Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hollywood's lack of originality: "Let's make a sequel!" (Part 1, yes I realize the irony)

Terminator 2, Rocky 3, Alien 4, Scary Movie 5, Fast and Furious 6... When does it stop?

When a first movie works well, we systematically expect a sequel to be released.

This can get quite annoying for the majority of movie watchers who are not part of the aficionados who will see the sixth installment of a series they did not care much about after the first installment. While making a follow-up movie sounds like easy money, coming up with a good movie is very hard when you think about it. Of course you potentially have good characters with whom the audience connected well in the first movie. But after that you no longer have the element of surprise, you don't have all the interesting scenes that introduce the characters, you have to go completely off the roof to surpass the intrigue, suspense, action of the first movie. And this often fails. Everybody "knows" that ratings for follow-ups are worse than for the original, but how often is that actually true? If they were always significantly worse, would producers continue to produce them? Are they significantly worse or just a tad?

In this and following posts I want to take a second look (!) at movie sequels.


A few words on the data. I pulled the list of movie series from wikipedia, at the following links:[one, two, three...]_entries

The lists were not 100% accurate, but I figured it did a rather decent job.

Then I merged all the series with my separately downloaded IMDB data. Again, not 100% perfect in the matching and merging procedure, and there were some discrepancies in title names and release dates, but overall I was able to keep drop-outs to a minimum.

Some clean-up was then executed, removing movies that came out straight to video or TV, incomplete series. Sequels are not a recent phenomena, as can be concluded from the four installment series of the Wizard of Oz in 1910, or even the six installment silent series of Sherlock Holmes from 1908 to 1910! However, I did not want to go too far back in time with the many biases around old movies involved and wanted to focus on the more recent "sequel effect". I thus looked only at series where the first installment was released after 1970.

This still left me with a little over 600 series and over 1500 different movies. Not too shabby to get a pretty decent idea of the sequel dynamics!

Series length

Before anything, let us take a quick look at the current status of series lengths. More than the actual numbers themselves it is primarily the distribution of series length that interest us. How many series stop after the second installment? How many go on to make an 8th? While pulling the data I arbitrarily cut-off at 10 so super long series such as James Bonds are not accounted for here.

As one might have expected, series are usually quite short, and series with exactly two installments account for over half of all series (53%) and series with exactly three installments account for another 25%.

In the next post, we will look at sequel ratings, and whether there is indeed a drop-off compared to the original movie.
In the post following that we will look at series with three or more installments and view how ratings evolve for these longer series.

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