Storytelling

Seven Signs a Sequel Will Be Bad

When you finish a good story, your first instinct is probably to check if there’s a sequel. But then you hesitate. How can you be sure the sequel is going to be good? We’ve all seen more than our fair share of promising stories crash and burn in the second or third installment. Fortunately, there are a few signs you can look for that increase the chances of the sequel being hot garbage. Let’s go through some of the most common!

1. The Conflict Is Maxed Out

The Enterprise and other Starfleet ships attacking the Borg in First Contact.

Star Trek: First Contact pulls out all the stakes in its conflict. Not only do our heroes fly into battle against a Borg invasion and win, but they also go back in time and stop the Borg Queen from changing history so the Federation never existed. That’s about as high as a conflict’s stakes can go, and it doesn’t bode well for any sequels.

Insurrection, the next Trek film, has Picard and company doing battle against a previously unknown enemy called the Sona. After watching the Enterprise vanquish a Borg cube, it feels like these new aliens should be pushovers, which makes them hard to take seriously as villains. Even when they prove stronger than the Enterprise, it seems more like a contrivance than a danger.

That’s what happens when a story ramps its conflict all the way up to eleven. It’s very exciting in the moment, but it leaves sequels with nowhere to go. As audiences, we naturally expect the stakes to go up with each installment of a story. If they don’t, it’s a letdown. If the storyteller tries to raise them anyway, it’s meaningless. Once a story gets to the scale of saving all life in the galaxy, adding more danger just doesn’t feel real.

Sometimes, storytellers can get around this problem by changing the type of conflict instead of raising the stakes, but this is rare. It requires that the story be able to support more than one type of conflict, and that the storyteller be interested in something different. Those two factors rarely align, so if the first book in a series has the heroes save the Milky Way from destruction, there’s a good chance the sequels will have nowhere to go.

2. The Hero Is God-Moded

Neo stopping bullets in the Matrix.

The first Matrix film is about Neo unlocking his potential and becoming The One. We’re told this will give him unlimited power, that he won’t have to dodge bullets anymore because mere fighting will be beneath him. The film’s climax certainly bears this out. Neo possesses ultimate power, and he’s going to use it to destroy the Matrix once and for all.

Then the sequel rolls around and he… hasn’t. Somehow the Matrix is still there, and Neo’s much-vaunted ultimate power has been reduced to flight and superstrength. You know, things that are useful in all that fighting he’s not supposed to do. At times, the filmmakers still pretend he’s all-powerful, but he obviously isn’t.

Neo’s powers aren’t the only thing wrong with the later Matrix films, but they’re a big part of the problem. We were told he was all-powerful, then we were told that “all-powerful” didn’t mean what we thought it meant. Not only is this confusing, but it invalidates the original story that we loved so much.

Any time a story makes a big deal about giving its hero unmatched power, it’s a major warning sign about sequels. If the storyteller fulfills our expectation, then the sequel will be boring because the hero is all-powerful. If the storyteller tries to weasel out of their promise by introducing even more powerful bad guys, then it invalidates the previous story. Plus it’s often just unbelievable. “Yeah, sure, I promise these extra-strong villains were here the whole time. Pinkie swear.”

3. There Are Too Many Characters

A woman facing the ocean, cover art for Winter Tide.

Winter Tide is an excellent story of intersectional oppression, cosmic horror, and subverted Lovecraftian tropes. It’s got compelling conflict, a likable protagonist, and cool magic. The only problem is that it has way too many characters. By the time the story ends, there are between 8 and 12 main characters, depending on how you count them.

In the sequel, Deep Roots, it’s even worse. Not only are all the characters from last time still around, but the novel keeps adding more. Each character added means less screen time to go around. The author tries to address the issue by handing out flashback scenes, which do nothing but inflate the novel’s word count. Before long the characters blur together, and it’s often difficult to remember who is doing what. It’s a disaster, and the only upside is taking bets on how many characters the third book will have, if there is a third book.

Keeping a story’s character count low requires a lot of self-discipline on the author’s part, and even the most disciplined stories will generally acquire more characters with each installment. If an author already has too many characters in their first installment, it shows they simply aren’t willing to make the necessary cuts, and that’s only going to get worse. Writers almost always have to add new characters to make a sequel work. Pretty soon each scene feels like an all-hands meeting, and lord help you if the author decides that every character needs their own viewpoint.

4. The Conflict Requires Special Circumstances

Dr. Grant distracting a T-Rex with a road flare in Jurassic Park.

