William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
Sequels. Prequels. Changing timelines. Franchises that go on forever. Moviegoers, and Hollywood, love a good series.
The subject of sequels prompted me to pull the first of several (way too many) series from my DVD collection. After pulling 19 cases (yikes!) from the shelves, the marathon began. Nine movies later, and I’m still staring at a stack of films. Definitely too many, but so much fun to watch for the second, third, or 10th time.
Why do we love a sequel (or a prequel, or a timeline change)? The same could be asked of television shows and books; and yes, I collect those, too. Television networks want a long-running hit, not only for current ratings but for syndication efforts going forward. Or has that changed in the era of streaming services? Authors are hoping for a successful series of books as a way of collecting royalties for years to come, and publishers look to a hit series as a money-maker and as a way of drawing readers to their other titles.
For Hollywood, it comes down to one word: money. Then we have the average moviegoer; could it be we enjoy a sense of comfort, a feeling of welcoming old friends on the big screen and eventually into our homes, of knowing both the character and (thinking we know) the actor? For the majority of us, not counting the fanatics who define the word, we simply enjoy the familiarity of characters, settings, and scenarios.
My favorites don’t include horror/slasher films, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Saw, etc., so I’m not sure of the draw for those. I’d love to hear from someone who enjoys these films and has watched the growing number of sequels for such movies. Drop me a note at email@example.com.
Talking about franchises that go on forever, all we need to do is look at the current popularity of the comic book/superhero genre. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in particular, includes lots of sequels and connected films (now at 24 films either released or scheduled to be released!). One reason I watch is they are just plain fun, and I love to watch the great special effects and amazing fight choreography. I also enjoy the science fiction genre—Star Trek, Star Wars (the original trilogy is my favorite, though, I do have to say, I liked the latest, The Force Awakens with the intrepid Rey as portrayed by Daisy Ridley; well, except for that one scene), Alien, and the like—for similar reasons, plus there is a fascination with the wonderful what-if scenarios the genre produces.
What Came Before
Then we have prequels. Some of these are simply a means of introducing new actors to the series so the franchise can continue. The X-Men series is a perfect example with the popular X-Men: First Class introducing the younger versions of Xavier and Co. complete with origin stories. We also have The Hobbit trilogy that followed The Lord of the Rings trilogy in release but is set years earlier. And even though these films were not shot first, we also have Captain Marvel and Captain America: The First Avenger, both of which harken to the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D. Another example are the Fantastic Beasts films set years before Harry Potter found his way to Platform 9 3/4 and on to Hogwarts.
The prequels are fascinating for another reason. Who are they going to cast to play a younger version of a character we’ve come to know and love? For the most part, I agree with the choices for the X-Men youngsters, and Martin Freeman was an inspired choice for Bilbo Baggins. We never caught a glimpse of Newt Scamander in the Potter films though we heard his name, and Eddie Redmayne has proven to be perfect for the part. I wasn’t sure about Jude Law as the younger Albus Dumbledore, though I have to say he has been excellent in the role. And thanks to special effects, in Captain Marvel, we saw a younger Nick Fury (the always wonderful Samuel L. Jackson) sans eye patch and learned how the iconic character came to wear said patch.
Another endlessly entertaining aspect of movie series is the way Hollywood reimagines or reboots various titles (and there is quite a bit of discussion and disagreement when it comes to those two terms, and we can even add in a third term, ‘remake’).
If I have this right, a ‘remake’ is basically a duplication of a previous film (usually a stand-alone movie, not a series or franchise) that may have some changes depending on the new producers and director; a ‘reboot’ is a return to a previous film, updating it for a new audience with new actors, often a new origin story (for instance, all those Spiderman/Peter Parker stories, or the different Batman films), with a very similar plot to the original; and a ‘reimagining’ is either going back to the source material and starting over (think Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory  vs. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ), or throwing out the earlier film(s) and starting from scratch, with none of the previous canon remaining relevant (the 1960-70s Planet of the Apes series vs. the 2001 version vs. the trilogy beginning in 2011 starring Andy Serkis as Caesar).
The most recent Star Trek is actually a combination of a reboot and a reimagining (and confusion reigns). Now I’m a devotee of the original series, and completely enjoyed the movies with the cast of ST: OS and The Next Generation (OK, all except the first one—the 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and I am not alone). I own all the movies, as well as the three seasons of the original series. One good thing about streaming services, I can find every episode for every Trek series known to humans or Vulcans.
Some purists don’t like the most recent series of movies from J.J. Abrams. After rewatching the first one, introducing Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Karl Urban as McCoy, I am still a fan. The alternate timeline was a great way to reboot the series and the writers managed to capture the chemistry between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy—which was one of my complaints with The Motion Picture—and I thoroughly enjoyed the little homages to the original series: tribbles, familiar lines of dialog, Red Shirts, and a host of others.
And then we have the reimaginings, not really a parallel universe. It’s simply a complete overhaul of the movies’ or series’ look, feel, cast, writers, scripts, etc. Television used this to great advantage with series such as the 2004 Battlestar Galactica, for one. A totally new look that worked well, even with all the controversy over Starbuck. I would also include the two 21 Jump Street movies in this category, as the portrayals by Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are completely different characters from those that brought early fame to Johnny Depp, Richard Grieco, Holly Robinson Peete, Dustin Nguyen, and others.
An internet search reveals a number of pages devoted to the best sequels, the best prequels, the best/highest grossing/favorite series of the year/decade/century (take your pick). If you get a minute, take a look. It’s fun reading about other people’s takes on these types of lists.
For the most part, I enjoy the different takes on movies. I do wonder, however, why Hollywood insists on so many sequels, or why a remake is necessary for a classic movie. Guess that sums it up: I’m old school and those classics I grew up with? They stand on their own. And that brings me full circle. It’s because remakes, reboots, and reimaginings are all about appealing to new audiences and attracting them to the theaters in this age of exploding streaming services.
What do you think about sequels, prequels, timeline changes/alternate universes, or reimaginings? Any notes are appreciated; reach out via email or regular mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1035 N. Third St., Suite 101-B, PO Box 888, Lawrence, KS 66044.