UrbanDictionary.com defines Sequelitis as, “A medical condition propagated by a combination of commercial success and creative ineptitude.”
This epidemic has plagued Hollywood for nearly a century, starting with The Fall of a Nation (1916), the forgotten follow-up to D.W. Griffith’s popular The Birth of a Nation (1915). This inspired sequels in every genre, from historical dramas (Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth twofer) to softcore porn (the Wild Things foursome). The second Nation film may have been the movie industry’s first sequel, but the first major sequel with an uncreative title was the second film in The Godfather trilogy. (Say that 5 times fast.)
It’s hard to believe, but The Godfather Part II (1974), the otherwise incredibly inventive Oscar-winner that many regard as the best sequel of all time, is credited with kick-starting the worst naming trend of all time — even worse than giving people names to pets. That’s right, I’m talking about lazy sequel titling.
This newer pandemic, known hereafter as Sequel-title-itis (*), is the focus of today’s ridiculously overthought show business article. What are its symptoms? How is it spread? Who can treat it?
Commence ridiculous overthinking… NOW.
THEY DON’T MAKE FRANCHISE TITLES LIKE THEY USED TO…
Shadow of the Thin Man. Son of the Pink Panther. The Bride of Frankenstein. For a Few Dollars More.
EXCEPT THAT THEY DO…
Tron Legacy. The Bourne Legacy. The Matrix Reloaded.
However, these above average choices are now the exception to the rule, and that rule is comprised of more numbers than the Southern California freeway system. (For non-SoCal residents, try one of these alternate metaphors, “…more numbers than an algebraic equation.” “…than a McDonalds calorie chart.” “…than a Big Bang Theory pay raise.”)
NUMBERED SEQUELS ARE LAZY.
More often than not, they’re the product of the suits in charge. Not the creatives. The first film may have been a box office hit, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers should rest on their laurels when naming the second chapter. (I’m talking to you, currently in pre-production Ted 2. There’s still time to improve your name!)
My infant son, Max, has proven to be an unequivocal, four-quadrant hit. Popular with family, friends, and strangers alike. So naturally fans are clamoring for a sequel. Now I’m not saying one is in production, mom and mom-in-law, but if a second child does get the greenlight, will he/she be called Max 2.0? No offense to the Foreman brothers (George Foreman Jr., George Foreman III, George Foreman IV, etc.), but the answer is no. We’ll put some thought into it. Just like studios ought to with their babies.
GOOD TITLES ATTRACT NEW VIEWERS.
Aside from only getting one chance to make a good first impression on an audience, what benefit could producers gain from building a better sequel title? Could it increase a movie’s odds at the box office? Hell, yeah. As far as my wallet is concerned anyway.
Exhibit A — Dude, Where’s My Car? I had no desire whatsoever to see this Ashton Kutcher vehicle about Ashton Kutcher’s vehicle. And then it was announced that the follow-up, which sadly never came to fruition, would be labeled Seriously Dude, Where’s My Car?
Suddenly I was compelled to rent the first film, for which I was now convinced would be nothing short of a masterpiece. Ditto for Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties and Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.
Because it’s about chipmunks. On a shipwreck.
Take my money now, NetFlix. (**)
Exhibit B — How to Train Your Dragon. I thoroughly enjoyed the first picture and looked forward to the second until the working title became the permanent title — the “F” for effort How to Train Your Dragon 2.
How to Train Your Dragons. How to Train Your Other Dragon. How to Retrain Your Dragon. How to Potty Train Your Dragon.
Any of these choices (except perhaps the last one) would’ve kept the movie on my must-see-in-theater list, but, despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, it’s been downgraded to my other list, the one that begins with I’ll-rent-it-when-I-get-around-to-it.
NOT THE ONLY FAN.
LUCAS CHAMPIONS CREATIVE TITLES.
Although George Lucas botched the most recent Star Wars and Indiana Jones flicks, he at least gave them decent titles. In fact, he’s one of the most consistent filmmakers when it comes to inventive sequel/prequel nomenclature, refusing to play the numbers game right from the start. This is why his first filmic follow-up, to American Graffiti, was named More American Graffiti. (Not that anyone remembers it.) Congrats, George. You are hereby forgiven for Howard the Duck.
