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‘Ghostbusters II’ At 25, And 10 Other Sequels That Stalled & Killed Their Franchises

‘Ghostbusters II’ At 25, And 10 Other Sequels That Stalled & Killed Their Franchises

30 years ago last week, “Ghostbusters” hit our screens. It was an anniversary feted by many, (ourselves included, check out our nostalgic trip back to summer 1984), with articles, celebrations, appreciations, oral histories and even the announcement of a forthcoming theatrical re-release all designed to capitalize on the film’s now-classic status. By contrast, the 25th anniversary of “Ghostbusters II,” which happens this week, comes upon us largely unheralded, with perhaps just a far-off slow clap and an internet tumbleweed or two to mark the occasion. Safe to say the sequel is not quite as beloved as the original.

And with good reason. “Ghostbusters II” is not a terrible film, but it is a lazy one—flat and broad where the original was inventive and off-kilter. But perhaps the greatest crime it committed, in retrospect, is that for a long time it looked to have essentially killed the franchise on the big screen. Not because it was unconscionably awful, but for what we’d argue are three main reasons: firstly, while it made a lot of money worldwide at $215m, that was less than the original took by a hefty $76m or so, off a larger budget, and the economic model of a viable franchise is that successive entries are supposed to take in exponentially more cash. Secondly the clamor of fandom of adults who were children when the first film came out has really only arisen in the last decade or so, and so in the intervening years a third installment may not have seemed like quite the “well, duh” box office prospect for investors that it feels like now. And thirdly, and most importantly it seems, the second installment’s uninspired nature contributed to its biggest star, franchise lynchpin Bill Murray being lukewarm at best on the idea. And Bill Murray’s lukewarm is anyone else’s subzero.

The sad passing of Harold Ramis earlier this year, and Ivan Reitman resigning the director’s chair put a further dampener on the likelihood of any future “Ghostbusters” film capturing the same magic of the first (though, of course, it’s always possible that there’ll be brand new magic at work). And while last we heard, cameras are due to roll in early 2015 on a Murray-less “Ghostbusters 3” which will feature Dana Barrett’s son Oscar as a Ghostbuster, it’s now safe to say that “Ghostbusters 2,” barring some sort of CGI cloning and a major change of heart from Bill Murray, will be the last time we see the original Murray/Ramis/Aykroyd team suit up.

So are people in love with the admittedly hooky, high-concept idea of “Ghostbusters” (a team of guys jokily fighting supernatural menace) or with the movie “Ghostbusters” (those actors in those roles with that direction and that script)? The legacy of the resolutely unbeloved “Ghostbusters 2” is to suggest that it’s the latter. So while it now looks very likely we’ll get a “Ghostbusters 3” a long, long time after the event, only time can tell if it can even come close to the “Ghostbusters 3” we wanted.  

But this is hardly the only time that there’s been a long hiatus after a sequel, or that the first sequel’s quality or box office performance has made a trilogy unlikely. Here are ten other occasions when installment number 2 has, for whatever reason, stalled the franchise from going any further… *at least until now, of course: if “Ghostbusters 3” proves anything, it’s that there’s always the possibility of “Threen Wolf” or “Conan the Octogenarian” happening down the line. Be careful what you wish for.

