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Sequel Escalation

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"There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate — more blood, more gore. Carnage candy."
Randy Meeks, Scream 2
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Sometimes a sequel is just the same story as the last one (Capcom Sequel Stagnation), or downgraded by being Direct to Video (Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation), or a different story set in the same world (The Godfather Part II, the Star Trek films), or just the next part in an ongoing series (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings books and movies), or even a Dolled-Up Installment (Super Mario Bros. 2).

This trope, on the other hand, is when a sequel is made to be "bigger and better" than the last film, by taking one or more elements from the first film and expanding upon it. The film makers feel a need to "top themselves" in a sort of way.

Take an action sequel, which has more explosions and fist/gun/martial arts fights than the previous film. Or a slasher sequel, which has more deaths, in more gory (and less realistic) ways. Sometimes what get expanded is the plot: What started as a simple and straightforward plot in the first part may become significantly expanded, deeper and more intricate in sequels.

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How often this works depends on if the expanded element is the one the audience liked. Choose the wrong element(s), and it will be at the expense of the right element(s), and the audience will not be pleased. Wrong elements can often be the toilet humor, sexual situations, flanderization or meaningless action sequences.

However, choose the right element(s), and the sequel may even be considered superior to the first film. Usually these elements involve the human element, expanding on the characters we care about, telling a dramatic (or hilarious) story, and making the action sequences revolve around that.

Usually, the result is somewhere in the middle, often debated upon by the fans.

To avoid just rehashing examples from Sequelitis, examples here should discuss the expanded element(s) of the sequels.

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A Sub-Trope of Sequel. A Sister Trope to Serial Escalation.

Compare Actionized Sequel, Sequel Difficulty Spike, Prolonged Video Game Sequel, Send in the Clones, Up to Eleven, Sorting Algorithm of Evil, Power Creep. Big Damn Movie is this trope applied to a film adaptation of a serial. Darker and Edgier often, but not always, accompanies the upping of the stakes in sequels.

Contrast Lensman Arms Race, Plot Leveling (both of which can be seen as symptoms of this trope's presence) and Sequel Difficulty Drop (difficulty getting lowered, although that doesn't preclude this trope in other ways).


Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • Lamput does something like this - the expanded element is the length, in this case. Season 1 has 15-second microshorts, season 2 introduces 2-minute episodes, and season 3 introduces 5-minute episodes.

    Comic Books 
  • Borderline example: in the first generation of X-Men, the strongest person on the team was Beast, who was just, like, "two-normal-guys" strong. In the second generation, the strongest person is Colossus, the man of steel. Then we got Rogue, who for a long time was just as strong as Colossus, and could fly. Dunno where we're at now, but considering the current lineup includes Namor (who's stronger than the Incredible Hulk so long as he's underwater), Hope (who has All Your Powers Combined) and Magneto (who once almost destroyed civilization), safe to say that escalation has been maintained.
  • Ultimate Marvel started as a grounded reimagination of the characters and events of Marvel Comics. Ultimatum, the first Crisis Crossover, had a Kill 'Em All plot, and after it, Hickman's The Ultimates and Spencer's Ultimate X-Men took the action to unprecedented levels.

    Fan Fic 
  • Peter Chimaera's Troll Fic, Digimon savez teh wrold has a sequel called Digimon 2: Return of Digimon. In the first story digimon has to stop the evil scientist from destroying the road, in the sequel he's up against an evil digimon who wants to destroy all the roads so no one can go on them. Also features FIGHTING IN SPACE!
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Windfall is a short, fluffy fic showing the Mane Cast—all of whom have gone their separate ways and are now Older and Wiser—reuniting to witness the birth of Fluttershy's first foal. The sequel, Earth and Sky, has a much more detailed Story Arc, with multiple interconnected subplots, dealing with somewhat more serious themes and actual antagonists, and even ends up being four times as long as Windfall.
    • Pony fanfic Post Nuptials and its sequel Families are much like the above Pony fics in terms of how they escalate, except the first story is about the main cast dealing with immediate emotional fallout caused by Queen Chrysalis' invasion—namely by trying to reconcile with Twilight after they ignored her warnings—and the sequel deals with more serious ramifications of the invasion and everyone's actions prior to it, including psychological trauma and a conspiracy to mire Princess Celestia's public image.
    • Not to mention how many of the longest MLP fanfics are the sequel to something much shorter. note  From the first two pages of Fimfiction's "longest" list:
  • XCOM: The Hades Contingency is a relatively straightforward 290k-word adaptation of XCOM: Enemy Unknown following the titular organization's perspective throughout the alien invasion. Its sequel, XCOM: The Atlas Protocol, jacks up the word count to just over twice that number, adds perspectives from EXALT, the UN and even an alien defector, and sees XCOM face their first Ethereal opponent and win, losing several of their personnel in the process, followed by XCOM and EXALT joining forces to rally the world in a full-blown war against the alien Collective. XCOM: The Advent Directive, the third story in the series, outdoes the previous two stories combined, with a staggering 1.78 ''million'' words and counting, POVs from human and alien alike, the intervention of super-powerful psionic aliens, one psionic alien cult led by an Eldritch Abomination, and an interdimensional task force.

