The Secret Sauce for Sequels – Why Some Nail it and Some Don’t

When a movie succeeds at the box office, a sequel is almost guaranteed. After all. it’s only human to want more of a good thing until the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it doesn’t seem like such a good thing anymore. Another important reason why sequels get made is the good old financial aspect – a sequel (unless it’s exceptionally bad) will almost always rake in more money than the original.

“Movie night” by Ginny, Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

Movie night” by Ginny, Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

But sequels are tricky things that must live up to sky high expectations; a good movie has scores of exacting fans, all ready to cry “The original was better!” But most of us are always willing to give it a chance before pronouncing judgment. So what are the factors that contribute to the success of a sequel?

A good sequel plays on its strengths

A good sequel uses the original as a launchpad – that’s expected – but it avoids repetition and is unafraid to play with the dynamics of the story. It always expands the scope of the plot and takes the characters forward without entirely losing touch with the original.

How to Train your Dragon, for instance, wowed critics and audiences alike the first time round. But the makers refused to rest on their laurels; How to Train your Dragon 2 moves on to explore new worlds that lie beyond the Isle of Berk, introducing new and interesting characters like Valka the vigilante dragon rider among others; characters who keep the plot moving. Old characters face new challenges and come up stronger for having faced them courageously; new ones keep viewers riveted to the screen.

Similarly, Toy Story hit theaters in 1995 and was an instant hit with kids and adults alike. Made on a (relatively speaking) shoestring budget, Toy Story is a charming coming-of-age story about the toys in Andy’s Room that come to life when no humans are around. Toy Story 2 is able to replicate its success by using the same beloved characters of the original but expanding the story to include the toys out there in the world and what happens when they are discarded by their owners. As the box office figures testify, toy Story 2 was a whopping success, just like the original.

The Touch of Originality

Everyone knows that the original is ALWAYS better than the sequel. But sometimes the sequel does a much-needed spot of course correction, gets rid of the blemishes and ends up putting the original in the shade. Nobody’d say Batman Begins got it wrong but Batman’s war on crime in The Dark Knight wouldn’t have been as interesting without the genius criminality of The Joker, played by Heath Ledger.

Similarly, The Fast and the Furious series wasn’t exactly earning rave reviews until Fast Five brought Vin Diesel back and introduced the sizzling Dwayne Johnson into the comedy-cum-action movie. The sequel went to become the highest grossing film in the franchise. A touch, or in some cases, a hefty dose of originality makes the sequel far more successful that the movie that spawned it.

These sequels got it right the second time around; sadly the same cannot be said about the scores of me-toos that Hollywood produces each year.


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