In Jurassic Park, we see a dinosaur theme park go horribly wrong as the dinos escape their enclosures and feast on delicious human meat. This happens because every one of the park’s safety precautions fail due to sabotage and because there are only a few humans on the island.

That’s a fine premise for one movie, but it’s a terrible setup for a sequel. Dinosaurs aren’t magical monsters; they’re big animals, and they’re only dangerous to humans when everything has gone wrong. Nevertheless, the powers that be saw fit to make four more Jurassic Park movies, each less credible than the last.

Sequels work best when a story’s setting is capable of supporting more than one kind of conflict. This scenario is the opposite of that. The first story’s conflict only happened because something out of the ordinary took place. For a sequel to have a similar conflict, something similar must go wrong, and that stretches audience belief past its breaking point.

So how can you tell if a story’s conflict depends on special circumstances? Just ask if removing a factor or two can stop the conflict in its tracks. In a story like Fellowship of the Ring, Sauron is still coming for the Ring of Power, even if Frodo never takes it up. In Jurassic Park, the characters would have had a fun family trip if an employee hadn’t sabotaged everything so he could steal dino-embryos.

5. The Hero Is Dead

Buffy's gravestone from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends with the Slayer heroically sacrificing herself to save the world from an evil portal. And that’s a wrap, right? You can’t very well have Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Buffy.

But then the show was renewed for two more seasons, and they weren’t going to do that without the titular character, so Buffy is resurrected in a previously unknown magical ritual that, of course, is never used again. The writers tried to cover for this by spending a lot of time on how traumatizing the resurrection is for Buffy, but all they manage is a story so depressing it’s hard to watch.

There’s a reason stories rarely kill off their main characters. Not only is it a major bummer, but it makes the story really hard to continue. In most stories, everything revolves around the main character, that’s why they get the title “main.” While the hero’s death can certainly make for an effective climax, it also leaves a big hole in any future stories.

This leaves the storyteller with two options, both of them difficult. First, they can try to bring the hero back from the dead. This is almost always a bad idea. It raises the question of why this resurrection method is never used for anyone else, but more than that, it undoes the last installment’s ending. That’s something sequels should always strive to avoid, since it gives audiences the feeling that nothing in the story matters; it can just be reversed next time!

The second option is to continue the story without the main character. This is possible if it’s set up in advance like we see with the death of Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. But if the writer doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, the story is likely to flounder without its hero, like X-Files without Mulder or Stargate SG-1 without O’Neill.

6. Everything Is Resolved

The Harry Potter characters gathered together in the epilogue scene.

Whatever its flaws, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did a complete job tying up loose plot threads. Our heroes take Voldemort down, of course, resolving the main series arc, but there’s more to it than that. We get resolutions to Snape’s and Dumbledore’s arcs,* while every other character is either dead or romantically paired. This story of the wizarding world is firmly tied off.

So naturally, Cursed Child came along and tried to pick out some of those threads. With nothing to actually build on, that story went with the idea that Voldemort had a secret daughter, and that of all the people who died in the books, it was Cedric Diggory’s death that really ate at Harry. Sure. Cursed Child has numerous problems, but present throughout is the unshakable feeling that the story isn’t actually about anything.

There’s a constant tug-of-war in stories between satisfying the audience with a strong resolution and leaving hooks open for sequels. Tying up every thread generally leads to maximum satisfaction, but it also means there’s nowhere to take the story afterward. That’s fine if you’re writing the capstone to a long series and you don’t plan to have any sequels, but sometimes authors just can’t help themselves.

This is why I’m actually glad we didn’t get a fourth season of Avatar: The Last Airbender like one of the show’s creators has recently been talking about. Avatar’s ending is incredibly satisfying, completing every character arc and tying up nearly every plot thread. It’s hard to imagine a fourth season that wouldn’t have been a letdown after that.

7. Nothing Is Resolved

Cover Art of The Collapsing Empire, showing a shuttle moving in to dock at a large space station.

The Collapsing Empire opens with a fascinating premise: The hyperspace lanes that connect humanity’s interstellar empire are collapsing, and the emperox* has to do something about it. Cut to the end of the book and… we’re pretty much exactly where we started on that front. A bunch of side characters have had their own adventures, but the main story hasn’t moved at all. Next time, the book promises, we’ll actually get to see the emperox take this problem on.

Unlike the other entries on this list, I haven’t read the next book in this series, so for all I know it actually does move the emperox’s plot forward. But I’ll probably never find out because when a book ends without any resolution at all, I have no incentive to pick up the next installment. The story’s already broken its implicit promise to me once, so who’s to say it won’t keep stringing me along forever?

