Classic film sequels: are they really that bad?

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Many classic films have had critically maligned sequels that flopped at the box office – but were they really that bad? Good question.

2022 is a banner year for landmark films celebrating their big 4-0. Blade Runner. The Thing. E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial. The King of Comedy. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Plus a sequel to a 1978 blockbuster, which should have been a surefire smash but instead slipped up and hit the ground hard. Grease 2. The film that launched Michelle Pfeiffer’s career. Or to some, the film in which Michelle Pfeiffer was the only person to escape with any dignity. She would break out the following year with a ferocious turn in Brian De Palma’s Scarface.

1978’s Grease cost $6m and grossed $206m in the US. Grease 2 cost just over $11m and grossed, erm, $15m in the US. Grease was still the word, but the word was now flop. Now in its 40th year, does Grease 2 still deserve its reputation as one of cinema’s worst sequels? Or is it so bad it’s good? Or, is it *gasp*… good?

We look at the film that slid into Rotten Tomatoes with a 38% Freshness score, along with other sequels trashed upon release to see if time has been kind.

A housekeeping note: these are direct sequels to the original movies, not later instalments. So Alien³ is off the hook… for now.

Grease 2 (1982)

michelle pfeiffer in Grease 2

The story: In early 1960s America, frustrated Rydell high senior Stephanie (Pfeiffer) becomes intrigued by a mysterious motorbike rider who has appeared on the scene. Meanwhile, British student Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) is finding it difficult making friends at his new school.

What they said back then: “This movie just recycles Grease, without the stars, without the energy, without the freshness and without the grease.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

Our take: Say it in hushed tones, but Grease 2 is a better directed film than Grease. Patricia Birch, choreographer on the original movie, knows how to make her camera dance along with the cast. The sequel is colourful, lively, and, with 13 songs on the soundtrack, doesn’t skimp on being a musical.

See also: Grease 2: a salute to an underappreciated musical

The plot, a gender swap version of the Grease story, is no great shakes. But, Grease was not exactly Inception with its tale of bad-boy meets good-girl.

So what’s missing? Everything that makes Grease great. The memorable songs. The party energy. The cool. Oh, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as Danny and Sandy. Remember them, the stars of the original, who are barely mentioned here? Michael is Sandy’s cousin, but after talks with Travolta and Newton-John came to naught that’s as much as you get. Eve Arden returns as Principal McGee, as does Didi Conn as Frenchy, until the film forgets her halfway through.

What Grease 2 takes from Grease, then amps right up, is an adolescent preoccupation with sex. Heavens, this PG-rated movie is hot under the collar. Those of us who watched it with parents and siblings during the 80s remember burning with embarrassment at the ‘Reproduction’ sex-ed song. But, so many numbers are hormone-addled the film resembles a school play written by 14-year-old boys, with the teachers paying no attention until opening night.

Examples: a song in a bowling alley is titled, ‘We’re Gonna Score Tonight.’ A ‘T-Bird’ lad lures his ‘Pink Ladies’ girlfriend into a nuclear fallout shelter by serenading her with the song, ‘Do It For Our Country.’ Sample lyric: “Let’s do it for our country / The red, white and the blue / Let’s do it for our country / Our parents would approve.”

During ‘Cool Rider.’ the film’s best song, even Ms. Pfeiffer must belt out, “If he’s cool enough he can burn me through and through.” Hey Paramount Studios, Spinal Tap called, they want their lyrics back.

The reason this is not unwatchably creepy is because the entire cast look about 30, and the film is wrapped in the unreality of a 1980s studio movie set in the 1960s that went seriously off the rails.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Not really, but Grease 2 is bizarro fun. Recommended for any cinema looking for a crowd pleaser.

A trivial aside: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John did reteam in 1983 for the ‘angels intervening in the affairs of humankind’ comedy-drama Two of a Kind. It was not well-received.

Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2

The story: When two scuba divers are killed, police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is convinced a Great White Shark has returned to Amity’s waters. Fired by the town council for scaring bathers, Brody takes to the sea to rescue his sons and their friends, when the toothy beast begins attacking their boats.

What they said back then: the kids are just plain silly, and it’s a toss-up to decide which is more unconvincing, the shark or Scheider.” – Derek Adams, Time Out

Our take: Time Out were being harsh. Sure, Scheider plays Chief Brody here through gritted teeth, and with Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss both absent, he’s forced to sail solo. But, too much of a pro to simply bob along in a movie, he delivers another fine performance as Amity’s land-loving copper.

