Faster sequels, and directorial collateral damage

Is Hollywood's thirst for a shorter gap between sequels resulting in the departure of some decent directors, Simon wonders...

Off the back of the success of 1995’s Batman Forever, Warner Bros raised some eyebrows when it announced that it was jumping straight into work on a further Batman sequel. But then, it had reason to be confident. Batman Forever’s box office was in excess of its predecessor’s, Batman Returns, and the studio had a rebooted franchise, with a director – Joel Schumacher – keen to do another movie.

You know what happened next. The two year gap to Batman & Robin was arguably a contributory factor to the many, many problems with the movie. And Hollywood promptly backed off the two year gap between sequels at that point, and moved back to three. 

It’s little coincidence that the most compelling sequels have time between them. The Terminator to Terminator 2 was seven years. Alien to Aliens the same. Christopher Nolan left three to four years between his Batman films. Meanwhile, Marvel’s wish to truncate the space between its Iron Man films down to two years left us with the rushed and oddly indistinctive Iron Man 2.

In fact, it’s hard to think of a single standalone sequel that’s followed with a two year gap that’s really excelled. Fast & Furious 5 perhaps comes close, and then there’s Spider-Man 2, but if you take away the franchises where films were shot at the same time (Lord Of The Rings, Back To The Future) or on a continuous, previously-established cycle (Harry Potter), then the two year sequel gap has rarely been to the benefit of quality.

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We’ve looked at the shortening gap between sequels before, here. But there have been two interesting, and not positive changes, since we first penned that piece.

Firstly, there’s been a rise in the collateral damage of directors leaving projects. Rupert Wyatt gave Fox an unexpected, strong hit with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, having been able to shape his film to a schedule he was comfortable with. When it hit big, the goalposts changed. All of a sudden, Fox wanted a sequel, and it seemed its foot was on the accelerator to get one. As it happens, next year’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes will follow ROTPOTA by three years, perhaps because the latter was such a surprise hit that script work on a sequel hadn’t overlapped with it (another continuing Hollywood trend – we wonder if we’ll ever get to see that Green Lantern 2 draft). But when things did get motoring, Rupert Wyatt left the project, apparently concerned at not having enough time to make the next film. 

Wyatt remains our choice to direct the next Bond, incidentally. Which is heading back to a two-year schedule. May the lessons of Quantum Of Solace be heeded.

Lionsgate, meanwhile, pretty much bet the house on The Hunger Games. It dragged in money from lots of other projects to be able to fund the first film, and basically bet almost everything on the film hitting big. It proved to be a massive, massive success of course, and a good chunk of the credit for that should be laid at the door of director Gary Ross.

You know what happened next: Lionsgate wanted the next film 18 months later, Ross didn’t think he could do it, and he left the project. At least new director Francis Lawrence knows he’s got three films to deliver now, and can build those into a rolling cycle. 

Two weeks ago though, things got even more troubling. At first glance, the departure of Justin Lin from the Fast & Furious franchise was a surprise, but not much more than that. After all, the incoming Fast & Furious 6 marks his fourth film in the series, and he’s flirted with other projects, most notably Terminator 5. Perhaps he was eager to try something new.

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But then you look at the reason why Lin stepped away from Fast & Furious 7. Namely, that Universal wanted it in cinemas next year. Around 14 months after Fast & Furious 6. The studio has subsequently announced a July 2014 release date for the film.

It’s fair to assume that there’s the guts of a script already in place for the film, but nonetheless, Lin reportedly baulked at the idea of starting the extensive pre-production work necessary on Fast & Furious 7 while he was still putting the finishing touches to Fast & Furious 6. He walked away. And we can’t say we blame him. 

Granted, there was an original plan for Fast & Furious 6 and Fast & Furious 7 to be shot at the same time, or back to back. But they weren’t. It was presumably decided against for a good reason. The thought of mounting a pretty much entirely separate film, from almost scratch, in just under a year is a staggering one. The last blockbuster we can think of to cut things so fine would have been Lethal Weapon 4, which only started shooting in the January before its release in August. But even then, there was good pre-production time.

Universal needs a second blockbuster for next summer of course, to sit alongside Jurassic Park 4. The spluttering Bourne Legacy has slowed down further Bourne adventures, although help is at hand with Ted 2, which shoots later this year. But it needs a tentpole, and accelerating (sorry) Fast & Furious is an answer to its problems.

But it’s come at a price. And when it comes to the stage when good, established directors are walking away from projects because they can see the warning signs, or fear that they’re getting too rushed, then surely that’s an alarm bell? Cutting sequel gaps to two years has only really paid off commercially. We genuinely fear what will happen should a one year gap become the norm. But right now, though, that appears to be more important to Universal than the director who delivered them the string of Fast & Furious movies that have firmly established the franchise in the position of strength it now finds itself in…

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