A NEW generation of Hollywood movies is transforming the sequel from dross into films even more popular than the originals, industry experts have claimed.
Ocean's 12, released today, is the first of a surge of sequels about to hit the nation's cinema screens. It is followed by the latest in the Harry Potter, Batman, Star Wars and Get Shorty series.
Last year, The Incredibles was the only film in the top five at the box office which was not a sequel.
According to David Hancock, a senior analyst at Screen Digest who has studied the phenomenon, sequels are no longer designed to merely exploit the success of the first film in the series. Instead, movies such as Shrek, Spider-Man and Meet the Parents/Fockers are intended to gather new fans with each installment.
Mr Hancock said, "The situation is reversed. You can make more with a second film than a first film. By creating a core audience the second film is more of an event."
Sequels had traditionally been viewed as a cynical attempt to capitalise on the success of profitable films. The Friday the 13th series of horror movies featured 11 titles.
He said, "It was a fairly easy way to make money. You didn't need to do too much to sell the film.
"You might take a little bit less in money each time but you could say, 'This film will cost $25m but we'll take $50m because last time it took $75m.'"
Now Hollywood is aiming to make at least as much money from the sequel as the original release.
The most successful series in terms of average box office takings are the two Spider-Man movies; each has brought in an average of $376m. The Shrek films have each taken approximately $351m.
These sequels were all praised for the quality of writing which drove the lives of the central characters forward.
Mr Hancock warned that if this commitment to excellence slipped, the popularity of sequels would vanish.
He said, "We risk going back to what it was before. [If that happens] I think the audiences will rebel against them."
The major film studios are catering for niche audiences unlikely to enjoy the blockbuster sequels. Lower-budget films aimed at an educated and adult audience such as Lost In Translation and The Royal Tenenbaums have won critical acclaim and succeeded at the box office. Traditionally, these films would not have not have featured Hollywood stars, but both starred Bill Murray and were distributed by Universal and Walt Disney, respectively.
Mr Hancock said this combination of superior sequels and more daring films meant that it was a good time to be a cinema-goer.
He said, "You have to say, it's a pretty good vintage when cinema audiences are going up every year. You can't argue against that."
Karl Francis, one of Wales' most acclaimed film directors, agreed that the popularity of sequels would not necessarily be bad for cinema.
He said, "Ocean's 12 is a very good example of a follow-up that's better than the first film. It's much better than the original - a million times better."
He singled out Catherine Zeta-Jones's performance in Ocean's 12 for praise.
"[She] is playing it really well," he said.
"She's proving she can beat the lot of them to the draw because she works harder at the acting.
"Her character is a lot stronger than the others because she's playing the part and they are playing themselves."