In case you didn’t know, the word “fan” is short for fanatic. And when it comes to movies, there’s definitely no shortage of fanaticism. I am about to suggest an idea that many cinephiles will find highly offensive. Sometimes, we fans ruin movies for ourselves by projecting unrealistic expectations on an upcoming film.
Specifically, consider fan expectations for movies that are part of an established cinematic universe, i.e. Star Wars or The Avengers. While audiences can certainly ruin standalone movies for themselves when their expectations aren’t met, expectations play a bigger role in the way fans handle reboots, remakes, and sequels.
Let me start off by saying, I am not arguing that every addition to a cinematic universe needs to be accepted and treated as equal. What I’m saying is that we fans need to step back for a moment and consider what we’re doing. We have backed filmmakers into a corner. They simply can’t win at this point. If they try to change up a well-established series formula, fans berate the creators for changing the story too much. If they take the safe route and retread a familiar narrative with different characters, fans complain that it’s just a rehash of a previous films.
So, where does that leave us?
What can a filmmaker do to minimize bloodshed amongst the fans?
That is a very tricky question. Obviously, it’s impossible to please everyone. But in order to please the most fans, I think the best bet is to toe the line a bit. Take some calculated risks, but also give fans what they are expecting. Maybe this sounds obvious, but I think many directors miss this thin line.
Take the Star Wars universe for example. Honestly, at this point, whatever poor soul is passed the gauntlet of director is probably terrified, fearing that they will be staring down an angry mob once their film hits theaters. The Force Awakens was criticized for being too much like A New Hope. Conversely, The Last Jedi was criticized for not being enough like The Empire Strikes Back. Personally, I enjoyed both both films, but I understand why others do not. The merciless hate that these films have received, however, is what I don’t understand.
Different… but not TOO different.
Different is good, but too different can alienate audiences who expect a certain tone from a film series. For films that have become cultural staples, it’s difficult to find a happy medium. We want our expectations to be met, but we also love being surprised along the way. It’s possible to diverge from a standard formula while still retaining its essence. For Star Wars fans, we expect an underdog story with memorable characters, humor, loss, revelations, and kick-ass fight scenes. So, give us all that we’ve come to love and long for, while also serving up a fresh spin.
Nostalgic… but not TOO nostalgic.
Nostalgia is a powerful ally when wielded correctly. Sloppily referencing previous films in the series actually hurts rather than helps your film. That said, throwing in a clever wink to a past installment is beneficial and expected from larger franchises. So remember: throwing in every possible reference to a past storyline isn’t actually a good idea. Instead, it’s best to just give an occasional nod, lest the effect is cheapened.
In summary, don’t stomp on a film’s legacy, a lá Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yet, don’t be afraid to add a few new pieces to a well-proven formula. In all honesty, it’s unlikely that your sequel/prequel/reboot will receive better reviews than a beloved original film. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make an amazing addition to a cinematic universe! For ever Shrek, The Third there’s a Blade Runner: 2049!
Now for the fans…
Oh no: the fault doesn’t just lie with the filmmakers. Here’s my advice for fans: calm down. I know it’s hard, but you’re only hurting yourselves. Ok, maybe the latest film in your favorite franchise was a huge letdown. But did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, your expectations played a role in that disappointment? When we, as fans, treat the next chapter in a cinematic universe like it’s the Second Coming of Jesus Christ…we’ll always be disappointed.
Be excited, but also be realistic. If The Empire Strikes Back is your benchmark for outstanding cinematic achievement, how can any director possibly please you?
Instead of envisioning each new film as one that should top all others in the series, I encourage fans to just focus on enjoying the film for what it is. Does it necessarily matter how it compares with the rest of a franchise? At least not at first. I’m not suggesting blind acceptance – every movie has its flaws. But to vilify a director and their vision because it wasn’t exactly how you imagined is unfair.
It’s difficult to remove all bias and expectations before watching a new Star Wars or Marvel film, but maybe don’t call for petitions to remove films from canon just because Luke Skywalker wasn’t the Jedi you remembered.