There are two types of sequel screenwriters in Hollywood. You have those who have earned the opportunity to build on their previous works, and then some are hired to take the existing IP and create something new.
Creating a sequel to a beloved film is extremely hard due to the pressures of meeting the expectations of fans who loved the original. These fans want to relive their experience of watching that first film, and studios want a financial (and critical) repeat of the first movie’s success.
Between the studios and the audience’s expectations for the film, the audience is the tougher crowd to please for the screenwriter. They can’t take too many big creative swings because they could taint whatever made the original film special, but the screenwriter can’t stay too close to the original or they will face backlash for not approaching the narrative from a new perspective, opening up the film’s world a bit more.
So how do you write a successful sequel to a beloved film? Vulture spoke with 10 screenwriters who have worked across multiple sequel genres with a variety of success, and here is what they have learned from their experience.
Don’t Subvert Your Intentions Out of Fear of Rejection
Michael Green was faced with the daunting task of writing Blade Runner 2049. Green had the advantage of developing the script for the film with and for Ridley Scott and was able to pitch his story and get Scott’s blessing to follow his intuition.
Green approached the writing process by saying to himself, “Okay, I’ll hit it as hard as I can, and if they don’t like it, they can always hire someone else.”
If you are already doubting your idea and tearing it apart before it is written down, then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Green wanted to keep Rick Deckard in the story but wanted to open the world up by making the narrative about someone else.
“By the end of the day, it’s all fanfiction,” Green said.
'Blade Runner 2049'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
You Don’t Have to Be a Fan of the Original Film
Not everyone is going to love the original film that they are writing a sequel to, and that’s okay. Daniel Waters found himself in that exact situation when he was hired to write the sequel to Tim Burton’sBatman.
Rather than focus on the plot elements of Batman Returns, Waters focused on the characters.
“It was kind of this strange film of strange people interacting in a city, and I didn’t concern myself with the A to B of it,” said Waters. Tim Burton didn’t give Waters any specific directives because the director didn’t want the film to connect with his first Batman, and Waters found himself in an interesting predicament where he didn’t have to follow the past histories of the Catwoman of Penguin characters.
Batman Returns was a hangout movie about superheroes and villains living together in the crime-riddled capital of the DC world. Although Water wasn’t satisfied with the script he wrote, he feels that he created a version of the DC characters that fit Tim Burton’s world.
'Batman Returns'Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Read the Dialogue Aloud
Beloved original films have beloved characters that have very particular dialogue that will be quoted until the end of time. When that character’s dialogue starts to change, the fans will notice and will feel as if their hero isn’t being properly represented.
Live Free or Die Hard screenwriter Mark Bomback found himself challenged by perfecting John McClane’s voice. Often, he would read out the dialogue he’d written in his best Bruce Willis impersonation, trying to emulate the witty and bad-ass lines that make McClane a fun hero to root for.
'Live Free or Die Hard'Credit: 20th Century Fox
Remember That You Can’t Satisfy Everybody
Brannon Braga and Ron Moore sat down to write their first film Star Trek: Generations, which would be the seventh Star Trek movie and a sequel to the TV show. Braga and Moore were faced with a lot of challenges: two captains, the fans, their lack of experience, and the studio.
When the movie was tested, the audience didn’t respond to Kirk’s (William Shatner) original unceremonious death in the ending. The audience hated it, and Braga and Moore rewrote the ending to be much more spectacular. Fans still didn’t relish the idea of Kirk being dead, but the story appealed to Shatner and the studio.
“You’re always, in the back of your mind, thinking about the fans. With Star Trek, you realize there’s just no satisfying everybody,” Braga says.
'Star Trek: Generations'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Extend on the First Story, Don’t Repeat It
John Wickwas a revenge story that everyone instantly celebrated and relished the stunts, cinematography, and well-crafted story. When the studio decided to green-light a sequel, Derek Kolstad was tasked with writing a new film that did just as well, if not better than the first film.
Kolstad visualized the world of John Wick as a quilt that he could add onto as the franchised continued, allowing more and more pieces to be added to make a fully realized and functional world.
“You want to deviate a little bit from your lead in the sequels to get a 3 percent perspective shift on the world so it feels bigger. Then when you return to your lead, it’s like, ‘Oh, fuck yeah, John Wick!’” Kolstad says.
'John Wick: Chapter 2'Credit: Lionsgate
Learn from Experiences
Reid Carolin wanted to separate Magic Mike XXL from the more serious and darker tone of the world of stripping that was explored in the first film. Carolin had the intention of creating a road comedy that highlighted the lighter and more fantastical side of dancing that he and Channing Tatum loved.
"We couldn’t get excited about it,” Carolin says.
He went to Vancouver to talk with Tatum about what happened when he went to stripper conventions to find some inspiration for the script. Tatum recalled that everyone would climb into the back of U-Hauls and do ecstasy, roll their faces off, talk, and then go dance.
This story inspired Carolin to create a moment where reality met fantasy, which “was the moment where it became real and kind of strange and outside of the bounds of normal screenwriting,” Carolin says.
Explore the Themes and Elements of the Original Film
Creep 2 was not a sequel intended to exist as a sequel to Creep. Instead, Patrick Brice wanted the film to be something that indulged in the themes and goofier elements of the first movie.
Horror forces writers to answer the question of “Why is this person still here? Why are they putting themselves in harm's way?” and creating a logical answer reveals more about who the characters in the story are, and their intentions in the bizarre, horror world.
The genre also can create heightened emotional responses as characters are faced with death.
'Creep 2'Credit: The Orchard
The Sequel Doesn’t Have to Be a True Sequel
Kent Osborne’s sequel, Uncle Kent 2, has absolutely nothing to do with the original film, and that’s the point.
Osborne wanted to create a sequel to Uncle Kent, but couldn’t figure out exactly what the story would be. After getting too high one night, Osborne decided he would just write until he stopped being high.
Writing out any idea can lead to a realization that there is a much larger story in that simple idea. The sequel doesn’t have to be a direct connection to the first film, but a different story that involves the same character at a different point in their lives.
'Uncle Kent 2'Credit: IFC Films
Expand on What Made the First Film Memorable
Larry Gross envisioned Another 48 Hrs. as a service to the star and actor that Eddie Murphy had become since the first film’s release. Gross wanted to give Murphy the freedom to have his extreme behavior on display which the studio originally pushed back against.
The film was a love letter to Murphy, and Gross knew that he could write a script that accentuated Murphy’s comedy chops that made an audience roll over in laughter.
'Another 48 Hrs.'Credit: Paramount Pictures
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Strange and Weird
The Blair Witch has been a fickle franchise that hasn’t had a solid sequel that can stand next to the original film. Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard tried their hand at creating a sequel of the original film in 2016 but decided to stay close to the existing mythology rather than create something strange or original enough to stand on its own legs.
“When you’re second-guessing the desires of a viewer, you’re frequently on the wrong track,” says Barrette. Barratt and Wingard had a lot of creative freedom when it came to creating Blair Witch, but the two decided to make something more mainstream that would appeal to a hypothetical audience.
When you start creating something that is for a hypothetical person, you are no longer creating art that speaks to you as a writer or filmmaker.
As a creative person, you have to make things that you think are good. If you get something wrong, learn from the mistake and try again.
Do you have any screenwriting tips you think every screenwriter should know? Leave your advice down in the comments below!