Monday, August 28, 2006

Sequels and Trillogies

A friend recently saw Pirates II and complained that, since it was continued to the next movie, it was nothing more than a trailer for Pirates III. My wife and I thought that this was a bit unfair and we came up with a list of similar movies. To make this list, a movie must have been a big enough hit to justify two sequels and the sequels must form a continuous story arc. Movies like the Indiana Jones series do not qualify because the sequels have nothing to do with each other. Lord of the Rings was filmed as a trillogy so it doesn't count. Neither do the newer Star Wars since they were planned as a trilogy.

Star Wars (the original three movies)
This is the grand-daddy of the list. The first movie was so big and so open-ended that it cried out for more movies. When they made The Empire Strikes Back they didn't know if it would be a hit or a flop but Lucas took a chance and gave it a cliff-hanger ending anyway. This movie also set a new standard for sequels. Previously it was assumed that a sequel would gross less than the original so production values for the sequel were cut accordingly. This was painfully obvious in the Planet of the Apes movies. Empire, in contrast, had higher production values. and it paid off. While not as popular as the original, it was still one of the most popular movies ever made. This also set the tradition that by the third movie everything has been wrapped up.

Back to the Future
This movie was such a big hit that they went ahead and committed to making two sequels back-to-back with a shortened release date. Unfortunately, the middle movie was the weakest. It took in less than the original and the third took in the least. This was a shame because the third movie is as good as the first although it misses the aspect of visiting your parents generation.

The Matrix
This was the first time the sequel took in more than the original - $171,479,930 for the original and $281,576,461 for the Matrix Reloaded. Unfortunately, Reloaded lacked the charm of the original. Most of the Matrix followed Neo's journey from regular-guy to super-powered messiah. In the second movie there was no room for him grow. For the big fight on a freeway, they had to ship him off to the ends of the earth and leave the fighting to the lesser characters. Like Back to the Future, Reloaded was not good enough to pull people in for the third movie. Unlike back to the Future III, Matrix Revolutions did not have much appeal on its own.

So where does this leave Pirates III? Dead Man's Chest was fun but not as much fun as the first. This might cut into the box office fromthe next one. Or it might not. Pirates II hung onto the top 10 box office list for a long time. It just dropped to number 11 this week and might resurface in the top 10 next week. The original had this sort of staying power, also. I don't think that Matrix Reloaded lasted anywhere near as long. That means that there is a lot of repeat business and good word of mouth. People like the characters, especially Jack Sparrow. That is a hopeful sign for the third movie.


Reel Fanatic said...

Pirates II has already brought in more then $900M worldwide, so I don't the dropoff in quality with No. 2 hurt it much at all .. to your list, I would add the Godfather movies, the first two of which were perfection, the third one not so much

The Truth According to Mark said...

I've only seen the first Godfather movie so I had to look up the others.
Godfather 2 and 3 were made years apart instead of as a single project so they don't meet my criteria.