When you have a successful film or book and a story with more to be told, sequels are almost a given. Once considered a great risk in storytelling on both page and screen, the idea of sequels has become a more widely accepted and practiced part of creative fiction. These days, books and films are often written with sequels in mind in the hopes the universe and characters can be expanded on be it for creative ventures or seeking more dollars. When it comes to sequels, one of the most difficult things to consider is the title.
Since I’m writing a series of books at the moment, this has been the cause of some trouble with me. Just what route do I take with these books when there are so many ways to name your sequels? All methods have their advantages and disadvantages, all equally alluring and off putting.
The most simple method is the numerical method. You just name the sequels 2, 3, 4 and so forth. This is a tried and true method of connecting a series together, and has been used in series like Rocky, Jaws, Friday the 13th, and more. Not only are you immediately aware what you’re looking at is a sequel, you also know where it goes in the series, so you don’t find yourself getting lost when jumping from one installment to another.
The numbers method works well, but it does have one drawback. With titles like 2, 3 and so on, you get the feeling that you’re watching a tower getting built higher and higher, and eventually the numbers become a punchline. Imagine of the James Bond films did this. The latest movie would have the title James Bond Part 24. Doesn’t exactly sound appealing. Even the Friday the 13th series got rid of the numerical method after the series started sounding silly with Friday the 13th Part 8.
But the numbers method isn’t the only one available for storytellers to use.
The second is non numerical connective method. This was the case with the Indiana Jones Series. The first film was titled Raiders of the Lost Ark, but all subsequent entries used the Indiana Jones character as the heading, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and lets forget the fourth one because it doesn’t exist.
What’s great about this method of sequel titling is it has a connective tissue that doesn’t seem quite as tedious as the numbers method. Raiders 2: Temple of Doom doesn’t sound as good as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but the latter title still immediately makes you aware of the series it belongs to. This method was also used with the Harry Potter series to great effect. The only drawback is for series newcomers, it may be difficult to figure out which entry in the series comes first. For those familiar with it, everything it fine. For newcomers, you may have some homework to do.
The third and final method of sequel titling is the most risky of all, but also offers the most creativity. It is the non connective method. This is where you have no connective tissue in the titles whatsoever. This has been done in many series like James Bond, Jack Ryan, and Dirty Harry. This is in large part due to the stories being, for the most part, self contained. You don’t have to have read Hunt For Red October to understand the story on Patriot Games, and you can’t very well call it Hunt For Red October 2 because the titular submarine has no bearing on the sequel’s story. Though Patriot Games is a sequel to Hunt For Red October, to call it Hunt For Red October 2 would be false advertising.
The biggest advantage of this type of sequel titling is it advertises the stories as self contained narratives. You can pick up the 8th James Bond book and be no more lost than if you pick up the 1st. The disadvantage however is pretty obvious. Its status as a sequel isn’t advertised. When I first saw Sudden Impact, I had no idea that it was part of the Dirty Harry series. If you want to tell a story spanning multiple films or books, this may not be the best way to get people coming in.
This however can be turned into an advantage. In the case of Mad Max, the original film didn’t do very well in the United States. When Mad Max 2 was slated for release, the distributor retitled the film The Road Warrior in order to make it stand on its own. The tactic worked, and Mad Max 2 did very well on the United States market. In this case, differentiating itself from its predecessor saved the film, but this is just one example.
The market is increasingly filled with properties shooting to be the next big franchise, and many of us creators want to ride the crest on that wave. The title is an important part of any narrative, much more than most give it credit for. You see, a title is the most important part of advertising there is. If the title doesn’t grab a reader or a viewer, they may not check it out no matter how good the synopsis or the trailer looks. Even if it’s attached to an already successful property as a sequel, that fact still remains. We all need to ask how we want to sell what we create.
Remember, nobody wants to see something named James Bond 24.