Multi-Part Films in Hollywood: When Profits Matter More than Storytelling
Remember when Hollywood used to release movies such as The Ten Commandments which ran for around four hours and had one intermission in the middle? Sure, sitting through a four-hour movie is a long and tiring process that can test both the patience and bladders of moviegoers everywhere, but when it gave a fantastic story that could only be accomplished with a long running-time, it is hard to imagine the thought of trimming even twenty minutes from the movie.
That is unfortunately a thing in the past. Nowadays, if a film such as The Ten Commandments were released today, it would either be significantly trimmed down to a shorter running-time (which today would typically be around two-and-a-half hours) or adopt the trend of splitting itself into two movies that are awkwardly labeled with “Part 1” and “Part 2” at the end of the title. Some movies may go even further than that and make a three-part trilogy, with the most notable example being Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as well as the adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. Regardless of whether it is two or three parts, multi-part films have swiftly become a new norm for Hollywood filmmaking, one that has been met with divisive reception from audiences.
Why have multi-part films become such a massive staple of Hollywood movies in this decade? Are there creative reasons that make the splitting of films worth the effort, or is merely a means to make more money? And is this new trend in the film industry beneficial to audiences, or is it becoming a detriment for both audiences and franchises wanting to tell self-contained and complete narratives?
The Death of the Intermission
There are various points that are worth mentioning regarding the state of movies in the film industry, but possibly one of the most important points is that the state of multi-part movies is a trend that has been building up in Hollywood for quite some time and has now reach its pinnacle in this decade. When films running around three to four hours was still acceptable, directors would design their story to have an intermission around the halfway mark that would last for around ten minutes. This was initially for technical reasons; movies were projected through the use of film reels, and the intermissions served as a way for the projectionist to change reels. The technology improved over time but was still required for particularly long movies such as Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia.
However, the function of the intermission eventually served a new function: to give the audience a quick breather in the middle of the story. While for some viewers it may not be an issue to sit in a theater for a few hours to watch a movie, others – such as children or older people – may be bored or uncomfortable at sitting through an entire story for such a long time, especially if they have to hold their bladders for the entire duration. While the intermission was not used extensively in movies, and its use began to decline as the years went on, films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gandhi continued to use it as a means of both allowing the audience to take a quick break and telling a longer story that would have likely needed to be trimmed down in length without it.
The reason why all of this information is important when talking about multi-part films in modern filmmaking is because the death of the intermission marked one of the first major steps by Hollywood to make more financially beneficial decisions that benefits studios more than audiences. Having long movies and intermissions takes up a lot of time in the theater, which reduces how many time slots a theater can use to play films to audiences. Shorter movies and the absence of intermissions allows for more screenings to present movies, which effectively phased out the use of intermissions. Its death is not because of archaic design or technological advancement; it was a step made towards greater profitability.
Creative Control in Blockbuster Franchises
The absence of the intermission in films is not always a major issue, however, just as long as good writers and directors are able to tell a well-developed story within their time constraints with little studio interference. However, that is not always the case; some films have notorious backgrounds of studios tampering, either to reduce them to a shorter length or to change or add content they feel is appropriate for audiences. Films such as The Golden Compass and a number of Ridley Scott’s films, such as Blade Runner or Kingdom of Heaven, show what happens when studios interfere in the production of movies for creative or financial reasons, which often results in the quality of the movies suffering for it. Nowadays, filmmakers are lucky if they are able to make a three-hour movie, especially if it has an expensive budget.
When it comes to Hollywood movies, directors should be considered fortunate if they are able to be given an extensive amount of creative freedom when directing a blockbuster, especially if it is part of a massive franchise. To some extent, filmmakers may be given some creative freedom with how they tackle a project – a trend that has become slightly more prevalent in some franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Guardians of the Galaxy becoming an unexpected critical and financial success under James Gunn who, until now, had only directed a few cult films. However, even in that context, directors still have to be kept on a leash to an extent with what they can do because studios have their own agendas to meet; there is some level of freedom so long as it stays within the boundaries of what the studios think is acceptable.