Bad Boys II” (2003)
Twenty years (!) after the first one, and twelve years after the second, “Bad Boys III” is kind of back on as a possibility, with “Safe House” writer David Guggenheim reportedly on scripting duties. Whether it goes ahead is anyone’s guess, though, as for the past decade plus, Michael Bay’s ultra-bombastic hypersaturated, totally dimwitted “Bad Boys II” has sat atop, not just the nascent franchise, but Bay’s own filmography as simply the Bayiest film ever. And with eternal apologies to some revisionists within our ranks, no, we don’t mean that as a compliment. But “Bad Boys II” has a unique reason, at least on this list, for not immediately spawning a third installment—the day-glo violence, racism, homophobia and sexism of its plot and characterization proved depressingly popular (fine, the admittedly amazing action scenes may have had something to do with that too) to the tune of $273m worldwide, nearly double the first’s take. HOWEVER, the budget and the bombast had also increased more than sixfold (the first film cost $19m in pocket change, the second $130m, which is quite a leap) and star Will Smith was cresting the peak of his bankability. And so for a long time the story went that a third film in the series would simply prove too cost-prohibitive to mount, taking in Bay’s and Smith’s fees. (No one ever talks about Martin Lawrence’s, bless). Now that Smith’s asking fee has dropped a bit in light of recent flops, however, and with Bay dithering over whether he’ll be involved in the inevitable ‘Transformers’ reboot sequels, perhaps that barrier is getting lower. Which would be great news for fans of crotch-level, slo-mo low angles of men bestriding the screen like colossi firing guns and pointless helicopter shots circling musclebound studs standing on the edges of things (for an on-point assassination of “Bad Boys II” itself, check out its section in our 2011 Bay retrospective). Indeed, then, great news for cinema.

Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997)
Making it with honors onto our list of 20 Worst Summer Blockbusters of All Time (as indeed, does “Sex and the City 2”), Jan de Bont’s follow-up to 1994’s deserved smash hit “Speed” kind of represents the platonic ideal of the franchise-killer. “Speed 2,” aside from being maybe the only film in history that we think might have been significantly improved by having Keanu Reeves in it, given the leaden, charisma-free performance of his replacement Jason Patric (Matthew McConaghey had been offered the role but passed to do “Contact”), is everything that the bloated sequel has come to stand for. Nearly four times as expensive to make, the film was hastily put into production when the numbers for the original started to come in, and while de Bont had felt (rightly) that the first film was a standalone picture, and none of the principal actors were locked in for multiple installments, he was talked into doing the sequel by means of a truckload of cash, and creative control over which direction it would take. As it turned out he rejected scores of ideas to go with his own notion of setting it aboard a cruise ship, and well, really is speed the first quality we associate with them? With another script Willem Dafoe would be a pretty good substitute for Dennis Hopper, and Sandra Bullock did her spunky starlet best in a role that was depressingly marginalized compared to the original, but nothing could conceal what an ungainly lumbering mess this thing was. So while it made a small profit on its expanded budget, it took less than half “Speed”’s $350m take and no one has seriously entertained the idea of a third installment since. In fact, we’d argue that “Speed” is the prime example of a film that is, due to an unrepeatable set of circumstances, better than its premise, meaning that when you try and take that premise and transpose it, you end up with so much bilge-water.

Fletch Lives” (1989)
Everything about the Michael Ritchie-directed 1985 comedy “Fletch” kinda rules. As the investigative newspaper reporter, Irwin M. Fletcher, Chevy Chase nails the irreverent character with a penchant for disguises, bizarre aliases and all kinds of wacky schemes. And that synthy soundtrack by Harold Faltermeyer kills. Adapted by Andrew Bergman, ( he co-wrote “Blazing Saddles” and was dubbed “The Unknown King of Comedy” by New York magazine in 1985), the sharp writing is full of terrific quips and catch-them-before-they’re-gone sly sarcastic digs. But most of that is absent in the four-years-later sequel, “Fletch Lives.” Or rather, it’s all trotted out again, but feels far, far less inspired. Directed by Ritchie again, but written by Leon Capetanos (good credits that include “Moscow on the Hudson,” “Moon Over Parador” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills“), in “Fletch Lives,” the L.A. Lakers-loving reporter is thrown into a fish-out-of-water story when he inherits his late aunt’s mansion in the hillbilly-esque South of Louisiana. Racism, sexism and politically incorrect stereotypes were basically the bread and butter of “Fletch,” and they were funny too, but in the mostly bland sequel they began to curdle unpleasantly south of the Mason Dixon line (though Cleavon Little, who also was a self-aware racial punching bag in “Blazing Saddles,” does some similarly amusing self-reflexive work here too). The movie unfolds with a mystery and conspiracy; a thread that Fletch must pull on, but the plot (revolving around toxic waste) is so ill-conceived and convoluted, you just don’t care. Co-starring Julianne Phillips, Hal Holbrook and Randall “Tex” Cobb, “Fletch Lives” isn’t terrible per se, but it’s pedestrian enough to have killed the franchise almost immediately upon release (doing about $20 million less than the original). Kevin Smith unsuccessfully tried to mount the prequel “Fletch Won” for several years during his heyday, but that fortunately never came to pass. But Hollywood will never give up on a potential property so Warner Bros. and Jason Sudekis are working on a reboot as we speak.

