Whether it is a game, a movie, or a novel, various forms of entertainment tend to end on a whimper instead of a roar. Why is that?
It comes down to three things: plot development, production management, and when experimenting goes wrong. If you don’t have a clear direction of where the story is going before you try to end it, people are going to feel like you wasted their time. If you don’t keep the production on track to wrap up as many loose ends as possible in a a single installment, the audience is going to be let down. If your cool, novel twist on storytelling goes awry, it will leave the project on precarious grounds. Here are a few examples of these mistakes.
In the first Spiderman movie trilogy, the first two were really good. After the success of Spiderman 2, Sam Raimi and his team tried to make the final chapter massive and incorporate multiple villains and plot lines. Instead of giving it a proper sendoff, the production team turned it into a mishmash of stories and people that never really congealed into a coherent movie. Plus, it unfortunately gave the world... this. The same is true of what happened to the X-Men franchise in X-Men: The Last Stand. Trying to combine both the mutant “cure” and Dark Phoenix arc is like trying to combine War And Peace and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s way too much stuff that doesn’t necessarily go together. When storytellers only have one movie to wrap things up and instead cram as much new material as they think they can get away with, they fail to control the scope of the project, making a great series end in a confused, half-assed fashion.
Sometimes, the creators come back to a third production of their series for a quick money-grab. Before Francis Ford Coppola made The Godfather Part III, his production company, American Zoetrope, was in dire financial straits, and making another movie in a much beloved franchise offered him a chance to dig himself out of the red. When he got started with pre-production, he was not able to get actors like Robert Duvall to return to their old characters. He had to turn to his own daughter, Sofia, who was very much not a trained actor to take the part of Mary Corleone. Paramount, the company financing the film, wanted Coppola to write a script in six weeks instead of the six months he wanted so that the movie could be released for Christmas. In the end, all of these factors and others doomed the movie to annals of mediocrity, and tarnished a pristine series. When you are hurting for cash, you are willing to make sacrifices to get more, and that is what happened with The Godfather Part III.
Lastly, when creators try to be innovative and different, they instead can make grave mistakes. Fable 3 is an example of this problem. Having played the series, I can tell you all that it is indeed worst out of the bunch. The first half, though, was actually a good story of a weak character who eventually becomes incredibly powerful and saves the kingdom from the evil tyrant. The second half of it is where it all comes crashing down. Peter Molyneux, its creator and worst PR man ever, wanted to experiment and see what you would do after saving the day and taking control over the land. Would you make choices that benefit the people, but may leave them open to attack? Would you try to protect them from said attack, but at the cost of acting like a dictator? Or would you just be a terrible person and do whatever you wanted without any fear of repercussions? An interesting premise, but ultimately, the team did not have the time to bring it to fruition, which left the back half of the game a mere skeleton of what could have been. Experimentation is important for storytelling to evolve, but it is far risker than staying with tried and true practices. Unless you have what you need, like time and talent, there is a good chance you will walk the path that Molyneux has gone down.
There are instances where the third entry of a series is both a commercial and critical success, but it is highly likely that these bits of entertainment will have to overcome a multitude of issues to ensure they fare well. If they manage their time and production process effectively and don’t overboard with experimenting, then maybe, just maybe, they will come out on top.