Whenever there is a successful property, sequels are often the easiest way to make more money off of a movie that did well at the box-office. Whether it is for comic-book movies (such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe which is building off of Man of Steel), book adaptations (such as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Hunger Games), or other movies ranging from a wide variety of genres (such as Taken or Home Alone), anything that succeeds financially and is met with at least enough good critical reception that could result in similar or improved box-office results is often given the sequel treatment. Some franchises end when either the filmmakers or the studio believe it is time to bring it to a close (such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy), but others will be prolonged seemingly indefinitely as long as it continues to make money (Saw‘s financial success led to six sequels despite negative reception).
However, as the 21st century of movies has proven thus far, a number of these sequels could be considered cash-grabs. How many people do you know that were clamoring for a fifth Ice Age movie? Or how about a third Hangover movie after The Hangover: Part II practically ripped its plot straight from the first movie and only changed the setting from Las Vegas to Bangkok? There are cases when sequels are made when audiences demand them, but in a lot of cases it is a studio decision – one that is made more with the intent of building off of the success of a previous movie rather than because audiences wanted to see the story continued despite having a somewhat resolved ending (unless it is sequel-baiting). While sequels may be great opportunities to build on the foundations of a previous film and improve upon it (such as the excellent sequels to Toy Story and How to Train Your Dragon have proved), they are mostly there to repeat the same formula that worked the first time without making any significant changes.
Back-to-Back Filmmaking in Hollywood
With some major franchises, the best way of telling a massive story while also reducing production costs and the duration of the shoot is back-to-back film production. The term “back-to-back” refers to the making of two movies under one production. Rather than shooting one movie, working on it for a year or two, and releasing it in theaters before working on the next installment, back-to-back filmmaking allows a director to have one long shooting schedule (usually with a small break in the middle) and all of the completed scripts, which allows the filmmakers to work on both films around the same time to complete them quicker and save money.
There were a handful of films in the last few decades that implemented back-to-back filmmaking to make sequels. One of the earliest examples is Richard Donner’s 1977 film Superman: The Movie, which was shot back-to-back with Superman II and developed alongside the first installment before production was halted on the sequel to finish the first movie. Robert Zemeckis also shot Back to the Future Part II and Back to the Future Part III alongside each other (Part II was released in 1989 while Part III was released in 1990). There are various other franchises that have also shot concurrently, such as The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The general plan behind these releases is to have each film released one year apart (with the exception of the two Matrix sequels which were released six months apart) in order to make the wait between the movies as short as possible.
In some respects, films that were created through back-to-back production could be technically considered as a multi-part movie because of how they are produced around the same time and for usually having a story that can only be considered complete after one has seen every film. Sometimes this involves telling one story that, due to time constraints, has to be spread across two movies to tell. Even before back-to-back film production became prominent, major blockbusters such as Star Wars would use sequels that, while possibly having different plot scenarios for each film, would still be unified by an overarching story that eventually resolves itself in the final installment. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest focuses on Jack Sparrow’s attempt to escape the clutches of Davy Jones, which ultimately fails, resulting in the next installment, At World’s End, focusing on his friends coming to rescue him for a greater conflict.
Sequels have various purposes in storytelling, but the general idea is that it is not telling the same story twice across two movies; it is supposed to continue the story from the last movie. When a narrative ends, it ends, even if a sequel continues the story later on. They are meant to be complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end. So even if a new installment continues the story, the previous one can still be taken on its own terms because it has its own self-contained narrative.
The dawn of multi-part films, however, is also the death of complete narratives.
