Well, boys and girls, it’s Scream 4 day, and while we’re (sort of) excited to catch up with Sidney, Dewey, and Gale Weathers, we’ve gotta ask: Was this really a sequel that anyone was pining for? After three earlier Screams, and an 11-year gap, were there that many unanswered questions and unresolved themes? (Sidebar: who on earth decided to re-hire screenwriter Ehren Kruger, the guy who screwed up Scream 3?)
We’ve complained before about the sequel and Hollywood’s crackhead-like reliance on franchise films for quick hits of guaranteed cash. But we’ll grant that some sequels do manage to continue an interesting story (Aliens, Terminator 2), bring back memorable characters (Magnum Force, Before Sunset), and even expand the power and scope of their predecessors (The Dark Knight, The Godfather Part II). But then there are the sequels that were clearly just a cash grab, continuations that did little more than beat a dead horse. Join us after the jump as we pick the ten most blatantly unnecessary movie sequels, and add your own in the comments.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the rare sequels that actually tops the original, supplementing the sci-fi angle with truly awe-inspiring action, mind-bending time-travel physics, and even some genuine emotion. But they couldn’t leave well enough alone; a dozen years later, a bunch of suits collectively decided, “Hey, who cares about writer/director James Cameron? What the hell did he add? Let’s make another one without him!” And so they did, and it was predictably terrible: disposable, gratuitous, and immediately forgettable, all but abandoning the intriguing time-travel paradoxes and genuine relationships that made its predecessors actually about something, jettisoning any real science-fiction elements in favor of wall-to-wall action. Some of that action, to be fair, is well done. But who cares?
When even Keanu Reeves thinks your script is too dumb, then you probably shouldn’t make your movie. That was the primary lesson to be extrapolated from Speed 2, the 1997 sequel to the surprise (and surprisingly entertaining) 1994 “Die Hard on a bus” smash. The official line was that Reeves wanted to tour with his band, which is kind of the Hollywood version of the disgraced politico who resigns so he can spend more time with his family. Sandra Bullock was willing to c’mon back, though, so the filmmakers replaced Reeves with Jason Patric (same diff, right?) and cast Willem Dafoe as the villain; he turns in a performance that makes his work in Spider-Man seem comparatively subtle and nuanced. The script is fundamentally silly, but then again, so was Speed‘s (and so, for that matter, are the Die Hard sequels’). This time, though, the film lacks the style and energy that made the first film so enjoyable. It plays like what it is: a filmed deal.
For the sake of brevity, we’re leaving out the endless onslaught of straight-to-DVD sequels, which have provided a means of cash-flow from gullible consumers to the folks at Disney and the creators of American Pie and Bring It On (among many, many others). So we’ll not mention Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr., but it would be a fine addition to the troika from hell that is Son of the Mask, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, and Evan Almighty — all films that reiterate one lesson, stated loud and clear, but apparently never actually learned. That lesson: In order to make a sequel to a Jim Carrey vehicle, you have to get Jim Carrey. If you can’t get him, then no matter what brilliant work-around the suits come up with (It’s his character as a teenager! It’ll be about the mask, instead of the guy in the mask! It’ll be about the guy he had a couple of scenes with in the first movie!), it’s probably best to just walk away.
Dan Aykroyd was never one to let the untimely death of John Belushi stand in the way of exploiting Jake and Elwood Blues, the characters they created for Saturday Night Live and in John Landis’s hit 1980 film. He used the Blues Brothers cred to create and promote his House of Blues franchise and subbed in his friend John Goodman or Belushi’s brother Jim for performances in the 1990s. So it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he and director Landis (neither of whom had touched a hit in quite some time) decided to go back to the Blues well in 1998, when they made the sequel Blues Brothers 2000 with Goodman filling in for Belushi. The box office and reviews were ghastly (“Blues Brothers 2000 has a lot of good music in it,” Roger Ebert wrote. “It would have had more if they’d left out the story, which would have been an excellent idea”), but that didn’t slow down Aykroyd. In 2004, he (and the Belushi estate) authorized The Blues Brothers Revival, a stage show in which Elwood tries to rescue Jake from Purgatory. Tasteful!
Lest you get the idea that the exclusion of original players is the only reason to avoid sequels to popular comedies, we submit Ghostbusters II for your consideration. This one got everybody back — stars (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver), supporting players (Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts), director (Ivan Reitman), screenwriters (Aykroyd and Ramis) — and it still stunk. The jokes were a shadow of the original’s Hope-and-Crosby wit, the plot was a dopey mess (all the “bad feelings” in New York create a river of goo under the city, or something?), and the climax was a painfully obvious attempt to recreate the famous Stay Puft Marshmallow Man sequence with the Statue of Liberty in its place. In light of how Ghostbusters II came out, we can only hope Murray continues to obstruct the equally unnecessary third installment.
Problem: George Lucas’s 1973 hit American Graffiti ended with title cards giving away the fate of its four primary characters, which might eliminate the desire for (or suspense of) a follow-up. Solution: Make the movie anyway! Problem: Lucas didn’t want to direct a sequel, since he was now focused on his Star Wars series. Solution: Make the movie anyway! (Lucas took on an executive producer role.) Problem: The original film’s lead, Richard Dreyfuss, doesn’t want to appear, even though the script has already been written with his character included. Solution: Make the movie anyway, and change his character to his (and Cindy Williams’s) younger brother. As you can see, there was no shortage of wonderful solutions for the problems presented by this long-forgotten sequel, which Universal went ahead and made, and which, as George Lucas later noted, grossed “all of ten cents.”
The Blair Witch Project was the indie success story of the 1990s, a film that ingeniously turned the cons of its low budget into pros, using cheapo home video equipment and techniques to create a chilling “found footage” narrative. The film — which originally cost something like $25,000 — ended up grossing nearly $250 million worldwide, so obviously, distributors Artisan Entertainment couldn’t wait to get a sequel into theaters. They hired Joe Berlinger, the documentary filmmaker who co-directed the truly frightening Paradise Lost films… and then proceeded to punt all of the faux-documentary elements that had made the first film so successful. Instead, Book of Shadows is exactly the kind of dull, formulaic horror film to which Blair Witch was such a refreshing rebuke. The movie’s buzz was utterly toxic; critics, who had praised the first film, loathed the second (“a footnote to a footnote,” in the words of Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir), and it quickly disappeared from theaters.
It would stand to reason that if anyone could make a great sequel, it would be Francis Ford Coppola, whose Godfather Part II is acknowledged by most as the best follow-up ever made. (There even a few otherwise reasonable people who say it is better than the first film. They’re harmless, but way wrong.) And in all fairness to one of the most maligned sequels of all time, it should be noted that the film is not all that bad — there are some fine scenes, Pacino is in top form, and Andy Garcia is terrific — and it could have been far worse, had Paramount gone ahead with those Coppola-less three-quels they were proposing in the 1980s as vehicles for Travolta or (ack) Stallone. But it is a bit of a mess, for several reasons: the sloppy screenplay, which Coppola claims he and Mario Puzo were only given six weeks to write so the film could make it to theaters for Christmas (Paramount could wait 16 years for the movie, but not a few more months for a better script?); the keenly felt absence of Robert Duvall, who wanted more money; and the shockingly inept performance of daughter Sofia, who stepped in to the significant supporting role of Michael Corelone’s daughter Mary when Winona Ryder dropped out at the last minute. More than anything, though, the film is sunk by its lack of real purpose. As satisfying as it is to watch Pacino and Keaton square off, or to follow Michael to his final moments, the film lacks the urgency and momentum of Part II. That film felt like a genuine continuation; this one plays like an afterthought.