How to Artificially Extend a Movie Franchise
Once upon a time there was an amnesiac super assassin named Jason Bourne. He spent three movies on an ass-destroying mission to learn his real name. Then he learned his real name. End of story.
And yet, another Bourne heads our way. Shockingly, he isn't even a Bourne, just a badass from the same program that birthed the original. With this extreme stretch to keep a name franchise afloat, it's high time we reexamine the many concepts greedy Hollywood types have utilized to keep their chickens laying golden spray-painted eggs.
Not every franchise applies the "bigger and better" mindset to each sequel. Some prefer to instead take things down a notch and deliver a nice, little DTV milker of some name brand's teat. Unfortunately, that means leaving your star behind (unless your star just drunkenly ran someone over or got caught sleeping with an alter boy). Luckily, you can always rely on The Relative to pick up some slack.
The Relative lets you continue your story by switching focus onto a barely seen or completely invented family member of the previous films' main character to carry the franchise beyond its still-interesting phase. Brothers are best, but uncles and cousins will do the job as well. The more of these you pull off, the closer you get to that big family reunion mega-sequel. So never give up!
Sometimes a franchise has such a good thing going that you can peel off characters for adventures of their own. Most of these movies end up disappointing people, though by all rights they should be awesome. How hard is it to screw up a fun 90 minute jaunt with a character people already like? That no one seemed interested in a Catwoman who never actually appeared in any Batman movies will forever mystify me.
But just because most Solo Shots so far have disappointed doesn't mean we can't hope for the future. One day, long after pertinent involved parties have shuffled off this mortal coil, we may get awesome Han Solo Solo Shots with Harrison Ford's face CG'd onto Vin Diesel's body (or vice versa), opening the door to a whole universe of retroactive Solo Shots.
If you have multiple franchises going at the same time, people love it when they crossover and have fights neither party could possible win for fear of admitting one franchise's supremacy over the other. They don't always have to fight, though. They can also argue.
In really fortunate cases, this can lead to franchises in and of themselves. And then with just a bit more luck, your VS franchise can fight some other VS franchise. And so on and so on until you have Ash from the Evil Dead films getting drunk with Rick from Casablanca while both try to train the Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz into an Olympic-level bobsledding team. That, personally, is a world I wouldn't mind living in.
When part of a franchise character's allure comes from a mysterious or arresting backstory, you can always exploit that backstory with a prequel. Everyone was a child once, and it's often financially interesting to show audiences how their favorite characters acted while potty-training.
The problem with prequels is that logic demands other franchise characters take the bench. So you'll have to be extra creative when inventing nonsensical ways of shoving them in regardless of logic. Just remember: coincidence is your friend, and it's a smaller world than you think.
This may sound a little strange, but one way you can artificially extend your franchise is by evoking time travel and actually making further adventures part of a planned exploration of your narrative universe, thereby erasing the "artificial" aspect of your expansion. If you can find a way to bring events temporally full circle you will create a mobius strip that will have fans drooling for decades.
Unfortunately, that takes some big brains to pull off. If you lack such intelligence, here's what you do: Have a time traveler show up in your narrative universe only to confusedly remark "This is not the past/future I was told to expect," indicating some kind of temporal fudging you can spend an infinite number of films fixing. This is also good for bringing beloved dead characters back to life.
Once your franchise gets big enough to have legacies and wars and long-running stuff like that, you could potentially keep it going on television, filling in gaps week by week. The transition is rough, however. Your special effects will look kind of stupid, and you will almost certainly have to go without familiar faces. But that's why only a strong franchise can make the switch.
If you pull it off, the benefits are considerable. Television shows offer you an opportunity to invent and grow new characters you can then use to bolster your next film entries. Plus, your fan base will grow exponentially more rabid and awful, which can help keep franchises afloat in times of trouble. If you get to the coveted 100 episode mark, you've pretty much ensured your own early retirement.
When things look rough, and you feel ready to throw in the towel on your franchise, hold off just a bit and send your characters to space instead. More often than not, going into outer space tends to rejuvenate flagging series by bringing heavy doses of self referencing humor into the mix.
Be careful, though. You can only pull this off once. Twice, if you follow it up with a trip to The Hood. People will celebrate your wit, but everyone knows the main ingredient with wit is brevity, and if you overdo it, people will just assume you were being serious the first time. If you were being serious the first time, maybe you shouldn't be running a franchise in the first place. Obviously, franchises that already take place in outer space need not apply.
Age does not kill a hero; only disinterest can do that. And the good thing about interest is that it's cyclical. Just as cool things inevitably grow less cool with age, uncool things inevitably recapture their former cultural glory.
In this fashion, previously dead franchises have been known to briefly resurface and amend their likely tarnished legacies. You can use your aged heroes to meditate upon the limitations of age, like Sylvester Stallone did with Rocky Balboa. Or you can use your aged heroes to meditate upon limitless number of souls an old man can send to Hell, like Sylvester Stallone did with Rambo. Or you could just coast on past glory, ala Indiana Jones. You lucratively extend your franchise either way.
Due to the awful nature of humans in general, people who won't come out for any old entry in your franchise might make the effort on the promise of seeing the franchise die. So when your chips are down, you might consider making an event out of killing your main character.
Don't worry, though. It's okay if you're lying. In fact, it's probably best you insert some kind of get out of jail free card. People will grumble, but that means people are talking about your flagging franchise again, and that's the whole point, right?
When you absolutely cannot squeeze any more artificial life from your franchise, it's time to give up and start over. New actors, new look, new mythos, new everything. Just make sure to distinguish it from past iterations. For instance, you could call your movie 'The Amazing Spider-Man' this time instead of just 'Spider-Man'. You won't believe how liberating this will feel. Freed from the built in narrative restraints that come with a franchise, you can now invent all new burdens and story contradictions. Best of all, since studios demand you start out with a boring origin story everyone knows they have to sit through, people won't actually be able to judge your rebooted franchise until movie number two.