Harry Potter and the Two-Part Finale
While Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is technically the first major multi-part film, which in its original cut ran over four hours before the director opted to split it into two parts, the movie that set a huge precedent for multi-part films is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. The case revolving around Deathly Hallows is similar to Kill Bill in that it wanted to tell a story that is so massive that it would be difficult or impossible to condense all of it into one film and do it justice – especially if it is the conclusion to a long and enormously popular franchise. However, there is one major difference between the two; while Tarantino’s film is an original story not tied to any source, Deathly Hallows is based on a book – one that, much like all of its predecessors, were designed as complete narratives that were never intended to be split in half.
The decision by Warner Bros. and director David Yates to split the final Harry Potter film into two parts received mixed reception by critics and fans. Some people were pleased about getting another Harry Potter movie and having more time to wrap up loose ends, while others were skeptical as to how a two-part film would work and having to wait a year to see the rest of the movie. Despite the controversy surrounding this decision, the director insisted that it was the best way of bringing the massive franchise to a proper close, which considering the length of the later Harry Potter books and the amount of content that had to be cut out in prior film adaptations was no easy task.
When the movies came out, there was an interesting gap in audience and critical reception between the two parts. The first one to be released, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, while still receiving good reviews from critics, is one of the lowest rated films in the franchise. Yates’s direction, the performances, and the impressive production values were highly praised, but the slow pacing was a point of contention among critics. Part 2, however, was released to universal critical praise from critics and audiences that trumped even the highest of expectations, earning the highest ratings of the franchise and smashing numerous box-office records.
So what did Part 2 do so well to receive far more critical praise and box-office results than Part 1? The major reason why is simply because a lot more happens in the second part than the first. If Part 1 was mostly set-up with little action, then Part 2 was mostly action with little set-up. Where Part 1 spent the majority of its time building up the casualties and battles to come, Part 2 went full-force and dealt some of the most visceral and emotionally devastating moments in the franchise. For any movie in general, many of the parts that most people tend to remember are around the second half – particularly during the climax – where there is more action and stakes. This gave Part 2 significantly more weight by delivering the massive payload that has been built up for seven movies.
However, there is a problem with Deathly Hallows that cannot be attributed to any of the prior installments in the Harry Potter film series: neither Part 1 nor Part 2 can function as stand-alone movies. Granted, one could argue that none of the Harry Potter sequels are stand-alone because of how they require prior knowledge to the films that came before, but this issue is worse for Deathly Hallows because they are two halves of one story. While each entry in Harry Potter’s journey is just one part of a greater story, each chapter still told complete stories that still left room for a future installment. Deathly Hallows simply stops at the halfway point and leaves audiences to wait another year and pay again to see how the rest of the story plays out.
This is more problematic given the fact that, unlike any of the other film adaptations of the Harry Potter book series by J.K. Rowling, Deathly Hallows was never written as a two-part book – it was written as one book. In fact, it is actually one of the longest books in the series. Unlike films which have to present their stories under a strict running-time (at least as far as most big-budget Hollywood productions are concerned), books are able to tell much bigger stories with much more leeway in terms of how long they can go. On one hand, the decision to split the book into two films allows Yates to work around the running-time issue and tell more of the story to tie up more loose ends (prior films in the series had been struggling to condense the material of the books). On the other hand, it is also breaking apart a story that was meant to stay as one cohesive whole, thus making the entire affair somewhat disjointed unless someone sat through both films in one sitting that would require over four hours.
Even with those circumstances, however, it is not impossible to adapt a book such as Deathly Hallows into one movie. Remember how Yates managed to direct the longest book in the franchise, Order of the Phoenix (which in the US release was 870 pages long), into what was at the time the shortest Harry Potter film at 139 minutes? What is even more baffling is also the fact that the second book, Chamber of Secrets, which was one of the shortest in the series, somehow managed to become the longest Harry Potter film with a 161 minute running-time. This was back when the Harry Potter films were mostly focused on younger audiences, meaning that kids at the time had to sit through a near three-hour movie for a book that is not nearly as complex as later entries.