Sex and the City 2” (2010)
The temptation, when something as putrid as Michael Patrick King’s “Sex and the City 2” comes out, is to harken back with rose-tinted glasses to the first installment, but even the first film showed an absolutely baffling lack of all the things that had made the show so surprisingly good. The snappy writing and acerbic, self-aware wit was gone in favor of a supremely self-satisfied story of an outrageously self-absorbed, entitled woman learning the valuable, relatable lesson that nabbing the millionaire husband who adores you is more important than having a wedding in a Vivienne Westwood dress that she gave you because you looked so nice in it on your Vogue shoot. Take those issues and multiply them by a hundred, add an unhealthy dose of shrill and you get “Sex and the City 2” which manages to not only be degrading to its characters (who if they were rolled into one could maybe form a real human, but here are reduced to cartoon figures), it throws in some casual racism and a tone-deaf lack of awareness of economic reality for good measure. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda go to Dubai to wear a succession of increasingly ridiculous outfits and have a series of empty-headed “adventures” including: kissing a man not one’s boring millionaire dreamboat husband; wondering if one’s husband is attracted to the nanny; behaving lewdly in a Muslim country and something something career something respectively (Miranda—sooo boring). Which quandaries are solved by: Big forgives her; the Nanny’s a lesbian; they all leave the country and Miranda gets a new job…zzzzz. The film did make a lot of money ($305m, off a $95m production budget), but was far more reliant on overseas income than the original, and domestically was seen as enough of a damp squib that, coupled with the universally dire reviews, as yet ‘SATC 3’ has not come to pass. We pray to the good lord Manolo it stays that way.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)
While it was a bona fide flop coming six years after the bona fide hit of the original “Gremlins,” this writer is decidedly in the “‘Gremlins 2’ got a raw deal” camp. It’s nowhere near as good as the original, and its overarching narrative, about the titular creatures getting loose in a futuristic skyscraper owned by a Trump-esque developer, is less a storyline than an excuse for a series of skits, but that structure itself has its charms, especially when some of those skits are so self-aware and, like the lil critters themselves, so mischievously nasty. And no, there’s nothing as iconic or oddly transgressive as Phoebe Cates’ brilliant “and that’s when I found out there was no Santa Claus” story (indeed the humans, this time out, apart maybe from Christopher Lee, are all pretty useless) but there is a “Marathon Man” parody, along with references to everything from “Rambo” to “The Phantom of the Opera” plus a fairly ingenious animated prologue in which Daffy Duck tries to usurp Bugs Bunny’s status as the Warner Bros mascot. But the grotesque sketch-show feel, along with the PG-13 rating that its parent film had spawned (read our analysis of Spielberg, Dante and the birth of the PG-13 rating here) meant it missed big time with audiences, failing to make back its $50m budget domestically, as contrasted with “Gremlins” $153m take from its $11m budget. But if anything it feels like its arch self-awareness was really a little ahead of its time, as of all the films “Gremlins 2” satirized, it was most cutting about “Gremlins,” even referring to the merchandising opportunities that the film represented, and featuring Leonard Maltin, who had so disliked it, in a cameo spot where he gets attacked by sneering gremlins and apparently strangled with a loop of celluloid. Director Joe Dante had been given full creative control this time out, and the result may have burned the studio to the tune of them never going back to this well again, but it’s a film that well deserves reevaluation now, if only for its recreation of the frozen yogurt craze of the early ‘90s.

