The first thing I see looking in my 400-screens-or-less realm this week is a couple of sequels, Are We Done Yet? (244 screens) and 28 Weeks Later (206 screens). I had to sit through the former, and it has rightly earned a slot on the IMDB's user-ratings list of the 100 worst movies of all time. I missed the latter because our local publicists programmed the press screening up against Georgia Rule (156 screens), and I have to go where I'm assigned. Regardless, I want to ask: why were these movies made? The obvious answer is because the originals were popular, but the issue is a bit more complex. I think sequels (or, for that matter, remakes) should only be made if the audience wishes it, not because of a bookkeeping decision.
We should start by asking what kinds of movies we love. I have had many discussions with collectors of DVDs over what kinds of movies are deserving of being included in a home library. It goes much deeper than good movies and bad movies. Some movies we collect because they're classics, like, say, Casablanca (1942). Cinema buffs may concentrate on a favorite director, like Bresson, Lang or Leone. Other movies we unabashedly love, like Ghost World (2001) or Shaun of the Dead (2004). Then we have our own personal cult classics, such as Repo Man (1984) or Near Dark (1987). Some movies we admit aren't particularly great, but we like to re-live the experience, like The Bourne Identity (2002) or The Transporter (2002).
All this leads up to the question: which movies do we want to see more of? And among those, which ones are worthy of a sequel? If a movie has a particularly good ending, why mess with it and say anything more? But if a movie has great characters, it would almost be a crime not to revisit them and see how they're doing. I'd pay to see Indiana Jones movies until the end of time, but I don't particularly need to know anything more about Charles Foster Kane. Ice Cube's Nick Persons from Are We There Yet? (2005) pretty well wore out his welcome in the first movie. Did anyone really want to see more of him?
It seems as if all of this summer's sequels come straight from corporate boardrooms rather than any kind of creative jones or public outcry. So far they have a soulless quality to them (with the possible exception of Ocean's Thirteen, which seems to have been made to apologize for Ocean's Twelve). Even the news, after the opening weekend's box office, speculates as to whether or not another sequel will be forthcoming.
Strangely enough, out of the 125 films currently in release, several of them are of an older vintage, and worth seeing again. We've got Charles Burnett's 1977 masterpiece Killer of Sheep (8 screens), an essential chunk of cinema history that should be required viewing. We've got Gus Van Sant's 1985 debut feature Mala Noche (2 screens), which could be a major missing link in gay cinema. We have two bizarre cult classics, El Topo and The Holy Mountain (1 screen each), from the Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky, who once hid in the trunk of his car to escape the wrath of an angry mob at a film festival. We have Max Ophuls' greatest film, the heartbreaking The Earrings of Madame de... (1 screen), from 1953, with its gliding camerawork and slipping romantic connections.