If the movie is a hit -- make it again, Sam
Remember the 11th Andy Hardy movie, the umpteenth adventure of Francis the Talking Mule, and ''Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein''? Do you long for the days when a hit movie spawned sequels as fast as Charlie Chan solved mysteries?
If so, rejoice. Hollywood has rediscovered the series idea. Variety, the entertainment newspaper, sums it up in a headline: Big Buck Films Now Come in Bunches.
Recent examples include ''Rocky III'' and ''Friday the 13th, Part 3,'' which fit the Variety definition of ''series'' by ''repeating a set of characters over three or more films in succession.'' Unlike most sequels, which typically are 40 percent less profitable than their predecessors, these hits have equaled or exceeded the box-office take of the original ''Rocky'' and ''Friday'' dramas.
But the series boom won't really strike until next summer, when six major items will face off: two new James Bond adventures, a ''Pink Panther'' reprise, and continuations of the ''Jaws,'' ''Superman,'' and ''Star Wars'' sagas. Adding a new wrinkle to the phenomenon, these are all big-budget films - a far cry from the inexpensive quickies that swelled the ranks of Blondie and Sherlock Holmes pictures back when series were commonplace. Five of the new entries are budgeted at more than $15 million each, with two topping $30 million.
Also due in future months are new sequels to ''Star Trek'' and ''Halloween,'' as well as still more chapters of ''Rocky'' and ''Friday the 13th.'' If profits don't lag, the staggeringly successful ''Star Wars'' series will continue as planned - to a total of nine films - and Indiana Jones will lead his ''Raiders of the Lost Ark'' through four more adventures.
What's behind the emphasis on multiple sequels? A major factor is the need for an ''easily definable, steady source'' of salable films, writes industry analyst Lawrence Cohn. Now that the ''star system'' has faded, and movie marketing can't coast on the strength of a few internationally known names, series fill the vacuum of identifiable pictures with a degree of proven popularity.
In short, it's a way of hedging Hollywood bets by recycling tried-and-true material in new and flashy packaging. Sometimes the recycling is literal, as in the next Pink Panther comedy: It will use the story of a reporter tracing the career of Inspector Clouseau - the clumsy policeman played by the late Peter Sellers - as a gimmick for inserting clips from bygone films. In other cases, series can grow ever farther from their original premises. An example is the ''Star Wars'' saga, which will eliminate hero Luke Skywalker and his friends after the third installment, due next May.
The built-in predictability of major series also eases the task of prefinancing big-ticket productions, says Variety. And a flow of formula pictures helps feed the hungry overseas market, which have gobbled up the Bond and Superman series even more hungrily than American audiences have.
It is ironic, Mr. Cohn says, that escalating budgets have largely nullified the cushion against risk a proven series automatically carries. But there is no arguing with the success of such series as Star Wars and Rocky, or such older cousins as James Bond and the Pink Panther. If these continue to pull in dollars , Hollywood can be expected to pour increasing resources into more - and more elaborate - continuations of the trend.