This is what happens when that tug-of-war I mentioned in the previous section goes the other way, as storytellers go overboard in leaving unresolved issues for the sequel to deal with. Sometimes this is done intentionally with an eye toward building a series, but other times it’s an accident by authors who don’t know how to wrap things up.

Whatever the reason, it’s just unpleasant to spend the time needed to consume a story and then have no satisfaction at the end. The longer the story, the greater the irritation. If a movie’s ending isn’t satisfying, that’s a couple hours wasted. For a novel, it can be anywhere from 10 to 30 hours or more.

Even if the sequel does provide the promised resolution, you’ve just consumed two stories for one story’s worth of satisfaction. It’s even worse if the sequel isn’t out yet, and now you have to wait however long it takes for the author to put words on paper, all in the hope that they won’t just pull the same trick again.


Sequels are popular for a reason: they give us more of a story we already love. Unfortunately, that same desire often leads to disappointment when a much-anticipated sequel fails to meet expectations. It’s always possible that a story will beat the odds and have a good sequel, but if you see one or more of these signs, maybe check the reviews first.

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Comments

  1. Michael Campbell

    Interesting that you chose to post this one on International Star Wars Day.

    • Innocent Bystander

      Same.

      I actually like that each film tackles a different theme and has Po and the villain approach it differently. The first was about outward validation vs realizing your own potential; Po struggles to do Kung Fu the way the Furious Five and Shifu do and only becomes a Kung Fu master when he stops focusing on what will impress others and focuses on what he can do while Tai Lung remains obsessed with obtaining proof that he’s the best.

      The second movie is about dealing with pain and trauma; Po discovers the horrific truth about his past, but also remembers the good things from his life and uses that to go on. Shen, meanwhile, lets his pain consume him to the point that he refuses to see anything good from before (and refuses to take full responsibility for what happened to him).

      Finally, the third movie is about how you can find your potential through others’. The relationships that Po has made over all three movies and how he affected everyone is what lets him truly become the Dragon Warrior. Whereas Kai steals away potential from others for his own benefit.

      • Cay Reet

        Strangely enough, Despicable Me (NOT the Minions movie) does very well with it, too. The first is the story of Gru shifting his priorities from being the best supervillain to being a dad. The second not only gives him a love interest, as he changes employment, but also builds up on the ‘family’ topic. And, finally, he learns about the second half of his parentage in the third one (meeting his twin brother and learning about their father – who also was in the supervillain business), while Lucy now has to learn about parenting.

        The topic ‘family’ hangs around in all three movies, but since they all focus on different parts (getting a family, enlarging a family, meeting more of your family/becoming a parent), they don’t feel like more of the ‘same old,’ but new stories every time.

  2. Cay Reet

    Great article!

    There are a couple of sequels I could have done without myself, but there’s also some cases where the second story worked out well, because the writers went a completely different route the second time around. “Kung Fu Panda” is a great example, IMHO. The first one is the classic ‘seemingly unsuitable guy gets ready for his new job’ story (with training montage). The second one is more interesting to me, because it’s looking into the character’s background and because it has a completely different theme. There’s also higher stakes, but that’s not the only change.

  3. Julia

    I was hoping for a Matrix sequel, but not in the direction they took it. I thought Neo was going to start believing in part 2 that Zion was a subroutine of the Matrix that acted as a pressure relief valve where the malcontents could go and stay. Neo would tell the people there that they were still living a lie. There could have been a schism war between the true believers (lead by Morpheus) who now think Neo is a false prophet, and Neo, who wants to tear down Zion and the Matrix as a whole. Let Trinity’s loyalties be tested, etc.

    • Laura Ess

      Back in the day, lots of Matrix fans were hoping that Zion was a part of the matrix. Lots of disappointment when it transpired that REVOLUTIONS was only part 2 of RELOADED, On repeated watching though I found both are satisfactory if you consider them the one film, and it’s the story of how the war ended. Of course both directors have retired now. I wonder how long it will take before there are new Matrix films, but not by them?

