In modern Hollywood, the franchise mentality has become standard. Movie studios don’t just want a single film; instead, they want a whole series of films with the same cast and creative team, telling an over-arching story, generating spinoffs, and creating all kinds of ancillary revenue. Just look at the past two years: Star Wars, Marvel, Jason Bourne, DC Comics, and James Bond have all dominated the market place with nothing original—just sequels!
So what happens when a filmmaker gets daring and tries to make a film that departs from the precedents set by the previous film in the series? More to the point, what happens when greed, goofiness or just plain ineptitude force the departure? Sometimes the audience gets a refreshing surprise with an original take on familiar territory. Other times, they stay home in droves, disowning the new movies that somehow detract from the legacy of the original. The films here hail from both camps; some are masterworks in their own right, while others are just plain awful. Either way, they are 15 Totally Bonkers Sequels Nothing Like their Predecesors!
15 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Tobe Hooper long resisted making a sequel to his 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That film became a seminal piece in the horror genre, and helped launch Hooper’s career as a filmmaker. He had a subsequent hit with the studio film Poltergeist produced by Steven Spielberg, before signing a three picture deal with low-budget studio Cannon Films. His first two efforts, Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars netted mixed reviews and mediocre box office, at which point the Cannon bosses began to push Hooper for a Chainsaw sequel.
In 1986, Hooper relented, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 hit movie screens. The film was not, however, what the bosses at Cannon, nor the audience of the first film expected. Rather than rehash the original movie, Hooper opted to parody it, and add in a lot more gore. The resulting film abandoned the gritty feel that had made the original such a terrifying experience, and audiences of the time didn’t quite know what to think of such a bonkers picture. The underperformance of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 helped land Cannon in dire financial straights, and Hooper never again had a major studio success.
The Onion writer Nathan Rabin once compared Thomas Harris’ Hannibal, the sequel to his bestseller The Silence of the Lambs, a giant middle finger to Hollywood… along with a bunch of other obscene gestures. By the time Hannibal hit bookshelves in 1999, The Silence of the Lambs had won the Oscar “Grand Slam” (that is, Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay) and become regarded as a latter day masterpiece of psychological horror. Harris’ sequel, however, abandoned virtually every element that had fuelled Silence in favor of outrageous violence, misogyny and gore.
Nevertheless, Hollywood came knocking and enlisted director Ridley Scott to take on the project, after Silence director Jonathan Demme declined to return. Scott, working with writer Steve Zallian, still foregoes psychological horror in favor of Grand Guignol weirdness—as Rabin notes—more akin to opera than the gritty terror of Silence. For that reason, Hannibal still has its virtues, and its fans, who revel in seeing Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter feeding Ray Liota his own brains. Call that one a matter of taste…
13 Exorcist II: The Heretic
How could anyone ever write a sequel to The Exorcist? Even the author of the original novel, William Peter Blatty, wondered as much, and he actually did write sequels to the book! Granted, Blatty’s sequels had almost nothing to do with the story of The Exorcist apart from a mutual character or passing reference to the events of the novel. After William Friedkin’s film adaptation of The Exorcist became a runaway success, studio Warner Bros. pushed Blatty & Friedkin to work on a direct sequel. The two men couldn’t come up with workable ideas, since the first film resolved all of its plot lines and killed off several key characters.
That wouldn’t stop Warner Bros., who instead signed acclaimed director John Boorman to write and direct Exorcist II: The Heretic. Boorman’s film picks up four years after the first, and features a great cast led by the star of the original movie, Linda Blair. Despite all the talent on hand, however, the movie is utterly bizarre to the point one critic called it the “Citizen Kane of rubbish.” One scene even features a drunken Richard Burton battling James Earl Jones dressed as a locust! It’s that kind of movie.
Exorcist II: The Heretic borders on downright incomprehensible at times, and fans of the horror of the original should stay away… unless the really want to laugh.
