As you’ve surely noticed from the lines of ecstatic moviegoers camped out on the sidewalks of your local cineplex (/sarcasm), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is out tomorrow. Try to contain your excitement. Yes, in their infinite wisdom, Hollywood has spent $75 million to grind out a sequel to Ghost Rider, a film that nobody liked and nobody wanted to see more of. So why on earth does Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance exist? Ah, here we go: because beloved or no, the first film grossed $115 million, and while that may be a meager profit on a reported $110 million budget (seriously? SERIOUSLY?), it pretty much doubled that gross overseas. As they say, it’s show business, kids, and if there are that many ticket buyers who’ll pony up once to see Nicolas Cage flambé motorcycling around for justice, maybe they’ll do so twice. (Not to worry, though: the sequel is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who did Crank and, um, Crank 2. And, oh dear, Jonah Hex. Enjoy, moviegoers!)
GR:SOV (as the kids are calling it) is just the latest in Hollywood’s long, long, long history of churning out utterly inexplicable sequels. Look, let’s be clear, we’re not cinema snobs, railing against sequels on general principle: movies from Godfather II to Aliens to The Dark Knight to Harry Potter 3-7.5 have proven that you can follow up a film with equal (or even advancing) returns. But there has to be a compelling reason for it to exist: a story worth returning to, say, or even a general positive opinion of the initial outing. After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few occasions where we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not.
Alien Vs. Predator- Requiem
Confession: Your editor had forgotten that Alien Vs. Predator even existed, much less its ill-conceived sequel. But yes, the simultaneous desecration of two beloved sci-fi/horror franchises from director Paul W.S. Anderson (the auteur behind the Resident Evil movies and that 3D Three Musketeers thing) pulled in $172 million worldwide, so more AVP shenanigans were ordered up — though Anderson bowed out of the second chapter. (Memo to producers: when the guy who made Death Race doesn’t wanna make your movie, maybe it’s time to really think about if it should be made.) The Brothers Strause — whose background in commercials and visual effects made them a perfect fit for pure product like this — took over as directors, and though the final product replicated the original’s scathing reviews, it couldn’t match the box office of the original. (Still, total worldwide gross was $128 million, so shame on you, Earth.)
Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties
There’s an argument to be made that no one wanted the original film adaptation of Garfield, the two-joke (Mondays! Lasagna!) cat strip that wore out its welcome around, oh, 1984. But (unconvincing mistaken identity arguments notwithstanding), someone backed a giant truck of money up to Bill Murray’s house, those of us who assumed that Wes Anderson/Sofia Coppola era Bill could be trusted plunked down our coin, family audiences came out for a 90-minute distraction, and Garfield grossed $200 million worldwide. Meow and ka-ching, and two years later came A Tale of Two Kitties (GET IT?), though it sputtered domestically, bringing in only a third of its predecessor’s gross. No Garfield three-quel for us, apparently — and thank God for that.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Speaking of loathsome CG-and-live-action family sequels with terrible joke titles: how’s about that second Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, am I right? Boasting computer-animated rodents with sideways ballcaps, hoodies, and shades recalling Itchy & Scratchy’s ill-fated “Poochie,” the first Alvin flick brought in a staggering $361 million (yep, you read that right), though critical response was universally dire (“It’s like being hit over the head with a mallet every 10 seconds for 90 minutes,” noted the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick). Audiences just couldn’t get enough of those wacky chipmunks; the “squeakquel” beat the first film’s grosses ($443 million), and begat a third picture, last year’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ($320 million and counting). We realize these movies aren’t being made for us, so who cares what we think of them; on the other hand, the fact that Hugo, a family movie that didn’t insult its audience’s intelligence, brought in about half of Chipwrecked’s tickets in the same time frame is awfully depressing.
The Next Karate Kid
We loved Karate Kid, and even went along with Karate Kid Part II, but things were just getting silly by Part III; karate “kid” Ralph Macchio was pushing 30, and the old familiar paces were growing less appealing to critics and audiences, who greeted the film with a $38 million gross that was downright puny compared to Part II’s $115 mill. Most would presume the series dead at that point, but not the ingenious folks at Columbia; they’d just have beloved old Mr. Miyagi find a new pupil — this time, to mix it up, it’d be (gasp) a girl — and The Next Karate Kid was born. Opening five years after Part III, producers found the public’s goodwill towards the franchise was altogether tapped out; it grossed a miserable $8 million domestically. All was not lost, though; the unknown young actress in the film’s leading role was Hilary Swank, who went on to win two Oscars, while the franchise itself got the only thing better than an unwanted sequel: an unnecessary remake.
The Pink Panther 2
Speaking of which, it was hard to find anyone who was excited about the 2006 remake of The Pink Panther. Peter Sellers fans couldn’t believe anyone was attempting, after failed attempts by everyone from Alan Arkin to Roberto Beginini, to take on Sellers’ signature role of Inspector Clouseu; Steve Martin fans couldn’t believe the unique comic actor was lowering himself to a bad Sellers imitation. The reviews were scathing, but the combination of Beyoncé and a PG rating (MGM had director Shawn Levy lop off the more risqué gags) made the film a big hit with a demographic too young to compare the picture unfavorably with its predecessors. The fact that it was a witless, plodding mess mattered less than its $82 million domestic gross, so Martin and Jean Reno returned for the equally laugh-free Pink Panther 2. Audiences weren’t fooled twice, however; the sequel topped out at $35 million — still shockingly high, but low enough, it seems, to keep a third go-round at bay.