    Films — Animated 
  • The more Toy Story movies get released, the more they become depressing and serious. However, it gets a lot more positive reception than many Disney sequels or the other Pixar sequels.
  • Cars 2. The original is about an egotistical race car getting lost in a small town and learning humility, while the sequel is about his tow truck friend Mater being mistaken for a spy and having to stop a large crime ring's evil plan. And one car DIES (off-screen, mind you, but still). And there's lots of explosions and gun fighting. This movie is rated G, right?
  • While the original Kung Fu Panda centers on a small mountain valley, and the villain has mostly personal motivation and acts alone, Kung Fu Panda 2 involves a big city and a villain who wants to Take Over the World and has an army of wolves, gunpowder cannons, and a freakin' river fleet at his disposal. Kung Fu Panda 3 escalates the stakes by introducing a villain with supernatural powers and an army of ghosts of former kung fu masters at his service.
  • The more My Little Pony: Equestria Girls movies get released, the bigger and more magical they become.

    Literature 
  • Matthew Reilly has this trope as a self-stated aim. In each book, he tries to include more action, More Dakka, bigger threats... and tries to make it go faster. After Scarecrow, he did a change of genre to escape from this, and immediately started all over again with his new trilogy.
  • With a few exceptions, the Honor Harrington series sees Honor move up to command a larger navy in a larger plot for larger stakes up to Book 12 at least. She maxes out in book thirteen, where she commands an allied fleet consisting of Manticoran, Grayson, and Havenite fleets of ships-of-the-wall. The climax of the first book is a duel between a ship that can launch 2 missiles at the time and one that can launch 6. Book 12 features a Curb-Stomp Battle with an opening salvo of 50.000 missiles. From the losing side.
  • The Lord of the Rings is this to The Hobbit, albeit not a deliberate example; it "grew in the telling". The Silmarillion is an even-more-escalated prequel with a scope that includes the creation of the universe, battles between angels with powers we would associate with gods, the rise and fall of multiple civilizations and the sinking of a couple major continents.
  • Inverted in L. Sprague de Camp's "Johnny Black" stories. In the first story the titular uplifted black bear saves the world, in the final one he saves his creator from getting fired. In an afterword de Camp apologized to the readers for that, saying he had forgotten while writing them that the next story wouldn't seem as good if it didn't top the previous one.
  • The violence and level of dystopia seems only to increase with each Hunger Games installment.
  • Zig-zagged in the Harry Potter series. The second book downgrades the stakes (it's the fate of the school rather than the entire world), but upgrades the set pieces (encountering one creepy guy in the Forbidden Forest vs. encountering a colony of Giant Spiders in the Forbidden Forest, for example). The third book has the lowest stakes of any book in the series, as the danger is essentially only a threat to one specific individual (Harry) and even that turns out to be an illusion. Then there is a true threat towards only two wrongfully accused: Sirius Black and Buckbeak. After Voldemort returns to power, the stakes remain constant (the entire world, again), but with Voldemort's power constantly increasing. The last book itself is the biggest and most epic in the series.
  • The Dresden Files: The scale of just how powerful the people involved in the plot are increases over time. In the first book, Harry can channel lightning. Third book, he empowers an army of ghosts to fight for him. Seventh book, he raises a Tyrannosaurus rex from the dead, and in Changes, he genocides the Red Court of Vampires.
  • Ian Fleming's James Bond novels escalated very quickly in the beginning. The first novel, Casino Royale, essentially boils down to Bond playing a high-stakes game of cards with a communist agent followed by a car chase. By the time the third book, Moonraker, came about, Bond was battling Neo-Nazis planning on destroying London with a nuclear missile. Later Bond stories would weave back and forth between fairly mundane crimes like diamond smuggling and more extravagant situations like nuclear warheads being stolen.
  • The Heroes of Olympus seriously ups the stakes from its predecessor series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Instead of fighting the Titans to stop Olympus from crumbling, the second series involves fighting Gaea, the progenitor of the Titans aka the Earth itself.
  • Inverted by Sword Art Online. The series starts with ten thousand people trapped in an online death game. Then the sequel lowers the stakes to just a few hundred survivors of the first incident now stuck in a coma and being used as test subjects by a Corrupt Corporate Executive. The third arc lowers the stakes even further, focusing on a murder mystery with a relatively small body count. The fourth arc is simply a quest to obtain an in-game sword in a perfectly safe MMORPG.
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, the Actionized Sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, has a first half set in outer space as Willy Wonka and the Bucket family wind up in orbit in said elevator and manage to rescue most of the crew of a space hotel from carnivorous aliens. After a Halfway Plot Switch, the heroes are back in the factory, but the three still-bedridden grandparents have a misadventure with Fountain of Youth pills that requires an Orphean Rescue of Grandma Georgina. In both halves, the stakes are life-and-death and taken a bit more seriously than in the first book. As well, Willy Wonka is the protagonist this time rather than Audience Surrogate Charlie, and his eccentric hijinks are given a lot of page time (e.g. a stretch in which he basically trolls Earth by claiming he and his companions are aliens), and besides three new Oompa-Loompa songs, there are also several songs/poems for Willy Wonka and even one for the President of the United States's nanny/vice president!
