A website called BoxOfficeQuant put together an intriguing graph last month. The Sequel Map charts Rotten Tomatoes’ average scores for various sequels against the films from whence they sprang. Forget Alien vs. Predator; this is Alien vs. Aliens.

Graph titled 'The Sequel Map: Are Sequels Truly Better or Worse than Their Originals' with one axis each for original films' and sequels' Rotten Tomatoes scores
The Sequel Map © 2011 Edmund Helmer.

You’ll find a clickable version of the graph in BOQ’s post. Hit it and you’re taken to a larger image; hit that image and it zooms in wherever your cursor is to the extent that you can actually read the movie names amidst the circles. If, as happened with me, the graph doesn’t quite register with you at first, all you have to do is realize that it’s been shifted 45° to make the dotted line horizontal — just cock your head to the right.

I haven’t examined it comprehensively, but despite the aim of only using the second film in a series of more than two the author has mistakenly included The Muppets Take Manhattan instead of The Great Muppet Caper. My guess is that such errors are rare, however, since many of the sequels in existence are either labeled numerically (making a second effort pretty easy to determine) or the only sequels in their franchises.

An observation not included in the BoxOfficeQuant post itself is that, while sequels as
a general rule may not live up to the originals, a surprising number of sequels to highly acclaimed films are themselves well reviewed. There’s a real glut at the apex of that dotted line, in fact, with very little daylight between several high-scoring second installments and their predecessors. Toy Story 2, Pink Panther sequel A Shot in the Dark, and The Godfather Part II are all up there, and the familiar trend of initial sci-fi and superhero sequels often equaling if not bettering their predecessors in both critical and audience reception is on display, from The Empire Strikes Back to Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the more recent The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

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  1. Interesting. Not that it's necessarily telling us something we didn't already know (generally speaking, sequels aren't as good as the originals) it's still a fun way to represent that.

    It'd be terribly difficult, but it'd be fun to see this expanded to include all the sequels in a particular franchise.


  2. I haven't gone back to check out the site further, but there were some other potentially fascinating posts there. And if nobody's done so already, I might either leave a comment or ask the author of the Sequel Map directly (he E-mailed me after finding my post) about zeroing in on some franchises in their entirety or doing the same for some manageable, sensible cross-sections — superhero films or X-or-greater grossers with sequels or whatever.


  3. In case anyone stumbling across this piece is interested: My latest blogpost (at this writing) links to an infographic charting box-office gross and IMDB ratings across tetralogies/quadrilogies. The sampling is much smaller (and not charted in comparison across series the way Edward's Sequel Map is) but of course four-film franchises are a rarer beast, especially if you don't leap across gaps from original incarnation to reboots.