A sequel by definition is unoriginal, so movie sequels already have one strike against them. Strike two comes from studios saddling them with unoriginal titles.
- Cars 2
- The Expendables 3
- Paranormal Activity 4
- Final Destination 5 (If they’re on the 5th film, then how final is this destination? Just saying.)
Humdrum titles like these do not instill audiences with confidence that the sequels themselves will be any good, though they are a great source for teaching kids how to count. The origins and motives for uncreative sequel titling are covered in the first part of this article, as is the case for creative sequel titling, so Analyze That…
…before you Analyze This.
Done with part 1? Good. I’ll assume that if you weren’t already pulling for imaginative titling, then you are now. I’ll also assume that studio heads and marketing peeps have joined the cause. For the remainder of this topic, let’s role-play and pretend that you, dear reader, are such a studio head. So put down the blow and send the hookers packing because it’s sequel titling time!
You’ve made a firm commitment to come up with an original title. Most people think you’re crazy, and you should fire those people post-haste. Once that’s done, all that remains is to go over the options and choose the style that best suits your film. Remember, what works for one sequel may not work for another. Just ask the producers of Howling III: The Marsupials.
ROMAN NUMERALS WEREN’T BUILT IN A DAY
For you fictional studio heads hell-bent on unoriginal titles, let’s play the numbers game.
Yes, Roman numerals are technically numbers. Somewhat snooty numbers, sure, but they look much better than their Arabic counterparts and we all know style is more important than substance, right? Right.
If you want your one-sheet to be taken seriously, then Roman numerals are the way to go. The problem, however, is that – unless you’re in ancient Rome – no one can really count past III. Everything I know about Roman numerals I learned from the Rocky series, but even Sly ran into trouble with the last film, the decision-making process of which is well documented in the best-selling memoir Rocky & Me. (No, it isn’t.)
Head of Marketing: “So what do we call Rocky 6?”
Stallone: “Yo, call it Rocky IV.”
Head of Marketing: “No, Rocky IV was Rocky 4. If you want to do Roman numerals again, then Rocky 6 has to be Rocky VI.”
Stallone: “Yo, just call it Rocky Balboa. Adrian!”
STAY CLASSY, HOLLYWOOD
As impressive as the Roman numbering system looks, it can only dress up a digit so much. Especially when everyone does it. To stand out from the crowd, there is a slightly more inventive method that is gaining traction — spelling out the number in various ways.
- Happy Feet Two
- Look Who’s Talking Too
- Teen Wolf Too
This model also works for foreign cinema, re: Hot Shots! Part Deux.
If you absolutely must tack on Arabic numbers (known in the biz as “numbers”), then do so organically. Knead it into the title so that it feels connected to the plot.
Rio 2 and Critters 4 = unoriginal
102 Dalmatians and The 4 Musketeers = original
Taking a page from the Ocean’s 12 playbook, this year’s sequel to 21 Jump Street moved the action to 22 Jump Street. Twenty. Two. Jump Street. They moved one address away! Brilliant!! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but thanks to its superior title, odds are that I’ll love it.
SUBTITLES AREN’T JUST FOR KUNG-FU FLICKS
If Roman numerals and organic titles aren’t your thing, then you can exercise your colon (your other colon) and give subtitles a try. Marvel Studios changed their ways after flubbing their first sequel — Iron Man 2 (in more ways than one). With subsequent follow-ups to subsequent franchises, Marvel has gone the subtitle route via Thor: The Dark World and next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Subtitles are a good choice for maintaining brand recognition of the original film’s title while shepherding in the new film. They’re a solid bridge between the two. They can also bail you out of trouble.
The first Captain America movie added The First Avenger subtitle late in the game. This teased the audience for the eventual Avengers team-up, but more importantly it allowed the studio to pull the main title from overseas markets not necessarily rooting for a butt-kicking embodiment of Western patriotism. Never mind that Cap wears a red, white, and blue costume with matching shield. Or that everyone addresses him as Captain… America. As long as Kim Jong-un only thinks he’s seeing a flick called The First Avenger, then Hollywood wins the war on terror!
- Poltergeist II: The Other Side
- City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Keep in mind that hybrids could make you appear wishy-washy, which could make your movie appear equally wishy-washy. To paraphrase George Carlin’s eggplant rant, “Is it a numbered sequel or a subtitled sequel? Tell it to make up its mind and come on back.”
WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD AN “S”
Sometimes simple is best. Just look at Aliens, Predators, and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. These pluralized titles are short and to the point. They also tell us everything we need to know about the storyline. (Note: The title for AvP: Requiem became a bit confusing after the Mozart plot was cut, but, since the posters were already printed, the producers stuck with it.)
JUMP EMBED WITH THE ORIGINAL TITLE
If brand awareness is still on your mind and you seriously doubt that moviegoers won’t be able to distinguish what your sequel is a sequel to, I suggest embedding the first film’s title within the titles of the follow-up films.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- Son of the Pink Panther
- Live Free or Die Hard
That last one also makes for a swell granite state license plate.
Now this is a lot to mull over, particularly for pseudo studio heads up to their nostrils in powder. So take a break for Thanksgiving, spend some time with the family, and then fire them!
We’ve got more work to do. You’ve mapped out your options, but before choosing a final destination (or 5), you might want to see where others have gone before.
COMING SOON: Is Santa Claus myth, menace, or moron?
Additional material written by Jeremy Regan, who, when not working for “Top. Men.” or assisting yours truly, is a part of Team Local 225 BBQ. Barbecue so good, you’ll be clamoring for Low & Slow Barbecue: The Seconds.