Not that long ago, three was the magic number for sequels in Hollywood. Of course there have been plenty of franchises that have gone beyond this: Harry Potter had eight, James Bond has had … a lot, but ultimately blockbuster franchises travelled in packs of three.
In the past several years, more and more franchises add a fourth chapter to their production line. As more screens compete for people’s attention – from Youtube to Facebook, the need for pre-awareness in the form of franchises is one of the few sure-fire models for getting butts in cinema seats.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note the explosive growth of online poker games that has in turn fueled brick-and-mortar tournaments and thriving casinos. New poker websites pop up every day, such as poker.dk, where people practice making money in the privacy of their own home. The industry booms, despite legal action against some of the most high-profile sites such as Full Tilt Poker. What used to be an intimidating game for pros, suddenly has become a private game where people gamble anonymously. Meanwhile, real-life poker has become a booming business. Similarly, I see a potential strategy for film producers to cultivate audiences with online shows and made-for-online movies that gradually build a franchise and following. These properties can then be produced for the big cinematic experience once the audience is sufficiently proven.
Here are three franchises that have ‘unexpectedly’ gone over the threequel limit:
Pirates of the Caribbean
For a film idea that had so many sceptics in the beginning, this franchise has certainly had legs. Based on the Disney theme park ride, the first film, spawned two immediate sequels, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. The third concluded the plot-line of two of the central characters who carried the weight of the films. It would have been enough. And then they made the fourth, On Stranger Tides without them.
It would appear that Ice Age are planning to make films up until the present day. So far they have had the ice age begin, a meltdown, and an adventure somewhere under the ice where the Dinosaurs still reign supreme. Have they left it there? Of course not. In Ice Age number four we will get to see the continents split.
The first film was OK. The second film was better, and the third was brilliant. The X Men franchise did the unusual and got better rather than worse with each release. So, of course they had to round it out with a fourth one. Only this time they went back in the past and made the prequel X Men: First Class. Different actors playing younger versions of the same characters. Genius.
The trend toward developing intellectual property with pre-awareness is quickly going to meld with the power of online audience-building. Small-scale, niche productions funded by brands and product placement will grown audiences that can then be tapped for bigger productions. A sea-change is just around the corner.