he third Die Hard may be with a vengeance—but, like more and more movie sequels, it’s also without a number. Why? What makes a studio decide to drop a digit from the title of a follow-up film?
Time was when movie sequels went by such titles as The Bride of Frankenstein and Another Thin Man. Numbering, which began in 1974 with The Godfather Part II, is built on a strategy of creating instantly recognizable franchises, says John Krier, president of the research firm Exhibitor Relations. ”When [the studios] use names like Homeward Bound II,” he says, ”[audiences] immediately know the property has been a success and they’re interested.”
After the first Godfather sequel, practically every follow-up, from Star Trek II to Superman IV, seemed to sport a numeral. Alien pulled a twist with Alien3, but by the summer of ’94, when numbered sequels (such as City Slickers II and Beverly Hills Cop III) glutted theaters and tanked, the strategy had been worked to exhaustion, says Bill Mechanic, president of Fox Filmed Entertainment. That led Fox to strike 3 from Die Hard. ”There’s a certain sensitivity to sequels that we were paying attention to,” he says. ”We didn’t want [the movie] to seem like, ‘Oh, it’s just another one in that series.”’
Still, with Father of the Bride Part II in theaters and countless direct-to-video sequels continuing to go by the numbers, the industry doesn’t seem to be following any conventional wisdom. ”If Ace Ventura comes out and they call it 2 and it works, that’s wisdom,” says Mechanic. ”I don’t think wisdom in Hollywood goes longer than your nose.”
”If your film is not released theatrically, the only way you can create awareness is by [adding] a number,” says producer-director Sean Cunningham, whose Friday the 13th series made it all the way to Part VIII before hacking off the number with Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. ”If you’re in that much trouble, that’s your bailout.” He adds that he ”would rather not have Scary Movie 1, Scary Movie 2, Scary Movie 3. If I could skip the numbers, that’s fine, or if I could get the Zuckers to come up with something like Part Deux.” So, what would he call a sequel to Seven? Eight?