When Disney spent big bucks on the making and marketing of Warren Beatty’s adaptation of the comic strip Dick Tracy back in 1990, they were hoping that it would launch a tentpole franchise along the lines of the previous summer’s Batman. And they might finally get their wish — over 20 years later. In a lengthy Q&A following a screening of Dick Tracy last Thursday (as part of the Los Angeles Times “Hero Complex Film Festival”), the famously hard-to-pin-down Beatty said, firmly, “I’m gonna make another one.”
He was much less forthcoming on the details — where he’s at in the process, when it will go into production, if he would again don the lemon yellow trenchcoat — telling the crowd, “I think it’s dumb to talk about movie before you make them. I just don’t do it. It gives you a perfect excuse to avoid making them. The more you talk about it, the longer it’s hidden.” Considering how long it’s been “hidden,” and how long it’s been since Beatty was involved in a film as either an actor (2001’s notorious Town and Country) or director (1998’s Bulworth), it’s probably for the best if he clams up.
However long we might have to wait for Dick Tracy 2, it wouldn’t be the first sequel to hit multiplexes after a lengthy gestation period. Even if Beatty went into production right away (which he certainly won’t) and got his sequel into theaters 22 years after the original, that’d still put him right around the middle of our list. Check it out below.
LAST SEQUEL: 1983 (Return of the Jedi)
THIS SEQUEL: 1999
TOTAL GAP: 16 years
WHY THEN?: In the wake of the success of the original Star Wars trilogy, multiple media outlets reported that it would be one of three trilogies — with three prequels and three sequels. By the time Return of the Jedi (the last of the “original trilogy”) was released, however, Lucas was burnt out, and put any plans for more Star Wars films aside indefinitely. He spent the next decade or so overseeing his technical empire (Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, THX) and producing efforts both successful (the Indiana Jones sequels—see below) and not so much (Howard the Duck, The Radioland Murders). In 1994, Lucas finally started working on the screenplay for the first film of the prequel trilogy (plans for the sequel trilogy were dropped, and Lucas has since taken to insisting Star Wars was always intended to be only six films); when it went into production a few years later, he was in the director’s chair for the first time since the original 1977 film.
THE CRITICS SAY: Critical response was mixed. Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised it (“It sustains the gee-whiz spirit of the series and offers a swashbuckling extragalactic getaway”); The Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman was among those who resisted (“There is nothing in this noisy, overdesigned bore to equal the excitement generated by the mere idea of the trailer”).
THE PUBLIC SAYS: With a $924 million worldwide gross, the public said, “More, please, thank you.”
THE ORIGINAL: 1974
THE SEQUEL: 1990
TOTAL GAP: 16 years
WHY THEN?: Roman Polanski’s Chinatown was one of the finest films of the 1970s, a full-throated film noir-style psychological mystery with a decidedly post-Watergate slant. Screenwriter Robert Towne completed a follow-up in the early 1980s, pitching himself as director to star Jack Nicholson and producer Robert Evans. The duo agreed, and decided to keep it even more in the family by casting Evans (who had started in Hollywood as a pretty-boy actor) as Nicholson’s co-star, the second “Jake” of the title. It was a strange idea, and one that ultimately sunk the film when Towne got his cast into rehearsals and discovered that Evans couldn’t pull it off. On the eve of production, Towne fired Evans, who went ballistic and insisted he stay in; on the first day of shooting, the plug was pulled on the project. It lay dormant for five years, until Nicholson resurrected the project and directed it himself, with Harvey Keitel as the second Jake. (The Two Jakes wasn’t Paramount’s only long-awaited sequel that year — they also released the 16-years-in-the-making Godfather Part III .)
THE CRITICS SAY: Response was mixed but mostly positive. Variety said it “proves a jumbled, obtuse yet not entirely unsatisfying follow-up,” while The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called it “an enjoyable if clunky movie.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: Here’s the trouble with doing a sequel 16 years later: you risk losing your audience and inheriting one that doesn’t know the original. The Two Jakes was released in the Ghost-dominated summer of 1990, and grossed only $10 million (barely half of its budget).
LAST SEQUEL: 1989 (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
THIS SEQUEL: 2008
TOTAL GAP: 19 years
WHY THEN?: The first two Indiana Jones sequels hit in (relatively) quick succession — Temple of Doom three years after Raiders, Last Crusade five years later. From the time the end credits on the latter film rolled, audiences were waiting for the fourth film in the series. And they waited… and waited. Director Steven Spielberg was initially uninterested in pursuing the series, and producer George Lucas turned his attention to the TV spin-off, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, before coming up with the idea of a latter-day Indy adventure, set in the 1950s and working in an alien plot typical of the films of that era. Several writers worked on the screenplay in the years that followed, including Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), Jeb Stuart (The Fugitive), Jeff Nathanson (who wrote Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can and The Terminal), and Jeffrey Boam (Last Crusade); even M. Night Shyamalan was approached. Finally, David Koepp (who wrote the Jurassic Park films and War of the Worlds for Spielberg) came up with a draft — mostly from Nathanson’s story — that the filmmakers agreed on, and the picture went into production.
