Sequel is a bad word in Hollywood, on par with any bigoted slur or profanity. Hell, some situations welcome profanity in tinsel town, but the word sequel gets no love.
How do I know? An aside: while once working for a Hollywood studio that shall remain nameless, I referred to three of the sequel films we had in production as such. My supervisor turned on me with burning eyes, correcting me: “Ok, we don’t do sequels here. We have franchises.”
Said franchise has since bit the dust, along with so many others. The truth is, Hollywood loves sequels, and seldom launches a film without ideas for further entries in the pipeline. A good number of them, however, never quite achieved enough success to garner another outing.
These ten are among the most notorious.
10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Incoherent Mess Up
Yes, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, besides having one of the most awkward titles ever, is technically a sequel to the first three X-Men movies. See, at the time it was produced, Fox Studios had done their best to stifle the franchise with X-Men: The Last Stand, which had capped off the series into a ham-fisted trilogy. Fox, thinking audiences only wanted to see Wolverine (how wrong they were), decided to spin the character off into his own series of movies, and injected popular characters Deadpool and Gambit into the story. Should the film had proven successful, Fox could then create spin-off spin-offs with Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool and Taylor Kitsch (there he is again!) as Gambit.
Post-Mortem: The movie made a mess of the X-Men continuity and lacking a coherent narrative doomed it to a lukewarm reception. Sensing their misstep, Fox retooled a proposed Magneto spin-off into X-Men First Class and made Wolverine and Deadpool movies unrelated to this one. Days of Future Past reinvigorated the X-Men universe, and proved that audiences tend to prefer mutant team-ups to solo films.
9. Dune – Violent Movie Turned Parents Aways
Universal made a bid to take over the Star Wars market with this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s bestseller. It made sense: the book had spawned a whole series and had a devoted fan base. What didn’t make sense was who they hired to direct: art house darling David Lynch who had never made a Hollywood film before, had no experience with special effects and hadn’t even read the original novel! The film bombed hard, and Lynch has shied away from mainstream films since, usually refusing to even discuss Dune.
Post-Mortem: Lynch obviously had no idea what to do with the material, and while the movie has an incredible cast and some brilliant production design, it’s downright incoherent and ugly to watch. Attempts to market the film–which featured rape, murder, genocide, heart plugs, torture, drugs and a man milking a cat–to kids actually kept families away. Theatres tried to make the film easier to follow by handing out “cheat sheets” which helped explain the plot, to no avail. Maybe that’s why attempts at a big screen remake of Dune always hit a wall?
8. Tron: Legacy – Nice Visuals, But Everything Else…
The original Tron flopped at the box office, but later became a cult film for its prophetic story and groundbreaking effects. Disney took a gamble on the property again with this much-hyped sequel-reboot. Despite a healthy take at the box office and glut of merchandise, the film proved a commercial and critical disappointment. The studio dithered for years about making a sequel before a series of expensive flops (including Tomorrowland, The Lone Ranger and John Carter), put the series on ice.
Post-Mortem: In terms of production value, Tron: Legacy is a monumental achievement, boasting some of the most breathtaking effects, art direction and design in recent memory. Daft Punk should have won an Oscar for their score, which remains widely influential along with the rest of the visuals. Casting a dull leading man in Garrett Hedlund as a boring lead character weighed down the film as a whole, and director Joe Kosinski struggled to construct the plot. Extensive re shoots and edits by John Lasseter and the Pixar Animation writing team might have made the story easier to follow, but it couldn’t buoy it enough to make it good.
7. The Shadow – Tried To Mimic 1989’s Batman Success
1989’s Batman tried to usher in a new era of comic book films. Instead, the 1990s saw numerous flaccid attempts to mimic Batman‘s success without finding any real success of their own. Chief among them: The Shadow, a big-budget incarnation of the famous pulp hero. Boasting an all-star cast–Alec Baldwin, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Peter Boyle and Jonathan Winters–as well as the standard tie-in merchandise blitz, the movie should have been a hit, or at least a good movie! Instead, despite the cast, an excellent script by David Koepp and a fine score by Jerry Goldsmith, it never takes flight.
Post-Mortem: The Shadow didn’t quite have the built-in audience of a character like Batman, and director Russell Mulcahy didn’t have the finesse to master the dark tone or form an engaging narrative.
