1. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
Highlander II: The Quickening might make a little more sense with a title change that leaves out the “Highlander” bit. True, Christopher Lambert reprises his role as Connor MacLeod, the immortal warrior from the 1986 urban-fantasy cult hit Highlander. As both a sequel and a prequel—and yet neither, at heart—The Quickening follows the now-mortal McLeod into the future, where he has inexplicably become a scientist and a would-be savior of the ozone layer; meanwhile, flashbacks reveal that MacLeod’s former immortality (and, in fact, the entire plot of the first film) was the result of some contest between warring factions from the planet Zeist. The whole thing grows somehow more convoluted and nonsensical—and even less like the original—from there.
2. Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)
Australian director Philippe Mora already had one sequel to Joe Dante’s werewolf movie under his belt, the colorfully titled Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, when he stepped behind the camera for Howling III: The Marsupials. Maybe that’s why he felt free to take a few liberties the second time around. As its subtitle suggests, Howling III involves a subspecies of pouched lycanthropes. They’re less interested in terrorizing humanity than avoiding its persecution. But a romance between a human and a weremaruspial (Were-roo? Kangawolf?) proves the borders between species aren’t impermeable. So too does an extended childbirth sequence in which a furry little hybrid crawls out of his mother’s womb and into her pouch. Unfortunately, it all goes pear-shaped in a finale involving an awards show, venerable cross-dressing comic Dame Edna, and some lycanthropy-inducing camera flashes. Pouch or no pouch, a werewolf has to be a werewolf.
3. Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
The Blair Witch Project’s great strength was its simplicity. Three characters, one basic setting, a dash of mythos, and a whole lot of atmosphere were all it took to make an effective, hugely lucrative big-screen spook story. The “lucrative” part turned out to be a problem, though, because anything that makes as much money as Blair Witch did can’t be allowed to fade gracefully into cable reruns. But how the hell do you make a sequel to a movie whose gimmick was so rooted in the moment? Well, in this case, you hire a documentary filmmaker to make a fictional movie featuring characters obsessed with the original Blair Witch, toss in some pointless subliminal messages and gore, and hope for the best. Director Joe Berlinger, best known for his Paradise Lost series, tries to throw as much confusion into the air as possible, but Book Of Shadows trades in Blair Witch’s loose intimacy for a grim, plodding thriller that relies too heavily on its final-act reveal. It was probably impossible to follow in Blair Witch’s footsteps, but rarely has a trip off the beaten path seemed so agonizingly familiar.
4. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)
If fans of the original Dirty Dancing were to make a list of the things they like most about the film, Patrick Swayze would most certainly be No. 1, the feel-good soundtrack would be No. 2, Jennifer Grey a distant No. 3, and the actual dirty dancing No. 4. Unfortunately, apart from a Swayze guest appearance, all Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights retains is No. 4, which means the makers followed the letter of the law regarding a Dirty Dancing sequel, and ignored the spirit. Moving the illicit gyrating action from upstate New York to Cuba doesn’t make any sense, but perhaps that’s because Havana Nights wasn’t meant to be a Dirty Dancing movie at all. The original script, written by a playwright and NPR host Peter Sagal in the early ’90s, was a sober account of one woman’s view of the Cuban revolution, and was intended as a romantic political thriller. But the powers that be decided that Sagal’s story really needed a hackneyed connection to a slightly naughty slumber-party classic and some Black Eyed Peas songs. Alas, they were wrong.
5. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Audiences looking for a reprise of The Exorcist’s thrills and chills in its much-ballyhooed sequel were in for a surprise when director John Boorman turned in a surrealistic mind-fuck featuring such oddities as an institute for people with telekinetic powers, a disconcertingly sexy Linda Blair, and James Earl Jones dressed up like a locust. What did you expect from the man who brought us Zardoz?
