With Alice Through the Looking Glass becoming yet another outrageously expensive bomb for Disney, perhaps Hollywood needs to perform a referendum on franchise filmmaking. Buzzwords like “franchise” and “sequel” have long since conquered Hollywood; at this point, studios plan a series for any successful film, even to the point of absurdity. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, anyone? This is 40? Did either of their respective precursors demand movies that would further explore their characters? Did either of them even leave the door remotely open to second chapters?
Even more grating, not every movie should even entertain the idea of a sequel. Some tell satisfying, complete stories in their runtime, and adding story on in a new film not only renders the end of the original moot (sorry, The Force Awakens), it can totally devalue the first movie. Which brings us to the titles on this list…
These films tried to ride the coattails of some other successful films, none of which needed sequels. Granted, some of these sequels were planned from the start, or were suggested by source novels. That doesn’t make them necessary, as the following utterly forgettable films will attest.
Here are 13 Sequels You Forgot Existed.
The original Easy Rider is widely considered a watershed moment in cinema history -- the moment the sex, drugs and rock & roll counterculture invaded Hollywood. It hasn’t been the same since. Original writer-director Dennis Hopper never showed any interest in doing a sequel, despite the enduring legacy of the original (or perhaps because of it). That Hopper died in 2010 makes the taste of this sequel automatically dubious, given that it was literally made over his dead body.
The Ride Back picks up 40 years after Easy Rider, and follows the brother of Peter Fonda’s Captain America as he retraces the Cap’s ride across America, encountering cliché after cliché. That none of the original characters appear in the film also makes the “ride back” portion of the title somewhat moot. The sequel also misses the point of the original: instead of discovering the myth of Americana is just a hollow platitude, the characters here bemoan the evolution of society, and the loss of Americana via countercultural revolution. It’s almost like the filmmakers didn’t even like the original and made this sequel as a rebuttal. It’s the kind of cinematic polemic that falls on deaf ears…which could be why few have heard of this sequel.
Speaking of long-delayed sequels, The Maltese Falcon is on just about every list of greatest-of-all-time movies, and remains a riveting mystery-noir seventy years later. The author of the original novel, Dashiell Hammett, did revisit the lead character of Sam Spade in a number of lesser-known works, but it took Hollywood to undertake a full-blown sequel. Of course, that same tinseltown hubris also decided to overlook the impossible return of original star Humphrey Bogart, who had died years before.
Written and directed by David Giler, best known as the hard-partying writer-producer of the Alien movies, The Black Bird casts George Segal as Sam Spade, Jr. who has taken over his dead dad’s detective agency, and once again pursues the Maltese Falcon statuette. Originally conceived as a mystery-drama, Giler instead rewrote the movie as a comedy! Though several actors from The Maltese Falcon reprised their roles, the movie bombed at the box office. Critics called it grating and unfunny, and it has since slipped into obscurity.
Few movies reach the kind of classic status that The Wizard of Oz boasts. A perfect blend of fantasy, drama, music and adventure, it also broke new technical ground with its use of special effects and colorization. Author L. Frank Baum used the original novel to launch a series of Oz books, which became the Harry Potter series of its day. MGM had planned a sequel featuring the original cast, though decided to scrap the plans instead when the first movie proved almost impossibly expensive and actress Judy Garland became an overnight sensation.
Leave it to Disney to try to jump start the series almost 50 years later. Acclaimed editor Walter Murch, who’d long worked alongside movie luminaries like George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, decided to make his directorial debut with a big-budget outing that would strive for both the cultural and technical watersheds of the original film. Return to Oz borrowed the plot and characters of the second and third Oz books, as well as a few tropes from the original movie. Boasting ambitious new puppet and animation techniques, it also introduced the world to a young actress named Fairuza Balk.
Alas, audiences did not want to Return to Oz. The movie bombed hard, and Disney quickly pulled it from theatres and relocated it in the company vaults. Critics attacked the dark storyline and noted the lack of enjoyable characters, and it would take years before Return to Oz would emerge on video as something of a cult film.
The first Karate Kid movie became an unexpected blockbuster in 1984. Roger Ebert named it among the best films of the year, and actor Pat Morita scored an Oscar nomination for his performance. Two sequels followed, each less well-regarded than the last. With original star Ralph Macchio pushing age 30, he couldn’t quite pass as a kid anymore. Hollywood’s solution: find the next karate kid!
