Five Is The New Three?
With the announcement that J. K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them" franchise will take place in the span of five films, following James Cameron's recent-ish statement that his 2009 blockbuster "Avatar" will also have four sequels, a curious thought came to my mind: is five the new three?
It is known that Hollywood has always been crazy about trilogies. "Star Wars," "The Godfather," "The Dark Knight," "Lord of the Rings"... You name it! It wasn't until the decision to split the last "Harry Potter" book into two movies that certain franchises, which were previously meant to be trilogies, ended up becoming four movies – such as "Hunger Games."
But now a subtle new trend appears to be taking place before our very own eyes. Probably in an attempt to imitate (in a small manner) what has been accomplished in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, big new cinematic franchises are being planned as five-part enterprises.
Sure, there's the argument that this isn't anything particularly new. The "Twilight" vampire saga was told in four books, but five films. Producers tried to accomplish the same with the four "Divergent" books, but that didn't go as well as the third movie completely bombed in the box office and the franchise was moved to television.
There's also the case some will make that any hit film will eventually produce enough sequels to reach or surpass five films. There are five "Alien" films if you count "Prometheus," five "Mission: Impossible," five "Indiana Jones," and five "Bourne" installments, for example. The thing is... None of those were planned five-part enterprises.
It is indeed something new that franchises that didn't come from direct book adaptations, with plots and structures, such as "Avatar" and "Fantastic Beasts," are choosing to be laid out in such a way instead of coming out as standard trilogies. "Transformers" is another example of a movie series that spun five films under the direction of Michael Bay, and the effort there is to create an entire universe based on the cars-turned-robots.
An Episodic Feel
I mentioned the Marvel Cinematic Universe because even though five films aren't the same as fourteen-and-counting, five is still a large enough number to break the standard molds of a trilogy franchise.
See, in a trilogy, structure is clear: movie #1 is the origin story, movie #2 is 'all is lost for the hero,' and movie #3 is the big final showdown. The toughest problem with four-part franchises such as "Hunger Games" is precisely that it feels like movie #3 no longer presents a conclusion to the story, and therefore it can feel like it is a mere interlude to movie #4, where the actual final showdown will happen.
In a five-part movie franchise, the trilogy molds have to be completely thrown out the window if the writers want to keep the story interesting and compelling enough. The franchise has to become a little more episodic and a little less about the ups and downs of a hero's single journey. See, if anything else, that was the clearest problem with the "Twilight" movies, even if you were a hardcore fan. The very simple and streamlined love story between Bella and Edward just didn't have enough ups and downs for five movies. Five is too big of a number for movies to go through the very same journey.
There are already many hints that "Fantastic Beasts" will indeed take a more episodic approach. Though the first film was based on Newt, many believe that the epic final battle in the last movie of the franchise will center on Dumbledore defeating Grindelwald. Like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the series of movies becomes about a number of people who are involved, about several different stories that took place in a few moments in time, and less about the traditional singular hero who goes through a very long (yet singular) journey.
Though there aren't many details outlined for the next four "Avatar" films, it is clear that the first movie coherently finished the story it began. Movie #2 already doesn't feel like a necessary continuation of the story that came before it. An episodic approach is definitely bound to happen in this franchise as well.
A New Trend, Maybe
If "Avatar" and "Fantastic Beasts" succeed in their five-part efforts, I definitely see how this can become a new trend. The golden era of TV is happening because great storytelling is even greater when you give characters the time to mature, learn, fail, and change. One movie is beginning to feel like it isn't enough time for an audience to be invested in a character's significant change, and maybe three will start to feel like too little as well.