Are movie sequels really more popular?

A friend of mine commented about how Hollywood only produces sequels nowadays, we’ve all had the thought but impressions can be wrong so let’s get some real data behind this.

I’m going to look at the top 100 domestic grossing movies from 1980 to 2014, not including the year of this post 2015. This should cover a large spectrum of movie going in the past 35 years.

As you can see from this first chart that there is a general progressing toward more sequels with a peak in 2013 where 23% of the top 100 movies that year were sequels. This rise of sequels seems to start around 2002 and except for the outlier in 2005 continues at higher levels than ever before.

But the most interesting point that I think is that during the 90s there was some golden age of original movies. Where you have in 1999 only 6% of the top 100 grossing movies being sequels. Compare this to the 80s which apparently had quite a few sequels, though still nowhere near the level in the past decade.

But as you can see there’s a lot of variance between each year in terms of sequels so let’s smooth out things and see things in decades.

Top 100 by Decade

This shows the rise of sequels much clearer than the previous curve with a small dip in the 90s.

Top 10 Movies

But this is the top 100 movies, maybe the top 10 movies tell a different story!

The number of sequels in the top 10 is about constant between 1980 – 2001 where at most 4 movies are sequels. But after 2002 except for a briefly outlier in 2005, there are almost exclusively at least 4 sequels in the top 10 movies ever since 2002.

Why were there more sequels overall in the 80s though? When I was looking over the data myself during the 1980s there were quite a few decently grossing sequels such as Death Wish 3, Porky sequels, and a TON of Halloween and slasher films that constantly made the top 100 lists but never breach the top 10. Those franchises are what kept the # of sequels large in the 80s.

By Money

So one last thing I wanted to look at though was maybe the box office grosses will tell a different story, so here’s a chart by decade of the percentage of box office gross sequels took in.

As you can see the effect of sequels is even more exaggerated here. The percentage of gross for sequels in the past 5 years is actually over 30% which is higher than ever before. The 90s has almost a 1/3 of that with 12% and the 80s had 16%.

What happened in 2002?

So what exactly happened in 2002? It seem to be the turning point of everything. If you see the top movies that year you’ll see some key indicators.

  1. Spider-Man
  2. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
  3. Star Wars Episode II
  4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  6. Signs
  7. Austin Powers in Goldmember
  8. Ice Age
  9. Men in Black II

First you have some major franchises coming into sequels finally. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter come into play. But the biggest movie that year was Spider-man.

My guess is that Spider-man and X-Men in 2001 probably have been responsible for a large number of the sequels and box office splash in the past few years as X-Men and Spider-man reign until Marvel Studios starts playing catch up in 2008.

Along with the success of multi-movie fantasy genre movies from Harry Potter which has led to the Hunger Games series, Twilight, and etc this is probably the root cause of the rise of sequels but honestly I haven’t had the time to analyze the genres or what type of sequels movies have been. But this is my educated guess.


So sequels are here to stay. They’re increasing in both their count in the top 100, in the top 10, and percentage gross. There’s no reason why Hollywood won’t continue this trend toward sequels. Not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing but we’ll see what holds.

Future Questions

Another question that I’m going to attempt in a follow up blog post is wether sequels are actually more profitable than their originals.


All data was gathered using Box Office Mojo to get top 100 domestic gross movies per year. I made the definition of a sequel in this case fairly strict. A sequel is a continuation of a movie franchise that is part of the same universe that does not include reboots. So Spider-Man 2 (2004) would be a sequel of Spider-Man (2002), but The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) would not a sequel as it was a reboot of the Spider-man franchise. If you include ANY type of sequel as a franchise all these numbers would probably be higher.