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Why Hollywood's Bad Sequels Keep Coming

Hint: it’s a marketing strategy worth copying.

Why Hollywood's Bad Sequels Keep Coming

Why does Hollywood keep churning out atrocious sequels?


A simple answer, but explaining why it works can be edifying.

Between 1996 and 2016, 532 of the roughly 13,000 movies produced have sequels. (Vox, 2016) Of those 532 sequels, only about 25 earned a critic rating better than their original.

That means 95% of all sequels over that 20-year review rated worse—sometimes much worse—than their original. Professional and amateur critics alike lambasted them. Whatever your favourite genre, from Blair Witch to Rambo, Bridget Jones, or the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, the sequels were often formulaic: the same characters solving the same problems. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Yet on average, sequels earned 8 times their original movie’s revenue.

A paradox, it seems. How can a sequel be bad yet still make so much more than its original?

If there’s a movie franchise of sequels that you love, you might notice that overall production quality is neither excellent nor really bad. Usually, it’s good enough.

While it seems villains, story lines and scripts roll off a factory conveyor belt, so do the cast and crew, including the extended “business”, like the marketing and distribution teams, finance and IT. Compared to the first time around the block, re-assembling the team and business systems is quick and easy, i.e. low budget, when you can simply copy the template.

But that speaks to only the cost side of the equation. No one made money by making something cheaper. You only make money by actually selling what you make.

As a producer, it helps enormously that you’ve validated your business idea in round one when the original movie has earned millions. Add to this solid customer feedback: your fans are literally telling you what they want more of.

And that’s exactly what that amorphous movie industry we call Hollywood does: it gives the fans what they want. (Usually!)

Sequels are made for the fans, not the critics.

In fact, in any business, you want to have some critics. Your product should not be for everyone, only your tribe of loyal fans.

Here’s a rule of thumb: the harder it is for your non-fans to identify themselves out of your target audience, the weaker your product and marketing design.

Movie sequels might not push creative or technical boundaries. Some might not even be “art”. But if there’s proven demand and you’ve built a business system to satisfy it profitably, then you’re surely onto a winning formula.

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Image credit: Decider