Have we Learned Our Lesson Yet About Making Sequels Past Their Prime?

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SequelsPastPrimeVarious

I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for a while now, because it’s something that’s become so pervasive in recent years. There’s this ongoing narrative of studios and filmmakers wanting to revisit their past hits, presuming that moviegoers want to do the same.

In the past couple years, we’ve seen sequels to Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day twenty years after the original movie, while last year’s Blade Runner 2049 came out 35 years after Ridley Scott’s original movie. The 2016 comedy Bad Santa 2 came out 13 years after the Dimension Films hit comedy, and didn’t do nearly as well. That followed a sequel to Will Ferrell’s Anchorman nine years after the original movie, although that at least did better than the original movie. Similarly, Dumb and Dumber To starring Jim Carrey had a funny title but just wasn’t as funny a concept twenty years after the Farrelly Brothers’ debut; it still grossed $86.2 million over the holidays in 2014. Ben Stiller finally made Zoolander 2 after 15 years of fans clamoring for it, yet few of them turned up at theaters to actually see the sequel.

The main reason these sequels seem to be happening at all is that studios are now hearing more from fans on social media who say that they want a sequel to this or that, most of it being driven by nostalgia more than from reasonable and logical business sense. On top of that, studios are seeing the success of the Star Wars sequel and spin-offs over thirty years after Return of the Jedi. Also, Jurassic World grossed more its opening weekend in 2015 than Jurassic Park 3 grossed domestically in 2001, which makes it seem like nostalgia and the desire for more dinosaur movies helped Jurassic World do so well.

JigsawSequelLionsgate

The most recent example of a “sequel past its prime” has to be Lionsgate’s decision to reboot the Saw franchise with Jigsaw, released on the weekend before Halloween. It grossed $37 million, which was better than 2009’s Saw VI, but it was still seven years after Saw 3D, which had already shown signs of diminishing returns for the franchise.

It just seems blatantly obvious that not all movies need a sequel, especially when it’s been so long since the last installment, yet whenever there’s a single hit sequel, it forces other studio to scramble to figure out how they can monetize their existing properties.

This month alone, besides this week’s Insidious: The Last Key (which comes out 2 ½ years after Insidious Chapter 3), we’ll get Paddington 2 next week – four years after the original family hit but with a different studio – and Maze Runner: The Death Cure at the end of the month, three years after The Scorch Trials. Honestly, releasing a sequel three or four years after the original movie seems perfectly reasonable, but even that might be too long to capture the magic when fans have moved onto other things… including streaming and video games.

Later this year, we’ll get Son of Shaft and Super Troopers 2, two movies that I’m kind of looking forward to as sequels to movies released in 2000 and 2001 respectively. That’s 17 and 18 years between movies or even longer if you consider that the Richard Roundtree Shaft came out in 1971, and Roundtree remains a part of the series. It’s really asking a lot to expect those who saw those movies at the age of 14 or 15 to still be interested when they’re in their early 30s, and having seen Super Troopers in my 30s, I may be the only person my age that still loves Broken Lizard.

There’s also the interesting case of Glass, the sequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s 2000 hit Unbreakable, which has that same 18-year gap, which makes you wonder how many Unbreakable fans are even still alive. What Shyamalan did — which was absolutely genius — was that he turned his 2017 movie Split into a stop-gap movie as testing ground for an Unbreakable sequel. (Spoilers if you haven’t seen Split, but that post-credits scene with Bruce Willis got everyone excited for the potential of Glass.)

So what else can we except this year? Well, in the summer, Warner Bros. is putting a feminist twist on Steven Soderbergh’s popular Ocean’s 11 franchise with Ocean’s 8, a movie that stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathway, Helena Bonham Carter and even Rihanna and Mindy Kaling. It’s not really a sequel to the 2007 movie Ocean’s 13, although some of the characters from Soderbergh’s trilogy are likely to appear, at least in cameos.

incredibles2teasertrailerDisney-Pixar

Although it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird’s popular Pixar movie The Incredibles became such a huge hit, that’s one case where Disney and Pixar are making a sequel that millions of people really want to see, since that was one of the most beloved superhero movies before Marvel Studios came along.

