The growing trend towards big movies leaving their endings open, in the hope of a long-running franchise.

A spoiler for 1978’s Halloween lies ahead…

At the climax of 1978 slasher film Halloween, the malevolent antagonist, Michael Myers, is shot and collapses. The shooter, Dr. Loomis, goes to check on the corpse, and finds that no body remains. The film ends with a dangling thread unresolved.

Nowadays, this seems like basic element or convention. You leave some story unresolved… the threat remains, the audience is left on edge, eagerly awaiting the next chapter. But this was not always so. Lots of sequels did indeed follow Halloween, and in some it seemed as though Michael Myers was indeed dead. Yet he’s maintained a habit of surviving such trivialities. Even now, two further sequels are in production, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends. Though based on past experience, we should take the latter’s title with a generous pinch of salt.

The story of Halloween is emblematic of a general trend in cinema. It’s an age-old complaint: that apparently everything’s a sequel/remake/superhero movie these days. And while film followers have complained about sequel/remake saturation for years, it seems to have intensified in recent years.

Take a glance at recent years’ box office takings, and you’ll see an overwhelming glut of Marvel and Disney – the former building an expansive cinematic universe, and the latter digging into its library of classic cartoons and remaking them. While it isn’t as mercilessly bleak as you’d believe – some of Disney’s reimaginings are good, there are some great Marvel films – the real loss in this ever connected, always expanding cinematic landscape is a simple concept: the ending.

Final word

When you really love a story – be it a book or a film – the ending always feels bittersweet, eliciting a feeling that you may never feel again. It was a rare cocktail that a lot of older films captured. But in the modern age, where any and all viable IPs will be targeted by producers, many of these stories are brought lurching back to life. This can work, of course. Twin Peaks: The Return managed to capture the original series’ unique energy, while director David Lynch infused even more of his surrealist genius on the text than ever before. But for every good example, there are countless examples of great stories being ceaselessly mined until that rare magic of an ending is negated.

Flash back to a galaxy far, far away. As Luke, Leia and Han are celebrating the defeat of the empire on Endor, you get that bittersweet feeling. The bad guys had lost, peace was restored to the galaxy, the story was over. But in truth, that was only the beginning. In the decades that followed Return Of The Jedi we’d return to that universe to see how Darth Vader fell from grace over the course of three films. And then we’d return yet again to experience fresh, yet familiar stories with a batch of new and returning characters.

The basic take is that capitalist Hollywood will grab hold of these profitable properties and drain them of all value to extract maximum profit. It’s hard to debate that. As Disney rolled out the new instalments of Star Wars’ Skywalker Saga, it also had plans to roll out other, wider universe fare at the same time. Rogue One and Solo had their fans and critics, but the latter certainly felt a bridge too far. Diminishing returns followed. But then story can’t be mined ceaselessly. There needs to be a fresh spark that ignites the interest of the audience.

Still, there’s one flaw present when arguing for stories with a definitive, finite ending – audiences love good world building. When you get to experience a world you love, and the big moments hit just right, you get a rare feeling only cinema can provide. It’s the simultaneous feeling of a warm hug and a rush of endorphins swirling through your brain. The Avengers films have perfected this, weaving their narratives, building big, grandstanding character moments. Especially in the more recent instalments, those exciting, bracing, fan service beats hit with military precision. You can imagine the glee: you’re a Marvel superfan in the multiplex, Infinity War opening weekend, and you see Thor burst from the skies to save the day during the battle of Wakanda…

Those later Avengers films were criticised for being indecipherable for audiences who weren’t firmly familiar with the universe. They were so immersed in the lore, and so committed to weaving a grand narrative, that the story of the individual film was obscured. In the grand scheme of things, it was a middling concern. The films earned the GDP of a country, so it’s doubtful any Disney/Marvel executives are pondering the existential quandaries of creating endlessly replicating, ceaseless narratives. But removing the sense of an ending blunts the edge of a story. If you stretch these things out ad infinitum, you lose stakes – and not in the shareholder sense of the word. Look at how the character of Spiderman has been treated in the last two decades – shuffling from sequels to reboots at a dizzying rate.

Direct

Recognisability and fandom are valuable marketing tenets. Sequel saturation has always been an issue, and the ascendancy of superhero movies doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. Big budget, original stories are still being produced, but more often than not, they’ll be tied to the name value of the director involved – Nolan, Tarantino, Scorsese, the brand of the auteur. And many of these directors will give you satisfying one-shot stories that leave you sad it’s over, but happy it happened.

Sadly, that isn’t true of a lot of mainstream fare. Hugh Jackman’s final bow as Wolverine, Logan, ends definitively. There are some scant threads remaining, but by the final shot of the film the message is clear: the story is over. It’s a sad state of affairs when that feels like the exception rather than the rule.

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