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Counting Your Chickens… Green Lighting Sequels Before the Original is Released

I would have thought that the mess that was caused by The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded would have killed the notion of greenlighting several films at once – those two movies, following up to the science-fiction phenomenon which was The Matrix, represented a jumble of ideas from the film makers, without the counterbalance or mass appeal which defined the original. The Wachowski Brothers, allowed free reign, proceeded to produce two extremely dense discourses on abstract philosophy lacking in any real heart and populated with awkwardly assembled set pieces and grand-sounding ideas. I would have assumed that the poor reception and somewhat negative impact the two films have had on their iconic predecessor would have dissuaded studios from allowing such free reign again. However, it seems that the trend might be coming back into vogue – with rumours of a green-lit Green Lantern 2 before the original is released and not one but two Mad Max reimaginings on the way.

Join me, Luke, I have a six picture deal...

Of course, sometimes you can anticipate a franchise and a long stream of movies – particularly in adapting material from another source. It might seem apparent that you will have six or seven Harry Potter movies (if only based upon the number of books), but it’s not necessarily the case. The failure of The Golden Compass appears to have grounded any chance of the His Dark Materials trilogy making it to screen in full (although Sam Elliot thinks other factors are to blame). As such, despite how obvious it may sound, it’s rare for a movie sequel or spin-off to be “a sure thing” before the original is released, because a bad box office can just kill a movie’s chances of starting a franchise. Admittedly this gets somewhat less likely as a franchise ages – for example, even in the unlikely-to-happen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part I fails, we’ll still get Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II, because… well, experience has demonstrated that the moon will fall out of the sky before a Harry Potter movie fails. Same thing with Twilight.

On one hand, planning sequels at the same time as the original has its benefits. From a financial perspective, it means that the production budget can be drastically reduced, as you will likely be using the same wardrobe and set design and even the same sets – hell you even get the benefit of releasing the two films close together, rather than that pesky two or three year gaps between films. From a perspective of internal consistency – for example with the original Superman and Superman II – it means that you can keep the cast together (in this case, the rather expensive and, to be honest, somewhat flighty Marlon Brando) and structure the story so it works over several movies. You’ll notice this in watching certain trilogies, for example the original Star Wars, where the original film (A New Hope) works quite well as its own film, tying up its own ends, but the two sequels green-lit after the success of the original are closely connected and intertwined (true showing someone Return of the Jedi without showing them The Empire Strikes Back).

Studio executives are seeing green...

Still, I figured that, with the economy the way it is, the studios would be more cautious and conservative in spending their money. After all, they are winding down their independent film devisions. However, maybe blockbusters are the exception to the rule, they are – after all – the major money-spinners of the industry. Still, it represents a huge vote of confidence in a particular film, sometimes one made in blind faith, perhaps even before filming – let alone effects rendering or editing – has started.

On one hand, perhaps it’s endearing know that some ideas are so good that even the most jaded executives can get excited about them enough to ignore some of the basic rules of the Hollywood economy. Or maybe it’s just an economic truth that eventually any franchise will make its money back, so it isn’t as big a leap of faith as it appears. Maybe it’s just proof that I will never fully understand Hollywood.

5 Responses

  1. I was shocked by Disney greenlighting a third film not long after the trailer debuted, but this Green Lantern business is a bad idea.

    Green Lantern is not a well-known property and if I’m a WB executive I’m not putting my job on the line for this superhero.

    • Yep. Green lantern is huge in nerd circles, but who the hell outside comic books knows he is? I reckon it will do well and he’ll break mainstream, but it’s a huge gambit for someone, as you said, whose job is on the line.

  2. I don’t think I’m liking the tactics either, but I really like your idea of studio execs excited like schoolboys and breaking out their greenlight stamps.

    Green Lantern represents Warner/DC’s Iron Man, a hero outside the main pantheon of familiar faces who could very well go on to make billions. They’ve got Ryan Reynolds which is like the next best thing to a smartass RDJ, so I suppose there’s reason for confidence.

    You didn’t mention Back to the Future 2 & 3 as examples of twofer sequels. Funny how two films made at the same time can be so completely different in tone and quality.

  3. Why are studios so desperate for a franchise, yet make no effort to make a good first film? Audiences aren’t that stupid, no everyone just laps up whatever you feed them. The Last Airbender is a good example, I guess. They were either trying to ride on nostalgia or fans of that one Twilight vampire.

    • Audiences are sometimes that stupid. The fact that we have a Transformers trilogy I think demonstrates that. Nah, I kid – I kid. But, yep, all these films are just rote designed on the notion that they’ll produce a cash cow, as if the studios are unaware that it might take a bit of work to produce a film an audience wishes to see sequelised rather than just producing it by rote. Ah well, what do I know? I’m no writer.

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