Sequels, Series, and Remakes


Sequels are usually defined as films that contain characters and continue story lines established in previous films. Examples include Edison, the Man (1940), a sequel to Young Tom Edison (1940), and Father's Little Dividend (1951), a sequel to Father of the Bride (1950). Prequels set characters and story lines in periods of time prior to those of previous films, as in Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979), a prequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1979). The Godfather Part II (1974), which moves backward as well as forward in time, is an unusual mixture of both.

Sequels date back to the 1910s, when Maurice Stiller in Sweden made Thomas Graal's Best Child (1918) as a sequel to Thomas Graal's Best Film (1917). Unlike remakes, series, and serials, however, sequels did not become institutionalized until much later. In the United States, Paramount produced Son of the Sheik (1926) as a sequel to The Sheik (1921), and Douglas Fairbanks produced Don Q, Son of Zorro (1928) as a sequel to The Mark of Zorro (1920). In Germany, Fritz Lang made The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) as a sequel to Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922). And in the 1930s in the United States, Universal made The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as a sequel to Frankenstein (1931), thus helping to generate what eventually became one of a number of Gothic horror series.

After the occasional sequels made in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, it was in the 1970s and 1980s that "sequelitis," as the film critic J. Hoberman called it, appeared to take hold. The Godfather (1972) was followed by The Godfather Part II ; American Graffiti (1973) by More American Graffiti (1979); Grease (1978) by Grease 2 (1982); and Jaws (1975) by Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1984), and eventually Jaws the Revenge (1987). The trend toward sequels continued unabated into the 1990s and early 2000s: The Terminator (1984) was followed by Terminator 2 (1991), Young Guns (1988) by Young Guns 2 (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) by Hannibal (2001), and Spiderman (2002) by Spiderman 2 (2004).

Sequels are thus a hallmark of what has come to be known as the New Hollywood. However, this does not mean that Hollywood prior to the 1970s was less dependent on pre-established formulas or less prone to the recycling of characters, stories, and settings; nor does it mean that sequels as such are devoid of ideas and intelligence. On the one hand Back to the Future, Part II (1989) and Back to the Future, Part III (1990) both work playful variations on the temporal paradoxes at stake not just in Back to the Future (1985) (whose very title is an index of their nature) but in the sequel format itself. And Alien (1979) and its sequels— Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997)—each spin variations on the topics of motherhood, difference, and identity, variations whose dimensions have multiplied as the series itself has progressed. On the other hand, as Thomas Simonet points out, the recycling of stories, formulas, characters, and scripts in Hollywood in the 1940s and early 1950s was actually more extensive than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly if remakes, as well as serials and series, are taken fully into account.

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