Halloween II (2009)
And closing out our trilogy of unwarranted sequels to unnecessary remakes, here’s Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his 2007 disaster. Correction, half a disaster: in the film’s second half, when he finally got down to the business of just remaking the damn John Carpenter movie already, writer/director Zombie worked up some decent scares, effective set pieces, and an above-average evocation of the grimy energy present in the 1970s horror films he claims to love so much. But the film’s first half was an utter mess, a tepid mixture of his customary white-trash ethos (a decidedly poor fit into the Halloween universe) and an origin story to explain how little Michael Myers got to be so dern evil. (He was bullied! He was abused!) Zombie made the same mistake that Carpenter made in his own Halloween II script — he explained the character, when what made the villains of the New Horror era so terrifying was that they had no motive and defied explanation. But the movie made money (some anyway), so Zombie ramped up a sequel — not a remake of Carpenter’s sequel, though, since he had already spilled the one secret the original, 1981 Halloween II had. “With this one,” Zombie said on the set, freed from the “responsibility” of a remake, “I don’t feel any responsibility except to go crazy with it.” Thank goodness — if there was one thing Zombie’s Halloween suffered from, it was his discipline and sense of responsibility.
The Evening Star
You might conclude that a sequel to Terms of Endearment wasn’t that bad of an idea, since it was based on author Larry McMurtry’s book sequel to his original Terms novel (which was itself a continuation of two earlier works). Yet even though Shirley MacLaine and (briefly) Jack Nicholson came back, one key player was missing: Terms writer/director James L. Brooks, whose ability to deftly mix pathos and comedy kept the earlier film from being exactly the kind of soppy, soapy mess that Evening Star became in the hands of screenwriter/director Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias). Ultimately, it’s the question we must ask any time a sequel is proposed: was anyone really dying to know (so to speak) what happened after Terms ended? Were there any pressing questions that Brooks’ film didn’t answer? Was anyone’s memory of the first film enriched by finding out how much trouble Aurora had with her grandkids?
Teen Wolf Too
Anyone who waxes rhapsodic over ’80s movies should take 91 minutes (or less, you’ll want less) to watch Michael J. Fox’s 1985 film Teen Wolf, a depressingly unfunny and formulaic effort that epitomizes everything terrible about film comedy in the era. It made a mint, though, for one simple reason: though it was shot first, Teen Wolf’s producers held its release until a month after his big-budget blockbuster Back to the Future hit theaters. “MICHAEL J. FOX is back from the future in a NEW COMEDY” roared that tagline, and Future was such a phenomenon that $33 million worth of tickets were sold to this flaccid, staggeringly stupid high school werewolf movie. When producers started talking sequel, of course, Fox didn’t want to go anywhere near it, and most sensible people would realize that since he was the entire selling point of the movie, a Fox-less sequel would seem quite unappetizing to moviegoers. No one’s ever accused film producers of excessive intelligence, though. They simply grabbed another sitcom heartthrob with an eye on film stardom: Jason Bateman, late of Silver Spoons and It’s Your Move, starred as Todd Howard, the cousin of Fox’s Scott Howard, who also has the werewolf gene. Critics again slammed the movie, and this time audiences stayed away. Luckily, more promising days lay ahead for young Mr. Bateman.
Mannequin Two: On The Move
Say what you will about Teen Wolf, it’s Lubitsch compared to Mannequin, a movie so insipid, you can actually feel yourself getting stupider as you watch it. Quintessential ’80s leading man Andrew McCarthy plays Jonathan Switcher, a down-on-his-luck young artist who falls for a department store mannequin inhabited by the spirit of a time-traveling ancient Egyptian (Kim Cattrall). Read it again if you need to — this was the actual plot of a movie that was written, produced, and released to theaters. (It was also responsible for unleashing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” on an unsuspecting globe, so there’s one more reason to hate it.) Mannequin not only exists, but it generated a big enough profit for a sequel four years later, though (again) without the participation of its stars. No worries; supporting player Meschach Taylor, in the role of Flamboyant Gay Stereotype, was available, so cast two new bland pretty people and make box office magic, eh? But somehow, lamentably, new stars Kristy Swanson (future movie Buffy) and William Ragsdale (future Herman of Herman’s Head) couldn’t quite recapture that elusive McCarthy-and-Cattrall magic.
Look Who’s Talking Now
Look Who’s Talking was an unexpected hit upon its release in 1989; the under-the-radar listen-to-the-baby’s-funny-thoughts comedy ended up grossing $140 million and was the first of several “comeback” efforts for star John Travolta. Travolta, co-star Kirstie Alley, baby voice Bruce Willis, and writer/director Amy Heckerling didn’t waste a second cranking out a quickie sequel, and the short, lazy Look Who’s Talking Too (what have we learned here? Beware of sequels that try to be clever with “too” or “two” title tricks) was in theaters barely a year later, this time with the voices of Roseanne and Damon Wayans thrown in. That picture sputtered, making barely a third of its predecessor’s cash. TriStar Pictures tried to squeeze a little more blood from the stone; though they couldn’t get Willis back, Travolta and Alley were in; since the kids could now talk for themselves, went the logic, what else could we hear? How’s about… their dogs? Sure, why not? Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton were hired to voice the family pets (this all actually happened!), and movie magic, well, didn’t follow. The 1993 film tanked at $10 million, and was yet another chapter in the box-office rut that Travolta finally got out of with his next comeback movie, Pulp Fiction. But who knows where the series could have gone next? Maybe they had talking appliances! What did their couch have to say? All of these questions, cruelly left unanswered.