  • A Song of Ice and Fire just started on the whoddunit (Jon Arryn's death and Bran Stark's crippling) which led to the discovery of Cersei and Jaime's Twincest and that their three children are illegitimate heirs to the Iron Throne and that escalated to Ned Stark's death and the War of the Five Kings. The third book increased the death count with the Red Wedding and revelation on how the war actually started. The fourth and fifth book (actually it's supposed to be one book) seemed to downgrade the stakes only that there are new players in the game of thrones, squandering on the aftermath of the war. While majority of the characters are busy with their shennanigans in the south, the army of the undead led by the Others are marching from the North.
  • The first Madeline book is a realistic portrait of the little girls' everyday lives and of Madeline going to the hospital with appendicitis. The second and third books are more action-driven, but keep the everyday Paris setting and realistic tone. Then come the adventure-driven fourth and fifth books, which involve traveling with a gypsy circus and taking a trip to London. The Christmas book (the last by original author Ludwig Bemelmans) goes back to the boarding school setting, but introduces fantasy with a magician character. Most of the recent books, written by Bemelmans's grandson, have also kept the adventurous/fantastical tone of books #4, #5 and #6.
  • Daniel Arenson seems to be particularly fond of this. Each trilogy in the Dragons of Requiem series starts out with a fairly tame Big Bad, but things get darker and more gruesome with each book. Take the Song of Dragons trilogy, the first written but chronological second trilogy. The villain of the first book is a human with an army of humans and gryphons behind him. For the second a legion of non-corporeal soul-eating shadow creatures is unleashed. The third caps things off with an army of manufactured undead creatures which make Frankestein's Monster look like a children's doll; cutting off a limb results in a disembodied limb attacking you alongside every other body part you've severed, and they include dragon sized amalgamations of human body parts. Only fire effectively kills them, too bad the heroes can't transform into dragons in their presence, because the stone which animates them nullifies all magic in a several hundred foot radius.
  • Nursery Crime: The second book raises the stakes considerably, adding an escaped serial killer and a government conspiracy, whereas the first merely involves a few murders.
  • Darkness Falls: The main Darkness Falls trilogy has this. The first novel has the Family fighting for only their lives against the Elders and Luna. The second book raises the stakes to the entire planet. The third and final book escalates this to a battle for every realm and creature in existence.
  • Given that Life, the Universe and Everything was originally supposed to be a Doctor Who episode, the Pinball Protagonists of the previous two The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels are now on a quest to save the universe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Each subsequent season of The Wire explored a new element of Baltimore (in addition to the cops vs. drug dealers element introduced in the first season) while adding many, many new characters each year, many of whom stayed on the show till its end.
  • The second season of The Mandalorian widens its ties to the Star Wars universe by featuring the likes of Cobb Vanth, Boba Fett, Bo-Katan Kryze, Ahsoka Tano, Dark Troopers and even Luke Skywalker. It also reveals the backstory and name of Baby Yoda: Grogu, a survivor of Order 66 and features the Jedi homeworld of Tython as one of its new locations.
  • The locales for the first three seasons of Survivor became progressively harder for the contestants to live in. During "Borneo", the contestants were merely very uncomfortable. During "Australian Outback", Elisabeth almost died of starvation, Barramundi's camp was completely flooded out, and early on there were wild fires near Ogakor's campsite. During "Africa", which had the most oppressive heat of any season by far, several contestants contracted various illnesses which took them months or even years to recover from, plus the extreme scarcity of water and the very likely chance that one of the players could have been eaten by one of the wild animals roaming around. Season 4, which was supposed to take place in Jordan (apparently it was supposed to be called Survivor: "Arabia") would have continued this escalation, but the events of September 11th stopped this dead in its tracks.
  • The first season of 24 was primarily based around Jack trying to prevent an single assassination attempt. The second season was around trying to prevent a nuclear weapon from destroying Los Angeles. The third was around trying to stop a biological weapon that could cripple the United States (and possibly the world). After that, you can always just assume the stakes are really really high.
  • Person of Interest starts off as a relatively low stakes Police Procedural, with a vigilante hero gaining information from a mysterious source. It is eventually realized that the source of the intelligence the characters are receiving is The Machine. A second AI, Samaritan is eventually developed, with the stakes rising further each season that it exists. The season 4 finale ends with The Machine going offline.
  • Adam-12's first season's title sequence had the police car simply cruising along as it receives its calls from the dispatcher. In subsequent seasons, the cops are alerted to a crime in progress and told to handle it "Code-3" (With lights and sirens engaged). A later season ups the action still more as an Emergency Squad Scramble with the cops rushing to their cruiser to rush the action in Code-3.
  • Many reality and talent TV shows began as series of simple and sensible elimination episodes, with the last remaining ones battling for the title in the "final" episode. A dozen years later, a typical season includes something like twenty semifinals, five finals, and one "superfinal" episode. Patiently waiting until several superfinalists will have to face each other in a "hyperfinal" episode or something.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Podcasts 

