Generally, if a film is a success, a sequel will emerge in about 30-36 months. Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Franchise films, planned out in advance, often have annual instalments while the latest trend of interconnected movie universes means that we revisit certain characters/events/worlds every six months or so. Sometimes a sequel appears almost overnight, such as the follow-ups to Scream, Scary Movie and Paranormal Activity all appearing 12 months after the original movie hit cinema screens. Other films generating an unplanned sequel within two years of initial release include The Purge, Legally Blonde and Wayne’s World.
There is another type of sequel which, for those who have been paying attention and read the title of the article, should come as no surprise- the belated sequel. In other words a sequel that was not originally planned and sometimes, even once the decision to create a second film has been made, takes years to actually get filmed and onto the big screen. A couple of examples? Zoolander 2 was released this month after a wait of a decade and a half while Warner Bros. recently announced that the sequel to Blade Runner would be released in January 2018, an impressive 36 years after the first movie. Why are we returning to the world of replicants and flying cars after such a long gap?
Perhaps a creative type has sat there for years, cultivating and honing an idea for a follow-up film that began as a single spark but has now erupted into a maelstrom of fresh ideas that truly add to the original film in a unique yet familiar way? Or perhaps, more likely, Hollywood is playing it safe with familiar characters in the hope of taking your money more easily than spending the time creating and marketing a fresh and original idea? An established fan base supposedly guarantees an audience and, if extra years have meant more fans, a larger base than a standard sequel could generate possibly exists. Sometimes the move seems to be motivated by the need for a big screen success for a star whose audience pull has waned and who hopes revisiting a more successful creation will bring back the audience.
Whatever the real reason behind any belated sequel (it’s all about the money btw), nobody would mind if the finished article was as good as, or surpassed, the original. Unfortunately sequels in general tend not to be as well received as their predecessors, although there are some exceptions (The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back). Let’s have a closer look at how some belated sequels were received;
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
It took 20 years before a sequel to the hit 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber appeared, in which Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprised their roles as the stupendously stupid Lloyd and Harry. The sequel featured the same mixture of stupidity and gross-out gags that made the first one a hit and, despite negative reviews, performed well at the box office. Jim Carrey had gone several years without a box office hit which may have been the prompt he needed to return to the character of Lloyd Christmas, although the humour, like the characters themselves, hasn’t progressed and fails to stand up to current standards.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
Nine years after the first movie helped catapult Will Ferrell to superstar levels, this sequel followed the method of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Unfortunately the movie failed to capture the cult humour of the original and, while providing several memorable scenes and quotable lines, it simply isn’t as funny. A decent return at the box office means a third film could have potential, however the reaction from fans appears to have put the production team off, at least for now.
Zoolander 2 (2016)
The original Zoolander, released in 2001, was a mild box office success, making three times its low budget of $20 million. DVD sales and word of mouth turned the film into a cult classic and the returning stars of Ben Stiller (also Director), Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell have tried to capitalise on this. Sadly the film has more cameo appearances than laugh out loud moments and never truly finds its feet, suffering from the common comedy problem of ‘all the best bits were in the trailer’.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
28 years after the original Tron, Legacy features some fantastic visuals and a brilliant soundtrack by Daft Punk. That’s all there is to offer in this brilliant looking movie as character development and plot get left by the wayside in exchange for the gorgeous visuals displayed on screen. Mixed reviews didn’t stop the film grossing over $400 million, which would be impressive if not for the £170 million budget (plus marketing costs). A further sequel was planned and a script started taking shape in 2011, with filming at one point expected to start in October 2015, however Disney apparently pulled the plug on the project in May 2015.
Psycho II (1983)
Anthony Perkins returned to the role of Norman Bates in what should have been a disaster of a follow-up to the 1960 Hitchcock classic, however the tone and dark-humour work well as Bates attempts to adjust to ‘normal’ life. Grossing almost seven times its $5 million budget, the plot pays homage to the original while simultaneously progressing the characters and storyline. Perhaps more sequels should take note, belated or otherwise.
The Godfather Part III (1990)
Ask many film critics for the best sequel ever made and many will say 1984’s The Godfather Part II. A sublime movie and follow-up to the well-received first film, it’s a shame that director Francis Ford Coppola’s financial situation prompted him to revisit this world as a dull, meandering plot and actors that simply ‘turned up’ almost tarnish the memory of what came before.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
19 years after The Last Crusade, this belated sequel fails to capture the adventure of the original trilogy in an ill-conceived, incoherent mess that never feels like an Indiana Jones tale. Harrison Ford fails to capture the glory days of Jones, however the film managed to become one of the biggest movies of 2008, mainly due to the good will placed by hardcore and casual fans that the original movies had worked so hard to earn.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menance (1999)
It had been 16 years since Return of the Jedi and fan hype was dominant. Unfortunately this prequel failed to ignite the same spark in fans that the original movie had caused, resulting in a large box office but a general sense of disappointment. In retrospect, the film isn’t as bad as you remember but it will never be as good as you hoped.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Appearing ten years after Revenge of the Sith and continuing the story of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this blockbuster hit has become the third highest grossing film of all time. Positive reviews and an immense amount of loyalty by fans, in spite of the much maligned prequel trilogy, means the film has surpassed the $2 billion mark globally. A vocal minority have criticised the movies apparent retread of the basic plot of 1977’s A New Hope yet the movie perfectly captures the magic of classic Star Wars and sets us up for the next stage of the franchise.
Speaking generally, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that sequels, no matter how long they take to produce, rarely live up to the standards of the original. It’s with a sense of optimism and caution that we should approach any belated movie as, no matter how much we wished to return to that world, sequels often let us down and rarely capture the same feelings we had when viewing the first movie. For every Episode VII, there is an Episode I. Bear that in mind as you prepare to revisit favourite movies in the future.
‘All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.’
Batty, Blade Runner (1982)