How effective are film sequels in comparison to their predecessors?

The trend of making film sequels is not new to cinema. As a matter of fact, it's one of the easiest ways of minting money. Rather than establishing something from the scratch, it's far easier to build upon an existing conception. That's the basic driving force behind making film sequels. But, what about the efficacy of sequels in comparison to their predecessors?

Mike Anderson of NerdWallet.COM, a personal finance website that helps consumers find ways to save on everything from gas to checking account fees to entertainment, recently conducted a study to look into the same.   

And the outcome of the study was been quite revealing indeed. It was found that the returns of film sequels diminished considerably compared to their predecessors, both in critical reviews and at the Box Office (USA alone).

Pirates of the Caribbean 4 earned, on average, 33% from the critics at RottenTomatoes.COM. How much worse could the fifth installment be? According to the calculations, it’ll earn a 31% rating – 61% worse than the original.

They found this in their analysis of all major film series released since 1964. The following stats underline the diminishing returns of sequels:

The critics’ reviewsBox office revenue (U.S.)
The First Movie70.8%$208,822,542

The fall of Pirates of the Caribbean is particularly spectacular in comparison to most series. By the time of the fourth movie, critics were already extremely displeased. 

In 2003, everyone loved watching Elizabeth and Will sail off on the high seas. But with the fifth movie coming out in 2015, no one knows how much longer he/she can take Captain Jack’s drunken puns and raccoon makeup.
It wasn’t always this bad. After the highly successful first film, everyone was itching to see the sequel. And it showed: Pirates 2 earned $100 thousand dollars more than its predecessor. But were the third and fourth sequels truly necessary or are the producers just trying to milk the franchise cash cow?
The general trend points to the latter, as you can see in the table above. All in all, when the fifth movie rolls around, on average, it is 48% worse than the original.

The following stats help explain it better:

The critics’ reviewsBox office revenue (U.S.)
The Curse of the Black Pearl79.0%$413,295,000
Dead Man’s Chest54.0%$527,367,500
At World’s End44.0%$366,987,000
On Stranger Tides33.0%$244,208,500
Note: The dip in quality was measured by percentage change, not percentage difference – the difference between the first and fourth’s average reviews is 46%.


NerdWallet averaged reviews and box-office data for 130 series, which included 475 total films. Critical reviews were collected from Rotten Tomatoes and box office revenue figures from Box Office Mojo. Box office revenue was adjusted for inflation.

The following film series were analyzed:

3 Ninjas, Alex Cross, Alien, Alvin and the Chipmunks, American Ninja, American Pie, Amityville, Arthur, Austin Powers, Avengers, Back to the Future, Barbershop, Batman, Before, Benji, Beverly Hills Cop, Big Momma, Blade, Bourne, Care Bears, Child’s Play, Conan, Crocodile Dundee, Despicable Me, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Die Hard, Dirty Harry, El Mariachi, Ernest, Evil Dead, Fockers, Free Willy, Friday, Friday the 13th, Fright Night, Godzilla, Halloween, Hannibal Lecter, Harold and Kumar, Harry Potter, Hellraiser, Herbie the Love Bug, Highlander, Home Alone, House Party, Ice Age, Indiana Jones, Iron Eagle, Iron Man, Jack Ryan, Jackass, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Kung Fu Panda, Lethal Weapon, Look Who’s Talking, Mad Max, Madagascar, Madea, Major League, Meatballs, Men in Black, Millennium, Missing in Action, Mission: Impossible, Night at the Museum, Nightmare on Elm Street, Ocean’s 11, Oh, God!; Ong Bak, Paranormal Activity, Pirates of the Caribbean, Planet of the Apes, Pokemon, Police Academy, Poltergeist, Porky’s, Predator, Rambo, Resident Evil, Return of the Living Dead, Riddick, Robocop, Rocky, Rugrats, Rush Hour, Scary Movie, Scream, Shiloh, Shrek, Smokey and the Bandit, Spider-Man, Spy Kids, Star Trek, Star Wars, Step Up, Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Terminator, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Bad News Bears, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Exorcist, The Expendables, The Fast and the Furious, The Godfather, The Hangover, The Hunger Games, The Karate Kid, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Mighty Ducks, The Mummy, The Muppets, The Naked Gun, The Neverending Story, The Omen, The Pink Panther, The Santa Clause, The Smurfs, The Work and the Glory, Toy Story, Transformers, Transporter, Twilight, Underworld, Universal Soldier, Vacation, Witch Mountain, X-Men

Note: Extended film franchises like James Bond were excluded from this analysis.

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