2007: Year of the Threequels

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) -vs- Spider-Man 3 (2007) -vs- Shrek the Third (2007) -vs- Ocean’s 13 (2007) -vs- Rush Hour 3 (2007) -vs- The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) -vs- Resident Evil 3 (2007)

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefOkay, not really. Who would attempt such a ridiculous Smackdown? Who would have the stamina? All of the movies you see in this Ultimate Fighting Smackdown are three-peats, or the sequel after the sequel, or triple-plays.

With the rare exception, the third time is not the charm. We recently put  Spider-Man 3 -vs- Superman III to illustrate the point about threequels. Neither stood up well to its own predecessor.

Just to be clear, this isn’t only the Summer of Three. One film is a five-peat, the sturdiest franchise since James Bond, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Another is a quad-quel: Live Free or Die Hard. That doesn’t include the three big sequels, 28 Weeks Later, Evan Almighty, and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer.

You know what it’s starting to look like in our movie theaters? Expensive television series.

Quite often the sequel can equal the best of the original and, with the addition of money, even trump it in some ways. Clearly that has been the case for The Terminator trilogy where the first showed the concept, but the second delivered it fully. And even The Godfather, Part II and Aliens both also managed to rise to the level of their phenomenal openers. More recently, Spider-Man 2 made us forget the one that preceded it, even though, at the time, we liked that one immensely, too. Now, think of the third part of all those franchises. Each one is an arrow fired a little further from the mark that, by the time it hits the theaters, it’s way off. Exceptions: Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled trying to analyze what makes Hollywood tick. It is an odd conundrum that the cost of movies today calls for a risk-aversion strategy, but the creative innovation of film and television artists is what keeps entertainment working in the first place.

Creative people want to work and they love big budgets. They get given sequels and sequels-to-sequels and they’re happy to do them because the checks don’t bounce and the toys are to die for. The studios keep doing sequels until they run out of juice and, currently, they’re getting pretty good at guessing when that will be based on box office builds or declines. And, even after a concept has been beat to a shadow of its former glory, they can retire it a while, bring it back “new and improved” like “Batman” or “Superman” and start all over again.

Movies have to get you in the seat once or twice. So they aim for blockbusters. Television has to get you coming back every week. They aim for a continuing experience that engages the viewer. Guess which model gives us the best writing and the most risk-taking? Commercial television, hands down.

I’m not the only guy who’s saying this. There’s a nice piece in the Chicagoist which makes the same point. They were following up a February Newsweek piece where writer Devin Gordon states, “Why TV Is Better Than Movies.”

I’m only talking about commercial reality here. Big Film -versus- Big TV. Below the surface, independent film is still an exciting place to work and express ideas.

As a viewer, though, I’m struggling with the fact that our multi-plexes are filled with so little product and that it’s so predictable. My 15-year-old son wants to go to the movies tonight with his friends and asked me to buy the tickets ahead of time. The multiplex where there are usually seven or eight things showing had three choices: Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

On the other hand, these clones of clones of clones make for hardy Smackdowns. Hopefully, a few of our critics will throw down this weekend on what’s out there.


About Bryce Zabel

Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.
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3 Responses to 2007: Year of the Threequels

  1. Jay Amicarella says:

    The reason John Huston is my favorite director is his penchant for filming classic literature like “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Under the Volcano”, “The African Queen.” He not only created interesting set-pieces, he kept the dialogue of the original work intact, without his characters sounding ‘booky’. And people loved, and still, love them. Clint Eastwood’s the only director even attempting to keep this rich tradition alive (He learned his lesson Not to change the original endings after “Absolute Power”) Have authors stopped writing books? Do we have to make every comic book, and every 60’s era TV sitcom into a movie? And then sequel it ad nauseum?

    “Well, they all made money…” is not an excuse. In an age where the Beancounters have virtually guaranteed that no film loses money, an era where accountants could prove “Heaven’s Gate” broke even, why NOT take a gamble on some material of substance?

  2. Mark says:

    Hollywood is becoming sloppy, what ever happened to the classics like Casablanca, Star Wars or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What they need is people with new ideas, and not just people so afraid of a failure that the rip off old ideas. This is the reason I want to become a movie director/writer. I have new ideas, or if not so new, the way I intemperate the story will be original.

    My question is why rant about something like this? Despite all the sequels coming out this summer, and your attempt to shun their directors, writers, producers or even actors. Can you really say that these movies will not make money?

    But we really can’t say if they will be good or not. I think Spider-man 3 was a big disappointment. Yet Pirates of the Carribbean: At World’s End was the best out of the three. I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, and Fantastic 4 looks a little better then the first. I want to see Live Free or Die Hard because of Bruce Willis and Len Wiseman is directing. I don’t think they should have even made Evan Almighty, unless it stays true it’s prequel. You know how Bruce Almighty was a dramatic movie with a comedy overtone.

  3. Lak Rana says:

    Bryce, you’re right…that Smackdown is a tall order, but if I had to put my two cents in I would say that the movies based on comic books lend themselves nicely towards sequels, triple-plays, and so on because there is an almost “built-in” storyline (i.e all you need to do is find new villans etc). The movies that find themselves in trouble during the third offering tend to be movies that don’t have this “built-in” continuity and, therefore, have to struggle for not only new content but new plot drivers. However, I also find that these comic book movies sometimes have a tendancy to become boring because they end up being more cliche (good guy chasing new bad guy) and the other movies stay fresh because they’re forced to think of new plot concepts.

    So it’s hard to say either way. I’m more excited to see the new installment of Die Hard because I’m not sure what to expect from a plot standpoint. Hopefully the studios didn’t force it just to get a film out there.

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