6. Son Of The Mask (2005)
Along with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, 1994’s The Mask was one of the movies that set Jim Carrey on course to become the premier rubber-faced fartsmith of his generation. Aside from arriving a decade late, the great folly of Son Of The Mask is that the studio, New Line, seemed to bank on the idea that audiences were more excited about the mask than Jim Carrey, as if he were interchangeable with whatever second-rate “wacky” comedian they could find. In this case, that wacky comedian was Jamie Kennedy, a cartoonish clod who impregnates his wife while wearing the mask, so that they conceive a baby with creepy special powers, like the ability to bounce off the ceiling and speak in an adult voice. New Line was hoping the emphasis on an elastic baby, a cute dog, a frenetic tone, and a brutal color scheme would attract a younger audience, but the few kids who didn’t already feel too sophisticated for TV’s The Jamie Kennedy Experiment tuned out here.
7. Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003)
Apart from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Jim Carrey has steered clear of sequels. But in a couple of instances, the sequels showed up anyway. Besides Son Of The Mask, there’s Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which sidestepped the problem of not having original cast members Carrey and Jeff Daniels by telling the story of—well, it’s right there in the title. But who could fill Carrey and Daniels’ tacky, ill-fitting wardrobe? Well, why not Derek Richardson and Eric Christian Olsen? Who, you ask? So did a lot of people, and those who showed up to find out got an eyeful of wild mugging and poop jokes. (Admittedly, that didn’t make the film that much different from the source material. The sound of laughless theaters, on the other hand, did.)
8. American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002)
By the time American Psycho II’s opening credits roll, it’s clear the movie was written by someone who had only heard about the 2000 movie starring Christian Bale, or the Bret Easton Ellis novel it was based on. While on a date with a babysitter, Bale’s Patrick Bateman (played by someone whose face is never shown) is murdered by a little girl who goes on to become a serial killer herself. This opening assumes that Bateman—who preferred prostitutes or prigs—definitely killed people in the first movie, a point purposefully left unclear. The dissimilarities in approach don’t end there. All American Girl could be its own standalone movie, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with what came before it. Mila Kunis plays a freshman criminology student who murders everyone standing in the way of her access to a teaching-assistant gig with William Shatner. Oddly, this assures her position in a highly specialized FBI training program on how to successfully hunt serial killers.
9. S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (2009)
There’s a good reason why Donnie Darko writer-director Richard Kelly publicly distanced himself from S. Darko, making it clear he hadn’t read the script of the straight-to-video sequel, stood to make no money from it, and in general had nothing to do with it. This cinematic love letter to Donnie Darko, released eight years after the cult hit, showed its affection by stealing the basic elements (a bunny mask, the apocalypse, parallel universes, a stranger with a book) and assembling them in no discernible order. S. Darko’s tenuous link to its predecessor is the titular character, Samantha Darko. Daveigh Chase reprises her role as Samantha, because after the psychologically scarring and masterfully puzzling Donnie Darko, everyone was really wondering whether his little sister would chase her Sparkle Motion dreams, drive to California to become a professional dancer, and meet a whole cast of lazily sketched character types in a horribly garbled adventure.
10. Jason X (2001)
The Friday the 13th franchise depends on predictability. By the 10th film in the series, Jason Voorhees, the killer responsible for the brutal murders of dozens of promiscuous, drug-addled teens, had been hacked, stabbed, defenestrated, drowned, electrocuted, and, in the ninth and supposedly final entry, sent to hell. He always comes back, though, so the surprise of 2001’s Jason X isn’t Jason’s return to form, but rather the setting: nearly 500 years in the future, in the cold emptiness of space. X is the second New Line-produced Friday, and just like their first, Jason Goes To Hell, the filmmakers try and subvert expectations, this time trying to inject a science-fiction flavor into the tired format, with lasers, nanotechnology, and androids. Of course, there’s still a cast of nubile youngsters to slaughter, and that new flavor winds up being a lot of overused spices from other movies, but give them points for trying. After all, X does feature a climactic sequence where Jason confronts a pair of holographic stoner sluts.
11. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
The Nightmare On Elm Street series ran out of steam in 1991 with the laughable Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. But while that sequel pretended to send the razor-clawed bad guy off to his final rest, it still left the door open for this self-aware meta-movie, which found Freddy creator Wes Craven returning to the fold. Here, Freddy starts to invade the real world and terrorize original series star Heather Langenkamp. Craven and Freddy actor Robert Englund co-star as themselves, and the plot keeps folding reality back on itself as it makes connections between the villain and his archetypes in myth and folklore. Pity this ingenious epilogue couldn’t really have been the end of the line, sparing us Freddy Vs. Jason and the dreadful recent remake.
12. The Sting II (1983)
“You grew a mustache,” one character says to Jackie Gleason upon seeing him for the first time, as if that were all that changed in the decade between The Sting II and the George Roy Hill-directed, Paul Newman- and Robert Redford-starring original. Apart from con games, character names, and Scott Joplin rags, little of The Sting’s essence remains in this peculiar, flat sequel. Director Jeremy Paul Kagan had recently helmed a Joplin biopic, but his undistinguished direction doesn’t make it easy to forget Hill’s light touch. But the cast turnover makes this truly jarring. Paul Newman becomes Jackie Gleason, Robert Redford turns into honey-voiced country singer Mac Davis, and Robert Shaw morphs into Oliver Reed. And none seems to have retained his previous personality. Time does strange things to people, but seldom that strange.
13. Return Of The Living Dead III (1993)
Return Of The Living Dead was such an effective mixture of punk sensibility, dark humor, and zombie ultra-violence that its first sequel, Return Of The Living Dead Part II, tried to stay as close to the model as possible, recasting actors in familiar roles and even reusing some of the first movie’s dialogue. But for Return Of The Living Dead III, director Brian Yuzna and screenwriter John Penney went in a dramatically different direction, ditching the manic tone and focusing more on their two leads, Melinda Clarke and J. Trevor Edmond. When Clarke gets infected with the reanimating gas that caused all the trouble in the previous two movies, she uses piercing and self-mutilation to stay ahead of the mental disintegration, while her lover, Edmond, searches for a cure. It’s a gory, tragic romance, flawed by a low budget and Yuzna’s sometimes heavy-handed direction, but it still manages to recapture some of ROTLD’s pathos in a new and affecting light.
14. Django Strikes Again (1987)
The 1966 spaghetti Western Django made Franco Nero an international star everywhere but in the United States, where the movie curiously never got much of a release. Second only to Sergio Leone’s movies in global popularity, Django also led to sequel after sequel, with titles like Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!), Django Sees Red, and Django Always Draws Second. One problem: None of them starred Nero or had anything to do with the original; they simply borrowed the name Django and ran with it. The name dogged Nero wherever he went, however, and he occasionally even saw his films released with the name Django added to their title. (The 1976 Western Keoma, for instance, became Django’s Great Return.) In 1987, Nero decided to return to the role for real, but where some of Django’s unofficial sequel might be mistaken for the real thing, the film’s official sequel looked like another movie entirely. Conspicuously filmed in South America, it sends a bloodthirstier-than-ever Django after some slavemasters, but feels more like a Rambo rip-off than a Western of any kind, spaghetti or otherwise.
15. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
On the surface, Speed 2: Cruise Control has a lot in common with the first Speed. There’s a large vehicle in danger of getting blown up, a crazy man making demands, and an LAPD officer as the only man capable of saving the day. Plus there’s Sandra Bullock, the quirky-cute love interest who so charmed Keanu Reeves and audiences in part one. The problem is, her LAPD officer boyfriend in Cruise Control is played by Jason Patric, because Reeves, after taking a look at the script, passed on returning to the hero role, and instead headed off to play Hamlet in Manitoba. A few minor characters return, but otherwise, Bullock and some vague storyline similarities are the only real connection between the Speeds, which means the tenuous logic of action-movie sequels (a.k.a. the Same Shit Happens To The Same Guy Twice Paradigm) is even more apparent than usual. Cruise Control isn’t good enough to stand on its own merits, and marketing it as a franchise picture makes it doubly disappointing, especially considering how many unanswered questions were left after the original.
