Spoiler Alert: Is Franchise Filmmaking Killing Dramatic Tension?

Fast and Furious 3 Tokyo Drift Lucas Black Sean Boswell

We here at Screen Rant love film franchises as much as the next person. With new installments in The Avengers, Man of Steel, James Bond, and Star Wars series (just to name a few) on the way, there’s plenty for movie fans to be excited about. However, there’s one aspect about franchise filmmaking we wish the studios would change. The recent announcement that Lucas Black was cast for not one, but three Fast & Furious movies raises a critical issue that filmmakers need to address.

Part of what makes watching a movie for the first time so exciting is that in the back of your mind, you know that anything can happen. While the very expression “franchise filmmaking” suggests that sequels are in order, it’s still nice to have the illusion of the great unknown when you finally sit down to see the movie. Over the past few years, two very different methods of handling film franchises have emerged: “Tell the audience everything at once” and “Take it one movie at a time.”

Dramatic tension is a basic element in film, but it's an extremely vital one. The higher the stakes, the more likely it is that the audience will become emotionally invested in what happens onscreen – which is the ultimate goal of any movie. Franchise films, which tend to be in the sci-fi, superhero, or action genres, rely on high stakes more than others by placing characters in life-threatening situations. Part of what makes a tentpole action sequence so exciting is that we’re not sure who will live and who will die. Unfortunately, movie studios have done their part to evaporate any dramatic tension before the film even hits theaters.

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Several high-profile Hollywood franchises – including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Amazing Spider-Man, and now Fast & Furious – have made public their intentions to continue releasing installments in the next few years. While this is great for fans of those properties, it’s a little concerning for those of us who would rather not know everything all at once. How exciting can the action sequences in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 be if we know Peter Parker (and perhaps the members of the Sinister Six) will live to see two more movies? Can Dom Toretto’s death-defying stunts really be that thrilling if we know he’ll be in Fast & Furious 8?

Knowing the characters’ futures prior to watching the film (something that has plagued franchises dating back to The Phantom Menace) can make these experiences boring. It’s difficult to care when we already know what happens, and that can have a negative impact on how we perceive the movie as a whole. The next movies are essentially prequels to films that don't exist yet, more concerned with setting up the upcoming installments as opposed to being a great movie experience that stands on its own merits.

Pop culture fanatics are (rightfully so) sensitive about spoilers. Whether it’s the true identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness villain or Walter White’s fate in the final season of Breaking Bad, we’d rather be left in the dark and be surprised as we see the story for the first time. It seems odd then that studios would essentially spoil their own projects by happily assuring the audience that the characters we’re supposed to care about won’t be in danger no matter how extreme things get. It eliminates the raw emotion of watching a film and instead makes it all about the money. So what can be done about it?

One way to counter this – as discussed on a recent episode of the Screen Rant Underground podcast – is for filmmakers to use the audience’s knowledge to their advantage by throwing in twists and turns to keep the character stuff interesting. This very well could happen in some or all of the upcoming sequels, but we prefer a different method of handling franchises.


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