“Escape from LA” (1996)
The news last year that superproducer Joel Silver had optioned the rights to make a potential trilogy rebooting the “Escape From New York” franchise was mildly surprising, not least because the last go-round at the property, 1996’s sequel, was a notorious dud that flopped with critics, appalled fans of the original, and made roughly half its production budget of $50m back at the box office. But then also maybe not so surprising, because 17 years had elapsed since “Escape From LA,” which in turn had only come together 15 years after ‘New York,’ and so memories here appear to be around about a decade and a half long. But if everyone’s forgotten about ‘LA,’ we’re here to remind you: it really wasn’t very good, feeling like director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell reteamed just for the hell, and potential $$$, of it rather than because they had anything new or particularly incisive to say. Really, it’s just a bigger-budgeted, pointlessly inflated retread of ground covered 15 years before (when it had a lot more relevance) that swaps the grit and nastiness of the original (which, let’s be honest, hasn’t aged particularly well itself) for a kind of self-aware mockery which really only serves to show how empty the whole endeavor is. Russell verges on self-parody in his iconic role as Snake Plissken and while here and there there are inspired touches (we do like that Peter Fonda plays a radioactive surfer, and there are some mild jabs at the vacuousness of West Coast culture) overall its awareness of its own disposability can’t save it from being so disposable. And that quality would also have made it difficult to see where a third entry would come from, if the box office had even close to warranted it: “Escape from Miami/Chicago/Omaha” or whatever would have had little to work with that hadn’t already been essentially sabotaged by ‘LA.’ We presume if Silver’s reboot does come about, it will bypass the campy tone of the sequel and head straight back into the tonal grime of the original which will probably be all for the best, and we can take some heart that it’s not this version of the reboot that heart-sinking names like Len Wiseman, Brett Ratner and Breck Eisner had been suggested for in the past.

“Teen Wolf Too” (1987)
What could possibly go wrong? A rushed-out sequel, hitting just two years after the original, about a boy werewolf going to college and starring not the lead of the first film, Michael J Fox, but the brother of the girl who played Fox’s sister in his still-running and hugely popular sitcom “Family Ties,” —it just has “worldwide hit” written all over it, doesn’t it? But somehow, “Teen Wolf Too” failed to pull in audiences, which is hardly surprising given it’s a ploddingly dull rehash of a pretty terrible original, in which the only substitutions are a criminally young Jason Bateman instead of Fox, college instead of high school, and, major twist alert, boxing instead of basketball as the sport at which the central character’s lupine alter ego allows him to excel. There really is absolutely nothing good we can say about “Teen Wolf Too” as it dis-improves in every way on a now near-unwatchable first film, papering over the obvious cracks like being unable to get Fox, 1985’s biggest breakout star, to return by having Bateman play Todd Howard, the cousin of the Fox character from the first film. Brilliant! And we can hardly blame Fox—the script stank so much that only two of the original cast members returned for tiny roles, with two further roles, that of the coach and “wisecracking” best friend being recast because the sequel couldn’t even attract the likes of uh, Jay Tarses and Jerry Levine. With every chance at dramatic tension or humor squandered and Bateman, contrary to what we know of him now, proving a remarkably charmless lead, there is nothing redeeming about “Teen Wolf Too” except maybe that it proves our point that there are films that succeed as franchises because their central concept is high enough to stretch to multiple installments, and there are those that do well because of some other quasi-mystical, unpredictable quality. Like coming out the month after “Back to the Future” had made the lead an instant, massive star, for example. Still ‘Too’ may have killed the franchise on the big screen, but what with all things teenaged and lycanthropic experiencing a post-”Twilight” resurgence, the story is now howling again, just as a TV show for MTV, which is cool because that way we get to ignore it.

“Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction” (2006)
Guilty admission: if we were forced to watch one of these films again at gunpoint, well, it’d probably be “Gremlins 2.” But if that option were gone, it might well be “Basic Instinct 2” the miles-after-the-fact sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s ludicrously amped-up 1992 erotic thriller. Not because it’s any good, we hasten to add, but because it’s got a certain, can’t tear-your-eyes-away fascination, and is good fodder for any of many drinking games. The cheapie knock-off feel of its obviously cut-price location change (it was filmed in London to take advantage of tax breaks) also seems to have led to some obviously B-level Brit casting—David Morrissey we love you but you’re no early ‘90s Michael Douglas; don’t worry, Hugh Dancy, you’ll be good in “Hannibal” in 7 years or so; David Thewlis, you continue to baffle us with your career choices; and Charlotte Rampling, what are you doing here? But the nexus of awkwardness here, of course, is Sharon Stone, who needs the kind of arch, unapologetic slickness that Verhoeven can bring in order to pull off the way OTT lethal vamp role, and doesn’t get it from Michael Caton-Jones. What she does get are lines like “Even Oedipus saw his mother coming” which sound more like “Carry On” dialogue than the devastating wit of a genius psychopath or whatever, and several deeply uncomfortable sex scenes with Morrissey who looks catatonic for most of the film. Stone subsequently professed interest in making her directorial debut with “Basic Instinct 3,” but ‘Risk Addiction’‘s clutch of Razzies and box-office bomb status (it made back just over half its budget) make that a prospect we wouldn’t hold our breath, or uncross our legs, waiting for.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003)
The Hollywood star system has given us a lot: Garbo’s face, Gable’s swagger, Julia Roberts’ smile. But every now and then it exacts a terrible penalty for all the small joys it has allowed us, in the form of a film so cynically empty of every idea except to be a showcase for its pulchritudinous stars that the term “vanity project” scarcely seems to cover it. And so it was with the banquet of empty calories that was the 2003 sequel to 2000’s “Charlie’s Angels,” a film which was itself bad, but compared to its successor, looks like goddamn “Floating Weeds.” ‘Full Throttle,’ in fairness, does at least earn its subtitle: garishly shot, hyperkinetically edited (all wipe transitions and crash zooms) and written by what we can only assume was a five-year-old on a sugar high suffering from head trauma, it’s the film that, even more than his other crimes against cinema, allows Michael Bay to point to McG and say “hey I’m not as bad as this guy.” This time out the Angels (Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore) have to take down a Big Bad in the form of ex-Angel Demi “gonna prove I’m still hot if it kills me” Moore, but really it’s just an excuse for them to wear clothes and go to places, occasionally indulging in banter that couldn’t be more stilted if they were actually reading it off a teleprompter, before they head to their trailers while their stand-ins do the stunt work for action scenes so aerodynamically unconvincing they’d make more sense on Mars. Noisy, brash and joyless, the only surprise ‘Full Throttle’ has in store is the sheer number of faces who turn up: Shia LaBeouf (before he was not-famous), Crispin Glover, Justin Theroux (whose accent is… something), Bernie Mac, Robert Patrick, Matt Le Blanc, Luke Wilson, John Cleese, Eric Bogosian, Robert Forster–even Bruce Willis shows up for a hearbeat-long uncredited cameo. Thank God it made less domestically than its $120m budget, meaning that a third go-round, at least with this cast and director, is all but dead, with even Diaz saying in 2011 that were it to happen it would probably be with a new threesome.