So now audiences and filmmakers have arrived at a tricky dilemma: is it better to have a short adaptation that tells its story quicker but has to rush or overlook certain parts, or tell a longer adaptation that can do a lot more but may test audiences’ patience? The frustrating part about this question is that the answer varies with different people, but for those who have faithfully read the source material and are eager to see a proper adaptation of a story they love, it is very likely that they will sit through a long adaptation if it means getting the best movie possible. There were only a handful who complained about how long the Chamber of Secrets movie was, yet there were a lot more fans who were frustrated at how much was cut out from the Goblet of Fire movie and how short Order of the Phoenix was. When it comes to pleasing the devoted fans of a franchise, it is always best to make as few compromises to the source material as possible.
The film adaptation of Deathly Hallows did not necessarily need to be strictly two-and-a-half hours or less, but if it were three hours, it is likely that most people would not have cared. If fans continued to pay to see the Harry Potter films for eight years, regardless of how long they were or how many liberties they took to cram as much material from the books as possible, do you think they would have not done the same for Deathly Hallows just because it was three hours long? Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is proof that audiences are willing to sit through a very long movie if it means getting a satisfying adaptation; the last film of the trilogy, Return of the King, had the longest running-time at three hours and twenty minutes, and it won eleven Oscars, including Best Picture. If The Lord of the Rings could end a franchise as massive and detailed as what Tolkien had meticulously crafted in such a long movie, why not Harry Potter?
Breaking Dawn for Multi-Part Films
This is where the biggest issue of multi-part films comes into view: they exist more for the benefit of studios than audiences and the movies themselves. While the splitting of Deathly Hallows at least had good intentions that were focused on wrapping up every plot thread and delivering a satisfying and grand conclusion, more and more films are being given the multi-part treatment regardless of whether it would benefit the movie or not.
The first warning sign came with the Twilight franchise. Despite being the source of criticism and parody by almost anyone not a fan of this series, the Twilight books were, much like Harry Potter, a huge phenomenon that would spawn its own series of film adaptations. Critical reception for the films has ranged from mixed to negative opinions by critics, but the movies grossed so much money that it showed no signs of slowing down. With the franchise achieving a similar success to the Harry Potter film series, it came as little surprise that the last installment of the Twilight book series, Breaking Dawn, would receive the same two-part film adaptation treatment as Deathly Hallows.
Even though it may be unnecessary, Breaking Dawn may not the worst case of splitting a book into two movies. Much like Deathly Hallows, Breaking Dawn is a lengthy book that is around 750 pages long, which is difficult to condense into a final movie that would likely have had to adhere to a similar two-hour running-time that the previous film adaptations had. However, the timing of the announcement parallels so closely to Deathly Hallows that it cannot be marked off as coincidence. The last few Harry Potter films were released very close to the Twilight films, and the announcement of the two-part adaptation of Deathly Hallows came before Breaking Dawn received the same treatment.
The two parts of Breaking Dawn were met with similar critical reaction to the previous Twilight movies, with the majority of reviews ranging from mixed to negative. Part 1 received the worst reviews of the two, having some of the weakest review scores of the Twilight film franchise and also receiving eight nominations from the Razzie awards (an award show that recognizes the worst films of the year), including for Worst Picture. Much of the criticism (beyond the usual problems in the Twilight films) was attributed to the slow pacing, overlong running-time, and lack of story and action. Part 2 received slightly more positive reviews than Part 1, praising the higher stakes, better pacing, and impressive climax. However, reception was still mixed to negative, and the Razzies nominated the film for eleven Razzies, seven of which it won, including for Worst Picture.
Despite having less than positive reviews for both films (which can frankly be attributed to the rest of the films in the franchise), there is a trend that you will likely notice when comparing the review scores of the two parts of Breaking Dawn to the two parts of Deathly Hallows. Deathly Hallows – Part 1 has a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 65 on Metacritic, while Part 2 has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 87 on Metacritic. Breaking Dawn – Part 1 has a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 45 on Metacritic, while Part 2 has a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 52 on Metacritic. When placed side-by-side, it is evident that the last parts of both of these two-part movies received the best critical reception, and it is likely that for most multi-part films, the last part will have the best reviews due to having more action and meaningful story moments. As a result, Part 1 tends to be a slow and slightly unsatisfying appetizer for the main dish to come with Part 2.