12 Basic Instinct II
Why make a sequel to the 1992 blockbuster Basic Instinct? Well, the movie about a ultra-sexy, bisexual woman who might be a sociopathic killer made a killing at the box office, becoming one of the highest grossing movie of the year. How though, to make a sequel to a kind of godawful movie that hates women and substitutes preposterous and hypersexual trash for an actual mystery?
Director Michael Canton-Jones never really answered the second question when he signed on to direct Basic Instinct II. Released in 2006, the movie became one of the biggest bombs in history. The story picked up years after the original, with the murderous author-vixen Catherine Tramell again played by Sharon Stone. Canton-Jones seems to know the movie is little more than an excuse to feature Stone naked and talking dirty for two hours amid scenes of suggestive sexual imagery. To her credit, Stone approaches the role with conviction, but the plot about a British psychiatrist tasked with taming Tramell never comes close to working. As much as the original Basic Instinct had moments of trashy fun, Basic Instinct II never bothers to hide its exploitation motives. As such, the film just seems like a crazy idea, and a bad one at that.
11 More American Graffiti
Give George Lucas some credit for at least trying something interesting with the sequel to his nostalgic masterpiece, American Graffiti. Following the success of Star Wars, Lucas unofficially retired from directing to focus on producing. Lucas worked closely with writer-director Bill L. Norton to develop an anthology film about the characters of Graffiti, which would examine their lives as they grew into adulthood against the background of the Vietnam War and hippie culture.
Norton divided the film into four segments, and used distinctive visual motifs and techniques to help distinguish one segment from another. Most of the original cast returned, along with new cast members like Rosanna Arquette and Naomi Judd appearing the film as well. Unfortunately though, while American Graffiti reveled in the final moments of post-WWII innocence, More American Graffiti focused on the melancholy years that followed, and found its loveable characters in darker situations. The movie bombed, and remains a personal source of hurt for Lucas today.
10 Gremlins 2
Joe Dante had a massive hit with the Chris Columbus-penned/Steven Spielberg-produced horror-comedy Gremlins in 1984. Despite the immense pressure for Dante to direct a sequel, he resisted. Finally in 1990 he agreed to make Gremlins 2 with one strict proviso—he could do anything he wanted.
Whereas the original Gremlins walked the fine line between comedy and horror as it spoofed the Christmas movie genre, Dante used Gremlins 2 as an opportunity to go berserk spoofing the original film. Rick Baker took over supervision of the Gremlin effects from Chris Walas, and the new incarnation of the titular creatures aimed for a cartoony look rather than a realistic one. Indeed, Gremlins 2 is a cartoon, moving from one sight gag or action sequence to the next. At a certain point, Dante even loses interest in telling a story, preferring instead a series of daffy jokes. Perhaps it goes without saying then, that Gremlins 2 opened to mixed reviews. While it still maintains a following who love its anarchic spirit, and while at times the movie is very funny, audiences remember the movie as another also-ran sequel, if indeed they remember it at all.
9 King Kong Lives
Producer Dino De Laurentis made a huge mistake in producing this sequel film: it’s a follow-up not to the 1933 classic, but to his abysmal 1976 remake of it. The 1970s remade King Kong had become a box-office success, though it would also earn a reputation for atrocious special effects (Kong was played by makeup legend Rick Baker in a monkey costume) and bad acting. Two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange didn’t work again for three years, after delivering a career-worst performance!
Thus, King Kong Lives had to overcome a negative reputation before ever earning one of its own. Unfortunately, it managed to earn an even worse one! Starring a young Linda Hamilton, King Kong Lives picks up after the events of King Kong, with Hamilton’s Dr. Amy Franklin managing to save Kong’s life after his adventure in New York. Kong rests in a coma for ten years, before the discovery of a female giant ape allows Franklin to perform a blood transfusion that revives Kong, who manages to escape with his new mate.
King Kong Lives featured a story even more preposterous than the original, and even worse effects. Scenes of Kong and his mate (actually two stuntmen in obvious suits) cradling their infant son with tears streaming down their faces don’t earn sighs as much as laughs.
