The Age of the Movie Saga

We’ve entered the age of the movie saga. Movies no longer come with one or two sequels, instead it’s an entire series. It’s a big shift from when I grew up and makes things interesting for my kids.

My kids don’t watch a ton of TV (we make them earn TV time with optional chores, which means they usually opt to play outside instead), but over spring break we relaxed a little. Knowing the next Avengers movie is coming out soon, I got a pile of DVDs from the library.

Both kids have seen and like the Avengers, but they haven’t watched all the other movies. I hadn’t even seen them all. So over break we watched Captain America 1,  Thor 1 & 2 as well as X-Men 1.

To truly catch the kids up on the Marvel series they’d also have to see Iron Man 1, 2 & 3 (not sure about that… I remember Iron Man 1 being awfully violent for a 6-year-old) and Hulk. Plus the Agents of Shield TV show. Thankfully none of it is required watching—Marvel does a nice job of stringing things loosely together (you could enjoy Avengers without having seen any of the other movies… I had only seen Iron Man 1 & 2 and Thor 1).

When you try to put the entire saga together to date, there are 10 movies: Hulk, Iron Man 1, Iron Man 2, Captain America 1, Thor 1, Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy (so the last one is very loosely connected… but the post-credits scene at the end of Thor 2 shows they are connected, and will be more connected in the future). There are even marathon screenings of all the movies leading up to Avengers 2. At 27 hours, we’ve moved beyond the movie marathon. And it’s only going to grow. Marvel has a roll-out plan into 2019 that will nearly double the number of movies.

Last night I introduced the kids to X-Men, which came out in 2000. If they’re going to watch the entire series there are six more movies: X2, X-Men 3, Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class, The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past, with three more slated for 2016 (X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool and Gambit).

By the way, I love the way the X-Men series is willing to play with time and sort of reboot things (even if it introduces inconsistencies). The origin story of Wolverine was fun to see (even if it’s not the best movie in the bunch) and while First Class felt like a fun reboot, they married it to the existing series with brilliance in Days of Future Past (even if it’s a head scratcher and kind of cheating). The real question is what they’ll do when Hugh Jackman is too old to play Wolverine (while the ageless hero is a fun concept, reality catches up quick—I’m looking at you, David Boreanaz as Angel).

When I Was a Kid

Things weren’t quite so overwhelming when I was a kid. There were very few sagas. Trilogies were more common: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Mad Max, Alien (notably, most were in process when I was a kid). Three was usually as intense as it got. A few franchises went beyond that, but they were the exception—James Bond (the most prolific franchise in movie history), Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Superman, The Pink Panther.

Since then the franchise has become the name of the game. Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Batman, Terminator, etc. Notice that every franchise I mentioned as a kid except one has had more movies come out since then (or will: the new Mad Max comes out in May).

Many of those started as trilogies and are now stretching beyond that. But today the series is much more common: Harry Potter (8 movies), Lord of the Rings (7 movies), Twilight (5 movies), Hunger Games (4 movies), Star Wars (soon to be 7 and counting), etc.

And it’s easy to see why. The top-grossing franchise (Harry Potter) brought in nearly $8 trillion worldwide (and that’s only the box office). A series can become a cash cow, especially when you can just reboot instead of coming up with new ideas. And you almost have to keep cranking out movies to maintain a foothold in merchandizing. Just ask my son: How to Train Your Dragon toys returned to Target with the sequel, but they’re already gone. Meanwhile, Marvel never lets up and they pretty much have their own aisle.

It can be pretty incredible for fans. I can’t imagine how excited I’d have been as a kid to realize there were seven movies featuring lightsabers. (But we can temper that excitement with the knowledge that every franchise has a few flops.)

It’s an interesting age to love stories and heroes and action.

Though it makes me wonder if we’re making it harder and harder to tell a good stand-alone story.

And if we ever do succeed at telling one good story, can we let it be? Or will we ruin it with a franchise?

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