    Pinball 

    Web Animation 
  • The Litigation Jackson movie franchise in the Homestar Runner universe. The poster for the first movie shows the main character diving out of an exploding building with a box that says "legal documents." The sequel's poster shows a similar poster only now the box says "important legal documents." Clearly the stakes have been raised.
  • Animator vs. Animation is basically this trope.
    • The story of the original video isn't any more complicated than the title -an animator fights with something he drew that came to life; a stick figure named Victim. The battle stays contained to the drawing program, and Animator wins by closing the program without saving.
    • In the second video, Animator names the stick figure The Chosen One, who has a much easier time wrecking the drawing program and screwing with Animator due to his fire powers and laser eyes. The Chosen One actually escapes to the main computer, where he causes legitimate damage. Animator wins by activating the antivirus software, and ends up using Chosen One's fire powers as a popup blocker.
    • The third and final part of the original trilogy starts with The Chosen One escaping and causing damage to the computer again. In an attempt to beat The Chosen One, Animator draws a second stick figure named The Dark Lord who is supposed to defeat The Chosen One. Instead, they team up, and no one wins because the computer is completely destroyed, complete with the Blue Screen of Death.
    • And then there is a fourth video that takes place three years later in-universe, and it is more complicated than the last few. It introduces four characters aside from the drawn stick figure (who names himself The Second Coming). Second Coming manages to temporarily destroy Animator's mouse pointer, and at one point, he enters Animator's phone, before returning to the computer again. The video ends with Animator winning by successfully trapping Second Coming in a box. Then he points out that Second Coming is a good artist, and offers to let him free if he helps him animate and doesn't wreck the computer. Second Coming accepts, ending the stick figure reign of terror once and for all.

