Are two-part movies ripping audiences off?

That was the case in the 2010s when several young adult franchises, based on major book series, began splitting their final instalments into two. The move proved most successful for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part one made under $1bn and part two took over $1.3bn) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (part one made approximately $712mn and part two $848mn) with built-in fans and audiences relishing the expanded time with these characters.

But the adaptation of the final Hunger Games book, Mockingjay, saw a significant drop in ticket sales for part two. This was likely due to the unsatisfying story delivered in its part one predecessor and, according to director Francis Lawrence, the year wait for the conclusion: “What I realised in retrospect – and after hearing all the reactions, and feeling the kind of wrath of fans, critics and people at the split – is that I realised it was frustrating,” he told People magazine last year.

Not long afterwards, Lionsgate shelved Ascendant – the second in the planned two-part finale of the Divergent film series, based on Veronica Roth’s novels – because the first part, Allegiant, proved a commercial and critical failure. Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers described the film as “another one of those cynical Hollywood cash grabs that takes the third book in bestselling juvie-lit trilogy and stretches that last book into two movies so audiences are tricked into paying twice for egregiously padded piffle.”

The commercial imperative

For Jon Thompson, British film producer and post-production consultant, that particular wave of two-parters was indicative of a studio culture, “so desperate to create revenue that they churn out carbon copies of each other”. Nowadays, he suggests the two-parter push is symptomatic of a wider pressure for studios to compete with streaming services in a bid to entice audiences with their big-screen offerings. “Almost effectively, they’re making movies on a subscription model because they’re going, “Oh well, if there’s a part one you need to see part two,” he says.

Audiences, who subscribed to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its superheroes for 10 years, were rewarded with a two-part conclusion to its so-called First Phase, with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Originally titled Infinity War – Parts One and Part Two, they successfully use the cliffhanger of the Avengers losing the battle against Big Bad Thanos at the end of Infinity War, to entice fans back to see if they could ultimately win the war in Endgame. “It did exceptionally well and made everybody chomp at the bit to see the next one,” recalls Lucy V Hay, screenwriter and script editor. “Everybody was desperate to see Endgame.”

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