Actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in 2009's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in 2009's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Warner Bros.
Hollywood is addicted to sequels. It's a big-screen trend that bloomed in the '70s, thanks to the Godfather movies. But it wasn't until this decade that the trend exploded in a jumble of franchises like Shrek, prequels like Batman Begins, "reimaginings" like Ocean's Eleven, and even remakes of sequels, like Halloween II.
All this sequel madness actually started much earlier, NPR film critic Bob Mondello tells Guy Raz. "This is how Hollywood decided to hook people in the first place," starting with matinee serials like Buck Rogers.
One of the big differences this decade, says Mondello, is the literary roots of many film franchises, from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Twilight.
And there's another big literary influence these days — comic books like Spider-Man, X-Men and Watchmen.
Mondello says the franchise frenzy has even changed the way we watch movies. "What Hollywood does is it cuts off the conclusion," he says. "So you get this rising action to a climax, you stop, and then you're set up for the sequel.
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"You keep on getting these stories that are all beginning and middle — and you never get an end. And we've trained audiences not to expect an ending."
That leads to the big finish of films like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy. Mondello says that movie actually consisted of about eight endings. "They had to convince the audience it was actually over," he says.
The pressure can be a challenge for filmmakers — not to mention audiences — but no matter how hard some directors try to avoid repeating themselves, the lure of the sequel is often just too strong.
Maybe Michael Corleone was speaking for all of Hollywood when he said, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."