There is only one obvious answer to the question ‘Why do we need movie sequels?’
Sometimes there may be a creative reason behind the decision, but creativity and the desire to continue a story comes in a distant second to the green stuff.
Consider “The Matrix” series. It was one great film with a deep story, themes and narrative, and two so-so films with a filler-padded story doing little to further explore the world created in the first film. The Matrix was made on a relatively small budget but made more than $460 million worldwide, so it only seems like common sense that two big budget sequels would result in countless billions in return.
Commercial success ensued, but they were critical failures.
If a story has been told in its entirety, then there really should be no need to make another. “Taken” was a surprise success and made an instant action hero out of Liam Neeson, but because it made back ten times its budget a sequel was given the green light. The result? A sequel made from the same mold as its predecessor. While “Taken 2” isn’t a bad film, it brings nothing new to the table, and is a victim of ‘paint by numbers’ syndrome.
Take “The Hangover” and its follow-up. “The Hangover” was a smash hit, and the studio knew this even before its release, signing the actors on for a multi-picture deal. The studio, knowing they have a winning format on their hands, wants a sequel in the same form as the first, which leads to, essentially, viewers getting a re-make within a two year period. “The Hangover 2” is essentially “The Hangover”, just set in a different country. The same can be said for the sequels to “Home Alone”, “American Pie” and “Ghostbusters” – if you watched them side-by-side you would notice the similarities in the structure and situations.
Sometimes a sequel can work. Terminator 2 continues the story where the first left off, while still covering similar themes and situations to please the studio. The original Star Wars trilogy feels fluent, as they are individual movies which come together to tell an overall story arc.
On the most part, sequels also have to be open enough so that first-time viewers can sit down to watch without having to catch up on hours of backstory. Anybody could quite easily sit down and watch “The Hangover 2” without having to ask ‘who is that?’ or ‘why are they here?’
The same couldn’t be said for people being introduced to the later films in the “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings” series. For example, there are no character reintroductions, no ‘individual story’ in “The Two Towers”. It is the middle part to the trilogy, so it doesn’t have a traditional ‘beginning, middle and end’. It is all middle. Viewers who have never seen “Fellowship of the Ring” are going to have no idea who Sam and Frodo are and why they have to take a ring to the top of a mountain. Similarly in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, if you haven’t seen “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” you’re going to be left scratching your head and wondering who Dobby is and why he has magically popped in to help them
That being said, The Return of the King made almost $300,000,000 more than Fellowship of the Ring did at the box office, so somebody must have sat in the theater with no idea who anybody was or what they were doing.
If there is a story to tell and an effective way to tell it, then sure, make that sequel where the bad guy dies at the end of the first but then somehow reappears again (I’m looking at you, “Pirates of the Caribbean”). Sequel filmmakers, just promise us viewers one thing. Please make it a good one.