8 Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Wes Craven earned a reputation as a master of horror with his low-budget masterpiece A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. Studio New Line went on about producing a long series of sequels over Craven’s groans. In 1994, however, with the box office haul of the Nightmare series dwindling, New Line approached Craven to do a new sequel, and the director countered with a fascinating premise. As Freddy Kruger and the Nightmare series would forever haunt the lives of Craven and the actors in the franchise, the director envisioned a sort of post-modern sequel in which a demon would take the form of Freddy to haunt them in real life! Or, in this case, “real” life—Craven, actors Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund, as well as studio boss Bob Shaye would all play themselves in the movie.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare focused on making Freddy Kruger and the Nightmare series scary again, and moving away from the campy tone of the later franchise outings. The film earned positive reviews and became a box-office success, and today holds a reputation as a creepy, unnerving horror film about the point where the real and the imagined meet.
7 Mission: Impossible II
The first Mission: Impossible became a massive hit in 1996 thanks to the sharp direction of Brian DePalma, and a winning performance from box-office champ Tom Cruise. Studio Paramount smelled an action franchise in the making, and four years later, Mission: Impossible 2 hit screens.
To say the least, Mission: Impossible 2 departs from the precedent of its predecessor. Instead of post-Cold War intrigue, mysteries and conspiracies, the sequel focuses on bioterrorism…or something like that. John Woo ran afoul with Paramount over the runtime of the movie, which created a good deal of tension between the two. After extensive (and expensive) reshoots, Paramount turned the movie over to Stuart Baird for a reedit. The final movie did well at the box office, though critics and audiences noted the lack of continuity throughout the film. The Mission: Impossible franchise would stall for a full six years before the third entry in the series would revive its relevance.
6 Batman & Robin
How the mighty do fall! Tim Burton’s Batman shocked audiences and critics with its style and brooding take on the Caped Crusader. The film would go on to become one of the highest grossing movies in history, and spawn a series of much-anticipated sequels. Though well regarded today, the Burton-Schumacher Bat-cycle is jarringly uneven from one film to the next and quite evident as the series goes on. That said, however, the most obvious plummet in terms of quality happens in the fourth film of the series.
Batman & Robin still marks the nadir of the superhero genre, in part because it so massively departed from the style and legacy of the previous films. Burton took the serious to a dark and serious place, unafraid to portray Batman as psychologically flawed, or his villains as psychotic, violent criminals. Joel Schumacher continued that tradition, more or less, in Batman Forever, though added a garish-neon color palate to the visuals. Batman & Robin, however, disregards everything that made the series so wonderful to begin with, discarding the adult themes and sense of real danger. Schumacher replaces the maturity with puns and camp, resulting in one of the most unfunny, garish, and painful movies ever. Thank goodness for Christopher Nolan, who used the series-killing installment as an excuse to reboot the franchise with Batman Begins.
5 Psycho 2
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho continues to terrify audiences more than 50 years after its release. Few viewers today will recall that Psycho actually began a series of three sequels, all with original star Anthony Perkins in the lead. The first, Psycho II debuted in 1983, and picked up as Norman Bates leaves a mental home for the old Bates homestead, and finds his old nemesis Lila Loomis (again played by Vera Miles), the sister of his victim Marion Crane, determined to exact her revenge.
Psycho II became a surprise success in 1983, and even earned some good reviews to boot. The movie does, however, make a fatal mistake: as a plot twist, Psycho II posits that Norman Bates never killed anyone at all, and that his mother actually murdered his victims. That doesn’t quite make sense, and also robs the original Psycho of a good deal of its power. So much of the horror of Norman Bates lay in his insanity; to find out that he never actually murdered anyone doesn’t just do a disservice to fans of Psycho, it nullifies the movie! Perhaps that’s why today’s audiences have long forgotten Psycho II.
4 The Matrix Reloaded
Cult directors The Wachowskis had a surprise smash with their cyberpunk action film The Matrix in 1999. Perfectly timed in an age when Americans had just begun exploring the Internet and its mysteries, The Matrix became an out and out phenomenon, even spawning a religion! The Wachowskis began work straight away on a pair of Matrix sequels, which would continue the story of the first film’s protagonist, Neo, and his quest to free humanity from the illusion of The Matrix.