The Fly II” (1989)
Potentially unpopular opinion alert: we don’t, or at least this writer doesn’t hate 1989’s sequel to the classic David Cronenberg horror “The Fly,” itself a remake of a 1958 film (which actually did spawn a trilogy!). In fact it rides high on a putative list of Films That Would Be Pretty Decent If They Weren’t Sold As Sequels To Something Brilliant (see also: “2010“). While never attaining anything near the inventive, chilly, existential terror of the Cronenberg version, the Frank Darabont co-scripted sequel, for which only one of the original cast, John Getz, returned (though Geena Davis was reportedly interested until she discovered her character was to be killed off in the first reel; the role was recast) does have its own thing going on, and special effects supervisor turned director Chris Walas (who did SFX for “The Fly”) does solid work even away from the impressive creature/transformation effects. Remembered now, if at all, for its pretty upsetting mutated dog sequences, the story follows Martin, the son of the Jeff Goldblum and Davis characters from the first film, who has inherited the genetic mutation from his father and has been raised in a loveless clinical environment from birth. Preternaturally bright, he also ages at an accelerated rate, falls for a girl (Daphne Zuniga) and eventually tries to find a way to bring down the evil corporation holding him prisoner from the inside. So yeah, it hasn’t got the resonance or eeriness of the original, but as a horror/adventure with some nicely gross SFX it does the job. And audiences seemed to feel the same, with “The Fly II” pulling in a respectable $40m all told, which was neither a disgrace nor a license to push the button on “The Fly III.” And so while far worse horror sequels have spawned very long franchises, perhaps because the first-to-second film drop-off in quality wasn’t quite so marked, “The Fly II” was the last outing for the family Brundle and their peculiar aberration.

The phenomenon of the franchise that stalls at no. 2 is of course by no means limited to these titles, which were selected largely on the basis of variety and what we could bear to write about in depth. Some others narrowly missed the cut: “Caddyshack II,” which we left off due to including another late-’80s Chevy Chase-starring comedy in “Fletch Lives,” is also similar in that it’s so vastly inferior to the widely beloved first film that seemingly no one could stomach the idea of a third. Then there’s “Conan The Destroyer” which we covered off in our Revisiting Summer 1984 feature (it comes in at number 27 of 35), as we also did with “Cannonball Run II” (which comes in second last. Enough said.) “Revenge of the Nerds 2” took the unexpected goofy pleasure of the first film and drained it of all charm; and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life: Too Many Colons” managed to be even worse than the first, despite Angelina Jolie’s perfect casting.

Babe 2: Pig in the City” was a darker, meaner George Miller-directed take that is rated by some of us, but was disliked by audiences looking for the same adorability factor as the first; “Grease 2” has about as much reason to exist as “Staying Alive”; “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” is easily put in a corner by the original, and also bore so little relation to it that it might have done better if it was simply called something else; we covered “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” “Mannequin On the Move” “Son of The Mask” and “More American Graffiti” in last year’s feature on Unnecessary Sequels; “The Jewel Of The Nile” made everyone forget how much they’d enjoyed “Romancing the Stone”; while “Legally Blonde 2” and “Miss Congeniality 2” both diminished returns on decent prior vehicles for Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” certainly did end the Bill & Ted franchise, though we unapologetically like the film; “A Christmas Story 2” is OH, WHY DID THEY EVEN BOTHER?; “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” is exactly everything we’d feared the first one would be and were so pleasantly surprised it wasn’t; “28 Weeks Later” is ok, but no one’s clamoring for “28 Months Later”; ”Lost Boys: The Tribe” was the way-late sequel that no one except its star wanted; “Analyze That,” well, what would they even call a third one? “Analyze The Other”? And the second “X-Files” film merely confirmed the impression that “X-Files” belongs on TV.

Finally, there’s that category of film which we’re even rather amazed got to installment 2, as in why on earth did anyone sequel-ize this? They include: way subpar “Chinatown” sequel “The Two Jakes”; the terrible execution of a terrible idea “S.Darko”; “The Sting II” which is a thing that exists in the world; “Return to the Blue Lagoon” with Milla Jovovich on Brooke Shields duty; and last but not least “American Psycho 2: All-American Girl” with Mila Kunis which, if you’re ever dared to watch it, just lose the dare already.

And that’s not even talking about the likes of “Deuce Bigalow” “Boondock Saints” and “Weekend at Bernie’s” each of which spawned a sequel that could scarcely surpass the original for horribleness, so we figured the less said about them the better. Still, there are a million more we know, so feel free to shout out your pick for a sequel that, for better or worse, killed, or merely maimed a franchise, in the comments below.   — with Rodrigo Perez

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