And find her they did. The Next Karate Kid found Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi training a young female recruit played by future two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank. In essence, the movie tried to reboot the series, or at least spin it off to follow Miyagi and his latest apprentice, but it became a punchline instead. Critics attacked the film as a cynical exercise in greed, and audiences already burned out on the Karate Kid formula stayed away. Today, even fans of the series ignore the movie, though since Swank’s rise to stardom, it does occasionally see the light of day on cable.
Like Easy Rider, Chinatown glows as a classic of “New Hollywood” cinema, taking a-tried-and-true genre — detective noir — and infusing it with latter day themes of violence and exploitation. Unlike most of the antecedents on this list which didn’t call for or envision a sequel, however, writer Robert Towne always intended for Chinatown to have a follow-up — two in fact.
Towne wanted the character of Jake Gittes, as played by Jack Nicholson, to take on a Philip Marlowe-type iconography. Nicholson loved the character, and went so far as to turn down all other detective roles for the rest of his career. Unfortunately, a host of problems ranging from writer’s block to Chinatown director Roman Polanski’s rape conviction stalled the project. It took more than a decade for the Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes to hit screens. While the film is, in fairness, actually pretty good, it died at the box office, and with it, just about any hope for another installment in Towne’s proposed trilogy. Only the die-hardest of Chinatown fans even remember it today.
Terms of Endearment took the world by storm in 1983, delivering huge box office receipts and nabbing five Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actress and Best Picture. Writer Larry McMurtry, who penned the original novel, has said he enjoys writing sequels, so when The Evening Star hit bookshelves, Hollywood raced to get it to the screen. Released 13 years after the original, and featuring returning stars Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine, The Evening Star continued the bittersweet story of the Greenway family, as a single grandmother struggled to raise her dead daughter’s children. In addition to MacLaine and Nicholson, the film also provided new characters played by beloved actors like Juliette Lewis, Bill Paxton, and Ben Johnson in an attempt to recreate the lively dynamic of its predecessor.
The Evening Star did not enjoy the same reception as Terms of Endearment — far from it, in fact. Critics panned the movie, which bombed on release. While Terms of Endearment remains a staple of cable movie channels, The Evening Star makes for little more than a footnote.
Why, oh why?
Basic Instinct cleaned up at the box office in 1991. Directed by then-hot commodity Paul Verhoeven and with the most expensive script in history by enfant terrible Joe Eszterhas, it helped popularize the 1990s trend of erotic thrillers, and made Sharon Stone into the biggest star in the world. Stone’s performance — which managed to entail lesbianism, full-frontal nudity, acrobatic sex and no shortage of dirty lines — captivated the world, and the producers were eager to mount a sequel (so to speak). Sharon Stone and co-star Michael Douglas both flirted with the possibility for years before Stone at last signed on.
Then the movie landed in Development Hell. When Douglas refused to join the cast, the producers tried to cancel the movie. Stone sued, and because her contract stipulated that she would get paid regardless of whether or not the movie made it into production, the producers reversed course and again greenlit the movie. Stone and the producers sparred for year over the casting of the male lead, and by the time the movie finally rolled out in 2006, the public had lost interest. Basic Instinct 2 bombed amid a critical lambasting. Today it’s all but forgotten, save for a cult of enthusiasts who enjoy Stone’s performance and see the movie as something of a camp classic!
Larry McMurtry is the rare kind of author who enjoys artistic cred for his novels and Hollywood stardom as a writer, sometimes even at the same time. McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show earned strong praise on its release, and a film adaptation scored several Oscars, helping to launch the careers of Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Timothy Bottoms, and in particular, that of its director, Peter Bogdanovich.
Much like The Evening Star, McMurtry penned a sequel to his coming-of-age drama The Last Picture Show, and in 1990, Bogdanovich tried to mount a comeback of sorts, reassembling the Picture Show cast and taking on McMurtry’s sequel, Texasville. It opened to mixed reviews, and died hard at the box office. While The Last Picture Show continues to show at film festivals, on television, and often appears on Best Movies of All Time lists, the same audience which holds it in such high regard appears to have forgotten the sequel altogether. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped star Jeff Bridges from campaigning for a third installment, based again on another novel by McMurtry.
