It sure seemed like last year was crowded with bad sequels, and it’s true – from ZOOLANDER 2 to JASON BOURNE to NOW YOU SEE ME 2 to ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS to INFERNO to BAD SANTA 2 to…okay, you get the idea – there were a whole lot of follow-up fails in 2016. But was it the worst year ever for sequels?
To answer that, let’s take a look back at sequel history. D.W. Griffith’s 1915 KKK epic BIRTH OF A NATION, may not be the first feature length film (this piece makes the case that Charles Tait’s 1906 crime drama THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG holds that honor), but it did have the first sequel ever, THE FALL OF THE NATION, released in 1916.
Then came the first film trilogy, a horror film trilogy at that, about a clay statue called a golem that comes to life – THE GOLEM (1916), THE GOLEM AND THE DANCING GIRL (1917), and THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD (1920).
After that there were various film series over the next several decades including the Universal Monsters movies, the Inspector Hornleigh trilogy, the Dashiell Hammett THIN MAN series, and all those Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello BEACH PARTY flicks in the ‘60s.
The ‘60s also gave us James Bond, a franchise that’s still going strong with its most recent installment, last year’s SPECTRE, being its 24th. The ‘60s also brought forth Sergio Leone’s DOLLARS trilogy (three classic westerns that starred Clint Eastwood as “The Man With No Name”), Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers' PINK PANTHER films, the German “Dr. Mabuse” series, and various Godzilla and King Kong movies, including one in which the two iconic creatures fought each other.
But it wasn’t until the ‘70s that sequels really became a thing. The decade hosted THE GODFATHER PART II, CLASS OF ’44 (followup to THE SUMMER OF ’42), JAWS 2, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, FRENCH CONNECTION 2, the AIRPORT series, the PLANET OF THE APES series, the DIRTY HARRY series, and more Godzilla, Bond, and PINK PANTHER movies.
However, that was nothing compared to the ‘80s, when sequels dominated the box office, and franchises really began trending. The summer of 1980 could be considered the first big sequel summer as it boasted the first of many follow-ups to the massive sci-fi smash STAR WARS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK; along with SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 2, CHEECH AND CHONG’S NEXT MOVIE, HERBIE GOES BANANAS, and BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN (AND DON’T COME BACK!).
The rest of the ‘80s was sequel crazy, with each year packed with more and more film follow-ups averaging to 10-12 sequels a year by the end of the decade.
1989 was particularly notable as ’88 only had one sequel that was in the box office top 10 for the year (CROCODILE DUNDEE 2 – yes, really), but ’89 had four big brand franchise entries that ranked among the biggest hits of the year – INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, BACK TO THE FUTURE 2, LETHAL WEAPON 2, and GHOSTBUSTERS II. I’m really not sure why some sequels get roman numerals in their titles while others just go for plain numbers, but I digress.
The sequel thing died down a bit in the ‘90s. Not that there weren’t a lot of sequels being made (1990 had a record high of 14 sequels), but less of them made the box office top ten for their perspective years. There were only two years of the last 40 in which any sequels failed to make the yearly top 10 movies at the box office and they were in the ‘90s – 1993 and 1996. Mind you, both those years had movies in their top 10 that led to sequels (’93 had JURASSIC PARK and THE FUGITIVE, while ’96 had INDEPENDENCE DAY and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE).
In the 2000s, franchises became stronger with sequels appearing more rapidly (THE HARRY POTTER, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and the Marvel movies particularly). A record seven sequels made the top 10 in 2003, helped by the fact that there were two MATRIX movies that year. That was out of the nearly 20 sequels that were released in ’03.
After that, every year until now sequels made up half or more of the annual box office top 10 lists. 2011, which set the record for the most sequels to date (26), had nine sequels in the top 10 (the only non sequel that year was THE SMURFS, another that led to a sequel).
This has been the norm with every year following bringing around 30 sequels, a handful of which that are among the biggest box office draws.
In 2016, the two sequels I enjoyed the most, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, and FINDING DORY, were also the two biggest grossing films of the year. The rest of the top 10 was made up of spin-offs (ROGUE ONE, FANTASTIC BEASTS, DEADPOOL, and SUICIDE SQUAD), a remake (THE JUNGLE BOOK), with only two original entities – the animated hits ZOOTOPIA and THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS in the mix. Oh, and #6 at the box office, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which wasn’t technically a sequel, but it’s sort of difficult to not think of it as one.
In tallying up sequels from the last 40 years, 1994 stands out as a particularly bad year as there was only one sequel in the box office top 10 – CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, the third installment of the Jack Ryan series, and it just got in under the wire at #10. CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER was well reviewed – it stands at 82% on the Rotten Tamatometer, but the rest of that year was littered with a dozen horribly panned, low grossing sequels including BEVERLY HILLS COP III (really? That gets a roman numeral?), CITY SLICKERS 2: THE SEARCH FOR CURLY’S GOLD, THE NEXT KARATE KID, D2: THE MIGHTY DUCKS, HIGHLANDER III: THE SORCERER, MAJOR LEAGUE II, MY GIRL 2, NAKED GUN 33⅓: THE FINAL INSULT, THE NEVER ENDING STORY III, and DEATH WISH V: THE FACE OF DEATH, which got a 0% on the Rotten Tomatometer.
But by sheer quantity alone, 2016 crushes 1994. While it had a number of sequels that weren’t bad – i.e. both box office and critical-wise – including THE CONJURING 2, BRIDGET JONES’S BABY, NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING, and STAR TREK BEYOND – there was an unbearable slew of follow-up failures including ZOOLANDER 2, LONDON HAS FALLEN, MY BIG FAT WEDDING 2, GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, NOW YOU SEE ME 2, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, THE PURGE: ELECTION DAY, JASON BOURNE, ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE, MECHANIC: RESURRECTION, RIDE ALONG 2, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK, BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN, and BAD SANTA 2.
That’s six bad sequels more than ’94, and several more than every other year.
So, in my book, or on my blog, 2016 definitely comes in as the worst year for sequels in film history. Sure, that’s another reason to be happy that the year is over, but, as people keep point out on other fronts (especially politically), 2017 doesn’t look like it's gong to be much better.
There’s nearly three dozen sequels scheduled for the next 12 months including more STAR WARS, KONG, ALIENS, Marvel superheroes, DC superheroes, Universal Monsters, TRANSFORMERS, SAW, SMURFS, APES, and that hugely anticipated, but largely feared BLADE RUNNER sequel. No doubt, 2017 has powerful potential to destroy 2016’s worst year for sequels record.
So be afraid, be very afraid – and Happy New Year!