Yet, forcing Brody to go it alone is where the film flails. Much of Jaws’ brilliance is in the interplay between Brody, Hooper, and Quint when they’re all at sea. In Jaws 2, Deputy Hendricks is benched for the climax of the film, as is Brody’s wife Ellen. The latter due to producer Richard Zanuck rejecting the idea that a wife help their leading character save the day.

Due to the filmmakers having a more dependable model shark for this movie, you see more of it. Ironically making the finned threat less convincing than ‘Bruce’ from the classic original.

Still, the sequel remains an enjoyable action-thriller. Director Jeannot Szwarc delivers efficient suspense sequences along with genuine scares. Released the same year as Halloween, Jaws 2 seemed to predict the wave of slasher movies that would roll over Hollywood for the next decade.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? While never reaching the high water mark of Jaws, Jaws 2 is still a case of waving not drowning.

A trivial aside: The shark attack on the water-skier is nowhere near as spectacular as the poster promises…

Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

The story: The near future. A computer malfunction knocks a commercial space shuttle bound for the Moon onto a collision course with the sun. Traumatised pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) and his flight attendant ex-girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) must get the shuttle moon-bound once more.

What they said back then: It is far worse (than Airplane!), but might seem funnier had there been no original.” – Variety

Our take: Grease 2 was not the only misfiring sequel to a smash-hit movie Paramount released in 1982. They ended the year with this follow-up to the 1980 surprise hit, with Grease 2 writer Ken Finkelman bumped up to writer and director.

Airplane! creators Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker refused to be involved with the sequel, believing the sci-fi element would undermine the satire. Although they were inadvertently involved, through the sheer number of gags that Airplane II: The Sequel recycles from its predecessor. But, proving the adage a good joke is worth repeating, the sheer number of sight-gags, puns, innuendo and smuttiness (not all of it pinched) means you are guaranteed a healthy ration of laughs.

The film’s ace in the hole is William Shatner as comically serious moon base commander, Buck Murdock. Even if you are not enjoying the ride up to the point he arrives, Buck is worth the wait. Or, someone has handily compiled his scenes on YouTube

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Airplane! was the first movie that made this writer cry with laughter, so you should always prioritise the original over this. However, if you find yourself stumbling across Airplane II: The Sequel on ITV4 or such like, you may find yourself chuckling.

A trivial aside: Jokes from the first movie are not the only thing recycled. The theme is lifted from Stu Phillips’ music for the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica series.

Crocodile Dundee II (1988)

Paul Hogan in crocodile dundee

The story: Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) now lives with girlfriend Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) in New York City. He finds himself battling a ruthless Colombian drug lord when Sue is kidnapped, after her photo-journalist boyfriend sends her incriminating pictures of the cartel.

What they said back then: “…this time the novelty has begun to wear thin…” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Our take: Another sequel to a smash-hit Paramount movie that underwhelmed and effectively killed the franchise. In fairness, critical reception to this movie was lukewarm rather than hostile, and critics remained charmed by Hogan’s laidback Dundee. But, Crocodile Dundee II’s freshness rating on IMdb is 9% from 32 reviews. Nine percent? That’s lower than any Transformers instalment. Or 2001’s dreadful Crocodile Dundee in LA, and 2020’s meta-misfire The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee. 9%… it’s almost like aggregator sites do not reflect a film’s merits. But, where would that leave us if it were true?

Admittedly, some of the humour now elicits eyerolls rather than giggles, notably when Mick rescues a man about to jump off a building, who is then “hilariously” revealed to be gay. But, much of the charm remains, and the Outback set climax turns the film into a beautifully shot comedy-adventure.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Up from 9%? Definitely.

A trivial aside: The film was written by Paul Hogan and his son Brett. Director John Cornell’s only other directorial credit was the 1990 Hogan vehicle, Almost an Angel. That enjoys a lofty 33% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

The story: 40 years after the events of Highlander, visitors from the planet Zeist arrive on Earth to finish Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), who was an alien all along. Or, a time traveller if you are watching the Director’s Cut. A re-immortalised MacLeod must resurrect dead mentor Ramirez (Sean Connery) to battle his enemies and free the world from a solar shield he helped create. We think…

What they said back then: “…a movie almost awesome in its badness.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

