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Are the Summer 2016 Sequels More About Brand Extension Than Storytelling?

This one comes from Mark Harris of Vulture who admits that while sequels “have always been a financially driven proposition,” for the 15 years or so “the bottom-line pragmatism behind sequels did not erase another priority: narrative.”

Is there more left to tell? Can audiences be lured back with the promise that a story they thought was complete was merely a first chapter? Sometimes that could take filmmakers quite a while to figure out. Aliens did not appear until seven years after AlienTerminator 2: Judgment Day arrived seven years after The Terminator. Neither movie was a mere reprise of the original or anything like it, which is one reason why each is now regarded as a genre classic in its own right. This summer’s sequels are not, for the most part, story continuations but brand extensions. Some are good and some not; some have succeeded and some have flopped, but almost all of them are different beasts than the first generation of blockbuster genre sequels. … Summer should be a season of big swings — blockbusters that aren’t all presold, big filmmakers wielding big ambitions and, when necessary, big budgets to take you places and show you things you’ve never seen before.  That means betting on new ideas — you know, those things without which sequels couldn’t be generated; otherwise, summer will just feel like rerun season, but with marginally more billboards. … These movies are not big swings. They are, for the most part, big, expensive bunts. And bunts will never be why people love the game.

And with the creation of cinematic universes, it seems all the more apparent. I feel like even general audiences are seeing between the lines and can see that some of these films are the result of a committee in a board room and not a passion to tell a continuation of this story.


2016’s Sequels Have Mostly Been Big Disappointments

One thing to notice about the sequels released this year is that as a whole they have been worse then any year in recent memory. The image above comes thanks to Vox who graphed out the Metacritic scores of all the sequels over the last twenty years. As you can see, critics have disliked this year’s sequels more than any year in the past two decades.

You can’t always relate public opinion to box office, because big-budget tentpoles tend to be more critic-proof. This explains why each Transformers sequel continues to make huge cash at the box office despite getting worse and worse critical and audience reactions. It is possible that word of mouth and social media are having a much bigger effect on bad cinema than in year’s past.


But its not just that 2016’s sequels have been a disappointment this summer. Matt Singer at ScreenCrush crunched the numbers and found that this summer so far has the second lowest average Rotten Tomatoes score of the past decade for big budget movies.


Hope Is Not Lost

But all hope isn’t lost. A friend of mine tweeted out the above image, showing the relation of box office to Rotten Tomatoes scores for films released this year with a budget of over $100 million. As you can see, for the most part, this seems to prove that, as Cat Hicks puts it, audiences crave and respond to good stories.

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