Correction to This Article
In the June 11 Arts section, a chart accompanying an article about movie sequels misstated the number of "Superman" feature films. There have been four.

Try, Try Again

Mel Gibson in
Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior," George Miller's sequel to -- and improvement upon -- "Mad Max." (Warner Bros.)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006

See that pile of money on the floor? There's a hundred million there. All you have to do is pick it up. That's right, bend over, pick it up, and it's yours.

Are you going to do it?

Of course you are.

No way you wouldn't.

And that's why there'll always be sequels. The money is too easy. All you have to do is pick it up. You can distill the charm out of the original, suffocate what was special about it, use its least relevant cast members for peanuts, lowball every production decision, and ride that sucker straight to the bank, laughing all the way.

Whether a sequel outearns its progenitor (the second "Ice Age" did; "Ocean's Twelve" didn't) is not the point: The point is, the retread almost always makes a hell of a lot of money, because there's a huge audience out there that wants a taste of the original it so loved.

Sequels open big. They may die fast, but they rack up the huge numbers that first Friday night before word of mouth, the market's most powerful movie critic, lashes them to nothingness. Not even Roger Ebert can close a sequel on Friday night.

These thoughts are prompted by the sequels about to thunder down upon us -- a "Superman" and a "Pirates of the Caribbean" (and there's "Miami Vice," a big-screen sequel to the small-screen series), to say nothing of "X-Men" and "M:I:III," which have already opened -- and, most depressingly, a sixth "Rocky" film, "Rocky Balboa," coming to theaters in December. In this one, Rocky gets lumbago when he tries to move the lawn chaise out of the sunlight. Yo, Adrian, I never moved no lawn chaise before. Adrian, meanwhile, has had Botox, a butt hoist and every possible plastification of the human body known to mankind, and she will be played not by Talia Shire but by a Sony RM-5-53 Digital Fleshbot, the one that just premiered at the Las Vegas Video Mart.

Possibly, my facts aren't too certain in that last paragraph. But the point is to be realistic: It's so easy to act superior to the sequel and it's a movie critic trope to blame the businessmen who run Hollywood for acting like -- oh, the humanity! -- businessmen. But as a novelist who's written sequels (and even, God help me, a "novelization"), I have to say to anyone with doubts: Yeah. You think you wouldn't bend over and pick it up. You know what: I don't think you're ever going to be in that position. Just a hunch.

And, it's a growth industry. That's because the entertainment world has become more competitive with more formats and thrills begging for your dollars. In that world, market awareness is everything. With a sequel, you are selling a known brand, as it were, and you don't have to spend billions establishing the brand. That's why -- this is in the nature of a Now It Can Be Told scoop, folks -- before he signed on for the latest "Rocky," Stallone was actually shopping around for a writer to cobble together a "Rambo IV," in which our hero choppers into the jungles of South America to lead a rescue mission on some hostages (female, of course) held by some narco-terrorists. How do I know? I'd have to kill you if I told you.

But here's a more interesting line of discussion: Do sequels ever work?

That is, as movies, not investments: Can you love a sequel more than the original thing itself?


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