THE CRITICS SAY: The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Mick LaSalle seemed to sum up the general tone of the reviews thus: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is probably the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, but it’s still pretty much a delight.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: With a total worldwide gross of $786 million, audiences (expectedly) turned up in droves. But buzz on the film was not good, and has grown more toxic in the years since its release (“nuke the fridge,” anyone?) — with most blaming dependable whipping boy Lucas for its flaws.
THE ORIGINAL: 1971
THE SEQUEL: 1990
TOTAL GAP: 19 years
WHY THEN?: Put simply, because director Peter Bogdanovich needed a hit. The Last Picture Show began a run of huge critical and financial hits for the filmmaker in the early 1970s, but that run fell to pieces with a series of bombs (Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon), and by the 1980s, Bogdanovich was having trouble getting a movie made. However, he had a minor hit with Mask in 1985, and when novelist Larry McMurtry penned a sequel to Picture Show in 1987, Bogdanovich seized the opportunity. Most of the film’s unknowns had become stars in the interim, and Bogdanovich’s one-time squeeze Cybill Shepard was hot again following the unexpected success of Moonlighting; the director returned the original location of Archer City, Texas and tried to recapture some magic.
THE CRITICS SAY: While many were happy to see the cast back together, most felt the picture came up short; Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers said it was “like an exceptionally slow episode of Dallas,” while the Washington Post’s Rita Kemply called it “purty near the worst movie of the whole year.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: In ’71, the original grossed $29 million — or roughly thirteen times Texasville’s paltry $2.2 million gross, without adjusting for inflation.
LAST SEQUEL: 1988 (Rambo III)
THIS SEQUEL: 2008
TOTAL GAP: 20 years
WHY THEN?: In 2006, Sylvester Stallone returned to his greatest critical success for the first time in 16 years, writing and directing Rocky Balboa, which became a sleeper Christmas hit. Figuring lightning would maybe strike twice, he immediately went to work on bringing back his other iconic character — tough-as-nails Green Beret John Rambo, whom he’d spent much of the previous decade trying to resurrect (rumors circulated in the wake of 9/11 that a new film would find Rambo taking on Osama bin Laden). Stallone again wrote and directed the fourth film in the series, which was originally titled, in the spirit of his 2006 hit, John Rambo. That title was eventually simplified to Rambo, leading to one of the most confusing title continuities in movie history — the series begins with 1982’s First Blood, which is followed by 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, and then 1988’s Rambo III, and then back to Rambo for the fourth film. Huh?
THE CRITICS SAY: Most didn’t say much of anything nice. “The orgy of violence,” wrote J.R. Jones in The Chicago Reader, “as ghastly as in any video game, should go a long way toward erasing whatever goodwill Stallone earned with his sentimental Rocky Balboa,” though James Berardinelli admitted, “it will likely please fans of the long-in-the-tooth series, provided they still go to see movies.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: Released in the January doldrums, it grossed a sturdy $113 million worldwide.
THE ORIGINAL: 1960
THE SEQUEL: 1983
TOTAL GAP: 23 years
WHY THEN?: Hitchcock’s original 1960 horror masterpiece was based on a 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, so when the writer went back to the well in 1982 to pen Psycho II, Universal presumably realized that Bloch might have had the right idea. Nostalgia for the original film had only grown over the years, and the Psycho house was one of the most popular stops on the Universal Studios tour, so work began on a follow-up — albeit one that ignored Bloch’s new novel, written as a satire and critique of horror movies. The screenplay was by Tom Holland (who would later write and direct Child’s Play and Fright Night, among others); Richard Franklin was given the unenviable task of taking of directorial duties (Hitchcock had died in 1980). Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles were brought back to reprise their roles from the original film.
THE CRITICS SAY: Many were surprisingly positive (Variety noted that Franklin “deftly keeps the suspense and tension on high,” while The New York Times‘ Canby praised its “exuberantly macabre craftsmanship”), and even the negative reviews granted, as Dave Kehr did, that it “clearly could have been much worse.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: The picture grossed an impressive $34 million (on a $5 million budget), prompting the 1986 theatrical follow-up Psycho III (directed by Perkins) and a made-for-TV prequel and sequel.