6. The Golden Compass – Second Rate LOTR Wannabe
New Line Cinema desperately wanted another Lord of the Rings-style epic, and with The Hobbit tied up in development Hell, they banked on Phillip Pullman’s lauded His Dark Materials as their next big fantasy hit. One problem though (among many): the books had a reputation as the anti-Narnia series–a trilogy that actually denounced organized religion, in particular the Catholic church, as the main thrust of the story. The reputation alone elicited a boycott before the movie even hit theatres, and a lukewarm critical reception condemned the US box office haul to withering numbers. Despite a strong international take, New Line declared bankruptcy.
Post-Mortem: In fairness, the movie actually isn’t that bad. Most likely, director Chris Weitz didn’t have the professional clout to oppose New Line’s edicts, which demanded that the director cut 20 minutes of the film so as not to end on a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, the cuts included the very climax of the movie which pulled the story together. Without it, the rest of the film just doesn’t make much sense.
5. John Carter – We Don’t Need Another Star Wars-type Movie
Disney tried to launch their own Star Wars-style sci-fi series with this movie, based on the pulp works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Director Andrew Stanton, hot off the success of Wall-E, decided to take a step into live-action filmmaking, which proved disastrous: while a great visualist, Stanton was used to micro-managing animated productions. Production delays caused budget overruns. Star Taylor Kitsch, hyped as the next Brad Pitt, didn’t have the charisma to carry the film, and Disney’s marketing department had trouble promoting a film with such a nondescript title.
Post-Mortem: Disney had tried for years to launch the John Carter series, offering the property to numerous directors, including Robert Zemeckis. After the failure of the film, a reporter once asked Zemekis why he turned down the movie. His reply: “George [Lucas] already pillaged all that.” He was right: the story of John Carter proved horribly dated, and movies like Star Wars had drawn on similar themes to make the story more relevant to modern audiences.
4. Battleship – Board Games Never Make Good Movies
Speaking of Taylor Kitsch, he also headlines the DOA adaptation of Battleship, our next entry on this list. Based on the success of Transformers, Universal Pictures wanted in on the toy-to-film craze. Unfortunately they invested in the Milton Bradley board game library, and set about turning the likes of Monopoly, Pictionary and CandyLand into films.
They started with Battleship, an adaptation directed by acclaimed filmmaker Peter Berg. The result was a disaster: an overproduced piece of sci-fi dreck that combined the most banal elements of Top Gun and Independence Day.
Post-Mortem: Berg probably wasn’t up to the challenge of directing an effects driven alien invasion tale on the high seas. That said, board games don’t lend themselves to movies at all, so the project was doomed from the get-go.
3. Dick Tracy – A Disney Comic Book Movie Failure
Disney tried to get on the comic book train started by Batman with this Warren Beatty-directed mystery, which, in fairness, is actually a pretty good movie. Like The Shadow, however, Dick Tracy proved a dated character. A lack of action setpieces didn’t endear it to a summer crowd expecting spectacle, and while a box-office success, it didn’t spawn any sequels.
Post-Mortem: Beatty’s salary and creative control demands caused a rift between he and Disney, even before the film hit cinemas. Though it did solid business, budget overruns and heavy promotional costs didn’t warrant an immediate sequel.
2. The Rocketeer – Disney Is Hard Headed
Not learning from the Dick Tracy mess, Disney soldiered on in an attempt to create a viable superhero franchise with this relic of the 1990s. Based on the nostalgic cult comic, the studio lavished an enormous budget on the movie, but immediately ran into issues of tone: Rocketeer comics had always played on adult themes of violence and sexuality, while Disney wanted more of a marketable family film. Director Joe Johnson vetoed casting Johnny Depp in the title role in favor of Billy Campbell. The finished release met with a mixed reception, both critically and financially.
Post-Mortem: Campbell didn’t have the star charisma to attract a sizable audience, and the compromised tone of the movie–somewhat adult, somewhat cartoony, somewhat superheroeish–made it a frustrating piece.
1. Willow – Lucas Channels His Inner Tolkien
George Lucas tried to do J.R.R. Tolkien with this adult sword and sorcery piece, one of the first major films for director Ron Howard. Much-hyped, lavishly produced, and featuring a respected cast, it earned critical praise for its visuals, but derision for its story. Parents, in general, objected to seeing a baby in constant danger, and in general to the level of violence in the film, which might have doomed it to moderate box office receipts.
Post-Mortem: Lucas and Howard had intended the film to start a new trilogy of fantasy films, though the middling reception stalled the sequels. Eventually, Howard and Lucas gravitated to other projects. Willow remains something of a nostalgic curio, but only to cult fans.