Casablanca never had a sequel. Schindler’s List never had a sequel. The Godfather did. We certainly hope that the producers of each recognized one incontrovertible fact: anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you’re going to make a sequel, you can’t just draft the same actors, give them tedious things to do and hope the audience oohs and aahs because they’re just that stupid. Yes, money is there to be made. But Francis Ford Coppola had the enviable good fortune to make money with The Godfather Part 2, while further cementing his name as a maker of great works of art. And a worthwhile sequel need not come from an original as serious and somber as The Godfather. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the best sequels ever made.
If you’re simply happy wasting your talent on the next Friday the 13th picture, so be it. But for our money, it’s far better to be wealthy and the subject of undergraduate courses on film making than just wealthy. Here are 15 of the more heinous committers of sequel-cide.
15. The Matrix
Just don’t. Don’t make sequels to groundbreaking features if you’re not serious about it. “The only way to know someone is to fight them.” Come on. Really? It was apparent from ten minutes into The Matrix Reloaded that they made a film just to make a film. Since the original had cool fights, we’d better insert fights in the sequel even if they don’t further the story or develop a character. Horrible. Fans became involved with Neo and even Morpheus in the first film and wanted desperately to keep believing in them. But after an hour of gratuitous violence, people eventually detached from them and saw them more as the machines which controlled them than something with an individual agenda. They became the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park films. That’s not a good thing. And as for The Matrix Revolutions? Somehow they made a bad film even worse.
14. The Amazing Spider Man
We have to admit, we never watched the sequel all the way to the end. That’s because during the entirety of the first one we kept screaming “Why? Why!?!” There was absolutely no reason to reboot the Spidey story. The original Spider Man trilogy was fresh enough in most fans’ minds that a continuation would have been perfectly acceptable, albeit with new leads. Yes, new younger fans are being drawn to the Marvel brand through these recent movies, but the bulk of the fan base is made up of comic book geeks and nostalgic mid-lifers who know the origin story like the back of their hands. There was no reason for this series to fail. Good casting, a huge budget and a built-in audience usually breed success. Of course it’s not like they didn’t make any money. But Marvel kind of has a reputation for superhero flicks which leave the audience begging for more and these two simply did not. A new, younger Spider Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War pretty much threw the dirt on this franchise. As well it should have.
13. Legally Blonde
Legally Blonde2: Red, White and Blonde. Legally Blondes. Seriously? Hollywood just can’t get out of its own way. Reese Witherspoon‘s portrayal of Elle Woods wasn’t going to make anyone forget Norma Rae or Evita but she was still very memorable in this light and airy comedy that helped make Witherspoon into a leading lady. Her female empowerment vibe was effective even on the men who let their wives and girlfriends push them into the theatre (or was it Reese in the Bunny outfit?). It didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t and people left smiling. So let’s ruin it, shall we? Elle’s defiance of people who told her she wasn’t good enough carried the first film. The sequel simply played her off as someone who was trying to fit in. Then add in the third film, which was barely related, and you really wish well enough had been left alone.
12. The Hangover
The Hangover 2 had possibilities but the makers went the old tired route of having the main characters in the exact same situation minus the novelty. And the humor. It had its moments but simply changing the setting and adding a capuchin monkey isn’t going to get you very far with an audience that loved the first film. Ed Helms winds up with a Mike Tyson-like tattoo on his face. Great. Actually filming any of a hundred days from Mike Tyson’s everyday life would have been funnier – or at least more shocking. And maybe the monkey in the early episodes of TV’s Friends turned us off of the smaller primates but it really seemed to do absolutely nothing for this flick. We get it. It acts a little human. It’s not funny. Next time, quit relying on the location your movie is set in for racial cliche’s and culture humor and think of what the characters might do next. It may just work.
OK, let’s name all the sequels that were as good or better than the original when replacing the main character.
