For those who’ve frequented your native movie show this summer season, you then’ve absolutely observed a development among the many present crop of blockbuster motion movies: the phrases “To Be Continued” popping up on the display simply earlier than the credit roll. Cliffhanger endings in sci-fi movies, thrillers, or superhero films aren’t unprecedented, however American filmgoers haven’t seen this many films divided in half because the increase of younger grownup novel diversifications within the 2010s, when the ultimate installments of the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Starvation Video games sequence had been every cut up into two components.
Whereas every of these movies brazenly marketed their bisected nature, a few of this summer season’s abrupt, yearlong intermissions are coming with little or no warning. How did this apply come to be, and why is it again with a vengeance?
A quick historical past of the back-to-back movie sequel
Again in 1973, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided that their adaptation of The Three Musketeers won’t be worthwhile as a single, three-hour movie. To double their return on funding, they minimize the film in half at its deliberate intermission and launched it as two separate movies, The Three Musketeers and The 4 Musketeers a 12 months later. This incensed the cast and crew, as they were only paid for a single production, and since then, talent contracts have been specifically worded to prevent producers from cobbling together additional movies from the footage of what was intended as one film without proper compensation.
Nevertheless, it remains more cost-effective to retain cast, crew, costumes, sets, and props for multiple films if they’re filmed either concurrently or back-to-back. As such, when a studio is certain that it wants multiple new entries in a series, it ’ll often attempt to roll the productions together. This allows it to retain talent, save on setup costs, and roll out said sequels fast, before audience interest fizzles out. This also enables filmmakers to end one installment on a cliffhanger, with the certainty that the story will get resolved in the next film.
Examples of this production strategy include the second and third chapters of the Back to the Future, Matrix, and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. However, as much sense as this all makes on paper, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would boldly declare the third installment of any of these three trilogies to be their best. Particularly in the cases of The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean, the first half of these back-to-back productions became crowded with new characters and complicated ideas, which the second half struggled to resolve. At best, audiences are left with four-to-five-hour epics that don’t play nearly as well individually in theaters as they do when marathoned together at home.
After the phenomenal success of The Lord of the Rings, an entire trilogy filmed as a single production, studios got more ambitious with the long-term planning of their franchises, but they also became more dependent on them as cash cows. Harry Potter producer David Heyman claims that the decision to split the seventh and final book, The Deathly Hallows, began with screenwriter Steve Kloves, but it’s hard to imagine that Warner Bros. wasn’t begging for the chance to make an eighth film and an extra $1.3 billion. (Certainly it was dollar signs, not story demands, that convinced this same studio to stretch The Hobbit, an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s shortest, slightest Middle-earth novel, into three films.) On the heels of The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in 2011, the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises would follow suit, stretching the final novels of their source material into two films apiece. From a studio’s perspective, this was only logical. Why make one surefire hit when you could make two for less than twice the price?
Revenge of the two-part movie
With the foundation of the Hollywood film industry irreparably cracked by the advent of streaming and further shook by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that studios have doubled down even further on established properties and franchises. Each of this year’s stretched-out blockbusters gained their extended intermissions by slightly different means, but always with the pretense of a creative necessity, that the story that the filmmakers had planned was simply too epic to contain in two-and-a-half hours. Still, given the economics of it, this claim isn’t always convincing, especially since the results have varied wildly in quality.
Fast X was the first of this season’s bisected blockbusters, and easily the weakest. Every Fast franchise entry since the fifth has run past the 130-minute mark, as their stakes, stunts, and list of stars have grown out of control, but the idea that anyone would need twice that long to conclude a story about people trying to kill each other with cars is patently ridiculous. The problem here appears to be two-fold; first, if star and producer Vin Diesel is to be believed, Universal has an endless appetite for more Fast movies, even suggesting that the studio has asked for the two-part finale to become a trilogy.
Universal has yet to confirm this claim, except apparently to greenlight the Dwayne Johnson-led Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Reyes, a spin-off film set between Fast X: Part One and Part Two that may or may not be the third film Diesel was talking about. The second problem is Diesel’s inflated opinion of the depth of these films; the guy compared himself to Tolkien final 12 months, however there’s completely no indication of a grand design to his saga. Johnson’s post-credits cameo promising his return to the franchise was filmed simply weeks earlier than Quick X premiered, and the film’s cliffhanger concurrently teases that a number of fundamental characters might have died and that one other long-dead character is definitely alive. Drawing this franchise out just isn’t doing it any favors.
