These days it seems like every other movie, book, or TV show is some kind of a sequel, in one of the most annoying side-effects of the rampant creative bankruptcy in entertainment circles. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most annoying sequel trends that have infested popular culture like so many mutant cockroaches:

Subtitles
Originally, sequels would either get a number (Death Wish 3), a Roman numeral (Rocky II), or a completely different title (Magnum Force, the sequel to Dirty Harry). It was an elegant system that relied on simple numerals or appealing characters to link films in the popular imagination. So, needless to say, it couldn’t last.

First sequels started tacking on subtitles (often after numerals) to give them a sense of gravitas (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Rambo: First Blood Part II). And sometimes not so much gravitas (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). Pretty soon we were reduced to sequels with just subtitles, with Star Trek VII: Generations becoming just Star Trek: Generations. Eventually even the colon was too much bother, as Star Trek Into Darkness demonstrates.

Prequels
Why spend time and money hiring back now-famous actors and actresses made expensive by a popular original when you can recast the roles younger and start anew? People were doing it long before George Lucas made “prequel” a four-letter word starting in 1999. Why, 1979 alone brought Zulu Dawn and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days. Now they’re legion, with prequels being the cheap answer to wringing a few dollars out of something like Carlito’s Way.

But since we already know how things are going to end, there’s never going to be a strong investment. More often than not it becomes a forced series of oblique references to the original that fails the single most important criterion for a prequel: that it be intelligible without the original film. I don’t think one has ever been made, just like good prequels are few and far between. Can anyone think of one offhand? I sure can’t.

Sequels with the same title as the original
The sixth Rocky is…Rocky Balboa. The fourth Rambo is…Rambo. The fourth The Fast and the Furious is…Fast and Furious. Even if the title isn’t exactly the same, it’s damn confusing, and it’s part of a trend that’s making it difficult to talk coherently about a franchise.

You see it a lot in video games too. There’s a Tomb Raider (1996) and a Tomb Raider (2013), a Medal of Honor (1999) and a Medal of Honor (2010). God help you trying to keep those straight. And why? A bankrupt attempt to revive a little of the original brand magic, tarnished by terrible encores, which more than often ends up joining them, like Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) isn’t fit to bear the monicker of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

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