Our take: Highlander II: The Quickening has become a byword for terrible, unwanted follow-ups to cherished original movies. The Argentina-based production was rife with troubles, and most involved have admitted they did it for the payday. Including original director Russell Mulcahy, plus stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. But, this was doomed from the get-go. 1986’s Highlander resolved its story so conclusively that the only course of action was to contradict it by making the characters aliens (or time travellers). Thereby alienating (pun intended) the very fans who had made Highlander such a hit on video that a sequel became financially viable. Oh, the humanity…

All the heart, humour and excitement of the first instalment has been replaced with muddy visuals, sloppy action, casual brutality and a pervasive weariness. The 2004 Director’s Cut sticks 16 minutes back into the US release version (or eight minutes if you are familiar with the UK theatrical version), to try and make sense of this headless chicken of a movie. None of the tinkering works, and makes an interminable film even longer.

Virginia Madsen does her best with a nothing love interest role. Her talents would be put to better use in the horror classic Candyman the following year.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? God, no. We’re going with what the critics clambered over each other to say upon release: “There should have been only one.”

A trivial aside: Production woes saw the film’s budget balloon to $34m. That is just $500,000 less than if you total the budgets of The Silence of the Lambs, Barton Fink, and Boyz N The Hood, all of which were released the same year.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

the lost world jurassic park

The story: Upon discovering there was a second dinosaur island, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) travels there to bring back his girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore). To stave off bankruptcy, the company genetically engineering the creatures plan to make them an amusement attraction on the mainland. Ian warns everyone this will not go well.

What they said back then: “The movie, at its best, is good fun: deft, scary, engrossing. Yet it’s never great fun.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly.

Our take: That Owen Gleiberman quote sums up Spielberg’s dino-sequel. Good, not great. 1993’s Jurassic Park was great, so how disappointing does The Lost World: Jurassic Park look now? Happily, not too much, if only because we have seen a not great Jurassic Park movie since. True, Sam Neill and Laura Dern from the first movie are missed, but the dinosaurs are the real stars, and they deliver the goods. We shall see if reuniting Neill and Dern with Goldblum for Jurassic World Dominion can recapture the magic of the 1993 original.

Empire’s review at time of release pinpointed The Lost World’s greatest flaw, noting that it resembled a film made from storyboards rather than a script. But, those are Steven Spielberg storyboards we are talking about, so what the film lacks in heart it makes up for in knockout set-pieces.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Yes. This is not the disappointment it was on original release, and the blockbuster filmmaking munches on many modern pretenders to the throne. Including you, Jurassic World.

A trivial aside: This was the fastest film to cross $100m at the US box office, doing so in six days. But, its final worldwide haul of 618.6m fell far short of Jurassic Park’s $1.034bn.

Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

The story: Annie (Sandra Bullock) and her boyfriend Alex (Jason Patric) are aboard a luxury Caribbean cruise ship when it is hijacked by fellow passenger John Geiger (Willem Dafoe). Annie and Alex must save the passengers and crew when discovering Geiger has set the ship on a collision course with an oil tanker.

What they said back then: An ear-splitting amusement-park attraction posing as a movie.– Jami Bernard, New York Daily News

Our take: We were curious to see if time had improved this one. Waterworld looks more impressive now than upon release, and Under Siege has cheeky charm. But, no. Speed 2: Cruise Control makes the usual mistakes that hobble a sequel: the original movie’s star is absent, and the story is a pale retread of the beloved first instalment (here set on the open ocean rather than congested L.A.).

Moreover, 23 years on and Annie and Alex are the real villains for booking a holiday cruise to begin with. Have they not read about the terrible exploitation of staff? Or the appalling environmental damage caused by cruises? Go get ‘em Geiger!

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Nope, this will forever be lost at sea.

A trivial aside: Roger Ebert said his favourable review of the movie was often used as evidence that he was not up to the job of film critic.

Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

Blair Witch project

The story: Shortly after the events of the first movie, a group of tourists venture into the Burkittsville woods looking for the Blair Witch experience. Unfortunately, they find it.

What they said at the time: “Ninety slapdash minutes later, all diminished expectations have been fulfilled.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety 

Our take: After The Blair Witch Project went pop-culture supernova in 1999, distributor Artisan wanted a rush-sequel. The original’s directors passed, so Paradise Lost documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger was drafted in.