  4. JXMcKie

    Many good points in this article, and yes, sequels are difficult to handle properbly ! As this article says, raising the stakes of the story in the sequel, becomes mote if the stakes are extremely high from the beginning. A possible avenue to explore in a sequel however, is to have the protagonist(s) deal, with the aftermath or consequences of their choices, made in the first part of a series. A good example of a well-handled case of this, is in my opinion, the second (and third) novels of Frank Herberts Dune series. By the end of the first novel, Dune, the protagonist Paul “Muad-Dib” Atreides has defeated, apparently against all odds, his enemies, and becomes Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe, and is also revealed as the Fremens long promised Messiahs. He has super human abilities, including precognition and clairvoyance, and nothing seems to be able to threaten him. An anecdoctal story tells that the late John W. Campbell, editor of the Science Fiction Magazine “Astounding”, complimented Herbert upon the completion his “Dune” novel. Campbell was reputedly especially fond of stories in which a young protagonist (preferably a white male – Campbell was well known for his rather Conservative and bigotted viewpoints) faced and overcame great adversity and finally triumphed. Campbell was however worried, when Herbert told him he planned for “Dune” to be the first of trilogy, because Campbell found it difficult to imagine, how Herbert could come up with any serious challenges for Paul to face in the sequels. Herbert however told Campbell something along the lines of “…don´t worry…Paul will come down…” and certainly he does so in the sequel, when he has to face the consequences of his own powers, and the choices he has made. In the end Paul is trapped by a trap, made of his own decisions. In this case the Dune sequels works (well, at least the original trilogy), without falling in to any the seven possible failing, outlined by Orens article !

  5. Elda King

    If you combine 1 and 2 you get the entire plot of any (bad) shonen anime

  6. Adam Reynolds

    I actually think that the best solution to many of these problems is to have sequels that focus on someone or something different. I really like rotating character arcs, which allow each character to finish an arc but still potentially be around as a useful character who can contribute to the plot in a smaller fashion than the new characters. In addition to its epistolary style, this is one of the things I liked about the Illuminae series, as each book added a new pair of characters. For a random example, I also liked how the first two Cloverfield movies were tied together through extremely minor worldbuilding but otherwise were entirely different self contained stories.

    A somewhat more unusual approach is what Ghost in the Shell does, in which there is not actually a clear continuity between different works in the franchise as each unique work is a reboot. The manga, the anime film adaptations, the two anime series adaptations, and the live action film are each their own separate continuity. While an example like Arise is essentially a prequel to the other anime series and films, it is a prequel that is different in almost all of the details relative to the earlier films or series. In a sense, the franchise itself is a stand alone complex, each installment a similar ghost in a new shell.

    The Legend of Korra also had an excellent approach to being a sequel by taking place 70 years after the original series. It used a new conflict and new characters to address all but #3, which was the largest flaw of the series, as the lack of focus made it harder to care about any of the arcs other than Korra’s. Though this was simply a problem of focus.

    • Nite

      We had the same idea for sequels: changing the protagonist. I’m implementing it in some projects, although they’re just arguments so far. Mentally locked, even.

      I think Korra’s problem was the creators didn’t have enough understanding of the characters they had in their hands, at first. Mako should’ve become the comic relief for his imutability, Bolin should’ve become a co-lead maturing each season and becoming less comedic while Asami should’ve been more explored as a potential enemy, then a threat, then a romantic interest. She was the one with most potential, yet ended up wasted.

  7. Laura Ess

    “The second option is to continue the story without the main character. ”

    Which is what they did in the UK crime drama TAGGART, after Mark McManus – who played the title character – died.

    When it comes to Buffy season 6 is the darkest season, and 7 more of an afterthought to wind everything up. I mean when you think about Buffy’s return, her secret is that she was CONTENT in HEAVEN, and being dragged back to life was a real downer. To match that we get laughable “Big Bads” of the Trio – geeks Warren Mears, Jonathan Levinson, and Andrew Wells. Their efforts were abstract and half hearted, wrecking havoc and triggering the REAL big bad of WILLOW with botched Buffy assassination. But even the other story arcs were well, depressing. Buffy shags Spike, but only when no one knows, and things just go badly between Xander and Anya.

    • SunlessNick

      Which is what they did in the UK crime drama TAGGART, after Mark McManus – who played the title character – died.

      That worked pretty well for a while, his long-established sidekick took over as a new lead – but after he left too, the logical third lead was female, so they brought in a pale copy of the original Taggart and it all crashed down.

  8. Passerby

    I’d also add that a gape longer than 10 years between the first part and the annnouncement of the sequel is a warning sign on its own.

  9. GeniusLemur

    In regard to the downgrading of Neo’s powers, I’d also note that “can destroy an agent” in the first movie turns out to be “Can turn an agent from a big threat to us to a world-breaking threat to everyone” in the sequel.