There and Back Again…Again
After the release of Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, two-part films suddenly became a new trend in Hollywood, which was further cemented when it was announced that Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit would be split across two movies. This announcement did not upset fans much; in fact, some would argue it made people more excited that the trip back to Middle-Earth would be longer than one movie. But then Jackson made a subsequent announcement that attained a notable amount of controversy: that the two-part film adaptation of The Hobbit would become a trilogy, starting with An Unexpected Journey, continuing with The Desolation of Smaug, and ending with There and Back Again (which would later be re-named into The Battle of the Five Armies).
Considering that The Hobbit is shorter than all three of the Lord of the Rings books, it is baffling that three movies were needed to adapt this story. However, Jackson wanted to go beyond simply adapting The Hobbit to the big screen in his return to Middle-Earth. Rather than just telling a relatively simple adventure story like how it was presented in the book, Jackson wanted to connect the story further to the lore of Middle-Earth developed by Tolkien while also tying it to the events of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. While An Unexpected Journey was mostly faithful to the source material, as it was being developed around the same time the announcement was made that the two films would become a trilogy, the later two films made more extensive use of Tolkien’s Appendices found in the back of The Return of the King, which also required re-shoots in order to add enough scenes to the last two movies to make each story more substantial.
Critical reception to all three films in The Hobbit trilogy have been divisive from both critics and audiences. An Unexpected Journey is the most faithful to the source material but suffered from slow pacing and an overlong running-time, taking over forty minutes to begin the adventure. Desolation of Smaug has better pacing and more action but further deviates from the book and feels uneven at times (primarily due to its extensive use of re-shoots), most notably during an unnecessary twenty-minute climax that is left unresolved by an abrupt cliffhanger. The Battle of the Five Armies has more stakes and an epic (if overlong) battle but has barely any story (almost all of which completely deviates from the book) and feels strangely rushed in places, ending the trilogy faster than The Return of the King‘s multiple endings but not allowing enough time to make any of its last few moments meaningful.
Unlike The Lord of the Rings films which were designed much more consistently and with more care towards the source material, Jackson’s indulgence in his return to Middle-Earth has resulted in an incredibly uneven three-part adaptation of The Hobbit. Barring the fact that the movies progressively deviated from the source material and whatever other problems the movies have, the major glaring issue that The Hobbit has that The Lord of the Rings did not is that it is too big. The Lord of the Rings needed three films – one for each book – in order to tell a massive story. The Hobbit, on its own terms without any connection to the Appendices, is shorter and smaller in scale than The Lord of the Rings; it did not need two films to tell the story, let alone three. The Hobbit film trilogy wears out its welcome by bloating a small story into three overlong movies, each with uneven pacing and storytelling that never comes together as a whole like The Lord of the Rings film trilogy did.
Happy Hunger Games
Keeping in tradition with the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, The Hunger Games made the unsurprising announcement that the last installment in the trilogy, Mockingjay, would also be split into two parts. However, to the credit of both Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, at least those two books were both over 700 pages long, which is difficult to condense into one movie. However, the biggest issue that the two-part film adaptation of Mockingjay has is that the book is less than 400 pages long, which is around the exact same length as the previous two installments. Considering how the film adaptations of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were able to successfully adapt their stories in a two-and-a-half hour running-time, there is no reason why Mockingjay should not have been able to do the same under identical circumstances.