Not that Berlinger was left alone. He favoured an ambiguous tone, but had to incorporate mainstream jump scares that could be front loaded into trailers and TV spots. The result is an incoherent mess, but worth watching for moments when a more interesting film tries to break through. The meta opening twenty-odd minutes are the best, depicting the original film’s effect on the town of Burkittsville and its locals. Those too young to remember The Blair Witch Project here will get a taste of those glorious six months of Blair Witch hysteria, when that $40K movie suddenly dominated global cinema.

Polished 35mm visuals rob this of the 1999 film’s visual rawness, and plans for a Blair Witch 3 went to Production Hell when Book of Shadows grossed $47m worldwide against the original’s $248m. 2016’s Blair Witch, Adam Wingard’s attempt to revive the franchise, similarly flopped, proving the original was a true one-off.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? While better than its IMdb score of 4.0, this confirms the Blair Witch could be beaten by the homogenising effect of Hollywood.

A trivial aside: Joe Berlinger would not direct another feature film until 2019’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the Zac Efron starring Ted Bundy film.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The story: With an army of lethal sentinel robots only 72 hours away from the last human stronghold of Zion, Neo (Keanu Reeves) must infiltrate the Matrix’s source to prevent the attack. But, he is plagued by nightmares that Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) is going to be killed on the mission.

What they said at the time: “It all adds up to 138 minutes of very high-quality entertainment…” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Our take: Genuinely surprising it is to see how warmly received The Matrix Reloaded was by critics upon release. Matrix sequels two and three have been so thoroughly drubbed over the past near-20 years, it seemed as if they had always been maligned.

This writer always championed The Matrix follow-ups (ahem, until Resurrections came along…), and was perplexed by the negative reactions Reloaded attracted. Yes, the shock of the new was missing, but this delivered on what audiences marvelled at in that 1999 game changer: stupendous wirework kung-fu, jaw-dropping action set-pieces, dazzling FX, and Pick n’ Mix philosophising.

True, everything is sombre and serious, but we all saw what happened when irony infected the program with The Matrix Resurrections. Reloaded also has the gumption to climax with Neo’s encounter with The Architect, a scene maligned by fans but proof that the Wachowskis wanted you to bring your brains to their breakout franchise.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? Critically this was always rather liked. Audiences should give it another shot.

A trivial aside: Sean Connery was offered the role of The Architect, but turned it down saying he could not understand the film’s concept. The 2003 release he appeared in was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a movie he so loathed making he quit acting.

S. Darko (2009)

S Darko (2009)

The story: 1995. Seven years after the events of Donnie Darko, Donnie’s younger sister Samantha (Daveigh Chase) is taking a cross-country road trip with her friend Corey (Briana Evigan). In a small Utah desert town, they become plagued by frightening temporal anomalies.

What they said at the time: It’s as if someone set out to make a sequel to Goodfellas and ended up with 8 Heads In A Duffel Bag.” – Josh Modell, AV Club

Our take: A sequel to 2001’s cult phenomenon Donnie Darko, this movie evaporated upon release amidst near-universal negative reviews and audience indifference. Jake Gyllenhaal was not returning as Donnie, and the original film’s writer/director Richard Kelly was also absent.

13 years on, S. Darko proves surprisingly rewarding. Writer Nathan Atkins and director Chris Fisher tread the Airplane II: The Sequel path, lifting and shifting the original film’s plot wholesale. Weirdness abounds: the desert town Samantha and Corey find themselves in is populated by oddballs. Samantha has a disturbing spectral Other, who foresees the future. A falling chunk of meteorite foretells the apocalypse. Children are going missing. The water tentacles are back… and a traumatised Iraq war veteran constructs a metalwork rabbit head.

S. Darko scores in its visuals, sound design, atmosphere, and Daveigh Chase’s lead performance. If David Lynch directed American Honey, chances are it would not be a million miles away from this. Mixing mumblecore with metaphysics, the movie has a surprisingly powerful pull for at least its first half. A dramatic narrative shift halfway through disrupts the flow, but when you have wormholes in your film you may as well test the possibilities.

Time to rehabilitate the reputation? As with Donnie Darko, whether all this adds up to anything substantial is debatable. But, S. Darko has more to recommend it than the Donnie Darko Director’s Cut, which improved the 2001 film into a failure. Ignore the anti-hype and check it out.

A trivial aside: Coincidentally, Richard Kelly’s last film to date, The Box, was also released in 2009. So he may be tempted back to the Darkoverse at some point.

This is a mere handful of bad, disappointing, or bizarro sequels to beloved original movies. What are examples of part 2s that disappointed you? Or, which you thought were unfairly panned?

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