An occasional complaint from moviegoers is that the filmmakers are “just setting up for a sequel,” and this is not always untrue. Studios view large franchises that viewers will get invested in as lucrative endeavors. As a result, they are focusing their efforts more and more on these types of projects. However, there are still the smaller trilogies and sequels all film-goers have grown up with, such as the Bridget Jones franchise. Its latest entry, Bridget Jones’ Baby, (2016, Maguire) does not appear to be setting up for any expansion. It also did not make enough of a profit to encourage such an effort, gaining humble returns of “less than ten million dollars domestically on its opening weekend” (Koski, 2016). Still, the film is a useful expression of how a franchise can change over time by excluding or including familiar elements. It is also worthwhile to consider which movie universes make the best franchises, something the financially focused studios of Hollywood already do on a daily basis.
The world was first introduced to the bumbling but lovable British heroine Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’ Diary (Maguire, 2004), where she desperately tries to lose weight and not make a fool of herself while finding love. Despite a number of epic failures, it all turns out all right in the end, as it should in a romantic comedy. In Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, (Kidron, 2004) the mania is increased as she now attempts to maintain this love and once again fails at first due to her own insecurities but wins in the end. Bridget Jones’ Baby represents a tonal shift as she begins with a greater level of confidence after having grown up and believing she has figured life out...until she sleeps with two men in the span of a few weeks, gets pregnant, and does not know which one is the father. These three films together are an interesting representation of not only the development of her character but of the franchise in general in a time when the meaning of the word “franchise” is changing.
Trilogies and sequels have been a part of movie culture for decades. However, as the business of the studio has grown, so has the need to turn a profit, and the system has decided that having just one successful movie is not the way to do it. What is needed is a franchise with a large expanded universe that the audience will get so invested in that they will pay to engage in all its content (Suderman, 2016). Star Wars, The Fast and the Furious, and Marvel are just three examples. “Shawn Levy, director of the three-film Night at the Museum series, told The New Yorker that studios spend the vast majority of their efforts now on franchise development. 'Every single first meeting I have on a movie in the past two years,' he said, 'is not about the movie itself but about the franchise it would be starting' (Suderman, 2016). These continuous series of planned films are seen by Hollywood executives as money-making machines, which is why they are important.
Despite this, it would seem that Bridget Jones is not trying to make an expanded franchise with the release of Bridget Jones’ Baby. In fact, they had trouble even achieving the goal of tying the series up nicely and adapting all three of the books it is based on. "Trying to get a third film into production has been a nightmare," an anonymous source told The Sun, and the character of Bridget’s old cheating flame Daniel was killed off in the beginning of the film because the actor did not want to come back for a third installment (Truffaut-Wong, 2016). However, this movie trilogy, which is already an adaptation of three books, presents a clear picture of how franchises can adapt and grow over time by maintaining or changing certain elements.
In order to stay relevant, each new entry must decide what to change and keep from the previous installments. There are many elements of Bridget Jones’ Baby that fans will recognize as familiar staples of the series. Bridget is still a heroine who, despite her best efforts, embarrasses herself daily, whether it is due to her own choices, a cruel twist of fate (the presentation disaster) or both (getting pregnant). Despite having an independent spirit, her man is always there to save her or at least be by her side in the end of each of the three films. They each provide a vastly different but characteristically romantic comedy plotline. Also, each one has a fabulous soundtrack that undercuts the narrative well. The third film even begins with the same song played during a nearly identical situation as the first (Koski, 2016).
There is a significant shift in Bridget Jones’ Baby that could throw off some devoted fans of the previous two installments. This is a tonally different and more subdued film, presenting a more capable Bridget and criticizing the overreaching youngsters around her rather than society’s general obsession with body image and perfection (Koski, 2016). There are so many small peaks and valleys, moments where the viewer believes “this is where she will get her happy ending,” but then it comes crashing down again. Bridget also looks significantly different, appearing older and skinnier (except when she is pregnant, of course). Her improved attitude is matched with better health despite the fact that she was never “fat” by standards of BMI or national average (Ross, 2017). At heart she has been the same Bridget in each film. Still, some audiences might be turned off by any or all of these changes to her story and character.
Risky alterations like these are not the kinds of things studios normally do with franchises. They are hesitant to change anything, attempting to avoid investing so much into a project only to have it return the paltry profits that Bridget Jones’ Baby did. To them, change does not equal dollar signs.
Why would Bridget Jones possibly not work as an expanded franchise (other than the lack of source material to adapt)? Firstly, there are plenty of romantic comedies on the market with similar stories. Audiences would eventually get tired of seeing Bridget fall in and out of love over and over again and start to find her quirkiness annoying rather than endearing. Secondly, this is a character trilogy, and without its protagonist it has nothing to live for. Bridget is 43 in Bridget Jones’ Baby. How old would she be in the next installment, and does anyone really want to see her go through old age? It would not add much to the universe they have created, which already feels complete. As a review of the final film stated, “we’re meant to understand that this is Bridget’s reward for all the embarrassing things we’ve put her through. At forty-three and pregnant, she’s finally the lucky character she always hoped she would turn into” (Koski, 2016). This is the happily ever after that viewers have been waiting for, which is the place where a storybook romance ought to end.
Bridget Jones is a great character that audiences fell in love with years ago, and at least some devoted fans stuck with her through each entry of her trilogy. Despite not following the “rules” of franchise development by being willing to take risks and change the tone in the last film and suffering poor financial returns for it, the trilogy as a whole stayed true to what made its stories and its characters so endearing. Bridget has grown up, and so have her films, which are mature enough to ignore the need for a big-budget franchise.
- Bridget Jones' Baby. Dir. Sharon Maguire. 2016. YouTube. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.
- Bridget Jones's Diary. Dir. Sharon Maguire. Universal Studios, 2004. DVD.
- Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason. Dir. Beeban Kidran. 2004. Netflix.
- Koski, Genevieve. "Bridget Jones's Baby Chains Its Heroine to an Outmoded Vision of Female Success." Vox. Vox, 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.
- Ross, Amanda. "There's One Major Problem with 'Bridget Jones's Diary' That We All Need to Talk about." The Tab US. Babe, 11 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 Apr. 2017
- Suderman, Peter. "Hollywood Is Stuck in a Bubble of Expanded Movie Universes. It's Time for It to Pop." Vox. Vox, 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. Truffaut-Wong, Olivia. "'Bridget Jones's Baby' Is The Second Movie Trilogy With All Female Directors, But That's Just One Crack In The Glass Ceiling." Bustle. Bustle, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.