By John H. Foote
Sequels achieved their greatest popularity through the seventies and eighties and beyond, though in fairness they have existed since the thirties and the Universal monster series. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) stands among the greatest sequels ever made, a wonderful film that preceded a series of increasingly bad films meant to keep the series and the franchise alive. There were so many sequels featuring The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman that eventually Universal paired their creatures with the comic team of Abbott and Costello. Incredibly Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is a classic of the genre!! That said the issue with most sequels is that Hollywood milks the idea until there is nothing left of the original idea, and it all becomes terribly redundant and frankly…terrible.
The greatest sequel of all remains the Academy Award winning Best Picture The Godfather Part II (1974) which you know I believe is the greatest American film ever made, the finest film ever made in the history of the movies. That it was a brilliant film encouraged the studios to consider sequels to all their box office hits, and that is exactly what they did. In some cases the ideas for a continuation was insane, as you will read below. Every once in a while a sequel rose to the level of the original or even beyond. The French Connection II (1975), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Superman II (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and more so the Oscar winning third in the series, The Return of the King (2003) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) are examples of masterworks in the cinema, brilliant sequels that worked, that achieved greatness often surpassing the original.
This article is not about that.
These are fifteen sequels that most certainly did not work, that would have been better being discussed and then laughed at before shooting even began. In some cases they are truly repellant films, in others handsome, well-made productions that were simply unnecessary. I did not include obviously bad films like the countless sequels for franchises like Police Academy, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and other weak films that did not deserve a sequel of any kind. Either way the films below are the worst sequels I have encountered.
15. THE STING II (1983)
Who thought it was a good idea to make a sequel to an Academy Award winning film starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman WITHOUT the two stars? So much of the success of that first film was built around the chemistry of Newman and Redford and replacing them with Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis hardly sufficed. Not the least but entertaining or even remotely fun, the only sting here was the one the audience felt watching this sluggish mess. I was never a huge fan of the original, though well made, with obvious star power, it was never for me, the best film of 1973. To think it bested both American Graffiti (1973) and The Exorcist (1973) is simply astonishing.
14. BASIC INSTINCT 2 (2006)
I like Sharon Stone but never have I felt she was a great actress. Jesus, she knows what she is, and a great actor is not something she believes herself to be. Indeed, she was tremendously good in Casino (1995) for director Martin Scorsese, but it took her nowhere and 11 years later she was recreating her part as the dangerous writer, sex machine, manipulator of horny men, Catherine in this horrid mess of a film. The one thing to come out of it was the realization that Stone, 14 years after the first film, still looked great. Just a dumb idea all round.
13. GROWN UPS 2 (2010)
Positively unnecessary. Working in his family film genre, Adam Sandler had no need to make this film, and I had no need to see it. Nobody did, or should not have. But I did, and I can never have that ninety minutes of torture back. It was punishing. Yes, he redeemed himself with Uncut Gems (2019), but wiping the memory of this from my mind? Well you need better toilet paper if you follow me.
12. BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997)
Wow, what a stinker. And let’s not blame George Clooney, because the fact is he was a decent Batman (with nipples?) and a very good Bruce Wayne. But he was saddled with a petulant, whiny Robin, (“I want a car, chicks dig the car”) portrayed terribly by Chris O’Donnell and the worst of the Batman villains, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) he of the icy quip (far too many) and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, or Mae West incarnate, I am not sure who she was playing and I doubt she was either. Joel Schumacher might have been the creative force that ruined the franchise, but he had help and plenty of it. And really Batgirl? We needed Batgirl?
11. ROCKY IV (1987)
After the fine film that was Rocky III (1982), Sylvester Stallone went a little loopy deciding none other than Rocky Balboa could end the Cold War and unite the USA and Russia. When Apollo Creed is killed during an exhibition bout by Drago, a towering steroid fueled Russian fighter, Rocky agrees to fight the man in the Soviet Union. While Drago prepares in state-of-the-art facilities, Rocky is outdoors in the Russian winter countryside, chopping wood, running, preparing his body for the beating he knows he will have to take if he plans to beat Drago. And of course when Adrian (Talia Shire) shows up, all is well. Even during the fight the Russian people slowly begin to cheer for Rocky, a testament to his stamina. A testament to the idiocy of this screenplay. And that final monologue Rocky gives to the Russian people, causing the President of Russia to stand and applaud … Jesus, give me a break.
10. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2007)
What were they thinking? On first viewing I too was taken in, thrilled to see the hat back on Indy, excited to see him reunited with Karen Allen, and ecstatic to see the delightful Karen Allen back on screen as feisty Marion Ravenwood. But when the dust settled and I had a chance to think about it, then went back and watched it again…whoa. To Harrison Ford’s credit he does not once appear too long in the tooth to be playing the role, but Shia LaBeouf as a leather jacketed James Dean wannabe? Indy’s son? Swinging through the trees like a monkey to drop in and save the day? Why Spielberg why? And if they make a fifth which is said to be happening very soon, will Marion still be his wife and in the picture or will the entire fourth film be a dream? A vision of the inter-dimensional Gods? Do I even mention surviving an atomic blast in a fifties fridge?
