Spinoffs can be very big business. From ancillary stories that take place in the Star Wars universe, like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, to the numerous creepy spinoffs of The Conjuring franchise, new stories in a fun and comfortable cinematic universe can be as entertaining as they are profitable.
As The Conjuring brings audiences yet another film in its universe with Annabelle: Creation releasing on August 11th, 2017, producers have already greenlit The Nun and The Crooked Man-- the spinoffs of two characters in The Conjuring 2. If they’re anything like their predecessors, they’re going to be fantastically successful movies.
Not all spinoffs are created equally, though. For every Puss in Boots or The Scorpion King, you get an X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a film so poorly received that star Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold essentially hit the reset button when they made the sequel, The Wolverine.
This is a list of spinoffs that may have seemed like good ideas to the people who owned the intellectual properties and wanted to squeeze a few more dollars out of it, but they ultimately ended up being at best unconventional and at worst weird and unnecessary. In many cases, fans didn't even know that these were related to bigger franchises.
Here are the 15 Weirdest Spinoffs You Never Knew About, Ranked.
15 Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control
Studios can easily be blinded by the idea that they will earn endless money by remaking a classic concept they own. It’s easy to imagine dollar signs appearing in producers’ eyes when they saw the box office performance of other properties like Mission: Impossible and Charlie’s Angels and just knew that Get Smart would be the next action franchise.
The producers were so certain of success, they started planning spinoffs quickly. One was in production before Get Smart was even released. While Get Smart wasn’t a failure (the $80 million budget was recovered with a small profit), it wasn’t the runaway hit they hoped for, and the hope of a sequel was unlikely. However, ten days after the release of Get Smart in theaters, a spinoff arrived on home video.
Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd: Out of Control takes place during the events of Get Smart, seen from the perspective of two low-level spies with small roles in Get Smart. It’s not a sequel, it’s not really a spinoff since it just covers the actions of characters off-screen in the main film, and no one really asked for it. It’s not a terrible film, just an odd and purposeless one.
It was a fantastic idea: bring together Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, longtime friends and film fanatics, have them make intentionally cheesy movies, and get other filmmaker friends to make short, fake trailers for even worse films to go in-between the two movies in the double feature. The result was Grindhouse, a ridiculously fun, high-concept film that wasn’t a huge theatrical hit but gained an enormous cult following.
The fake trailers in between the two features were supposed to be funny, ludicrous, and over-the-top silly concepts that reminded viewers of bad movies from the exploitation era, but they were never meant to be more than that.
However, the trailer for Machete took on a life of its own. A committed central performance from Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo, a priest character played by Cheech Marin, and some bloody hilarity all added up to a viral hit online, and Rodriguez decided to turn the trailer into an actual film.
Not only was it weird and unexpected for Machete to become a movie, but it was also just as unusual that the film earned more than double its budget and led to a sequel: Machete Kills.
13 Evan Almighty
Bruce Almighty was a high-concept comedy starring Jim Carrey as a man who, after getting in an argument with God, is given God’s powers and abilities to see how difficult the job really is. The one-two punch of physical comedy and the box-office strength of Carrey took the film to nearly $250 million at the box office. A sequel was almost a foregone conclusion.
That’s why it was so strange when director Tom Shadyac decided to make a spinoff of the film which featured a minor character from the original, played by Steve Carell, as a congressman who becomes a reluctant modern-day Noah.
Instead of a true sequel, audiences got a movie in which a minor character and God are the only ones who return. Since Evan doesn’t get God’s powers in this film, why is it called Evan Almighty? Just so they could tie it to the previous film, promising a sequel that audiences never got.
Earning less than two-fifths of Bruce Almighty, it didn’t even make its $175 million budget back. Steve Carell’s career rebounded with the Despicable Me franchise, The Office, and an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, but Tom Shadyac hasn’t directed another narrative feature film since.
12 Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
There were many things that made the 1994 Street Fighter far from a triumph. First, it was Jean-Claude Van Damme’s attempt to join the Hollywood A-list of action film stars; it didn’t work, and his next five films were B-movies.
Second, it was the last major film starring Raul Julia, the celebrated screen actor who appeared in much better films like Kiss of the Spider Woman. Third, it was a disappointment to video game fans, and at the box office it fell shy of breaking even on its $35 million budget.
Imagine the world’s surprise when, fifteen years after the failure of the original film, a spinoff appeared in movie theaters. The first strange thing about the film was that it was about Chun-Li, a fan favorite from the game but one who doesn’t seem the likeliest candidate for a great solo film.
Second, they recast the excellent Ming-Na Wen, who was off making Stargate Universe-- Kristin Kreuk is great, but she doesn’t have the effortless hardcore that Wen showed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The solo spinoff also didn’t make its budget back, but there has been talk of a big-budget reboot from The Raid’s Gareth Edwards.