On the opposite finish of the standard spectrum is Spider-Man: Throughout the Spider-Verse, the sequel to the Oscar-winning Into the Spider-Verse. It was at all times anticipated that Throughout the Spider-Verse would arrange no less than one extra spinoff (centering on Gwen Stacy), but it surely didn’t turn into the center chapter of a proper trilogy till halfway via manufacturing. In December 2021, the primary teaser trailer introduced that Throughout the Spider-Verse had been retitled Throughout the Spider-Verse (Half One). Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller confirmed that their deliberate story had outgrown the bounds of a single movie and been expanded into two, with manufacturing of the primary chapter flowing constantly into the second. Months later, Throughout the Spider-Verse (Half Two) obtained its personal distinctive title, Past the Spider-Verse.
Whereas it does characteristic a cliffhanger ending, Throughout the Spider-Verse efficiently justifies itself as its personal movie, with the ultimate minutes establishing a brand new set of characters, conflicts, and stakes. One can simply see how the storytellers may, in good religion, decide that this ought to be two films moderately than one. This has, nonetheless, come at a horrible price to the animators behind the movie, who’ve been run ragged by Lord and Miller’s continuously fluctuating calls for over the course of the 2 movies’ countless manufacturing cycle.
Mission: Unattainable — Lifeless Reckoning: Half One’s manufacturing has additionally overlapped with its sequel, although maybe not as initially supposed. Images for Lifeless Reckoning was delayed a number of instances in 2020 and 2021 on account of outbreaks of COVID-19 among the many solid and crew, and by Tom Cruise’s commitments to advertise High Gun: Maverick in 2022. Manufacturing for Lifeless Reckoning — Half Two started in 2021, however is nonetheless not completed filming, with the SAG-AFTRA strike placing an indefinite maintain on this and each different main Hollywood manufacturing. (Among the many different films on maintain? Depraved: Half One, over at Warner Bros., proving that this development isn’t going anyplace.)
Regardless of Lifeless Reckoning: Half One not resolving its central storyline pitting superspy Ethan Hunt in opposition to an unhinged A.I., it nonetheless approximates having a starting, center, and finish via the evolution of latest protagonist Grace, portrayed by Hayley Atwell. Ethan’s battle is at its midpoint, however her origin story is full. Solely time will inform whether or not this funding in Grace will repay together with her taking the lead of the franchise after Lifeless Reckoning: Half Two, or if Tom Cruise will truly preserve making these films till he’s 80 years outdated.
Dune the old style manner
And, lastly, there’s this 12 months’s solely concluding chapter to a bisected blockbuster, Dune: Half Two. When the primary of director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movies hit theaters in 2021, many viewers may need been unaware that they had been sitting down for an adaptation of the primary half of the enduring Frank Herbert novel. Nonetheless, although it was absent from the advertising, Villeneuve did, no less than, embrace “Half One” within the title card of the particular movie, dampening the blow of its less-than-satisfying ending. That is notably placing provided that, not like the remainder of our half-movies, Dune was produced with out a studio dedication to finish the duology. This makes the movie’s cliffhanger much less of a tease and extra of a plea, because the sequence would solely proceed if the viewers demanded it. We’ll discover out in October whether or not or not Dune: Half Two can dwell as much as that demand.
Every of those sequel methods has a whiff of cynicism to it. The Quick franchise mannequin operates on the belief that audiences will gobble up new sequence installments no matter their high quality, whereas Spider-Verse and Mission: Unattainable appear content material to easily preserve taking pictures/animating without end till somebody stops them. One may characterize Villeneuve’s Dune technique as weaponizing viewer outrage to extort one other film out of a studio, however this, no less than, places the ability within the palms of the viewers, letting us inform them what we wish moderately than vice versa. It’s troublesome to inform if anyone technique of slicing a film in half yields constantly higher outcomes, but when this launch mannequin pays off on the field workplace, you’ll be able to guess that our research’s pattern measurement will get rather a lot larger.