Sequels Sell...Big

It occurred to me, amid the detritus of Christmas morning at my household, that I had purchased for my kids four sequels on DVD: Spider-Man 2 (Sometimes, Web Fluid Isn't Just Web Fluid), Shrek 2, LoTRIII: The Return of the King, and Harry Potter III: The Prisoner of Azkaban. Sequels sell, and sell big. These four films led the 2004 box office take, with The Day After Tomorrow the only non-sequel to crack the top-five.

I must confess a certain weakness for a good blockbuster, though I suffer through a KFC Effect after I watch them. You know how sometimes you walk past a KFC, you smell that fried chicken, and you start crave it? You might not satisfy the craving right then, but you start looking for a chance to. You down half a bucket at one sitting, picking the bones clean and licking your fingertips. Then you get that guilty, sinking feeling after the deed is done: 'How could I have enjoyed that? I just consumed over 2000 calories and a quarter pound of fat.' (KFC Nutritional Guide) You never want to see another bucket again, do you? Until you forget how disgusting and guilty you felt the last time.

That's the way it is with blockbusters. Star Wars has easily tapped me for about $500: The original trilogy released in theaters. The original trilogy remastered in THX on VHS. The special edition theatrical release. The prequel theatrical releases. The prequels on DVD. The original trilogy on DVD. Action figures and posters, ostensibly for my kids. I don't even like George Lucas. I respect his business acumen, but don't have much respect for him as a film-maker. I think the budgets and special effects of his prequels obscure and undermine his story, and that his stilted scripts make for better viewing of his films with the French soundtrack on and English subtitles. The words are too unnatural to be spoken. Yet I keep jamming money into the greedy prick's pockets. Make it stop.

Arguably the weakest of the sequels I purchased this Christmas, Shrek 2, earned $436m in US box office and a truly frightening $881m worldwide. This for a movie that was made for an estimated $75m. A movie that made use of the fiercely comic device of a farting half-submerged ogre during the title credits, just as in the original. Why not make a sequel for that kind of coin? Return of the King took in $1,129m worldwide, bested only by Titanic on the all-time chart with a, uh, titanic take of $1,835m.

If you look at the top-rated movies at IMDB--those rated highest by IMDB users--you will find three movies on which sequels were based and three sequels in the top ten.

Familiarity apparently breeds not contempt, but box office receipts and DVD sales. Judging from the tone of this post, perhaps familiarity breeds all three. One thing is certain: I will see the next Bond / Star Wars / Spider-Man and Potter films. I am part of the problem. I know. I can't help myself.

Good films I've seen recently with zero sequelization potential: Shattered Glass, Dogville, The Big Lebowski, City of God, House of Sand and Fog, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Haven't seen a truly great film in a while.

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