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Film and the Law of Diminishing Returns


I’m not alone in noting that many film franchises suffer from the law of diminishing returns. It’s no wonder that many such franchises finish after establishing a trilogy, as anything after that is likely to throw away most of the lessons learned and dispose of much of what made the characters as appealing as they were to begin with. There are some series that manage to buck this trend by calling things to a close before there is a noticeable dip in quality, but others such as the Friday The 13th franchise kept churning out sequel after unnecessary sequel and often missing the target by such a margin that it ended up hitting another studio’s building.

Much like the generally abysmal Friday The 13th series, it’s usually the horror genre that gets the most stick for this sort of thing, churning out sequel after unnecessary sequel and either doing nothing all that new or original with the concept that set the whole thing off in the first place. It does happen across other genres though. For every poor Friday The 13th or A Nightmare On Elm Street sequel there is an Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a Jaws 2 or a Robocop 2/Robocop 3 (delete one or both or neither depending on your opinion about these films) lurking in the wings like some unwelcome film equivalent of the Phantom of the Opera.

Besides killing teenagers, Jason's other hobbies included ice hockey and standing in rivers.
Besides killing teenagers, Jason’s other hobbies included ice hockey and standing in rivers.

The prevailing opinion is that most film series should be closed up after two or three films, potentially four at the most. That’s from a creative perspective at least. The film itself may be awful but as long as people are going to see it and the studio makes a tidy profit then they’ll gladly churn out more and more completely inferior sequels until the river of incoming money stops flowing. The answer to bad sequels should be obvious – stop going to see those films so studios will concentrate on the good stuff. The problem there is twofold.

First, Joe Public is notoriously resilient to being told what to like, so they will like whatever he or she damn well pleases. Who cares if it’s badly scripted, badly acted or badly directed? If Joe Public likes it, it will make money no matter what you say against it. Then there is the second point. Some people, myself included, do actually enjoy watching bad films. This is technically an offshoot of point 1, but it’s worth saying that in some cases a bad film will be supported by people who enjoy such things. Such examples of terribly bad films are, however, often limited to a DVD/Blu-Ray only release, so the argument around cinema distribution for those films is a moot one.

What do we take away from this? My perspective has always been the same about these things – you don’t have to watch them. And if you do happen to watch a bad film, there’s no reason why it should spoil your enjoyment of your favourite films. Just quietly put it to one side and get on with your life. There’s far more important things to worry about, trust me.

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