I hated the original movie musical Mamma Mia, starring Meryl Streep, and the only good thing about making a sequel ten years later and calling it Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is that I can literally say that title in such a sarcastic way no one else could possibly want to see it, presuming anyone does.

Probably the ballsiest sequel of the year and maybe ever will be Disney’s holiday release Mary Poppins Returns directed by Rob Marshall, which apparently takes place decades after the original 1964 Disney classic with Jane and Michael Banks being all grown up. Mary Poppins is played by 34-year-old Emily Blunt with Michael played by Ben Whishaw, who is three years older than her, and Jane is played by 46-year-old Emily Mortimer. No, I have no idea exactly how that’s going to work, but hey, I’m sure Disney could turn a live action Mickey Mouse movie starring an actual mouse into a hit if they wanted to, so I’m not questioning this decision. (Disney also has Christopher Robin coming out this summer, which isn’t a sequel so much, although it uses a similar concept as Mary Poppins Returns.)

Sony’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web is only a sequel in the sense that it features the same characters from David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but they’re all played by different actors, so we’ll have to see if the likes of Claire Foy from The Crown, Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason from Borg McEnroe, Sylvie Hoek (Blade Runner 2049) and Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out) can get people back into theaters by being as much a reboot as a sequel.

Other sequels coming out this year – there are a LOT of them so hold onto your britches! – include Pacific Rim Uprising four and a half years since Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robots movie, and Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania 3 three years after the hit sequel. The Purge: The Island comes two years after Purge: Election Year but Universal and Blumhouse have figured out the perfect formula to keep that franchise fresh by switching cast and concept between each movie.  Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer 2, once again directed by Antoine Fuqua, will do just fine, as will Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck It Ralph 2. (Can we possibly make that title ANY longer?)

itpennywisemuschiettis1Warner Bros.

The best and wisest way to handle sequels is the way New Line is doing “it” with the Stephen King adaptation It. As soon as they saw that Chapter 1 was going to be a huge hit, they scheduled a release date for Chapter 2 on the same weekend two years later. That gives filmmakers Andy and Barbara Muschietti just enough time to write, cast and make the best film possible. While the 2017 release could easily be a stand-alone movie, there’s so much more material in King’s book, and it will be fun to see who gets cast as the adult version of the lovable kids in Chapter 1.  (I would be SHOCKED if Muschietti didn’t try to get Jessica Chastain to play the older Beverly after the two had such success with Mama.)

So yeah, the next time you talk to Keanu Reeves or Alex Winter, please don’t ask them about a third Bill and Ted movie, because no one REALLY wants to see that. Just like no one wants to really see another Wayne’s World movie or for that matter, another Shrek movie, but that’s not gonna stop DreamWorks Animation from paying Mike Myers a ridiculous amount to reprise the title role. (It’s literally gotten to the point where Myers, along with Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, don’t need to work between Shrek movies.) If I read any interview with David Duchovny talking about another X-Files movie, I might have to declare a fatwa on the interviewer. That property isn’t even doing well as a TV series anymore.

Listen, I know you all love your favorite movies from childhood, and will fight tooth and nail against them being remade ala 2016’s Ghostbusters, but honestly? Remaking a movie with new characters and concepts just works better, as seen by the current hit Jumanji. Very few people really want to be reminded that their favorite heroes from yesteryear have gotten old. So Harrison Ford? We really don’t need a sequel to your 1993 movie The Fugitive even if someone thinks it’s a good idea to make one before you and Tommy Lee Jones escape from this mortal coil.

And lastly, Tom Cruise, man, you can keep making Mission: Impossible  until you’re blue in the face, and you probably will, but a sequel to Top Gun directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) is not going to appeal to anyone under 40, and if you wait any longer, you’re only going to be selling reduced-priced tickets to seniors.

(Sometime later this year, I’m going to look ahead to the sequels currently scheduled for 2019, many which haven’t even begun production yet, to see which ones will do just fine and which are absolute folly.)

  | East Coast Editor
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