3 Rules for Making a Sequel

Rule 1
Don’t Take Your Time

Ideally, audiences should feel like they’ve barely left the theatre before needing to go back in — how else could you get anyone to see 22 Jump Street? Then there are the follow-ups that arrive long after the original has receded into the mists of movie history (otherwise known as late-night cable TV). The fates of these belated sequels demonstrate how hard it is to recapture that old magic.


    Sequel to: Chinatown

    Time between movies: 16 years

    To be fair, screenwriter Robert Towne initially conceived his Oscar-winning neo-noir about 1930s-era LA as the first in a trilogy about Jack Nicholson’s private dick J.J. Gittes. But the infamous troubles of director Roman Polanski were just one hitch in the efforts to extend the saga. Along with playing Gittes, Nicholson finally opted to direct himself (it was the third of the actor’s three directorial efforts) but his dull, muddled mess was a sad shadow of past glories.


    Sequel to: Psycho

    Time between movies: 23 years

    Though Alfred Hitchcock sometimes remade his own films, he wasn’t much for sequels. But after the director died in 1980, Universal chose to “honour” his legacy by enlisting Anthony Perkins to return to his iconic role of mommy-obsessed killer Norman Bates. Luckily, the original Bates Hotel had been preserved for the studio’s theme-park tour. The movie was less impressive, though not quite bad enough to have Hitch rolling in his grave.


    Sequel to: Tron

    Time between movies: 28 years

    Given that the tie-in arcade game out-grossed Disney’s seminal cyber-thriller, there wasn’t much demand for another one back in the day. In the decades since, expectations soared so high among the movie’s geeky devotees that the sequel was bound to underwhelm despite some cool FX, a Daft Punk soundtrack and Jeff Bridges’ virtua-Dude.


    Sequel to: The Wizard of Oz

    Time between movies: 46 years

    Based on later books in Frank L. Baum’s original series of Oz stories, Dorothy’s other big-screen trek to Emerald City did not yield any kind of family classic. Indeed, parents and critics considered the new story — in which Dorothy (played by then-newcomer Fairuza Balk) finds Oz in the clutches of a weirdly totalitarian regime — deemed it too dark and creepy. As if the original’s flying monkeys weren’t traumatic enough, the sight of one pumpkin-headed new character was a sure-fire nightmare generator.

Rule 2
The Same, Only Different

The vast majority of sequels are built to deliver exactly what audiences loved in the first place. Yet there’s a special class of follow-ups that do anything but – instead, they keep what’s best about the original formula, add some crazy new ingredients and take it all in a wildly unpredictable direction.

    EVIL DEAD II (1987)

    An intense and influential slice of cabin-in-the-woods horror, director Sam Raimi’s 1981 original was no one’s idea of a laugh riot. Yet the director must’ve seen the potential because the anarchic sequel — which essentially replays the first film’s shocks as gore-splattered slapstick — set the template for all horror-comedies to come.


    Correctly predicting how tedious it’d become to see Michael Myers stab his way through an ever-crappier series of sequels, reboots and remakes, John Carpenter tried to steer the franchise in another direction. The Myers-free third outing is a genuinely unnerving tale about a diabolical plot to use some nasty kiddie masks to unleash mayhem on All Hallows Eve. Alas, the movie confused viewers who came for a slasher flick, which is why the producers put Myers back in action.


    When a horror franchise runs out of gas, sometimes the only move left is the genre’s ultimate Hail Mary: leaving the Earth behind. Later installments of the Hellraiser and Friday the 13th series would resort to this measure, but the most gloriously stupid results came when the low-rent saga of a wee but deadly Irish beastie (played by Warwick Davis) set its sights on the stars.


    For those keeping score, this was the sixth in the series spawned by the ass-kicking 1992 cyborg flick, but only the third with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. And what a reunion it was! Imagine a David Lynch remake of Apocalypse Now except with a crazy awesome martial-arts fight in a sporting goods store and a bald Van Damme doing his best Colonel Kurtz. It is way better than it deserves to be.

Rule 3
Dare to Dream

Even when it comes to follow-ups to big hits, there’s a lot that can go wrong — stars demanding better deals, directors demanding bigger budgets, everyone else battling over “creative differences” — long before anyone needs to lay out a craft services table. Here are some sequels that could’ve been incredible but failed at one of Hollywood’s many hurdles.


    Before his death in 2009, teen-movie king John Hughes and star Matthew Broderick often toyed with the idea of seeing what happened to Ferris after high school. Back in 2007, there was industry buzz over a screenplay depicting Bueller as a 40-year-old motivational speaker. Nothing ever happened to it, but a 2012 Honda commercial by Hangover director Todd Phillips starring a very Ferris-like Broderick was a glimpse of what could’ve been. It wasn’t bad at all.


    Impressed by Cave’s script for the Aussie western The Proposition, Russell Crowe himself offered the alt-rock icon a shot at writing a sequel to the toga-filled Oscar-winner. Though all involved liked the results, they also recognized that it was too bold, violent and batshit-crazy to ever get made. That Cave wanted to call the movie Christ Killer was just one non-selling point.


    Having nearly made a Schwarzenegger-free version of Total Recall earlier in his career, the Canadian auteur probably should’ve seen the troubles coming for his proposed sequel to the most iconic of erotic thrillers. He left the project after reportedly sparring with Sharon Stone — another director would eventually get it made four years later and win four Razzies for his troubles. But as Cronenberg said not long after leaving the gig, “I would have surprised people by making a good movie.”

    Basic Instinct 2


    Really, the title sells itself. A screenwriter who’d later work with Tim Burton on Mars Attacks!, wrote a tropical-themed script in which Beetlejuice messed with unscrupulous resort developers despite losing his official license to scare. Conceived by Burton and Jonathan Gems as a beach-movie parody, it had a climactic tidal wave, too. Alas, the project died in the early ’90s, though Michael Keaton has said he’d be game if Burton wanted him back in the fright wig.

    Read the rest of Sharp’s Guide to Sequels