Michael Cavna: Alice Through the Looking Glass shows why we need a Five-Year Rule for sequels

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Hollywood, bless its heart, is a mess of egos and a morass of human appetites.

It's only natural that these ravenous industry forces often feed the town's worst addictions, like its ugliest creative indulgence: the ill-considered sequel.

That is why this is an intervention.

Pull up a seat, Hollywood, because this is for your own good and ours. We've created a helpful guideline called the Five-Year Rule.

Simply put, you have grown too stupid, blind or arrogant about the natural feeding cycle of the filmgoer. Your appetites to cash in have apparently rendered you deaf to when we're hungry and when we've moved on.

Take, for instance, Disney's new Alice Through the Looking Glass, which is flopping at the domestic box office.

It is the first sequel to 2010's Alice in Wonderland, which - regardless of critical assessments - was a billion-dollar smash. The world embraced it and was primed for a sequel. But that was six long years ago.

Using our Five-Year Rule for first sequels, you flat-out missed your audience window, Alice. It was 2015 or bust - and your new film, in the United States, is going bust.

This guideline is not about the comparative critical merits of first and second films in a franchise, nor is it about small, quirky follow-ups that can take years to acquire appropriate financing.

(It makes sense for Richard Linklater or Kevin Smith to let their smaller, passion-project follow-ups germinate nearly a decade or so; these involve textured, beloved characters in relatively low financial-stakes properties.)

We are also not talking about multiple decades between an original and its sequel. If you wait 20-plus years, as with The Hustler or Wall Street or this summer's Independence Day: Resurgence, you're not riding an audience wave, but rather reintroducing your characters to a largely new generation of moviegoers. You go in knowing just how steep that hill can be.

Independence Day does not count with this rule as it's a remake not a sequel.
Independence Day does not count with this rule as it's a remake not a sequel.

The Five-Year Rule applies specifically to commercial blockbusters and studio powerhouses that try to strike big box-office gold at least twice, yet wait till the iron's lukewarm. It doesn't make sense to tarry with "Alice's" billion-dollar wonderland till well after audience ardor cools. The time-conscious Rabbit had the right idea.

Imagine if Coppola's Godfather or Lucas's Star Wars had waited six years to turn around that first sequel, even in that era of longer theater runs and less-frenzied entertainment options. Even if an auteur doesn't lose inspiration, the audience loses more than a little interest. By the time we get the first "Avatar" sequel, will enough first-time fans still care?

Or consider, more recently, Iron Man 2?: The sequel couldn't hold an arc reactor to the original critically, but the two-year turnaround capitalized on the still-hot interest, and the worldwide gross for the inferior second film still surpassed the first.

In this arena of first sequels, comedies might face the toughest obstacles of all given how much funny movies rely on perfect timing, in multiple regards.

Anchorman couldn't recapture the comedic or commercial magic after each returning more than a decade later.
Anchorman couldn't recapture the comedic or commercial magic after each returning more than a decade later.

Zoolander and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (the latter of which reportedly hit sequel-financing resistance for years) couldn't recapture the comedic or commercial magic after each returning more than a decade later.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule: Animated films are an art form that seem able to exist in their own extended time. It's why we're eager to see Pixar's Finding Dory more than a dozen years after Finding Nemo. When it comes to animated sequels, we - like Dory - can happily lose track of time and then readily live again in the present.

Finding Dory animated film breaks the Five-Year Rule for sequels.
Finding Dory animated film breaks the Five-Year Rule for sequels.

But the exceptions are outnumbered by the failures and disappointments, as this weekend's box office shows.

Just consider the Five-Year Rule, won't you, Hollywood? It might save you millions.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Washington Post

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