There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the next chapter of the Scream franchise. While the presence of Wes Craven will surely be sorely missed, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett have emerged from the release of 2019’s Ready Or Not as two of the industry’s most exciting genre filmmakers, and it’s indefinitely hard not to wonder what’s in store next for Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers, and David Arquette’s Dewey Riley. But do you know what’s particularly not exciting? The new title that’s been slapped on the project.
With production wrapping this week, it was officially announced by the studio that the sequel won’t be called Scream 5 (as was expected by the entire fanbase), but instead simply Scream, a.k.a. the same name as the 1996 film that launched the series. We’ve actually seen this same move made a couple of times previously in the last decade with legacy horror franchises, specifically with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s The Thing and David Gordon Green's Halloween, and it’s not hard to recognize the reasoning: it’s the bluntest way to capitalize on brand recognition. That being said, it’s a really terrible trend, and one that needs to end now before it actually starts to create a very stupid big picture problem.
To start with the most obvious issue with this approach to titling, it’s just straight-up boring. Hollywood is recognized as one of the epicenters of the creative world, and yet somehow the best ideas that can be conceived are just copy and pasting names of classic movies on to new ones. This is obviously a much bigger problem in the industry than just with legacy horror franchises, as at this point James Bond movies are the only sequels that seem to be allowed to forgo the direct use of their brand, but it’s particularly egregious in these cases.
The reason they are particularly bad is because they also have the side effect of totally misrepresenting what the movies actually are. Audiences are well trained at this point to recognize that a new film with the same title as an old film is either a remake or a reboot, but in none of the aforementioned cases is that accurate. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s The Thing isn’t another take on Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World, but instead a carefully orchestrated prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic. David Gordon Green’s Halloween isn’t a second attempt at a franchise re-do following Rob Zombie’s duology, but instead a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original. And Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream is very clearly maintaining the existing continuity given all of the returning characters.
It seems to be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It may seem like going the simplest route when it comes to the titles could be helpful to draw in uninitiated audiences, but it both has the massive potential to create confusion in the run-up because of the pre-programmed mass assumption, and leave them lost when they are in the theater watching the film.
Most importantly of all, though, is the fact that the confusion is ultimately not just limited to those casual movie-goers, and has a detrimental effect on fan discourse and engagement in the internet age. Remakes already create enough of a pain in the ass when you’re searching for a specific film online, such as when you’re looking for where it’s available streaming or for purchase, and adding sequels with cloned names only needlessly exacerbates the problem. It further creates issues on social media, message boards, and comments sections, as sequels need to be differentiated with mentions of director, release year, or some other signifier. It’s a dumb burden that can be entirely averted by just applying a little bit extra creative energy when titles are being brainstormed.
Recognizing the meta-ness of the franchise and how it provides a post-modern perspective on the horror genre, it’s entirely possible that when the new Scream arrives in 2022 it will feature some kind of in-movie nod or rib-poke calling out the simple title… but given the noted downsides it’s hard to imagine it will serve as total justification for the choice. At the end of the day, fans will probably continue to call it Scream 5 anyway (or, alternatively, 5cream), so what’s the point? We’ve only seen a few cases of this approach so far, but hopefully it’s a strategy that dies before it becomes too commonplace in the industry.