Naming Movie Sequels: Why It's Not 'James Bond 21'
Daniel Craig (left) and Sébastien Foucan (right) star in James Bond movie, Casino Royale.
Credit: Jay Maidment

Would you go see "James Bond 21?" Well, it doesn't exist, and for good reason. Researchers have concluded you prefer sequels with new names rather than just numbers.

So instead this week, "Casino Royale" opened.

“Hollywood has begun branding movies in a similar way that consumer packaged goods manufacturers brand their products,” scientists write in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. As with consumer products, studios try to capitalize on the success of an original movie by making another film that recasts the same characters in a new situation.

But there's a twist to the plot.

Typically, products that branch off and are named after a parent brand can garner more appeal for consumers who already trust the brand name. For instance, customers might trust the cavity-fighting power of Crest toothpaste and thus would be more apt to try out a new Crest mouthwash.

But for movies, which provide experiences rather than a product, the scientists found the opposite. "With intangible experiential goods, similarity is not valued because people tend to satiate on experiences," explain the authors. "In other words, consumers prefer sequels that are markedly different from the original movie because they do not want to see the same movie twice."

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The scientists, Sanjay Sood of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Xavier Drèze of the University of Pennsylvania, split a group of 238 university students into different test conditions and had them each fill out a questionnaire about movies they thought would be released in the future.

Depending on which group a student was in, he or she read the title of a sequel that was in either a numeric form or named one such as "Daredevil 2" versus "Daredevil: Taking it to the Streets." The title was followed by a plot summary, and for some subjects an additional paragraph described the plot as including a genre different from the original movie. For example, if the first film was an action movie, its sequel might be described as more of a slow-paced drama.

The envelope, please…

For the numbered sequels, participants gave much lower ratings for sequels described within the same genre of the original movie. And for named sequels, there was no significant difference between similar and dissimilar plots.

The researchers also evaluated movie sequels between 1957 and 2005 from the internet movie database (IMDB), which included nearly 9,000 viewer ratings for each sequel. Named sequels received higher consumer ratings and had a longer box-office life than numbered sequels, and named sequels with a different genre from the parent movie received scores that were almost as high as the original.

The finding suggests studios could improve the ratings of movie sequels by either a change in content, such as focusing on a different genre, or by a superficial change in the title.