Over the last few years more and more book adaptations are being split into multiple films corresponding to a single book, to name a few:

  • The Hobbit (One book, three films)
  • Breaking Dawn
  • Mockingjay
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This seems to be a very recent trend. Why has this tradition suddenly begun and who/what determines when a film will be in two (or more) parts?

  • 9
    As much as I'd love to say these decisions are driven by artistic vision, it probably all boils down to the mighty $$$. Movie making is a business, the suits aren't looking to entertain you, they need to see a decent return for their investments. The Hobbit is a prime example of two potentially amazing films being turned into three bloated chores, not because Jackson thought it was the best way to do it, but because New Line wanted another mega-trilogy. (All highly opinionated BTW, which is why I didn't put this as an answer :))
    – Nobby
    Aug 1 '14 at 13:52
  • 1
    Probably a matter of taste, I don't think anything reasonable (apart from profit) or any hard rules govern that. And I guess it's also to a large degree viral, i.e. "it worked well with Harry Potter, so let's do this with our movie, too".
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Aug 1 '14 at 13:52
  • @Nobby unfortunately the cynic in me thinks you're right - I was hoping someone could come up with something other than "Two films make more money than one..." we'll see!
    – Liath
    Aug 1 '14 at 13:54
  • 2
    To quote Alfred Hitchcock, "The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder". If portraying the book adequately in actual action takes too long, you'll want to split it up so as not to violate that rule.
    – Compro01
    Aug 1 '14 at 14:07
  • I kept telling people this when the final Harry Potter book was split into two movies: Why have one movie that'll likely gross a billion dollars, when you can have two movies that'll likely gross a billion dollars? Content considerations aside, the primary driver is likely money.
    – MattD
    Aug 1 '14 at 15:43

It's a careful balance of script, story and finances. To some degree, you have to have a movie that's watchable. People's attention spans just aren't set at Gone With the Wind length anymore. Like that old Billy Joel song "The Entertainer" quips, "It was a beautiful song but it ran too long, if you're gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05".

If you're storyboarding a movie and it looks like it's going to push 3+ hours, you have to decide if you want to tax your audience that much. However, you also have to take into consideration your target audience. In instances like The Hobbit, Harry Potter and Hunger Games, all those franchises have huge followings. The fans are already invested in Hunger Games and the LOTR series, so you know you can make money on the last pieces of the puzzle by having multiple movies instead of a single one. People are going to come and see them, because they've seen the rest of the movies. So, as you approach the 3 hour barrier, it's safe to say you can double your money by cutting it into 2 movies. I'm sure the thought process was identical with Harry Potter.

Notice, however, that those multi-part movies are usually the last in the series. They could have easily split The Avengers into 2 movies with its 2.5 hour run time by padding each half a little, but what if the first one flopped? You have a second movie that no one will come see.

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