The Avengers (Marvel Studios)
The Avengers (Marvel Studios)

As I write this, The Avengers is well on its way to becoming another record-breaking movie.  As well, we have seen three Twilight movies, four Pirates of the Carribean movies, six Star Wars movies, umpteen Harry Potter movies, sequels to The Hunger Games and Iron Man are in the works… you know what?  I could blow three or four paragraphs on all the sequels and series of movies out there.

Suffice to say, continuations are popular in movies.  And why not?  A movie can only pack in so much information… a typical 2-hour movie is perhaps the equivalent of a 100-page book, and these days, books pack in 3-400 pages.  Multiple movies are a great way to get in all of the book’s content (well, more of it, anyway) and provide more well-rounded entertainment to the moviegoer. 

Series like Twilight are good examples of the now-familiar extended movie, each movie following the same characters and picking up where the previous movie left off.  And The Avengers has, in fact, pioneered no less than a new form of movie series: A group of individual movies which stand up separately, but which also culminate in a movie that encompasses all of the previous movies and creates a greater whole.  To be fair, the idea is now new, being something that the comics industry has taken advantage of for decades; but it is new to moviegoers, and it turned out to be very successful (due in no small part to the quality of each individual movie, helping to whet the audience’s appetite for the next installment).

Books, of course, have taken advantage of series mania for decades: Series stories are in big demand, and those who sell (and buy) books are clamoring for more series to keep drawing in the public.  The power of movie series hasn’t been lost on marketers either, who understand the value of cross-promotion, as well as the power of a successful product to attract consumers to the next product in line.

To me, the greatest draw of a series is this: The more material that is created relative to a series, the more fleshed-out your characters and your setting become.  The incredible world of Star Trek is a perfect example of this: Between the television shows, books, comics and movies, you have a universe and established characters that seem almost as fully-formed as real life.  It’s no wonder that attending a Trek convention is almost like being in a family reunion for many visitors.  The various movies that culminate in The Avengers accomplished the same thing, providing a complete background for each major character that allowed the final movie to avoid all that character exposition and cover much more storytelling ground.

Though some complain about the sudden predominance of series, their success in the marketplace is undeniable.  There’s something to be said for familiarity of characters and storyline, the idea that you already know what you’ll be getting when you plunk down your money.  Maybe this is a sign that the public is becoming increasingly wary of the unknown; but more likely, it merely demonstrates a willingness to repeat an enjoyable past experience.

And there’s a powerful draw to the shared experience.  Complete strangers can bond over characters that they all know like the backs of their hands, discuss their adventures, commiserate over their trials and gossip over their personal lives.  The popularity of series brings disparate people together, giving them a common ground for communication that can branch into other areas later.  It makes social contact and bonding easier.

Unfortunately, this may be the motion picture theatres’ last hurrah; convincing people to come out and spend over $20 per couple to see a movie is becoming increasingly difficult, especially as they can wait a few months and watch the same movie from the comfort of their home for significantly less.  The social power of series movies is strong, and it is surely helping to bring groups together for the shared pleasure of seeing their familiar friends on the big screen when they first come out.  But, as most pundits predict, the life-span of the neighborhood movie theatre is drawing to a close.

When theatres finally do become few and far between, will the popularity of series, having served their purpose for the movie industry, finally wane?  No; their purpose is still well-served in other media, including the growing amount of media we’ll be watching at home and online.  Hopefully, even if we are all watching movies separately, the popularity of series will still draw us back out of our homes to share our experiences and maintain our common interests.