    Web Original 
  • The first anniversary of That Guy with the Glasses was a gigantic crossover brawl involving The Nostalgia Critic, The Angry Video Game Nerd, Linkara, Angry Joe, Spoony, The Nostalgia Chick, and many, many other popular internet personalities. So how did they top it for the second anniversary? Why, they got even more people together and invaded the micronation of Molossia, of course, in a six-party mini-series spanning about 90 minutes. Then, for the third anniversary, they make a 2 hour and 10 minute fantasy film called Suburban Knights, with roughly the same amount of people, but with more plot. And the Forth (To Boldly Flee) is even longer and with even more plot, more character development and more references.
  • In the first Llamas with Hats, Carl killed a man. In the second, he sinks a cruise ship. In the third, he topples a South American government (after pushing the resistance leader into a giant fan... for trying to stop him from pushing other people into a giant fan). In the fourth, he tracks mud on the carpet. And nukes an entire city.
  • The Cartoon Man is a live action comedy with some animated effects near the end. The sequel has a more complex plot, animated effects throughout, and an over-the-top cartoon chase scene as its climax. The third is a straight-up epic that mostly takes place in an animated world, and concludes with the biggest cartoon battle yet.
  • A series of YouTube videos that takes YouTube comments that criticize Dark Side Phil, particularly his run on the Metal Gear Solid franchise, the first one is only a mere 57 minutes long. The second one, centered around Metal Gear Solid 3, was around 2 hours, and the third one is around 20 minutes longer, and demonstrates what the poster feels are Phil's most prominent flaws.
  • PONIES The Anthology. The first one was conceived as an epic compilation of AMV Hell-esque sketches, to the point of releasing its own intro scene ahead of time as a teaser. It's 24 minutes long. The second is almost an hour longer, including an extended parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the end. And this was coming on the heels of the show's own hard-to-top second season finale.
  • At first, Dream's Minecraft Manhunt finale video and the rematch was going to be the end of the "3 Hunters" series of Manhunt videos (it's later clarified that Manhunt as a whole would have continued but in a different manner). But then, one week after the Unsolved Mystery of Herobrine video released, the grand finale released because the last Minecraft Manhunt video got over a million likes. In a day.

    Western Animation 
  • Total Drama is an example of season escalation. The first season was a parody of reality shows, and the cast did standard Survivor-style challenges on an island. The second season, Total Drama Action, put them on a larger abandoned film set where the challenges were based on movie genres. The third season, Total Drama World Tour, was about (you guessed it) the contestants going around the world, and every episode had a no-excuse rule that contestants had to break out into song spontaneously, since Chris wanted to piggyback on the success of Glee. The fourth season, Total Drama Revenge of the Island, had a new cast on the same island as before, but this time everything was radioactive and there were mutant animals all over the place. The fifth season, All-Stars, saw the island cleaned up, only for it to be destroyed in the finale. The sixth season, Pahkitew Island, featured a completely new island that was artificial and full of robot animals. Chris McLean, the host of the show, also gets gradually more sadistic as the series goes on. Case in point: Season 1's eliminated contestants left the island by boat. Season 6's left by being launched out of a cannon.
  • In Blinky Bill, the series got grander and more plot focused. The first series was mostly self contained episodes which could be watched in any order save the last few. Series 2 had more a storyline with the gang lost but again you could watch most episodes in any order. Series 3 meanwhile was even bigger. Blinky traveled around the world in what was easily the most arc based (characters regularly left the group once home so one could easily miss such episodes) and there were actual villains for the first time since the original movie.
  • Family Guy's Running Gag, known as the Chicken Fight, has Peter Griffin fighting a giant chicken named Ernie. With each fight, the carnage, length, brutality and ridiculousness increase.
    • The opponents can count as this as well. For the first five fights, it's Peter against Ernie, then Homer Simpson, and then Donald Trump!

    Real Life 
  • World War II: Although calling it a sequel might be a bit disrespectful, World War II followed as a consequence of World War I, which itself had the Franco-Prussian war as a background precursor due to France's involvment in both conflicts, and was fought on a scale that will hopefully never be seen again. Most of the world had a connection to a conflict during the time period, be it by way of occupation, direct involvement in the primary conflict, resuming old rivalries, or simply having colonial garrisons reinforced to protect against other colonial powers' opportunism. World War I, by comparison, was mostly fought in Europe.
  • Evel Knievel, famed daredevil of The '70s, built his career on this trope; each successful Ramp Jump he performed would inevitably be followed by another, bigger one.


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