutors like Netflix and Blumhouse.