Sequels That Killed The Franchise

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.

Ghostbusters 2

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

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

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.