As evidenced by this year’s crop of summer blockbusters, sequels are big business in Hollywood despite their typically lukewarm reviews. Are industry executives giving audiences what they want, or are they just engaging in lazy filmmaking?

IN HOLLYWOOD, less is rarely more and imitation is the sincerest form of prosperity, which is probably why more than half a dozen of this summer’s upcoming blockbuster films are sequels. While critics generally perceive return-to-the-well motion pictures as vapid repeat offenders, enthusiastic audiences generally gobble up film franchises’ multiple installments, whether the Bourne flicks or the Bond bonanzas.

“In movies, if not in love, familiarity apparently breeds devotion,” says Michael Atkinson, a film scholar and critic and the coauthor of Flickipedia: Perfect Films for Every Occasion, Holiday, Mood, Ordeal, and Whim. Sequel mania, he is quick to point out, has been around since the Golden Age of Hollywood film series like The Thin Man and Blondie. But he believes that sequels are usually subpar, “unable to best or duplicate the first film’s creative successes,” he says.

The filmmakers behind this summer’s sequels are well aware of the critical bias against their creations. However, they refuse to chafe at the suggestion that they are merely printing money by revisiting preexisting concepts. Instead, they say they’ve worked harder than ever to create great films. Shawn Levy, who directed this month’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, says that in this second installment, he wanted to go deeper into the loneliness felt by the film’s main character, played by Ben Stiller. “This sequel is bigger in scope as well as deeper in theme and emotion,” Levy says. “I think audiences will find it a more satisfying experience than the first.”

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs scripter Yoni Brenner believes that the key to successful sequels is allowing ample screen time for character development. “We obviously wanted to up the ante [with the second sequel], and without question, this is the biggest, most visually dazzling Ice Age yet,” Brenner says. “But at the end of the day, we understand that it’s all about the characters. I think that’s the challenge: to think of fresh, funny, and dynamic directions for the story but always keep these ideas grounded in our characters.”