THE ORIGINAL: 1976
THE SEQUEL: 1999
TOTAL GAP: 23 years
WHY THEN?: Who knows? Brian DePalma’s 1976 original (based on Stephen King’s debut novel) has been a perennial hit on home video, where generation after generation of high school outcasts have lived vicariously through telekinetic Carrie White and her prom-night massacre. Presumably its longevity prompted The Rage, though Katt Shea’s sequel, concerning Carrie’s half-sister, is more a remake than honest-to-goodness continuation.
THE CRITICS SAY: Reviews were fairly scathing. “All of this happens like dreamwalking,” Roger Ebert wrote, “as if the characters in this movie knew they were doomed to follow the scenario laid down in the first one”; the AV Club’s Keith Phipps wrote, “the flashbacks to the superior original provide frequent reminders that, as either a first-rate rip-off or a second-rate sequel, The Rage doesn’t quite measure up.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: Even in March, Carrie 2 could only pull a second place opening; its $17 million gross didn’t cover its $21 budget.
THE ORIGINAL: 1987
THE SEQUEL: 2010
TOTAL GAP: 23 years
WHY THEN?: When it comes to the Wall Street movies, Oliver Stone has always had the gift of timing. The original film was released in December 1987, less than two months after the “Black Monday” stock market crash; the 2010 sequel hit theaters in the midst of public resentment over bailouts and bonuses on “the Street.” Writer/director Stone had been contemplating a Wall Street sequel for years; the original had been one of his biggest critical and financial successes and had won an Oscar for star Michael Douglas, who was eager to reprise the role of Gordon Gekko. However, star Charlie Sheen was not brought back (except for a brief cameo); instead, the role of the younger upstart taken under Gekko’s wing was played by Shia LaBeouf — who filled much the same function in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
THE CRITICS SAY: Though critics complained that Stone’s convoluted storytelling and caffeinated filmmaking was a bit of a distraction, Douglas’s performance was praised in all quarters (“Douglas is just enough to make the trip worth the money,” wrote Scott Bowles in USA Today).
THE PUBLIC SAYS: The film was greeted with a surprisingly robust $52 million domestic gross (and an additional $82 million worldwide).
THE ORIGINAL: 1961
THE SEQUEL: 1986
TOTAL GAP: 25 years
WHY THEN?: As with Psycho II, it was apparently a book that prompted the movie — and as with that film, the book was subsequently ignored. Walter Tevis penned The Color of Money in 1984 as a follow-up to his 1959 novel The Hustler, so talk of a film sequel to the 1961 Paul Newman vehicle began almost immediately; Newman was keen to return, and (having admired Raging Bull) suggested Martin Scorsese to direct. Tevis wrote a screenplay for the film (a bittersweet love story about Eddie Felson’s romance with a teacher), but Scorsese wanted a redemption story, so he teamed with novelist-turned-screenwriter Richard Price to create a script that put Fast Eddie back on the pool circuit, this time as the mentor to a young up-and-comer (Tom Cruise).
THE CRITICS SAY: Though the narrative took some hits, most were so ecstatic to see Newman back at the pool table that they didn’t mind. “The kick he gets out of acting is inseparable from Eddie’s con artistry,” wrote Pauline Kael, “and, with the help of pungent lowlife dialogue by Richard Price, who wrote the script, he carries the action along.”
THE PUBLIC SAYS: As with Wall Street, the addition of a hot young star certainly didn’t hurt box office (Top Gun had been released a mere four months previous). Then again, Paul Newman was still one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. The picture grossed a respectable $52 million, and won Newman a long-overdue Best Actor Oscar.
THE ORIGINAL: 1982
THE SEQUEL: 2010
TOTAL GAP: 28 years
WHY THEN?: Decades ahead of its time, the original 1982 Tron was one of the first films to use computer-generated special effects. Though it grossed a decent $33 million (more than covering its budget), it was perceived as a financial disappointment. However, the film slowly gained a cult following on home video, and reports of a sequel started circulating in the late 1990s, with test footage (featuring original star Jeff Bridges) making a surprise debut at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con. When the film finally opened in theaters during the 2010 Christmas season, 28 and a half years had lapsed since Tron made its theatrical bow.
THE CRITICS SAY: Reviews were mixed, with most restating the same criticisms of the first film — impressive effects, little human interest (“Like the original,” wrote Rafer Guzman in Newsday, “Tron: Legacy obsesses over technology and style but forgets important details like character and plot”).
THE PUBLIC SAYS: There’s a certain risk inherent in a big-budget sequel that’s almost thirty years in the making, but in this case, the risk paid off: in a crowded holiday season, Legacy grossed $172 million domestic (and cranked that total up to $400 million worldwide).
These slow-moving sequels proved that continuations of older favorites are possible; what stories would you like Hollywood to return to?