No Star, No Sequel? No Way!

The powers that be in Hollywood are always quick to green-light a sequel for any surprise hit movie. And once that course has been set, almost nothing will deter them from reaching their golden goal of potential box office big bucks – not even something like the star of the original film not returning for what should theoretically be his follow-up film. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at three different examples of sequels that had to cope with an MIA star and how they turned out.

Teen Wolf Too (1987)

Teen Wolf was a quickie, low-budget flick with rising star Michael J. Fox playing a high school basketball star who suddenly finds out teenwolftoohe is afflicted with a family curse that turns him into a werewolf. It also ended up becoming the surprise hit of the summer of 1985 when the filmmakers held off releasing it until after Fox’s next project came out – a little movie called Back To The Future. When that film blew up at the box office, Teen Wolf was then hustled out to cash in on Fox’s sudden popularity. And it worked. The film, which had a budget of $1.4 million, ended up making over $33 million domestically (in 2013 dollars, that’s roughly $75 million).

With that kind of profit margin, a sequel was pretty much a sure thing – well, for everybody except Fox. And what no one seemed to realize (or wanted to admit) was that Fox – not the story – was the reason for the film’s success. But the filmmakers just trudged on and figured they could tell basically the same story as before and lightning would strike twice. Jason Bateman was swapped in for Michael J. Fox (playing his cousin) and college boxing was swapped in for high school basketball. The only thing that couldn’t be swapped in was a decent box office. Teen Wolf Too fizzled on arrival in 1987 with a total box office take of just under $8 million.

Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)

There’s no doubt that playing Annie in Speed was Sandra Bullock’s star-making role, but the film itself was supported on the very sturdy shoulders of stoic Keanu Reeves. So, when the non-stop action thriller got the go-ahead for a sequel, it was a no-brainer to craft a story that brought both stars back for another thrill ride. Except, Reeves didn’t find the follow-up to be all that thrilling. After reading the screenplay, he backed out of trading a runaway bus for a runaway ocean liner, leaving Bullock to do all the heavy lifting herself.

speed2Not that there was much for her to do though, since Speed 2 was clearly written to be another adventure starring Reeves’ cop Jack Traven with his now-girlfriend Annie along for the ride, she was pretty much regulated to  running around and looking cute and/or worried. So did the producers order the screenplay be rewritten and maybe beef up Bullock’s part? Nope. While they did shift her name to the number one slot on the poster and credits, they didn’t make any substantial story changes. Basically,  they just crossed out “Jack Traven” wherever it appeared in the script and replaced it with “Alex Shaw” – then tacked on an opening scene that explained that Annie was no longer with Jack, but was now with Alex, who happens to be an L.A. cop (like Jack) and also happens to be a dangerous risk-take (…like Jack). Hmmm. Then they tapped the not widely-known, but economically-priced Jason Patric for Reeves’ empty star slot and hoped for the best. Well, they didn’t get it. Even though it debuted at number one, the film quickly sank – with its $44 million domestic take not even equal to half of the original’s $125 million haul (nor half of its bloated $100 million+ budget – although it would eventually break even with its worldwide gross). Seems that without Reeves and with a very unspeedy-looking ocean liner as its centerpiece, most viewers simply preferred to stay ashore.

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (2012)

You have it to give it to those savvy movie marketers. I hope whoever thought up titling this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth got a big bonus, because having it read as both a sequel (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) and a stand-alone film (“Journey To The Mysterious Island”) is some straight-up “Step Up 2 The Streets”/having-it-both-ways realness right there.

In the first Journey, Brendan Fraser played the father figure to his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) – the son of his late brother – and journey2they went on, well, a journey to the center of the Earth. When Fraser was unable to participate in the sequel, Dwayne Johnson was brought in to play Hutcherson’s latest father figure – his stepdad – and they went on, well, a journey to a mysterious island.

Unlike Teen Wolf and Speed, the main draw of the original Journey wasn’t the stars, but the story’s adventurous title location. So, when Journey 2 offered up a new and interesting location for Hutcherson to continue his adventures, audiences hardly seemed to care that Fraser was sitting this one out and The Rock was pulling dad-duty instead. And its worldwide box office of $335 million tends to support that idea.

I guess the real lesson to be learned here is when your star can’t return for the sequel, don’t get cutesy-cheeky with the title (Teen Wolf Too) and don’t get punny (Speed 2: Cruise Control) just get creative (Journey 2 The Mysterious Island). Even better – apply that lesson directly to the sequels themselves, not just the titles.