A lack of originality is attacking pop culture from all sides. Sequels, remakes, reboots and franchises are ubiquitous in the entertainment world, and it is driving the quality of all movies down while simultaneously affecting how many people are exposed to original storytelling. Also, how many times can the same killer rise again for a horror sequel?
Audiences are losing when production companies push out more and more sequels. Six movies in the top 10 list for biggest box office grosses of 2016 were sequels or remakes, while two more were part of larger franchises. The other two biggest hits so far? “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Zootopia.” Sequels may be guaranteed audiences, but the storylines are usually not as well developed or worthy of a film. Sloppily written sequels are produced and distributed with more frequency, and that leaves less room for audiences to notice a well-developed but less advertised storyline.
This is not just a movie problem. This week, Raven-Symoné announced her departure from “The View” to produce and star in a spin-off of her Disney Channel sitcom, “That’s So Raven.” While television is filled with reboots that are not successful (Did anyone know “MacGyver” is back this fall?), reboots are not as problematic in television compared to movies because the world of television is humongous. The television market is too large to be flooded with spin-offs.
Audiences crave new stories that are worthy of their time and money. While movies have relied on existing characters and formulas, television is breaking ground seemingly every month. There are so many newsworthy shows on television, and with television expanding online, watching all of the so-called “must-see-TV” is an unattainable goal. Shows with unique viewpoints, storylines and styles are so widespread because viewers cannot waste time watching two identical shows. While the “That’s So Raven” spin-off is sure to be a hit, other shows with new stories have the same chance of attracting an audience.
Franchise movies may be to blame for this upward tick in sequels. Everything is a franchise now. “King Kong” is a franchise. Franchise stories are excellent ways to reveal a series of complicated and interconnected stories, when done right. When done wrong, a franchise features reductive stories and little character growth. Relying on audiences seeing a movie because they know the title is working for now, but only so many bad movies can be made before audiences realize they have been duped.
At the top of the franchises are superhero movies, which are so widespread they could be their own Netflix genre. Some of the movies produced in the Marvel or DC cinematic universe are excellent adaptations of the comic book originals. Others? Not so much. For every “Captain America: Civil War” there is a “Batman v. Superman.” Coincidentally, those movies had even less originality by having the same premise. When studios or storytellers see the success of one movie, they produce a watered-down and formulaic copy of that movie to appeal to audiences.
Even more formulaic are the reboots, some of which are totally unnecessary and uninteresting. Reboots should add elements to a story, not copy the original beat by beat just to make easy money. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” reboot on Fox that premiered this month was a cleaned-up version of the original. Reboots have to prove they deserved to be made, and, unfortunately, the reasoning for many reboots is that executives are out of ideas.
Incredible new stories are being told in new ways throughout entertainment, but rarely get distributed to major audiences. It is no coincidence that most of the major blockbusters are not nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, because the stories told in smaller films tend to be more interesting and artistic — more worthy of an award despite not being as commercially successful. “Carol” was only distributed to a large number of theaters after it was nominated for Best Picture. Having a slew of sequels prevents a regular movie-goer from branching to the unknown independent movie.
However, blockbusters are not an enemy to creativity. There are reasons why audiences seek out part two’s and spin-offs; watching the same characters on new adventures is absolutely worthwhile. Indiana Jones would not be who he is without the first two sequels and “Star Wars” could never be told in one part. The issue arises when sequels are drowning out new stories and stealing time and money from audience members everywhere.
When a unique story is told well, audiences catch on. Studios need to take a chance on new movies because those movies do extremely well at the theater. Investing billions of dollars into a superhero film pays off now, but there is no way this trend of sequels, spin-offs, franchises and reboots can continue. Nobody needs to ban the sequel — but a cap on sequels per year would be nice.