We bring the culture of sequels on ourselves

Sequels and adaptions have always existed. It is no new phenomenon for a successful film to be followed by something trying to match or exceed the box office gross of the original. Sometimes they even manage to improve on what came before. It is no easy task choosing a favourite Toy Story film; Lord of the Rings is forgiven for its ridiculous runtime thanks to its consistent quality; Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is a genuine masterpiece with each film’s life-force stemming from previous encounters.

Modern backlash may be small, but it is significant enough to warrant interest. 2017 will see the release of Fifty Shades Darker, T2 Trainspotting, The Lego Batman Movie, Fast and Furious 8, Alien: Covenant, and many more sequels. Existing cinematic universes will expand as the Marvel bunch get Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok; the D.C. lot attempt to make up for a number of poor recent efforts with Wonder Woman and Justice League; and even monsters have their own shared universe with Kong: Skull Island taking place in the same world as 2014’s Godzilla.

Anyone who watches a film is receptive to the idea of being told a story. If they are not masochistic they hope for a decent story, although Dirty Grandpa did turn a profit, so who knows. Sequels, reboots, and adaptions are fine in moderation, and even welcomed when warranted. Hidden Figures may originally have been a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, but the film has propelled that particular story to nationwide recognition, giving real weight to why it was adapted. But we do ourselves a disservice as consumers of art if we restrict our willingness to engage with the potential stories that are out there to a very small window.

At the end of last year aggregator website Metacritic compiled a list of the highest rated films released in 2016, calculated by how often they appeared on best-of-year lists and where they placed. The only comic book character to appear was Deadpool, while every other film was either a complete original or an adaption (Love & Friendship from Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Arrival from Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, etc). Even then, these adaptions were not from major contemporary successes, like recent blockbusters in the Hunger Game series.

A lot of these films financially flopped. Here are a few films from the Metacritic list with their budget and box office grosses.

Film Budget Box office gross
Kubo and the Two Strings $60m $69.4m
The Lobster $4.5m $15.7m
Moonlight $5m $14.6m
American Honey $3.5m $1.8m
Silence $40m $8.1m
Everybody Wants Some!! $10m $4.6m

The few shown above that made their money back were not resounding financial successes, despite their critical acclaim. Martin Scorsese, one of the world’s finest living directors, has a major bomb on his hands with Silence. While it is still showing in some cinemas, even making half of its budget back would take a biblical miracle at this point.

Compare this to the five highest grossing films of the year.

Film Budget Box office gross
Captain America: Civil War $250m $1.153bn
Finding Dory $200m $1.028bn
Zootopia $150m $1.024bn
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story $200m $983m
The Jungle Book $175m $966m

The rest of the top ten is comprised of The Secret Life of Pets, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Deadpool, and Suicide Squad.

The five highest grossing films of the year were all either a sequel, part of an established series, or a live action remake. They were all distributed by Disney. Numbers six to ten were also all sequels or expansions of cinematic universes, apart from the original animated film The Secret Life of Pets.

The only film that had crossover appeal for critics and audiences judging by these lists was Deadpool. It proved that R-rated films could find financial success, surpassing The Matrix Reloaded’s record of $742m with its own $783m. It also proved that superhero films could survive a slight change to their increasingly familiar format, even if that required something as simple as a lot of swearing.

Not only did nine of these ten mega money makers not appear on many best-of-year lists, some were critically panned. Batman v Superman was criticised for just about everything and inspired the Sad Affleck meme. Suicide Squad was similarly derided for its poor directing and lack of character development. The Secret Life of Pets came a bit too close to imitating Toy Story at times, but with none of that film’s heart or excitement.

We complain about the film industry refusing to fund creative and original ideas, and yet when they do, people do not turn out in their masses to see them the same way they do for established franchises and familiar characters. We bring on this culture of sequels, adaptions, reboots, and remakes by not making the trip to the cinema when new stories are there for us to experience.

Television is going through a golden age right now, and with recent developments in how we consume what we watch, there is a lot of excitement happening in that industry. It would be incorrect to say the film industry is struggling – the box office gross for the most successful films is staggering. There is however a disconnect between what people say they want to see and what they actually go to see. I am as excited for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as the next normal person, but nothing beats the feeling of going in to a film blind and having a truly unique experience. While I hope Star-Lord and co. have a great adventure, I truly hope 2017 sees some original films become runaway successes.

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