- 05 Oct 16
Why requisitioning original screenplays for franchise films has become a Hollywood epidemic.
This fortnight, the Hot Press film section is experiencing an increasingly rare phenomenon: there’s not a single sequel among our reviews. (There is, of course a remake, thanks to Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, but hey, we can’t have everything.)
We all know that Hollywood is becoming increasingly dependent on sequels and franchises, thanks to their in-built fan-bases and potential for major box office returns on big budget productions. And so we expect that The Avengers and X-Men will result in a slew of follow-ups and spin-offs, and mourn the fact that less original scripts are being written.
But this isn’t actually the case. Original screenplays are in vast supply, but studio executives are hijacking these innovative scripts, and rewriting them as sequels. In fact, some of your favourite (and least favourite) sequels started out as completely different films.
In 2012, Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Oscar-nominated Whiplash writer and director Damien Chazelle wrote a psychological thriller called The Cellar, about a woman who is locked in a basement with a man claiming that he’s saving her from a post-nuclear fallout outside. Roles were cast, filming began – and only in the middle of production did JJ Abrams notice that, “There were so many elements that felt like the DNA of this story were of the same place Cloverfield was born out of.” The actors finished the movie, and only three days before the release of the first trailer were they informed that the film’s title had been changed from The Cellar to 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Though the rebranding of 10 Cloverfield Lane was particularly last-minute, it’s far from the first original script to be hijacked in order to serve a franchise. An original script about a man tasked by God to save the world, The Passion Of The Ark, was transformed into Evan Almighty – a sequel to the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty. Likewise, a heist film about two competing criminals was transformed into Ocean’s Twelve; nasty independent horror flick The Desperate became Saw II; and every Die Hard movie apart from A Good Day To Die Hard was originally written as a completely different film.
This rebranding has positive and negative effects. Of course filmmakers don’t complain when their low-budget original script makes millions after being shoehorned into a successful franchise. On the flip side, sequels rarely get the critical acclaim and award recognition of original scripts, meaning that writers and directors who could have been marked as The Next Big Thing can get overlooked by studio executives.
Ironically, today’s onslaught of disappointing sequels means that the good ones may also be missed by cinephiles looking for intelligent and innovative cinema. 10 Cloverfield Lane, for example, was a fantastic psychological thriller – tense, intelligent and filled with a sense of impending dread. However, fans of similarly toned dramas such as Take Shelter or Moon may have skipped it, thinking it was just another cheesy monster flick installment.
There are three strands of responsibility running through this issue; that of studio executives to support independent films with the same passion and resources that they give to franchises, and that of award voters to recognise the power of superb sequels – remember The Godfather 2, people! Finally, our own mere mortal cinema-going selves need to support and go see films not just because they’re part of franchises, but because they look great on their own merits. That way, the next time a genius original script is written by an unknown filmmaker, it won’t be overlooked – or, Scorsese forbid, turned into the next Divergent sequel.