BRUCKHEIMER CHAMPIONS CREATIVE TITLES.
Jerry Bruckheimer may not have scored creatively with his Pirates of the Caribbean sequels (fingers crossed for installment #5), but he deserves credit for bucking (Brucking?) the numerical system of dumbing it down. Disney Home Entertainment wanted to add numbers to Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End, and On Stranger Tides. Not the Bruckster.
He argued that home viewers wouldn’t be confused by the order. Ultimately a compromise was reached where numbers would be included on the spines of the D.V.D./Blu-ray cases, but not on the front covers. Congrats, Jerry. You are hereby forgiven for Kangaroo Jack.
Despite Hollywood heavyweights like George and Jerry supporting non-numbered names, the majority of prequels and threequels are still numerically titled. Why? Aside from laziness, there are several reasons for this and they all boil down to the same thing — brand recognition.
Film franchises need to be easy to follow. At least that’s what studio marketing would have studio executives believe. Some would say (some being me and Jerry B.) that this is an insult to audience intelligence. Can the average filmgoer distinguish on his/her own that The Fast and The Furious comes before Fast and Furious? Of course they can. Because when you’re 2 Fast and 2 Furious, you ain’t got time for “The”. (Note to self: Figure out how to reference remaining F. & F. titles.)
The Whole 10 Yards may not have been a great movie, but it was definitely a less confusing title than The Whole 9 Yards 2. Ditto for Guns of The Magnificent 7 and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Even the Comic-Con crowd would’ve been puzzled by a title like Fantastic 4 Part 2. Fantastic 4… 2? Fantastic 42? That must be the one with Jackie Robinson as the Human Torch.
ALPHABETICAL VIDEO SHELVING.
When video stores ruled the land, they displayed films in alphabetical order, which is why the Batman movies always started with the Caped Crusader’s name followed by …Returns …Forever …and Robin. They could then be grouped together on the “B” shelf rather than scattered around the store.
It wasn’t until the Bat-tastic success of …Begins, alongside the fall of V.H.S. and the rise of digital, that A-list director Chris Nolan was able to break the alpha mold with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. He did it again with Man of Steel, the first Superman movie without Supes in the title. Unfortunately it’s back to the drawing board with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which, despite sounding like it, is not a landmark case studied by law students.
WHAT’S THE EXCUSE NOW?
With Blockbuster Video out of business and online queues letting us peruse rentals in any order — genre, actor, director — why is Hollywood still naming its sequels sequentially?
FOR SOME SEQUELS, NOTHING WORKS BUT NUMBERS.
I love everything about Toy Story 2 and 3 except for their names. Having said that, I don’t have any better suggestions. Another Toy Story? It worked for Another Stakeout and Another 48 Hours, but apparently not enough or there would’ve been third chapters in those franchises as well. And what would you label them — Another Another Stakeout? Yet Another 48 Hours? Let’s just name it 72 Hours and call it a day. (Three days to be precise.)
INTERNATIONAL BRAND AWARENESS.
The only thing more important to studios than brand recognition is international brand recognition. Catch my drift? My… Tokyo Drift? (Note to self: No more F. & F. references.)
Title clarity is particularly significant in China and other burgeoning foreign markets where English is a second language. Would you be able to discern that F— The News is the Portuguese translation for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues? Neither would I. Hence the “2”.
So that covers the origin and outbreak of Sequel-title-itis, but the big questions remain:
Can it be cured? If it can’t be cured, then can we live with it? If we can’t live it, then what will I write about?!
We’ll learn these answers and more after a short sabbatical. End ridiculous overthinking… now.
COMING SOON: A sequel to this article, natch.
* What do you get the hypochondriac who thinks he has everything? Aside from Sequel-title-itis, I recommend another hypothetical illness — the Christmas Bends.
** No cat or chipmunk movies were NetFlixed in the writing of this article.