Well, we started with a few spin-offs off the original line, but then I think we got a bit excited. It’s all right. We’ll just call this the Two Train Special. Folks’ll pay all the same.
Sequels and franchises have already taken over much of Hollywood, and now the web is spreading as spin-offs and expansions are set up.
Recently, Disney had both Maleficent, a spin-off of Sleeping Beauty, and Oz The Great And Powerful, a spin-off of The Wizard of Oz. Every movie in Disney’s Marvel Universe has become a spin-off of both Iron Man and The Avengers. In the Star Wars Universe, individual Boba Fett, Han Solo, and Yoda films are in progress alongside Episode VII.
Over in the world of X-Men, there have been two one-off Wolverine movies. Planet of the Apes is expanding its franchise with the prequels Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Warner Bros and DC Comics are working on bringing the whole Justice League to the big screen, beginning with Batman Vs. Superman. Soon, perhaps, there will be a Transformers movie about Bumblebee.
Many bemoan the exponential growth within franchises, both based on comic books and based on other material. There are a blur of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. There are declarations that previous generations were more original than ours, were willing to take more one off chances.
Yet, if history is analyzed, we will discover there are many examples over the centuries where even some of the greatest minds built franchises and sequels. Franchises and sequels have survived so long because the relationship with the audience has already been built, and they are able to expand both the world and characters.
Below is a list of just a few spin-offs and sequels of classic and historical works:
1. The Odyssey by Homer
With the Odyssey the ancient poets of Greece took a minor character from the Iliad and made him the central character. Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan War is full of bloodshed, romance, and adventure, just like the first story, but expands the scope to the other isles of Ancient Greece. On the isles mythological wonders and dangers are discovered, all before an an epic though dangerous homecoming.
Larger scope? Check. Familiar characters? Check.
Part of what makes it a great sequel is it builds on what works in the original, but is unique enough to stand on its own. Also, it teaches us not to tick off Poseidon.
2. Robin Hood by medieval bards, poets, scribes, and writers
Similar to some modern comic book heroes, Robin Hood has multiple origin stories, but a consistent essence. He has been a poor saxon, a disgraced son of nobility, and a soldier in the crusades, all centuries before Errol Flynn, Kevin Costner, and Russel Crowe portrayed him. (My favorite version remains the fox in Disney’s animated version. Oodallaly).
Over the Medieval Period and into the Renaissance, bards, scribes, and others created tales of Robin Hood, using his basic characteristics to build a franchise of stories. As his crew expanded, individual poems and tales of Will Scarlett, Friar Truck, Maid Marian, and Little John emerged. This is all part of the overall legend of Robin Hood, and has built the merry men into a type of Avengers/Justice League, alongside The Knights of the Round Table. It doesn’t matter what the last adventure was, because each adventure is its own small story.
3. The Arabian Nights
While each story of The Arabian Nights is interesting, the framing narrative of Scheherazade’s life depending on building a web of stories adds a level of tenseness to each tale. Yet, it’s ironic that she is creating a franchise of stories to keep herself alive… well, actually the story tellers, bards, and scribes did as the legend developed over centuries.
Where Grimm’s Fairy Tales just collects individual stories, The Arabian Nights build on each other, a whole chain of stories leading to one climax after another. It is a magnificent feat, no matter how many story tellers and compilers it took to create the versions known today.
4. Henry IV Part II, Henry V by William Shakespeare
Very little of what Shakespeare wrote were completely original. In fact, The Tempest might be his only completely original work. Each of his plays tied into and built off of plays written by others, or ancient legends or histories. This does not take away from his own genius as a writer. However, people should think about this before calling modern directors and writers ‘hacks’ for playing in sand box franchises.
While all of the history plays are technically sequels of each other, the most direct sequels are Henry IV Part II and Henry V. (Which, if you haven’t seen Tom Hiddleston as Prince Henry / Henry V, then you are missing out on awesome.)
In Henry IV, Part I, Prince Henry is established as a frat boy hanging around with John Falstaff. Over the course of Part II, Henry becomes a man and must make hard choices between the fun he has been having and the responsibility of being heir to the throne. In Henry V, he is King and it is a grand epic with battles, betrayal, and heroism.
5. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Tom Sawyer is a fun and simple book, as are the odd spin-offs Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad. There are great things happening with Tom Sawyer, but, at its heart, it is a series of stories of Tom getting into shenanigans and using his cleverness to get him back out again.
Huckleberry Finn, however, is the Empire Strikes Back to Tom Sawyer’s A New Hope. While there are some fun moments, Huckleberry Finn is a far darker book, dealing with death, abuse, and racism. Its scope is far broader than Tom Sawyer, taking in much of the American South along the Mississipi.
Both books are great, but Huckleberry Finn definitely broadens the franchise, whereas Tom Sawyer, Detective and Tom Sawyer Abroad are a nearly unrelated riff on stories from the original, similar to the Ewok Adventure series.
It is the familiarity which makes us love the franchises, and spend our money on them. We could try something new, but… we’d also like to ride along with Batman again, sing with a Disney princess, face the dangers of China along with Po, the Dragon Warrior, or risk another look at another version of Robin Hood or Hercules.
- What is your favorite classic franchise? (Bonus points for non-Western material)
- If you were to build a franchise off a classic tale or book, what would it be?
- How much would you pay to watch an archery tournament between Odyseus and Robin Hood?
- Oh, and how awesome would Tom Hiddleston be in a good Robin Hood movie?
LIterary March Madness from SequelMagazine.org
Side Note: Speaking of spin-offs, here are some new images from the Batman spin-off television show Gotham. I’ll hold my judgement until the show actually airs.
UPDATE: As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been quiet these last two weeks due to editing my work in progress. I believe this will be the final edit, with one or two more small tweaks along the way. More info will be coming out soon.