To the film’s credit, Mockingjay – Part 1 does work as a solid set-up movie. One of the greatest strengths of The Hunger Games films is how they expand upon the books’ political and social commentary by exploring what happens behind-the-scenes , showing life in the Districts of Panem and even the Capitol, the latter of which allows President Snow to have more established motivations and become a more fleshed out antagonist. The splitting of Mockingjay allows the filmmakers more time to go even further and add the most substantial and intriguing political commentary out of any of the Hunger Games movies. While Mockingjay – Part 1 is similar to The Hobbit film trilogy in how it tries to expand upon the source material while telling the same story, the latter makes more deviations that detract from the main story, while all of the additions in Mockingjay – Part 1 are there to develop and complement the core plot.
However, while Mockingjay – Part 1 does a good job at developing the universe and setting up the events of Part 2, it still suffers from many of the problems that previous two-part film adaptations have suffered from. Because most of the major action scenes in the book happen in the second half, Mockingjay – Part 1 is forced to find ways of entertaining the audience with very little action to build excitement. It is not like there is no action or excitement; it is just that there is barely any at all compared to the last two films which both had an entire story to set-up the battles and deliver the action. Much like Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay – Part 1 is mostly just set-up with little action, but what makes this case even worse is that the book itself was fairly short. With only the first half of a book that is just shy of 400 pages, there is not enough story to warrant splitting this movie into two parts.
The Future of Multi-Part Films
While the majority of multi-part films from major franchises, such as Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hobbit, have been released (and with Mockingjay – Part 2 set to conclude the series on November 2015), one would hope that Hollywood might take a break from splitting more films into multiple parts. However, even though some of these films have a few years left until they are even released, studios are already jumping on-board the bandwagon and announcing more films to undergo the same treatment.
If the announcements of the Twilight and Hunger Games film franchises splitting their last installment into two movies did not surprise audiences much, then hearing that Divergent was going to do the same thing came as a surprise to absolutely nobody. Following the exact same routine as the aforementioned franchises, the next installment to The Divergent Series, Insurgent, will be released as a complete movie, but the last installment, Allegiant, will be split into two parts. This in particular is becoming a strange trend with multi-part films. Why is it that it is always the last one to be split into two parts? If it is becoming so hard to adapt a book into one movie, how is it that the middle entry in a trilogy has never been split into two films? The answer is that it is becoming less of a reason to make a larger story and more so to prolong the existence of these film franchises and make more money at the box-office.
However, there is one notable multi-part film that is different from all of the ones discussed before (except maybe The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, but this was before the labeling of “Part 1” and “Part 2” films became a common trend) – one which could set a frustrating precedent for Hollywood blockbusters to come. Prior to this announcement, all of these multi-part movies were limited to just film adaptations of book series, but then came the announcement of Marvel’s “Phase 3” line-up of movies in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Excitement was through the roof already with the announcements of long-awaited characters such as Black Panther and Captain Marvel getting their own movies. However, even with those characters, the one subject on everyone’s mind was: “So where is the third Avengers movie?”
Saving the best for last (at least if one excludes the humorous reveal of the actual title for the third Captain America movie, Civil War), Marvel showed a grand teaser that combined footage from several movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including footage from both The Avengers and the teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the mix of these familiar shots is swooping cinematography moving around some golden object, and at the end of the montage, it is revealed to be none other than the Infinity Gauntlet, wielded by a grinning Thanos. A flash of light later, and a plain Avengers logo is revealed, and then suddenly, the subtitle appears: Infinity War. But the announcement did not stop with that. Immediately after the reveal of the subtitle, two more appeared underneath Infinity War: “Part 1 – May 2018” and “Part 2 – May 2019.”
Comic-book movies have officially jumped onto the bandwagon now, and it is not stopping with Marvel either. DC Comics has been setting forth their own plans for a shared cinematic universe, with films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman being released to tie into the long-awaited and highly anticipated Justice League movie. However, unlike The Avengers which waited until its third film to split into two parts (which could be justified given how many films had been released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how massive the scope will be), DC Comics has already announced their plans to split Justice League into two films, with Part One set to be released in November 2017 and Part Two in June 2019.