  10. FluxVortex

    Oh my god, the Jurassic World movies are awful.

    Every single scene seems to serve as a reminder that the filmmakers hate women, hate veterans, hate dinosaurs and most of all, the film seems to hate the viewer personally.

  11. Sedivak

    I think a good example of no. 6 is Dmitri Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 (The novel not the game). The ending really resolved the main conflict with a great feeling of finality. There are actually two sequels but I cannost force myself to read them because I get the feeling that there is nothing left to resolve. Has anyone read them?

    For me no 6. also extends beyond the chronology of the main storyline. If a series ends in a way that really concludes the story of the protagonist (which may or may not mean their death), any later-published prequels or side stories of the same character feel a little empty to me. It’s like I’ve said my goodbyes to the character and moved on – it makes it feel cheap for the same character to later pop up in another story, even if it’s a prequel.

    Imagine if after the ending of LOTR when Sauron is defeated, Frodo and the elves sail away, book ends and we all say good bye, another story is written about some Frodo’s other unrelated adventure that happened earlier. That would simply feel wrong. This is of course an example that (as far as I know) has not happened. What did happen was the novel Season of Storms, a side story to the Witcher saga by Sapkowski. I like the original saga very much but this one book felt really hollow (it also could be the writing of it).

    Does anyone else feel the same way?

    • Cay Reet

      I’ve felt that way with a couple of novels and with a couple of TV series which went on a seaons or more after they should have been ended.

      There are situations when a story has reached a natural ending point. Perhaps the main character died or they achieved what they were striving for the whole time. Perhaps the biggest plot point was resolved in a satisfying manner and all other threads were nicely tied up as well. As the reader/viewer of the story, you feel like it’s done and you’re happy with the way it ended (even if the ending was not a happy one – as long as it fits and is satisfying, you can still be happy with a bad ending). Afterwards, additional stories seem like a bad idea.

      What I can live with, is a story with a new main character in the same world. Especially when the character has no connection whatsoever to the old stories, did never feature in them, was never mentioned, it can work out very well. Perhaps minor side characters make a comeback, so there is a slight connection, but nothing more. The main character doesn’t feature. The big bad doesn’t feature. The plot doesn’t revolve around the same MacGuffin (think The One Ring).

      Another problem for me – but that has nothing to do with any of the points above – is long-running cosy mysteries. I can believe a regular person gets caught up in one crime investigation. I can believe it happens two times. Depending on where they live (most cosy mysteries are set in rural areas with small communities, where murders shouldn’t be that common), I believe it three times as well. But after that, it gets weird. A professional or semi-professional investigator can get into a lot of trouble and find themselves at a lot of crime scenes, but cosy-mystery investigators get weird after a while (especially with “Murder She Wrote” – the series has 600 episodes with at least as many murders; these days I do believe the fan theory that Jessica did them all).

      • Sedivak

        Yes, I feel the same way on both points.

        New stories in the same universe with different characters are a great way to expand the world and perhaps include a different viewpoint. I generally like them.

        The long-running repeating mysteries are often a pretty hard-to-believe and seriously overdone cliché but they do sometimes make sense if for example the main protagonist is actively looking for cases to solve or has some special quality that attracts the weirdness to them out of all people. For this to work I would say that it needs to be addressed and reasonably explained within the story. Yes “Murder She Wrote” is the bad case, but “Dresden Files” is perhaps an example of the good ones.

        • Cay Reet

          As I said, it’s usually the cosy mysteries I have a problem with. Harry Dresden is a professional investigator (paranormal investigations in his case, of course). That a professional or semi-professional (such as a reporter) often gets immersed in a murder investigation isn’t a surprise. It’s to be expected. But most cosy mysteries have protagonists who are not professionals, but armchair sleuths (such as Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote), and it’s hard to believe that they would stumble over that many cases merely by accident (especially as they’re often living in small towns, where murders shouldn’t be a regular thing).

          • Sedivak

            True.

  12. Kenneth Mackay

    Charlaine Harris’s ‘Grave Sight’ series has a good example of a protagonist with a “special quality”. Harper Connolly developed a psychic ability after being struck by lightning – she can detect the location of corpses and gain glimpses into their last moments. She also has two reasons for using this ability; one is simply to earn money, the other to find out what happened to her sister who was abducted when they were both children.

  13. Tifa

    I really liked this article!