Done. We will never be happy about these sequels which simply capitalize on a movie’s name. The Empire Strikes Back minus Luke Skywalker. Iron Man 2 with no Tony Stark. Removing Frodo from LotR: The Two Towers. Just no. And it really doesn’t matter if you get the greatest actor in the world to replace him/her. See, there’s a reason movies are successful and it has nothing to do with the name. As soon as Vin Diesel refused to star in the sequel there should have been no sequel. That’s not that hard a concept to grasp. Movie goers aren’t made happy simply by seeing a bunch of people getting shot. They can turn on the news if that’s what they’re looking for. They want to see a hero or anti-hero with some personality doing the shooting. And still producers can’t see it.
10. Fantastic Four
By Fantastic Four we mean the first set of two movies that disappointed Marvel fans everywhere, not the putrid and ridiculous reboot that came out in 2015 and disappointed Marvel fans everywhere. Even Hollywood studios aren’t dumb enough to make a sequel to that. The problem with the 2005 version with Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba isn’t that it wasn’t good, it’s that it just wasn’t good enough. Recent Marvel aficionados may not realize how important Reed Richard’s group is to their Universe because filmmakers simply haven’t been able to convey it in a worthwhile manner. Michael Chiklis was decent as Ben Grimm, Chris Evans played a reasonable Johnny Storm and Jessica Alba…well, she was hot. There just wasn’t much chemistry between Reed and Sue and, face it, that is the rock upon which the franchise is built. The sequel couldn’t save the series even with the Silver Surfer’s introduction. We’re very much hoping he returns in another film soon.
See there’s, not just one reason sequels shouldn’t be made. Some could have been made better. Some just copy the original. Some turn characters we cared about into caricatures. And then there’s Insurgent, where the director made us learn waaay more about Tris than we ever wanted to know. After Divergent, we did want to learn more about her. But we’d kind of like to do so while watching something interesting instead of what seemed like five hours of psycho-babble and exploring her feelings. Futuristic movies have a major hurdle to clear in that there is little familiar about the world the watcher is immersed in. The original cleared that hurdle by reasonably weaving familiar emotions into the new reality. Insurgent derailed horribly when they made all the emotion belong to one person rather than the universal ones Tris experienced before. It’s a shame because she had layers that were worth peeling instead of sticking her into a food processor.
As old as this movie’s sequel is, we sure hope very few of you have seen it. It might be the worst sequel ever made. If you could draw up a template for what not to do in a sequel, Grease 2 would fit it to a tee. The two lead characters: gone. The music: contrived and boring. The stars: unheard of (at the time). The main male supporting actor: Adrian Zmed. You never go Adrian Zmed. Yes, the older actors returned and so did Didi Conn. But they put the T-Birds on motorcycles, for some reason. I guess that the director didn’t get the relationship between T-Birds and cars. Then, of course there’s the incredible bowling scene. Yes, bowling. Musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but most movie goers had a hard time not liking Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the 70s classic. Even Michelle Pfeiffer‘s presence as the ditzy queen of the Pink Lady’s does nothing for the second film. A waste.
7. Men In Black
Comedies are rarely seen as good enough to be above making a sequel. Some that did and could have easily made this list are Caddyshack, Fletch and The Blues Brothers. Men in Black took an outlandish idea and made it seem reasonable. Aliens live with us on Earth and we just don’t know it. The power of the tandem of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones simply made you suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride. You might think that having them both involved with the sequel would have guaranteed at least an enjoyable farce, if not to the level of the first effort. But MiB 2 was simply more of the same. Instead of concentrating on the characters and letting those two great talents run in the open field a little, the situation they were put in revolved mostly around getting ‘K’ to recall his former job and do basically the same thing over again. The original benefitted from Tommy Lee Jones’ grizzled, and realistic counter to ‘J’s extraterrestrial naïveté. It was a mistake to take the straight man out of the formula and was an opportunity missed.
6. The Blair Witch Project
We could really throw Paranormal Activity in with this one but The Blair Witch Project gets its own slot because it was original. Found footage movies are so common now you’re likely to see at least one a year if you’re a horror fan. In 1999, however, it was an entirely new – and incredibly effective – way to get the audience involved. The fact that the sequel was so bad is really missing the point. The legend of the witch itself was well conceived but not the central focus of the fear. The fear came from the first-person perspective of a character becoming slowly more and more separated from their own world, with the dread of never returning to it growing with each passing minute. The sequel never had an ice cube’s chance in Phoenix. With some great movies, you might be able to sit back and imagine a better way to make a sequel than the one which was produced. We seriously doubt it could have been done here.
