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Good Things Come in Twos

8 Jul, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Remember when sequels were viewed as nothing more than crass money grabs? You had a good movie that scored big at the box office, so you made a cheapo followup and then maybe one, two or even three more, and each time a couple of stars dropped out and the story got more and more derivative.

Sure, there were exceptions — Godfather II and Toy Story 2 stand out — but for the most part, movies got progressively worse the higher their end digit. Sometimes the results were downright laughable — who can forget Charles Bronson in Death Wish 3 blowing the bejesus out of his whole neighborhood with an arsenal of serious weapons he and his neighbor just happened to have lying around? Or the absurdity of the later Friday the 13th and Halloween films?

Box office earnings seemed to parallel the sequels' quality. The films got worse, and they made progressively less money until someone mercifully decided to pull the plug.

Nowadays, the opposite seems to be happening. The shift began a few years ago, when Austin Powers II outgrossed the original by a financial landslide. But it wasn't until this summer — the summer of the sequel, Hollywood is calling it — when this turnaround became a rule of thumb. Shrek 2 was hailed by critics as an even better movie than the first Shrek, and it's earning tons more dough, as well. The same is happening with Spider-Man 2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban opened bigger than either of its two predecessors. And there's tremendous buzz surrounding upcoming sequels like The Bourne Supremecy and Princess Diaries 2. Go ahead — you already know where I'm going to place the credit. Yes, that's right — DVD.

My line of thought goes something like this: Sequel awareness is at an all-time high, because now so many of the originals are in peoples' homes. About a minute after my kids saw an ad for Shrek 2 on TV, they were watching the original Shrek on DVD. It whetted their appetite for more, and when they saw Shrek 2 in the theater two days later, they came home and guess what — they watched Shrek again.It was the same story with Spider-Man. The ad for the sequel made him want to watch the original, and watching the original made him want to see Spider-Man 2 in theaters all the more.

No one's done any definitive research on this, but my hunch is the whole thing started a few years ago when Austin Powers 2 outgrossed its predecessor in theaters while the first Austin Powers was red-hot on DVD. Someone in Hollywood connected the dots, and a pattern developed — the DVD of the first film would be used to promote the theatrical debut of the sequel, and vice versa.Along the way, the quality of sequels got better, likely a function of the studio suits who greenlight films figuring a bigger investment would lead to an even bigger return. They figured right, and we have a new phenomenon on our hands.

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