Modern blockbusters are increasingly ‘to be continued’. This trend needs to go straight in the bin, writes Chris Schulz.
Contains spoilers for Fast X and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.
I remember the first time I saw it. Marty McFly sprints down a street that’s on fire. Doc thinks he’s just sent him and his DeLorean to 1885 to help reverse the damage they’ve done to the time-space continuum. When Doc sees McFly, his grin quickly turns to despair. He doesn’t know it’s a different McFly. He believes his lightning bolt of a plan has failed.
“Great Scott,” declares Doc, collapsing into a heap on the tarmac. It was a big, bold, dramatic moment, ruined by three big, bold, dramatic words. Right there, in a shimmering font the colour of Fanta, a statement scrolled across the big screen that included an ellipsis and an arrow.
Aged 11, I hated it with every fibre of my being.
Back then, clutching my half-eaten box of Tangy Fruits, wearing my gold Bata Bullets and an Incredible Hulk T-shirt two sizes too small, I realised I’d been had. This story wasn’t over. This movie wasn’t done. They wanted guaranteed box office returns. They wanted an audience for the next one. They wanted you to buy another ticket.
So, at the end of Back to the Future II, they played the trailer for Back to the Future III to entice you to return. I remember thinking, “This sucks”. (Also, “Why is Back to the Future a Western now?”)
No one got to find out how the Back to the Future trilogy concluded until the following year, 1990. I don’t remember going. Instead, I watched it when it screened on TV, for free, many years later. It was my muted rebellion of one: if they didn’t want to put a proper ending on Back to the Future Part II, I would refuse to care about Part III.
I’ve been feeling a sense of déjà vu lately. As the film industry settles into this WTF post-Covid era, when many Academy Award-winning movies flop, previously bankable box office stars and directors no longer do a guaranteed turnover and multiple multiverse superhero spinoffs are sucking the life force out of big screen creativity, studios have started using those same three words in an attempt to pull audiences back into theatres, to guarantee returns on their investments, to give you more.
Blame the Marvel-isation of the movies. Blame the franchise-ation of cinema. Blame the struggling bank balances of the movie-going theatrical conveyor belt, from studios that desperately need blockbuster hits to theatres that need bums in seats snacking on buckets of overpriced popcorn. They want your attention. They need your money. And so, “To be continued,” has become the worst cinematic trend since they cancelled Snifters.
Fast X, the 10th instalment of the mega-popular seat-filler featuring meathead boy racers getting into gang fights and sweaty car chases all in the name of family, doesn’t end with a race, or a heist, or with magnets, or by driving between two skyscrapers, or swinging a car across a ravine, or by taking on a submarine, or with Ludacris driving into space. (All things that have happened in the Fast & Furious franchise.)
Instead, it ends on a cliffhanger, the series’ first. Vin Diesel’s Dom drives down the side of the Hoover dam. A plane full of his sidekicks crashes into a mountain. Bombs have been set to timers and begin exploding, meaning water is about to drown Dom and his recently rescued son. Cue the credits. Fade to black.
You’ll need to come again next time (April 4, 2025) to see what happens.
Same too with Across the Spider-Verse. The animated sequel to the surprise 2018 hit is a dazzling masterpiece full of dizzying set pieces, wonderful comic timing, beautiful voice acting, great gags, an incredible soundtrack and colours that fizz and spin like the pop art spectacle it is. My son and I loved it just as much as we loved the original.
Yet, near the end, we could both sense it coming. There were too many webs left hanging. Too many plot points were unsolved. Spider-Man, and all of his new Spidey sidekicks, were in too much of a pickle for it to be resolved after two hours and 20 minutes. My son turned to me, leaned over and said something that reminded me of the cold, hard lesson I learnt at his age: “It’s going to be ‘To be continued,’ isn’t it?'”
I have lived long enough to have seen many cinematic trends come and go: post-credit scenes, M Night Shyamalan, Star Wars getting shit, then good, then shit again. I once made it all the way through Michael Bay’s Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen on iMax. Even that giant shocker got one thing right: it had an ending. It told a story. It may have been a bad one, but at least it was complete.
If you’re relying on the “to be continued” trick to reel audiences back in, you’re just making television.