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Ben there, done that

Hollywood, stop repeating yourself, repeating yourself

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Movie sequels, ever wonder why there are so many? With the next Star Wars film out in theaters and many other sequels having come out this year, I began to wonder why there were so many. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to “Frozen,” the second version, it seems like any semi-successful film gets a second installment to milk the box office. Even though a sequel is rarely better than its predecessor, moviegoers, including me, continue to turn out to watch these films. Why is this the case?

Could it be our psychology that motivates us to watch these films, specifically: our love of the familiar and nostalgic intertextuality? 

As a species, it has been well established that we like the familiar and fear the foreign, and in pop psychology, this has taken on the moniker of our “comfort zone” and translates into our movie preferences as well. If you liked the previous installment of a series, like “Fast and Furious,” you are likely to assume that you will like the next one, even before seeing it. This leads fans back to the theater time after time.

Nostalgic intertextuality dovetails into the comfort zone effect. Basically, intertextuality is about referencing something and tying the two together. A great example of this occurred in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” when I was attending a showing at a local theater. The main protagonist, Rey, discovers the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker in an old chest. When the lid was flung open and the lightsaber is revealed, a collective gasp echoed in the cinema. Without any prior knowledge of the series, a viewer would have no idea of the significance of the object, but to Star Wars fans, it was explosive. 

In the trailer for the live action “Beauty and the Beast” remake, an image of a single rose in a glass container is shown along with the line “will you be our guest.” This is done to evoke and bring to mind previous works the creators are assuming we have seen and the memories and emotions we felt while experiencing them. As Hollywood produces more and more sequels, more storytellers are using nostalgic intertextuality to get the kind of pay-offs the audience is expecting; however, the strength of the technique can diminish as viewers begin to crave something new.

My knee-jerk reaction: “Well, Hollywood just needs to make more original movies.” I realized Hollywood is distinctly unoriginal in the stories they tell. The vast majority of non-sequel or reboot films are direct pullovers from either real life or books. It is almost cliché to ask for the name of the book the movie was based on. 

Just for reference, I researched the top 25 highest-grossing films of 2018. Seventeen, including the top ten were all sequels or reboots, two were based on a true story, four were based on novels, and only two were original screenplays. I also noticed an alarming number of superhero movies, but that is a topic for another column all its own. Hollywood has made a name for itself by recycling stories and plots from other media into neat packages for us to enjoy.

Hollywood is a massive industry where studios risk millions of dollars to create films, hoping to get their money back and then some when it gets released. When anticipating what an audience wants to see, a sequel to a successful film is a relatively safe bet on the studios’ part. A connected film most likely will be successful. 

In the last decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken this idea to new dizzying heights. Their 23 combined films (at this time) weave a common narrative that has enticed moviegoers, myself included, back to the theater time after time and none of the movies have been commercial failures. Of the 23 films, none have brought in less than $250,000,000 at the box office, and they show no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Ultimately, the staggering amount of sequels is not a surprise once the contributing factors are considered. Consumers enjoy what is known and familiar. References between films are powerful emotional tools. Hollywood knows they can attract us back to the theater with part two and make a fortune doing it. Can you blame them?

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