Considering that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will almost certainly surpass Harry Potter as the highest-grossing franchise of all time with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the announcement that a blockbuster as popular and profitable as The Avengers will undergo the same multi-part treatment will likely incite other studios to split their blockbusters into two parts. Will the sixth Transformers movie be split into two films? Should audiences also anticipate a two-part Bourne movie? If filmmakers adapt the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia book series, The Last Battle, would that be a two-part finale like Deathly Hallows was? Even if some of those ideas sound ridiculous, it seems like studios need almost no justifiable reason nowadays to commit to this routine, especially if it makes more money.
Multi-Part Films Are Becoming a Detriment to Filmmaking
From a studio standpoint, one could argue that multi-part films are a good way of saving costs when making these movies. To an extent, yes, but it has to be a very popular franchise that is guaranteed to make a massive profit to do so. Some of these multi-part films can have a budget ranging from $200-250 million per movie. Franchises such as Harry Potter and The Hobbit can easily recuperate that money; each film makes around $900 million, so when you make two films that spend the same amount of money and earn a profit as high as that for each film, you would make more money than doing the same process for just one movie. However, Divergent was not an earth-shattering box-office success; it made less than $300 million on an $85 million budget. With reactions to the first movie being mixed among fans, and with more special effects entering the mix with Insurgent which will likely add more costs, there is a chance splitting the last movie into two films could lose more money than gain.
Studios could also make the argument that they are doing justice to the last entry by telling more story than they could have if it was only one movie. As some of these films have proved, however, that is not the case. Even the best multi-part films have some people who criticize the slower pacing and lack of action in the first part while also noting the emphasis on action over story in the second part. This results in the two films becoming more uneven than if it was only one movie. Making matters worse is that the extra running-time afforded by having two movies is often unnecessary; they just end up becoming bloated halves of a greater story that do not have enough in each half to warrant them getting their own separate release. There are only a few examples of multi-part films which could be justified, but the rest are hardly made out of necessity.
Another common argument that could be made is that having the last entry split into two movies means that the franchise will last longer and it will draw out the inevitable and sad conclusion to a beloved series. In ways this is a valid argument, but the problem with it is that, no matter what anybody does, the franchise has to end at some point. There can only be so many sequels released for a franchise before it finally ends, and oftentimes when something insists on staying longer, it only wears on audiences’ patience. Take The Simpsons for example. The show was a classic in its first handful of seasons – a revolutionary show that is one of the most iconic ever put onto television. And then it kept going. And going. And going. And going. As of now, the show is on its twenty-sixth season, and audiences are seeing the declining quality of the show with every new season.
To put it simply, less is more. Shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender (which ran for three seasons) are remembered so fondly because of how high the quality of each season was and how it ended in its prime without over-staying its welcome. Those that try to prolong its existence just because it is famous or popular will eventually lower in quality or become uneven. This is no different for movies, most notably with the state of multi-part films today. Sure, you can see one more Hunger Games movie on Thanksgiving. You can also see another Avengers movie in the summer. However, this only turns the excitement of seeing the next entry into a waiting game – waiting for the second part to come out after seeing the first, waiting to see when the franchise will end – which only detracts from the enjoyment of the experience knowing that every time you pay $10-13 for a movie with “Part 1” or “Part 2” on it, you are only getting half of an experience.
The system of multi-part films has deviated from developing more complex stories and has become essentially a year-long intermission that you have to pay for with every movie. At least when the intermission was around, you did not have to pay for both halves of a movie, and you only had to wait ten minutes to see the rest of it. The trend of multi-part films, however, has become a bad influence on Hollywood filmmaking that adds content (which in most cases is insubstantial) but subtracts value and quality in the process. Rather than adding more substance to a story, it instead splits the story into two bloated halves that prove to be mostly middling efforts. It is a trend that is wearing out its welcome, but it seems like it will persist for several more years. For studios, quantity is more important than quality, and the process of Hollywood filmmaking is now entering an era where capitalizing on the success of a franchise matters more than delivering un-compromised and well-crafted movies that audiences will remember passionately years from now.
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