Several notable movie sequels have hit box offices in late 2013, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. College of Charleston Film Studies Professor John Bruns says the idea that sequels are never as good as the original is just not true.

Bruns says sequels are not often cited by film scholars or acclaimed by critics, but the good ones move beyond commercialism to be better than the original. Here is his reasoning:

1. The audience already knows the characters.

For a movie sequel to even be considered, the original must have characters the audience wants to see again. Ron Burgundy of Anchorman has developed a cult-like following in the nearly 10 years since the movie was released – his quotes and one-liners have left a permanent mark on pop culture.

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“Anchorman audiences can’t wait to be reunited with the characters they love,” Bruns says. “They’re hoping to see the Anchorman cast doing new gags in the same humor and saying the same type of inane lines, but not the exact same lines.”

2. It is similar, but different.

Bruns says making a good sequel is a real challenge. Audiences expect many of the same elements from the original, but they don’t want to feel like they are watching the same movie. That means writers need to repeat the plot in a new setting (like the Hangover 2), add a new situation (like Anchorman 2), or develop a new problem (like Catching Fire).

Godfather II really mastered the sequel,” Bruns says. “It has within it a prequel and a sequel, and the sequences play off one another in really interesting ways.”

[Related: Learn more about film studies at the College of Charleston.]

3. Even numbers in a series are more popular.

Some people say it’s the “Star Trek Movie Curse,” which is that odd number films in a series are worse than their even-numbered counterparts.

“The Christopher Nolan Batman series is a great example of this. The Dark Knight was far more popular and received more critical acclaim than any of the other films.”

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4. A new character is introduced.

Successful sequels need to strike a balance between familiarities and new, without being so new it is unrecognizable as a sequel. A common way to achieve this is to introduce a new character – with the hopes the audience will also fall in love with him/her.

“Mini Me in the Austin Powers series achieves this quite well,” Bruns says. “He is introduced in The Spy Who Shagged Me, which is often cited as the most popular film in the series. ”

John Bruns can be reached at