The Wachowskis, however, had a very different kind of story in mind. As the first Matrix film followed the so-called “hero’s journey” archetypal story, the directors set out to make The Matrix Reloaded as a deconstructionist version of the first film! Rather than continue the story of Neo-as-messiah, The Matrix Reloaded revealed that his enemies, the machines, had engineered his path as a method of controlling humanity. Instead of saving the last remnants of human civilization outside the Matrix, Neo had to choose to sacrifice his friends to save his species.
Viewers had a litany of problems with The Matrix Reloaded, including wooden performances, shallow characters, boring subplots and a plot almost impossible to follow. Die-hard fans, however, took particular umbrage to Neo’s role as a control of humanity rather than a liberator. Matrix-mania died a swift death following release of the two sequels, and nobody has touched the franchise since.
3 Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
Now here’s a curio: a film as a sequel to a TV series. In the days of Serenity, The X-Files and Veronica Mars, a big-screen follow up to a cult show seems totally possible. In 1992 though, doing a big-screen film sequel to a TV series raised more than one eyebrow in Hollywood, especially with an art house darling like David Lynch at the helm. Lynch had co-created the TV show Twin Peaks, which became a surprise hit in the first season. Ratings plummeted in the second season, however, after the resolution of the show’s central mystery: who killed prom queen Laura Palmer.
Lynch envisioned Fire Walk with Me as both a prequel and a sequel to the television show. Using surreal pocket universes and time travel allowed him to weave in and out of the series timeline, though changes in tone of story shocked audiences even more so. Whereas the Twin Peaks TV series featured a mix of dark mystery and quirky humor, Fire Walk with Me exalted the violence and adult themes of incest, rape and prostitution. What few fans of the show remained loyal following its cancellation found Fire Walk with Me an even more divisive affair. Though a revival in interest (and production) in Twin Peaks has somewhat acquitted the film in recent years, the bleak violence of the movie still scalds viewers of the show expecting jokes about fish and logs.
2 Back to the Future Part II
Back to the Future became the biggest film of 1985, catapulted director Robert Zemeckis to the A-list, and made a huge star of lead Michael J. Fox. That a sequel would follow surprised nobody, though the premise that Zemeckis adopted, along with co-writer Bob Gale, more than shocked viewers expecting a film closer in tone to the original.
Back to the Future relied on 50s nostalgia and 80s materialism as sources of humor and surprisingly touching drama. Back to the Future Part II, however, dispensed with the Capraesque story of the first film, and focused almost totally on the first film’s conceit: time travel. The sequel found the beloved characters of the first film, Marty and Doc, traveling to the future, and into alternate timelines corrupted by fellow time travelers. The movie also took the unique step of setting the sequel during the events of the original film, intercutting the two storylines together. While lovers of science fiction and adventure warmed to Part II, other lovers of the original film missed the heart. Maybe for that reason Back to the Future Part III more resembles the original movie in structure and tone.
1 Halloween III: Season of the Witch
John Carpenter popularized the slasher genre with his film Halloween, which introduced audiences to murderous madman Michael Myers. The low-budget horror picture became a runaway hit, and Halloween II followed three years later. Under mounting pressure to continue producing sequels, Carpenter decided to steer the series away from Michael Myers based stories and into a sort of anthology franchise. He began this new direction with Season of the Witch in 1982.
Season of the Witch followed a bizarre sci-fi/horror premise about a mysterious group of witches using microchip-laced Halloween masks to murder children and bring about a new age of witchcraft. Oh, and for some reason, the witches are androids. It’s that kind of movie.
Needless to say, Halloween III: Season of the Witch perplexed critics who found its story hard to follow and just plain weird. It disappointed a good deal of fans of the first two films, however, which would have preferred another slasher romp with Michael Myers. For that reason, the fourth Halloween film prominently featured Myers’ return, and Season of the Witch has since become a weird footnote to the franchise.
Know a bonkers sequel we left out? Tell us in the comments!