    I appreciated the mention of Buffy. After watching roughly half of season 1 and 2, most of season 3, half of season 4, and most, if not almost all of season 5, I only watched Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rosa after that, and decided not to watch any other episodes from season 6 or 7. Season 5’s ending was more than enough for me.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! And yeah, season six is mostly a huge drag, you’re not missing out on too much. Season seven is better but still not great.

      • Tifa

        It was easy to tell just from the episode descriptions that season 6 was going to be depressing, so I said ‘Nope’ and went to watch Plus I had heard of a certain infamous death beforehand, and definitely didn’t want to watch that, nor Willow’s descent into darkness.
        It seems like a lot of writers these days have Joss Whedon’s No One Can Be Happy Syndrome. I caught it one time, when I was going through a huge conga line of difficult situations that spanned years, and it massively reflected in my writing, with all of the stories starting out happy and humourous and then spiraling down into despair and darkness no matter what I did. As much as I refuse to watch episodes 18-26 of Neon Genesis Evangelion, knowing how dark it becomes, I have great sympathy for the creator. Depression isn’t the kind of thing that can be stopped just be ‘thinking positively’.
        It’s really refreshing for me to be writing light stories for once. Wacky, shenanigan-filled humour turns out to be something I thrive on.

        • Tifa

          Oops. I meant to say that I went to watch Haruhi Suzumiya instead. I think I wanted that after Buffy.
          Anyway.

  14. Jedi10549

    Another way to continue a story after a character’s death is to have them turn out to have faked their death

    • Bunny

      That can feel like a cop-out, though, especially if the author didn’t initially plan to have the character come back. If it was this big, stirring, emotional scene, which effectively tied up all loose plot threads and closed that character arc, jumping back in to say “actually, none of that was what you thought it was!” could seem insulting to the reader. That’s not to say it can’t be done – although I’m hard-pressed to think of positive examples.

    • Cay Reet

      That’s been done so often by now that it’s become a rather tired trope. It’s a possibility, but not an ideal one.

      And if you do it too often, people will no longer believe your characters actually are dead, so you need to be careful with it and not to overuse it.

  15. Nite

    Number #5 justifies why “Avengers Endgame” felt so shallow to me. All too easy, many things contrived.

  16. Kathy Ferguson

    I like this article and the questions it raises. What would be a good example of a sequel that changes the type of conflict? Would it work, for example, to switch from a big macro level conflict between forces to a small micro level conflict between individuals? Does one conflict need to map on to the other in order to link the two stories?

    • Cay Reet

      My go-to example for the change of conflict would be Kung Fu Panda to Kung Fu Panda 2 – the first is a classic ‘seemingly unsuitable hero proves themselves suitable’ tale. The threat in this story is local – a dangerous man coming back home to take what he thinks is his. The sequel has a completely different story, dealing with parenthood and losing one’s parents and how to overcome the wounds from that. The threat in this story, however, also is on a much bigger scale, because the Big Bad threatens to conquer all of China with his new cannons (a weapon against which the Kung Fu seems useless, until Po finds a way to use the principles of martial arts against the cannons). A lot of main characters (not only the hero, but also the mentor, his buddies, his father) remain the same, but the villain changes and the new one is more dangerous because of his powers.

      Both movies have a personal and an overall plot arc – something for Po himself to learn and something which happens on a much bigger scale. But the scale of the second plot arc differs and is much bigger in the second story.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s a good example, Cay. I also talk about the difference between the first and second Aliens films (Alien and Aliens) in my post Six Tips for Sequels. The first Alien film is a haunted house type story, where there’s a single monster none of the characters can fight. In Aliens, it’s a war story where there are more enemies but now the good guys have machine guns.

      I think it would be difficult to switch from a large scale political or military conflict to a small scale personal conflict because the stakes would seem so much lower. That said, it’s not impossible, it would just require the audience to really care about what’s happening between these characters.

    • Bess Marvin

      I think a good example of sequel stakes is between Die Hard 1 and 3. The first Die Hard puts a competent hero in the middle of a large scale crime where neither side can be sure of what comes next. The villain Hans and the hero John are responding to problems as they happen and the struggle is mostly equal.
      The better sequel comes when Hans’ brother is out for revenge against John. The new villain has learned from their sibling’s mistakes and has tailored a large scale crime to specifically thwart John (requiring him to be in two places at once and make sure he loses all police support). John is frantic most of the time to just keep innocent people from dying and the challenges give him no time to strategize on getting ahead of the villain.

      • Cay Reet

        Also a very good example for raising the stakes. In this case, the villain is manipulating the stakes, both to his advantage and to the hero’s disadvantage.

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