The 2015 that Marty McFly visited in Back to the Future II was only partly like the year we’ve just lived through. We haven’t got flying cars or self-drying jackets, and let’s not say a word about hoverboards, especially to Russell Crowe.
That holographic shark that loomed at our hero to promote Jaws 19, however, was spot on. Because 2015 was truly the Year of the Sequel.
This year, it felt like most movie franchises with an admirable legacy jeopardised them with another instalment. The machine was as unrelenting as anything in Terminator Genisys, and also gave us a new Avengers, Fast and the Furious, Jurassic Park, Hunger Games, Mission Impossible, Bond and even Mad Max.
We reached Peak Sequel, though, with The Force Awakens. I’m unclear whether the title refers to George Lucas’ midichlorinated mumbo-jumbo or the slumbering merchandising colossus that recently produced Star Wars-branded fruit (not called ‘Bananakins’, sadly). But whichever it was, the Force is here to stay as we enter 2016.
Some of this year’s sequels were forgettable – I submit for the prosecution Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – but having dutifully trudged along to most of the big sequels, I can affirm that the batting average would make at least the West Indies jealous.
In box office terms, though, this cavalcade of sequels has been spectacular. Jurassic World, Age of Ultron, Furious 7 and Minions already sit in the all-time top ten (without inflation adjustments), while The Force Awakens is on track to nab Avatar’s overall #1 spot.
The movie industry is in rude health, it seems, except creatively. Every one of these high-budget, low-risk blockbusters stopped more original, interesting films from gathering a wider audience. Multiplex screens and attention spans are finite, so anything below a household-name franchise gets choked out.
Even JJ Abrams isn’t satisfied by sequels, it seems. He nearly turned down Lucasfilm because he feared being known only as “the sequel guy”, and has sworn off any more, unless perhaps Spaceballs II comes calling.
But you can’t entirely blame Hollywood for rehashing the same stories instead of taking a chance on new ones. When they do, they often get a disaster like the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending, a tuneless space opera which made The Phantom Menace look like Gungan With The Wind.
The fault is mostly ours, because we’d rather watch another Batman flick (Vs Superman is coming in 2016) than take a chance on a great local film like Predestination, which accumulated 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, and about $84 locally.
We’ll even reward a terrible addition to a beloved series, which is why I watched Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
This sequelmania is not limited to our screens. Once, deposed politicians would exit gracefully to boardrooms and embassies. Now they wait to be unleashed, wheezing ominously, upon the galaxy once more.
Kevin Rudd showed us that waiting for sweet revenge can bear fruit, at least temporarily. And hanging back until your rivals stumble is working as well for Malcolm Turnbull as it did for Steven Bradbury – and John Howard.
I presume Tony Abbott is sticking around because he’s seen that, to use his evocative if confusing phrase, leaders have to be dead, buried and cremated before they’re truly done.
In the US, Clinton II seems a forgone conclusion for the primaries and probably the Presidency, which seemed impossible when Hillary was shoved aside by a young senator from Illinois back in 2008.
On the Republican side, Bush III is in trouble, but Mr Trump Goes To Washington has proven a surprisingly successful sequel to The Apprentice. His appeal surely shows the enduring appeal of devils we know.
That country of 300 million people can’t find fresh candidates who aren’t billionaires or members of a political dynasty for the same reason as its movie studios keep pumping out sequels: risk aversion. The consumer satisfaction machines in Canberra and Hollywood are delivering what, through polls and ticket sales, we say we want.
Steve Jobs once said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. The inflation-adjusted box office records have groundbreaking movies like Gone With The Wind, E.T. and the original Star Wars and Jaws up the top. There isn’t a sequel until Return of the Jedi at 12.
But it’s easier to make Jaws 19 than Jaws 1, just as it’s easier to elect someone predictable than somebody from outside the system.
Whether voting or picking a movie, it seems we’d rather risk mild disappointment from the familiar than try a moon shot. All we really aspire to, it seems, is to walk onto the flight deck of the Millennium Falcon and say ‘Chewie, we’re home’.
If that’s all we seek, there are plenty of competent, uninspired people out there who’ll give us sequels. And then a few years later, give them to us all over again.