9. STAYIN’ ALIVE (1983)
“I just wanna strut” says Tony Manero (John Travolta) after his inexplicable Broadway success, bursting through the stage doors to walk up the street to the tune “Stayin’ Alive” which of course is like the first time we ever encountered him at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever (1977). Sylvester Stallone directed and wrote the script to this mess, whipping John Travolta into extraordinary condition to portray the role. Essentially, he remade Travolta in his image, the contender with no chance, great talent, heart and the desire to be something better. Beyond stupid with one saving grace, the lovely presence of Cynthia Rhodes as Tony’s much put upon girlfriend, the single person who really believes in him. Did Stallone do any research about the works playing on Broadway because the musical Tony stars in is unlike anything I have ever even heard of.
8. SPEED 2 – CRUISE CONTROL (1995)
OK so I understand, the first film was set on a transit bus that would explode if it dropped below a high speed, carousing and crashing through the streets. The second film, minus Keanu Reeves, is set aboard a yacht and still called Speed? Really? How fast does a yacht go?? The wisest move of Reeves career was to turn this down. Smart dude. Jason Patric, a truly great actor, did not turn the part down. Whoa.
7. THE GODFATHER PART III (1990)
Even the mention of this film upsets me, and I have denied its existence for so long I had to check and remind myself it was actually truly made. But it was. Sadly, and is a pale imitation of the previous two films, lacking the intensity, the scope and the sweep of the previous films. The Michael we see here bears no resemblance to the Michael we left at the end of Part II. Now more animated, louder, trying to be cute and win back Kay (Diane Keaton) and it all becomes silly. Think for a minute, the most powerful Mafia chief in the world, driving around Sicily in peasant garb without his bodyguards? Stupid?? Yep. And though poor Sofia Coppola took the bulk of the vicious reviews, in hindsight she was not that bad, but the film sure was. Just entirely unnecessary. Blame Paramount…in every way.
6. SUPERMAN IV – THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
Moving from the deep pockets of a Hollywood studio to the mini budgets of Golan Globus meant the visual effects would suffer, and oh boy did they suffer. The flying sequences are terrible, and any other effect is just a joke, but the worst thing about the film is the screenplay, co-written by Christopher Reeve. The first film, Superman (1978) made me believe a man could fly, this one made me think, he was forever grounded. Truly not super.
5. JAWS 2, 3 AND 4 (1978-83-87)
Which one is worse? Well to be truthful Jaws 4 – The Revenge (1987) is terrible, I mean, the shark stalks the Brody family? Really? Without Steven Spielberg the second one was a mess, the third was 3-D and silly, but the fourth was, is, the worst of the lot. After telling us in Jaws (1975) all that sharks do is eat, swim and make little sharks, the creature in Part V seeks revenge on the Brody family? I kid you not. Terrible to follow a masterpiece with such tripe.
4. STAR WARS – THE PHANTOM MENACE
The only prequel on the list and it is here deserving to be. Sixteen years after Return of the Jedi (1983) George Lucas stepped back into the Star Wars universe with this film, the first of three prequels, the single most anticipated film of the last forty years. I remember going to see the press screening with regular audience members, a rare move for the studio, but once the film began, I understood why they were doing it. The film sucked…badly but the fanboys did not care, they loved it. We ten or twelve critics sat stone faced, while the fanboys whooped it up, but slowly quieted down. They cheered the title crawl, the appearance of the little boy who would become Darth Vader, the pod race, the light sabre duels, they cheered everything, but got quieter as they must have realized the film stunk, and I realized it was critic proof, like it or not, and I did not, it was going to make a fortune. Yes, Liam Neeson was properly heroic as a doomed swashbuckling Jedi master, and Ewan McGregor was marvelous as Obi Wan Kenobi, he even sounded like Alec Guinness, but the rest? And Jar Jar Binks? Puh-lease. “Help us Obi Wan Kenobi…you are our only hope”…. not this time.
3. GREASE 2 (1982)
In the summer of 1978 Grease was the word. Kids went to the see the film over and over, my gal and I saw it twice, and the box office grew with those repeat viewings. Four years later, in the summer of 1982, Grease was SO not the word…it was not. In fact this sequel, this messy movie was in and out of theatres so fast it was barely seen. Mercifully so few people have actually seen the film it is barely remembered. Good, bury all copies…end the suffering. Goes to show from humble beginnings, even terrible starts, a star can be born…case in point Michelle Pfeiffer who somehow survived this fiasco.
2. BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979)
Was the Poseidon not sinking when we last left it, seven years before? Was there just a small piece of the ship sticking out of the water, as the people who got to the top of the upside down ship were rescued? Sadly, great people are in this mess, Sally Field, Michael Caine, but they cannot save the film, but who could?
1. EXORCIST II – THE HERETIC (1977)
The single worst motion picture ever made, and by extension the worst sequel ever made. I saw this one opening day in 1977 and have never in the forty plus years that have passed have seen a film that approaches how terrible this film is. And I saw it again recently and it is as bad as it ever was. Incoherent nonsense that barely touches upon demonic possession which was the main subject of the first great film. Richard Burton with that voice of God is in this one, with Louise Fletcher, Linda Blair, and Max Von Sydow are all in the picture directed by John Boorman, who has given us masterpieces such as Deliverance (1972) and Hope and Glory (1987). Burton was nominated for an Academy Award this same year for his superb performance as Martin Dysart in the film version of Equus (1977) making clear to all doubters he was still an acting force. But not here. There is no plot I can decipher, there is no narrative, there is no story. None. Zip. Pure excrement.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.