Saturday Night Fever caused pop culture shockwaves when it arrived in theatres in 1977. The soundtrack album also became one of the best-selling albums in history, and remains definitive music of the era. Actor John Travolta became a superstar overnight, though, by 1983, a series of commercial flops had diminished his standing. Paramount, the studio behind Saturday Night Fever, had long pursued Travolta for a sequel, and with the actor having fallen on hard times, he finally accepted.
Enter another 70s luminary: Sylvester Stallone. Hot off the success of Rocky III, Stallone signed to write and direct the follow up, which would pick up with Travolta’s disco rat character trying to get into a Broadway chorus line. Despite a strong box office haul, critics befouled Staying Alive as a heartless, brainless attempt to cash in on the original. Entertainment Weekly has since named it the worst sequel of all time.
Critics often accuse George Lucas of crafting unnecessary sequels, including the follow up to his first big hit, American Graffiti. Credit Lucas for taking a clever approach, even if it didn’t pan out well.
More American Graffiti returns to the characters of the original film, albeit in four different time periods. Director Bill Norton, at Lucas’s behest, filmed the four sequences in different formats, almost making the film something of an anthology piece. It also took advantage of the countercultural revolution of the late '60s to add drama to the proceedings. Despite the powerful ambition of the film, the story never quite takes off…or even comes across lucid.
Lucas later joked that the film made “ten cents,” and wonders to this day why he made it. Despite Lucas’s penchant for re-releasing films with updated effects or tweaks in editing multiple times over, More American Graffiti remains off the cinematic radar, perhaps because no amount of meddling could make the film any better.
The original Caddyshack still has an avid following courtesy of the cult of Bill Murray, and enjoys frequent showings on television as well as steady sales on home media. When the original hit theatres in 1980, it basked in box office successes and enjoyed strong critical notices. Producer Jon Peters, who would later become known as producer of Batman, Wild Wild West and the ill-fated Superman Lives project, lobbied hard for a follow up, and when star Rodney Dangerfield showed interest, Peters tapped original writer Harold Ramis to build the film into a Dangerfield vehicle. Ramis reluctantly agreed.
Perhaps sensing a disaster at hand, Dangerfield jumped ship, as did Ramis, leaving the film to move ahead with only Chevy Chase returning from the first outing (not counting the dancing puppet gopher, of course, and maybe he deserves mention). Chase has expressed his strong regret for appearing in the movie, which bombed on release and did nothing to help the careers of its performers, Chase included.
Science fiction and sequels go hand in hand, and Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey is no exception. Adapted to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick, critics often cite the film as one of the best ever, and definitive of the sci-fi genre. Clark penned three more novels in the 2001 series, and by 1984, the studio bosses at MGM thought they could make the artistic legacy of Kubrick’s film into a commercial one.
Peter Hyams stepped in as director, adapting the book and retrieving original cast members Douglas Rain and Kier Dullea for this sequel. He also tapped then-hot actors John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, and Roy Scheider to play new characters which return to Jupiter in search of the spacecraft Discovery and her crew. The budget to the film quickly spiraled out of control thanks to the required special effects, and while the movie did earn some positive critical notice, it flopped in theatres, a victim of the Beverly Hills Cop juggernaut it competed against. Fans of the original Kubrick outing would often just assume this sequel goes unmentioned.
The original Dirty Dancing caused a sensation in 1987 for its blend of nostalgia, humor, issues and sexy stars in the form of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze. Had it debuted today, no doubt a sequel would have followed soon thereafter. Yet, in 1987 Hollywood had more restraint when it came to creating franchises from unlikely sources, so rather than produce the next chapter in the saga of Baby and Johnny, it produced a TV series instead. Unrelated to the film but for the title, it met with swift cancellation.
In 2004 though, Swayze’s career had taken a downturn, and the enduring fandom of the original prompted producer Lawrence Bender to move ahead on a prequel, as was the style of the time. In fact, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights had originally been conceived as a serious drama about the Cuban Revolution before Bender had the script adapted to fit the Dirty Dancing formula. The finished film isn’t quite a prequel, nor is it a remake — rather; it has qualities of both, including a cameo from Swayze. The movie flopped on release amid a harsh critical reception, suggesting that fans of the original preferred Baby left in a corner.
Which sequels did we forget you'd forgotten? Sound off in the comments.