The big problem with making a sequel to this one is that the situation almost had to be duplicated. How can you do that and not make a lesser movie? The producer of Speed 2 proved you can’t. Then go ahead and lose your main character. Surely nobody will notice. Speed was another movie with a likeable main character (the exception rather than the rule for Keanu Reeves flicks) that needed to be expanded. Instead, he gets replaced with a dour Jason Patrick and we’re supposed to feel faint when an ocean liner (!) goes out of control. Um, that’s kind of like freaking out because a rickshaw is exceeding the speed limit. Of course the allure of putting another piece of trash film out to rake in the bucks by associating the name of a wildly popular picture was too great. Sandra Bullock, whose stock was rising like the mercury in August at the time, did herself no favors by appearing in that insult to Speed fans.
4. Silence of the Lambs
We’re not sure if producers simply don’t grasp the actual reasons their films are successful or if they just ignore it for some formulaic, studio driven reason. Either way, the sequels to this absolute classic came up short. Silence wasn’t great because it shocked its audience the way Hannibal tried to. It was great because it alternately gave the watcher senses of revulsion, loneliness, helplessness and even shame. It also had the benefit of a tremendous cast besides Anthony Hopkins. Since the first was so popular and the creator of Hannibal Lecter wrote additional books, sequels were pretty much a given. But these sequels are so different and so much weaker than the original that its difficult to see it as a franchise, even though it is one. It may have been a Herculean task to recreate such an incredible thriller. For our money, we wish they hadn’t tried.
This ass-kicking action movie’s sequels suffer from the same thing many do. They just return the same characters and place them in a similar situation. People who loved Taken loved it for Bryan Mills and his particular set of skills. Nobody finished watching it and thought, “Gee, I’d sure like to see another movie with his ex-wife in it!” Making a Taken sequel wasn’t a bad idea and is pretty much expected of a successful shoot-em-up, but geez, guys, grow an imagination. The only reason they didn’t just hire the entire cast again was that he killed so many in the original. Maybe leaving the ex and the daughter in their safe little world while Bryan joins his old crew on a new mission would have been a way to go. Maybe Bryan could have recruited some new, interesting characters to join him on a new mission for the government. Sadly, no, the wife and daughter are the only reason he leaves the house.
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street
As a stand-alone horror flick, A Nightmare on Elm Street was an original, surreal and just darned scary piece of work. We have lost count of the number of sequels it produced but that’s just not important. Once the initial surprise of a murderer who can get you in your dreams is lost, the rest just becomes ordinary slasher fare. Freddy Krueger was different. His mangled face and trademark striped shirt were tremendous calling cards and the razor-blade glove added a new type of dread for movie goers. But even he eventually became cliché when sequel after sequel was churned out. The problem as we see it is that studios and academies don’t look at horror films as worthy of serious consideration as art. Or it could just be about the money. Any idiot director can produce a dozen jump-scares in two hours. But to have an audience leave the theater and be afraid to fall asleep is worthy of praise.
Sly Stallone is going to disagree with this because the sequels made him a lot of money. We doubt later generations of movie goers realize what a great film the first Rocky was. The sequels, which degraded steadily until Creed arrived 30 years later, were fun and entertaining in their own right. But that’s all they were. Rocky II wasn’t a horrendous film, the characters being fleshed out a tad further than in the original. Starting with Rocky III, though, the scripts could have been written by a sixth grade class and the caricatures – oops – characters were basically cartoons. If left on its own, the original would now be looked at as what it is: one of the best underdog stories ever placed on film and done before underdog stories were a dime a dozen. Rocky’s loss in the big fight and then his dismissal of the media and celebrations in favor of finding the only person who mattered (“Adrian!!” has been parodied too many times to count) is one of cinema’s most real and heartfelt moments. We’re very disappointed the sequels cheapened it.