At least twice a year my wife Elizabeth asks me some variation of the following question — why do bad sequels to movies get made? I have the rather unfortunate task of letting her know the same sad answer to this question which is this — the money they spend making and promoting the sequel is dwarfed by the money that is made at the box office and so they continue making the bad sequels until the money made is not sufficient to justify making any other bad sequels.

Though this answer is simple and straight to the point I have been giving it more thought and have come to some realizations. To start with, there is the matter of the genuine sequel. I believe that this kind of sequel is made when, for example, a film is made based on the first of a series of novels. It is clear when this is the case that the door is open, so to speak, to make future films.

Then there is the matter of characters and familiarity. When we see a film, we are introduced to characters and over the course of the film get to know said characters. When a film is made that is a sequel to a film that already exists, the majority of the characters have already been introduced (from the previous film or films) and so people can know that they will not have to spend as much time getting to know the characters and can start enjoying the film on a different level.

At the very least, that is precisely what the producers of the film sequel are hoping will happen when the sequel is made. More realistically, people are only impressed by seeing the same characters again only in certain circumstances — and it’s not too long before people either realize that the film sequel is not worth seeing (too often the case) or they decide that it is worth seeing and make way for yet another sequel.

That brings me to another notion about sequels which is that they bring about a sense of familiarity. I have to think that the chief reason that people keep going to see movie sequels despite how bad they know they could be is that it is a lot easier to see something that is somewhat familiar than it is to take a chance on an entirely new movie with unfamiliar characters and circumstances.

To me this is exactly how there came to be so many different Police Academy films, or even Rocky films. There were the same characters in movie after movie with more or less the same stories in one form or another. People like a sense of coming back to that which feels comfortable. Does it make me odd that I love branching out into the unfamiliar on a regular basis? I certainly hope not.


  1. Super article, Gordon! I think the Saw franchise works because the stories stand on their own. There’s a historical sequence is there to enjoy if you know it, but if you don’t know it, you can still watch Saw 6, and enjoy it, without needing to know anything about Saw 2.

    The Potter and Star Wars series, on the other hand, require genesis familiarity in order to understand the present. I don’t find mandating sequel familiarity a good way of building a long-term, independent, brand that can live on the merits of its own pieces. I understand the idea of franchising movies, but I aesthetically much prefer the single payer model.

    1. Thanks, David.

      I don’t mind movie franchises that require you to see all the films — so long as each subsequent movie is as well made or better than the last! 🙂

  2. Sequel – PreQuel – It peeves me when either doesn’t include the same faces/actors……
    It removes the sense of the piece altogether. The Rocky series was GREAT – for that very reason. Sly was in every last one of them.

    1. I hear you. Of course in some cases it wouldn’t make sense — like the Prometheus movie which was set many years before the first Alien movie.

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