Damien on… Movie “Trilogies”
Sequels have been around since the days of “The Great Train Robbery” – Hollywood’s first narrative movie – even though the films did not have NUMBERS. The fact the studios had their house styles, the actors their genres and most people saw a movie based on its poster – meant no-one went to an RKO picture starring Fred and Ginger, expecting it to be a gangster movie.
Likewise a musical with Warner and Bogart – or a romantic comedy with Universal and Karloff – or a sci-fi horror with MGM – or a… I think I’ve made my point.
But the Trilogy is a RECENT phenomenon – and one which carries more RISK. The idea is, having made a movie that has COINED it, you capitalise by making not ONE sequel, but TWO. Back-to-back.
The advantage of making back-to-back movies is – they save you a LOT of money.
Since the collapse of the studio system, where everything you needed was “in-house” – the writers, directors, designers, choreographers, cinematographers, stars, support-actors, extras, crew, sound-stages, props, costumes, scenery, chippies, plasterers, sparks, composers, orchestra, recording studio, stock footage, miniatures, special effects, opticals, cameras, sound equipment, lights, lighting gantries, editing suites, film-labs, back-lots, restaurant, publicity and legal departments, offices, accommodation, etc., were all on the PREMISES and exteriors were shot by second units and doubles, while the actors worked in the studio in front of “plates” (back-projected film loops) – all films have essentially been ONE-OFFS.
Thus making a movie today is primarily about ASSEMBLING all the above into a unit, where everybody and everything is there and ready to go.
Which means that making two movies SIMULTANEOUSLY is WAY cheaper than doing all of that assembling TWICE.
HOWEVER… just because a movie makes a packet, does not mean committing to TWO sequels is a good idea. While making both together might SAVE you a fortune – if they TANK, you could LOSE one.
The first time I recall this trick being performed, was after the massive success of “Back To The Future”. Two sequels were envisaged – one was a clever build on the first – the second, a major departure (a WESTERN, no less).
Since the Golden Rule Of Sequels is that the second movie must be FIFTY PERCENT BETTER than the original (as it no longer has ORIGINALITY on its side) for people to perceive it as being AS GOOD – they worked HARD on it. And to be fair, it grossed more than the third movie – although most people rate that third much HIGHER.
But it worked. The budget for the first was US$19M and it netted over 170. So they could afford to throw back 40 for the sequels. And those pushed the overall net to 379 – all three making a healthy profit.
More recently, “The Matrix” repeated the trick. The first had a budget of 63 and also netted around 170. But this time, the budget for the sequels was 150 – so if they had tanked, they would have swallowed most of the profit from the first.
However, they need not have worried. The second was a TRIUMPH – it took the originality of the first and RAMPED IT UP, making it the most successful of the three. And even though the third was a lot of talking heads in the first half – and a slew of effects in the second – it still made a fair profit, taking the overall net to around 452.
But other trilogies have not been so lucky. A sequel is already a tricky thing – gone are the days when you could just HYPE one – release it BIG over a bank holiday weekend – and sit back to count your money. These days, the fans are WISE. They use texts, the Interweb and word-of-mouth to KILL a sequel, if it is a turkey.
And if THAT happens – you may find your third movie was A Bridge Too Far!