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Is Writing a Trilogy a Good Idea?

Fun Fact - When making a movie trilogy, they are often not well received.

Below is a measurement of how well received various movies were within their respective movie trilogies.


So clearly, when it comes to movies at least, not all movie trilogies are a big success.

While the first film was a great success, the 2nd and 3rd films of The Matrix, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Planet of the Apes, and Batman were notably sub-par (below 50% on the meter). That is 5 out of 21 film franchises which are considered to be quite famous.

Meanwhile sometimes film franchises can have good showings in parts 1 and 2, and then be really poor in part 3. Superman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Blade, Godfather, Terminator and Alien all suffered from this. 7 out of 21. 33.33%.

A few stats...

23.81% of popular trilogies have 2nd and 3rd films which did poorly.

33.33% of them have a 3rd film which did poorly.

There is a 48% chance the 1st part of the trilogy will be best part.

There is a 48% chance the 2nd part of the trilogy will be best part.

There is only a 4% chance the 3rd part will be the best or equally as good as the previous films.

There is a 67% chance the 3rd part will be the worst part of the franchise.

There is a 52% chance the 3rd part damages the reputation of the trilogy franchise, causing it to possibly end.

So...

Knowing all of this, why would screen writers and movie producers bother to make a 3rd film?

Perhaps trilogies are not such a great idea after all, because even when you do make a "profitable film trilogy", the 2nd and 3rd parts of the trilogy so often are horrible.

It is a bit of a gamble to make a film trilogy where all 3 parts are considered to be great (or at least above par).

  • Star Wars
  • Indiana Jones
  • Star Trek
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Mad Max
  • Back to the Future
  • Die Hard
  • Rocky
  • Rambo

9 out of 21. 42.85%. Back to the Future and Rambo barely fit in to this category of "successful winners".

So it makes me wonder. Perhaps the best way is to only write 2 films worth of material. A first part and a second part. A beginning and an end.

Imagine if Blade had only been a 2 film franchise. Ended on a high note. X-Men, The Godfather, Terminator, Alien and other movie franchises could have done this too. Just make the two films and stop there.

Unfortunately, this also comes back to money. Many of these film franchises, despite having a shoddy 3rd film, also made oodles of cash by having a 3rd film.

So it does make financial sense, usually, to make a 3rd film. Even if the film bombs critically they usually make a tonne of money in the box office.

The 3rd Godfather film is the biggest loser on the list.

It cost $54 million to make.
It made $$66.6 million at the box office - and more later in VHS, DVD and BluRay sales.

So despite being the worst film on the chart above, it still broke even financially and later earned more money in VHS, DVD and BluRay sales, plus any other royalties.

SO WHAT ABOUT BOOK AUTHORS

Writing a book trilogy is a different matter. It is a very different market. Writing only 2 books in a series is very rare. Trilogies are the most popular format when it comes to writing a series of books.

Thus trilogies make good sense financially for writers. You get the readers hooked on Book 1 and then sell them Books 2 and 3.

After they've become better as writers they could even try selling a whole series of 5, 7 or more books. Ideally live longer to finish the series, unlike some writers who died before they could finish it.

Where problems can arise is when movie producers step in and wand to turn a book trilogy into a movie trilogy. Mistakes are made and the films can often do poorly, damaging the writer's career.

A writer being offered a juicy movie contract should consider all their options and keep in mind the following issues:

#1. Even if the writer gets paid, the movie producers might just sit on the movie rights and never make the films.
#2. The writer definitely wants a contingency so that they get paid even if the film doesn't get made.
#3. Ideally they should have contingency for what happens if they do make the films. Does the writer get a share of any profits?
#4. Are they paying the writer a consulting fee to make sure the film is good and accurate?
#5. How much is that consulting fee? Salary? Hourly Rate?
#6. Do the film rights go back to the author after X number of years so they can sell the film rights to someone else?

Many writers would be happy just to be approached about selling their film rights, but they should always be wary and cautious. You wouldn't want to do what some authors did and sell them to a company who barely know how to make a film, let alone make a good film.

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