“Leaves the door wide open for a sequel,” is a phrase that was not part of the cinematic vernacular even in the 1950s. It really does sound like something you’d say after watching a slasher movie. These films, of course, were very popular in the 1980s, but just because you didn’t see a horror movie didn’t mean you were safe from someday hearing of a sequel.
In the 1970s the ‘pre-sold’ product became a big thing with studios there were many literary adaptations so logically sequels would soon follow. In 1981 there were 42 sequels produced worldwide; in 1989 there were 124. By the end of the 80s there were six Police Academys, five Halloweens, Howlings, Star Treks and Nightmare on Elm Streets; if you wanted to kill someone you could strap them to a chair and make them watch these in succession. There’s probably more but it would get redundant. As opposed to the positive legacy of special effect, the 80s left us with a trend that has only gotten worse. While there are no new series that are growing ridiculously, although Friday the 13th has reached 10 [now 11 with a 12th in development], it is much easier for a film to get a sequel now such as Legally Blond which didn’t even hit 100 million, but was made on no budget so the profitability was easier to hit. Another new trend is immediately announcing a sequel: when Spider-man opened with $115 million dollars in its first weekend the studio announced plans for a sequel. Opening weekend sequel plans have become commonplace and they can be directly blamed on the 80s who exacerbated sequel-mania in a need for guaranteed money.
While the contrived sequel can be called a spawn of the 80s on the good side there is also the series. The difference is that a series is a story that is not supposed to be in one film or book as the case may be. While there was only Indiana Jones and Star Wars these films helped develop the business concept of ‘the franchise,’ more so to me than the other films than those sequelized ad neauseum. The franchise by my estimation is a designed series of films that will also be a cash cow. To me these two series planned by Lucas and Spielberg are what set the stage for some of the better films of our times.
The studios relied on the sequel for easy money because the horror films that made them all their money were pick-ups. The Slasher Trinity of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street were all independent productions which cost their respective distributors practically nothing. Thus, when they each took off like rockets they didn’t want to see the profits stop. And like at anytime in film history, you never know what’s going to be a hit and what isn’t, no matter how much test research you do. So they figure they’d just repeat what worked. And people went, and will go, if only out of curiosity.
While I can justify all these sequels that seemingly have no point I in no way excuse them. Because what started as just a rash has become a plague and now any film which shows and inkling of profit potential is a candidate to be butchered and repackaged in a sequel. For the most part I very much enjoy these films of the 80s, but a tendency towards needless repetition is something I can live without.
Work Cited: http://us.imdb.com/List?year=1989&&tv=on&&keywords=sequel&&nav=/Sections/Years/1989/include-commongenres&&heading=8;sequel;1989
Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. This is part four you can read part one, two and three here.
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