Repeat Business: (noun) A situation that arises when a customer returns again and again to purchase a good or service, leading to increased profits.
In the past, if a Hollywood film was successful there was a possibility of it garnering a sequel. Today, however, if a film a Hollywood film is successful, there is a certainty that it will get a sequel. If that sequel is successful, it will get another sequel, and so on. Thus, a movie franchise is born.
Franchises, or sagas, have tightened such a grip on Tinsel Town that a summer blockbuster that isn’t a sequel has become a thing of rarity. But how do film producers ensure the Repeat Business of the cinema-going masses? How can milk the franchise cash-cow for as long as possible without the public growing weary of sequel after sequel after prequel?
Well, after extensive(ish) research, I’ve compiled a definitive list of the cunning ways those crafty executives build and maintain a film franchise (as well as some of the ways those not-so-crafty executives have failed miserably):
1. Cast Accordingly
There are very few irrefutable facts in modern day cinema, but one of them is without a doubt, George Clooney should never have been Batman. Nothing against George (he definitely wasn’t the worst thing about Batman & Robin) but he never really pulled it off, probably because he isn’t known for the brooding intensity the role requires. The sort of intensity that someone like, I don’t know, Christian Bale, has by the truck-load. It is a no-brainer really: if you want an audience to follow a character film after film, cast the right actor to play them.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak Source Material
Personally, I loathe people who moan about film adaptations that have changed details from its original source. Of course it’s not going to be exactly the same! If you want a word-for-word retelling, buy the audiobook. If it makes for a better film, don’t be afraid to make some changes.
3. Put a Female in Extremely Tight Clothing
This one is pretty self-explanatory…
4. Take Caution Adding Characters
Adding new characters is a great way to keep a franchise fresh. Look at the likes of Puss in Boots from Shrek 2, or Jesse and Bullseye from Toy Story 2; lovable characters that have become influential in the series that it’s hard to believe they weren’t there from the beginning. When done effectively, new characters can give that extra push to a film (the Ice Age series adds some every film). However, throwing in too many new characters for the audience to root for can be dangerous. One of the main reasons the latter two Shrek films missed the mark was because they got to a stage where they were just throwing in any fairy-tale character they could think of.
5. Play to Your Strengths
Once a film series has racked up a few titles, it is obvious which elements are vital to the franchise. Whether that be a director, a particular star (Jeremy Renner is not Matt Damon) or something else entirely. A great example of this is the timeless Bond series. Clocking in at 23 films it’s the most enduring film franchise in the world, and it maintains success by playing to the audiences expectations. Bond has been around so long it has its own iconography, an imaginary checklist that you’d expect every Bond film to feature. You’d hardly expect to see him suddenly ordering a Cosmopolitan would you?
6. Kill! Kill! Kill!
The trickiest skill about maintaining a film series is the ability to keeping your audience guessing. If the films are still providing shock and awe several movies in, then you are on to a winner. To that point, the best way to shock an audience (and tug the heartstrings at the same time) is by killing off a character unexpectedly.
7. Turn Sequel into Prequel
So you’ve had a good run of films, with several successful sequels. Well done you. But the growing fear and likelihood of your franchise turning stale is becoming unbearable, and you need a drastic way to turn it all around. Well then it is time to go back to the beginning and turn the next sequel into a prequel. Showing the audience where the story and characters came from adds another dimension to the series and, combined with the dramatic irony of knowing what the future holds, can bring new life to the franchise.
8. Hire The Rock
If all else fails, it’s time to call in the most electrifying man in film franchise rejuvenation, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He did it for The Mummy, Fast and the Furious and the Journey to… anthologies, all of which have produced they’re most successful sequels with The Rock on board, and he looks likely to recreate that magic again with this summer’s G.I Joe: Retaliation. He just brings it.