11 Bartok the Magnificent
In the history of ideas that seem inappropriate for children’s animated films, Anastasia might be the weirdest one to reach the screen. Based on a historical event where a young amnesiac Russian woman named Anna was believed to be the Grand Duchess, the film plays fast and loose with history, including the fact that the villain in the film is an undead Rasputin.
The film was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, who created The Secret of NIMH, but always struggled to find an audience for their animated work. Though Anastasia wasn’t a huge hit, it made its production budget back. Two years later, a direct-to-video “sequel” appeared from the same creative team.
Perhaps trying to recoup costs from the original and redirect the series into more kid-friendly territory, the spinoff was called Bartok the Magnificent. It follows the adventures of Bartok, the albino bat who was Rasputin’s sidekick in the original.
In this outing, he meets a snake, a bear in a top hat, and an evil witch who is trying to take over all of Russia. The film is every bit as strange and incongruous as it sounds, and thus ended the Anastasia franchise.
10 U.S. Marshals
The journey to U.S. Marshals began in 1963 with the TV series The Fugitive, where Richard Kimble is on the run after being convicted of killing his wife, searching for the one-armed man who did it. The film was turned into a big-budget film starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. It was a financial success and was nominated for several Oscars, eventually winning Jones the Best Supporting Actor award. It made sense to try and find a way to continue the story.
This is where it gets strange. As a spinoff to The Fugitive, which follows Kimble’s compelling quest, the producers decided to instead follow the people who chased him. The series went from a Hitchcockian everyman thriller to a procedural story about government trackers.
Jones returned along, with Joe Pantoliano as That One Agent and Daniel Roebuck as The Other Agent. Add to that Robert Downey Jr. at the height of his public drug problem and a new story essentially the same as the old one (a new fugitive also goes on the run because he’s also innocent of the crime), and you have one of the least interesting spinoffs to a good original film.
9 The LEGO Batman Movie
There are many unusual things about The LEGO Batman Movie. First is the cast: who would have expected to look at the cast list of a Batman movie and see names like Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, and Conan O’Brien?
The second unusual thing is that the movie was released theatrically in the midst of a live-action DC franchise that also featured Batman. Barely a year earlier, Ben Affleck appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and six months later, he popped up in Suicide Squad. It’s strange to have an animated version of a character in a theatrical release so close to the releases of a live-action version of the same character.
However, the strangest thing is that it might be the best version of Batman on the big screen since Christopher Nolan released The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The film has excellent action sequences, a great sense of humor, and a light, fun alternative to the unrelenting moodiness of the live-action DC universe. Though the film is a spinoff, LEGO Batman will be returning for the LEGO Movie Sequel, a no-brainer considering the massive success of his solo outing.
8 Going Places
The Big Lebowski is a bona fide cult phenomenon. There are conventions in its honor, and it is an endlessly quotable film. The characters, from The Dude to the nihilists to crazy war vet Walter, are hilarious and memorable. If it weren’t for the fact that the Coen Brothers made it, audiences might expect that there would be a sequel to capitalize on all that popularity.
There’s no sequel, but there will soon be a spinoff. It will be directed by John Turturro, who will also be reprising his role as Jesus Quintana, the avid bowler who also happens to be a sex offender. It will have nothing else to do with The Big Lebowski (the Coens gave John Turturro permission to use the character, but are otherwise uninvolved).
It will also have appearances from Susan Sarandon, JB Smoove, and Pete Davidson, and it is simultaneously an English-language remake of a French film from 1974 by director Bertrand Blier.
There’s no telling exactly what the film will end up being, but one thing is for sure: it is one of the weirdest and convoluted journeys a story could take to reach the silver screen.
7 Air Buddies
Air Bud-- the children’s film about a basketball-playing dog-- is based on a true story, and the lead role is played by the actual dog himself, Air Buddy. The film was a surprise box-office hit, earning eight times its budget and spawning four sequels.
It was only a matter of time before someone realized that puppies are even cuter than adult dogs, and so came the spinoff series Air Buddies. Where the original series concentrated on Air Bud learning to play a series of sports, the new franchise focused on a series of adventure,s which were bluntly reflected in the titles: Snow Buddies, Space Buddies, Spooky Buddies, and Treasure Buddies, among others.
Also, though their father Air Bud never displayed this particular talent in the first five films, he and his lovely spouse Molly are suddenly able to talk along with their many puppies. No explanation is provided for this change, and it is weirdly jarring. There’s even a prequel in the series, The Search for Santa Paws, which takes place before Santa Buddies, and also had a separate sequel. The timeline alone is puzzling.
6 Hobo with a Shotgun
It was ludicrous enough that one of the over-the-top trailers from Grindhouse was ever turned into a film, but it’s at least understandable, since Grindhouse director Robert Rodriguez made the trailer himself and wanted to revisit it. The fact that there is a second film that owes its existence to spinning off Grindhouse is amazing, and the story of its origin is fascinating.
