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Chris Hicks: A sequel by any other name is still a stretch

Someone asked me recently — a young someone — if sequels are a fairly new phenomenon. Say, since the '80s, when all those horror sequels dominated the movie landscape — "Friday the 13th Part XXII: Jason Takes Norway in 3-D," "Halloween 37 1/2: Michael Myers Meets Dr. Evil."

OK, I made those titles up. But they could happen.

Anyway, I informed my young friend that, no, sequels have been a way of Hollywood life since the silent era — since before William Farnum starred in "Riders of the Purple Sage" and then did a sequel, "The Rainbow Trail." Both were based on Zane Grey novels and both were released the same year, 1918.

Hey, if books could have sequels back then, why not movies?

Then in 1925, Tom Mix starred in a remake of "Riders of the Purple Sage," and it did so well that he also remade the sequel, "The Rainbow Trail," the same year.

So sequels are obviously not a recent phenomenon.

Also raised was the question of whether there is a distinction between a movie series and a sequel . . . or even a couple of sequels.

How many sequels does it take before a continuing character in several movies qualifies as a series?

Should we call the "Star Wars" follow-ups "sequels" and "prequels," or merely a "series"?

Are "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" sequels, or are they merely continuing entries in a film franchise?

What about all the James Bond movies. Is each one made after "Dr. No" a sequel, or part of a series?

I say, a sequel by any other name would smell as familiar.

One could argue that in the 21st century, sequels have gotten out of hand. But in my opinion, they've been out of hand forever. There was a particular surge in the 1970s that has never slowed down. But if you count movie series, the biggest influx probably began in the 1930s.

After the advent of sound (1927), film series in the '30s established the use of the same actors as the same characters in a string of pictures — sometimes with more than one being shown in theaters in a single year.

Some of the more popular examples — which retain large fan bases today — include "Tarzan" (Johnny Weismuller), "Dr. Kildare" (Lew Ayres), "Andy Hardy" (Mickey Rooney), "Sherlock Holmes" (Basil Rathbone), "Charlie Chan" (Warner Oland, Sidney Toler), "Mr. Moto" (Peter Lorre), "The Thin Man" (William Powell), etc.

On the other hand, in 1931 "Skippy" (Jackie Cooper) begat "Sooky" . . . and that was that.

And 1937's "Topper" (Roland Young) had just two sequels, "Topper Takes a Trip" (1939) and "Topper Returns" (1941).

In the '40s, many of the same film series continued, adding "Maisie" (Ann Sothern), "Michael Shayne" (Lloyd Nolan) and others to the mix.

But "My Friend Flicka" (1943) had only one sequel, "Thunderhead, Son of Flicka" (1945).

"Sitting Pretty" (1948) boosted Clifton Webb's star, so he starred in two sequels, "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College" (1949) and "Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell" (1951).

And the World War II classic "Mrs. Miniver" (1942) had only a single post-war follow-up, "The Miniver Story" (1950).

During the 1950s, theatrical film series (and chapter serials) gave way to television series. But sequels continued, and they continue still.

Of course, film series are also still being made. Although the makers — and die-hard fans — of "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" might argue that each of those and their sequels are really just one big superlong movie.

These days, there are often a number of years between sequels — such as "James Bond" or "Dirty Harry" or "Indiana Jones." . . . And sometimes they come so many years later that it seems like an afterthought.

Or in the case of Bruce Willis and the upcoming "Die Hard 4," perhaps a desperate cry for help.