Filmmaker Jason Eisener created the fake trailer for Hobo with a Shotgun during a contest promoting the release of Grindhouse. It won, and the trailer was screened as part of the actual Grindhouse film experience in certain places in Canada.
After the 2010 success of Machete, Eisener started work on a feature version of his trailer. He cast Rutger Hauer as the titular hobo, arriving in Hope City only to find corruption in every corner and only one cure for it: hot lead.
Hilarious, violent, and weird, the film didn’t make its budget back in theaters, but it has become a fan favorite in recent years.
5 Bates Motel
No, not the popular A&E series that premiered in 2013 and told the story of Norman and Norma Bates before he went crazy, she died, and he started taking on her personality. This Bates Motel is the made-for-TV movie from 1987 starring Harold and Maude’s Bud Cort and Lori Petty.
The film was intended as a pilot for a TV series, and it is certainly a spinoff rather than a sequel to the film series, as it dismisses the events of Psycho II and III. The film makes a series of strange decisions, from having Norman Bates die off-screen, to having a completely unrelated character now running the motel, to a fake Norma haunting (that seems more like an episode of Scooby-Doo).
The only actual character returning from the film series is the hotel itself, and the show shapes it as some supernatural magnet that attracts weird events. Though famous faces like Jason Bateman and Moses Gunn popped up throughout, the movie is not well remembered, and it was twenty-six years before Bates Motel returned to TV screens.
4 Get Him to the Greek
Forgetting Sarah Marshall came out in 2008, produced by Judd Apatow, and it fit the Apatow template perfectly. As a story about a rejected man trying to win his girlfriend back, the film was funny and shocking for its frank and long-lasting male nude scene. However, one of the most memorable elements was the performance of Russell Brand as Aldous Snow, a British rock star.
The performance was a breakout for him in America, leading to parts in Bedtime Stories and Hop, and it was an obvious choice to do something with Brand’s character Aldous Snow. The choice, however, was a strange one.
Get Him to the Greek is a standard raucous comedy mining all the clichés of the rock star lifestyle, and it doesn’t really tie into the original film except for Brand’s appearance. The movie is funny and provides fun roles for Jonah Hill and Elisabeth Moss, but what was a fun small role for Brand in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, becomes a bit too much at feature length.
3 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Even before it was released, the original Paranormal Activity had immense buzz for its fantastic scares and low budget. The film was a success and led to a five-film series that kept the fake documentary framework of the original and built up the supernatural world by adding new characters and universes.
The series hit some speed bumps when the fourth entry was released in 2012, and the fifth one didn’t come for three more years. In the interim, a spinoff was released.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones takes place in the same universe as the other films, and ties in directly at the end. It has cameos from characters from two other films, and folds into the mythology so clearly that it makes more sense as a sequel than a spinoff.
The movie also adds a level of humor and weirdness that isn’t present in the other films, including a sequence where street gangsters battle a coven of witches with shotguns. Just like the rest of the series, the parts are greater than the whole, but this is one of the few times where a spinoff was better than other entries in the franchise.
2 Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
There is arguably no film franchise more popular or consistently profitable than Star Wars. Over the span of forty years, the mythology of the Jedi and the adventures of characters in a galaxy far, far away have entertained millions of fans. The adventures of Star Wars on television, however, have been less immediately successful.
Starting with the hard-to-find Star Wars Holiday Special, George Lucas’ material proved hard to bring to TV. Two below-average animated series, Droids and Ewoks, were produced in the 1980s, but perhaps the most famous classic TV adaptations of Star Wars material are the Ewoks live-action spinoffs.
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Story came out in 1984, one year after Return of the Jedi, and it brought back everyone’s favorite Star Wars character: Wicket the Ewok. The movie focuses on characters in the Star Wars universe that audiences generally agreed were the least interesting part of the original trilogy: the Ewoks. It was somehow successful enough to lead to another TV Ewok film, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, one year later.
The Batman movie series that began in 1989 ended in 1997 with the terrible Batman & Robin, and the last time Catwoman appeared in a film was 1992. Why was Catwoman coming out in 2004, completely unconnected to anything Batman-related?
After her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry was attached to several big franchises including X-Men and the James Bond film Die Another Day. In the midst of that impressive run, she somehow decided that Catwoman was a good career move.
The film, directed by French visual effects wizard Pitof, does away with Catwoman’s comic book identity of Selina Kyle, replacing it with the meek Patience Philips. She works at a cosmetics company, discovers nefarious activities, and is killed for her trouble. When she decides to become Catwoman, her costume is an embarrassing sub-cosplay piece of work.
The film was a huge failure, earning back less than half of its enormous budget, and the character wasn’t seen on screen again until 2012, when Nolan brought a slightly more faithful version of the character to screen in The Dark Knight Rises.
Can you think of any other weird spinoffs that you never knew were related to other franchises? Let us know in the comment section!
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