16. Grease 2 (1982)
Grease 2 goes downhill as soon as it reveals the lamest get-out clause in all of sequeldom: our leading man, Michael (Maxwell Caulfield), is cousin to Sandy from the first Grease—not her sibling, so he doesn’t have to resemble her in any way to make the story plausible. The movie is set at the same high school as the first, with a different cast (save Didi Conn, returning as Frenchy), and instead of goofing on the faculty as well as the students, the heart of Grease 2 is a gapingly dull plot involving Michael as a “mysterious” motorcyclist “hero” whose secret identity could easily be deduced by anyone with brains. And while Grease gave the world the glorious “You’re The One That I Want,” here we get “Charades.” “Can you feel the real me?” Caulfield moans as he mopes through the halls. “Who cares?” responds the audience.
17. Troll 2 (1990)
The title of this 1990 horror film couldn’t be simpler: There are trolls… and it’s the second of something, right? Well, not quite, on both accounts. In a move that will baffle the world for generations, the studio decided to change the name of Goblin to Troll 2 for its U.S. release because they thought it’d sell better if it seemed to be connected to the 1986 film Troll. The two have nothing in common—no cast members, no characters (Troll notably used the name Harry Potter before all others), not even trolls. Goblin was a much more appropriate title. In the film, a family heads to a small town called “Nilbog” (get it?), where goblins turn people into plants before eating them, but thanks to communication with his dead grandfather, a boy (Michael Stephenson) thwarts the goblins and saves the rest of the clan, partially by peeing all over his family’s food. The special effects are laughably bad, and the costumes look like they were purchased from a budget surplus, then made to look worse—some of the goblin masks don’t even have eyeholes for the actors. The recent documentary Best Worst Movie, directed by the now-adult Stephenson, sheds some light behind the scenes to see how this schlocky film got made, but nothing will top the infuriating logic that led to the film’s title change—as if the title alone were its only problem.
18. Texasville (1990)
The core creative team from 1971’s The Last Picture Show returned for the sequel: writer-director Peter Bogdanovich again worked from a novel by Larry McMurtry, and Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Eileen Brennan, and Randy Quaid all reprised their roles as the residents and former residents of a small Texas town. But The Last Picture Show has such a bleak, elegiac feel; from the stark black-and-white cinematography to the decaying buildings of downtown Anarene, the movie leaves viewers with the sense that this little spot on the map and all the people in it are just about to dry up and blow away. Texasville, set three decades later, is brightly colored and damn near spry in tone, more like a prime-time TV soap than a fond farewell to a fading America. It’s not an awful movie by any means, but anyone distraught after Last Picture Show might well find those emotions cheapened by Texasville, which reveals that all the original’s sad souls kicked around for 30 more years, doing a bunch of stupid shit.
19. The Two Jakes (1990)
At one point, Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne envisioned telling the story of Los Angeles and P.I. Jake “J.J.” Gittes as a trilogy: The first film would deal with water rights, the second with oil, and the third with the freeway. But Towne wasn’t the only person with a stake in Chinatown; star Jack Nicholson, producer Robert Evans, and director Roman Polanski all had significant creative input into the original. With Polanski in exile, Towne, Nicholson and Evans had a rough time developing The Two Jakes, as each tried to exert control. Towne wanted to direct. Evans wanted to co-star as the second “Jake,” a man who hires Nicholson to be his patsy in a murder. Eventually, Nicholson pushed Evans and Towne off the project, and he directed and cast Keitel as the villain. But Nicholson’s thick gut and relaxed directorial style didn’t do justice to Towne’s vision, and though The Two Jakes is okay as a detective movie, it has none of Chinatown’s moody atmosphere or historical heft. The original is a dense genre piece that aspires to art. The sequel’s more like the pilot for a TV show.
20. Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982)
One traditional aspect of the slasher-movie franchise is that their boogeymen—from Michael Myers to Freddy Krueger to Jason—are relentless and impossible to kill, no matter how many times they’re stabbed, shot, or engulfed in flame. But two films into making Michael Myers into a horror icon via the classic Halloween and the not-so-classic Halloween II, co-creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill succeeded in finishing the job Jamie Lee Curtis started. (Or so they thought!) Refusing to participate in a direct sequel, Carpenter and Hill pitched a Halloween with zero continuity with the other two entries in the series, replacing Myers with an unrelated plague of killer Halloween masks. The result was the unfathomable Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, a dopey Irish mystical thriller about a line of Silver Shamrock masks embedded with a computer chip set to activate during one of its commercials. It’s a stinging anti-corporate message. It just isn’t a Halloween movie.
21. The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004)
2000’s Pitch Black was an almost perfectly self-contained science-fiction action film with a stark look and gritty swagger that ensured it would become a sleeper cult hit. Director David Twohy was given the green light for a sequel. The Chronicles Of Riddick reprised Pitch Black’s morally ambiguous antihero, Riddick—played with chilling panache by Vin Diesel—but Twohy decided to take him off the deep end. In The Chronicles Of Riddick, Diesel leaves behind the eerie monochrome of Pitch Black’s desert-planet setting for a sumptuous, eyeball-bursting universe full of strange worlds, an evil, Empire-like army bent on galactic destruction, and a prophecy in which the coldly murderous Riddick might be the savior of the universe. By the end of the movie, Riddick himself—caught up in a web of convoluted mythology on par with the Matrix trilogy—has become the leader of this army, a turn of events so divorced from Pitch Black’s minimalism, the first movie might have never happened at all.
22. Army Of Darkness (1992)
Evil Dead and Evil Dead II are intertwined so tightly, fans still debate whether the latter is technically a sequel or a remake. But the second film’s final moments hint at the 180-degree spin taken by Army Of Darkness, the third installment of the comedy-horror franchise. After Bruce Campbell’s demonic nemesis is banished to another dimension at the end of Evil Dead II, the chainsaw-armed hero gets sucked into the same wormhole—and spit out in the Middle Ages, surrounded by knights in armor. The non sequitur cliffhanger only barely prepares viewers for the madness of Army Of Darkness, in which Campbell—far removed from battling the minions of hell in a modern-day cabin—slapsticks his way through a bizarre parade of mystical, medieval hijinks before finally making his way back home. (Or elsewhere, depending on which alternate ending of Army you want to believe.)
23. Shaft In Africa (1973)
Having apparently run out of thugs, hoods, and gangsters to put down on the mean streets of New York, Richard Roundtree’s Shaft uses the third installment of his franchise as an opportunity to clean up the world’s second-worst cesspool of crime and corruption. No, not Hoboken: Africa. Billed as “The Brother Man In The Motherland,” Shaft In Africa sees the misunderstood detective posing as a native and trying to foil an immigrant-smuggling ring operating out of Ethiopia. Throughout the film, Shaft himself seems to make half-winking wisecracks about the awkwardness of a streetwise private dick getting plunked into the deserts of Africa, particularly in his infamous line, “No ride camel. Ride ass!”
24. Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal Of Time (1991)
Released just months before Conan The Barbarian, the 1982 fantasy film The Beastmaster is an equally epic romp through the sword-and-sorcery milieu. Imagine for a moment, though, that Conan The Destroyer whisked Arnold Schwarzenegger away from the battlefields of the Hyborian Age and onto the streets of modern-day Los Angeles: That’s the jarring plot of Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal Of Time. Marc Singer reprises his role as the Doctor Doolittle-ish warrior Dar, but little else remains from the first film; instead, Singer enters a dimensional portal and prowls L.A.—“the most barbaric land that time has ever known,” the trailer intones—while battling Valley girls, dodging smartass cops, and looking as gobsmacked as Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.
25. Aliens (1986)
Alien ranks as one of the scariest films ever made, a claustrophobic nightmare rich in Freudian imagery and free-floating terror. For its 1986 sequel, James Cameron, fresh off the action-thriller smash The Terminator, steered the series in a decidedly new direction. He transformed a bone-chilling shocker into a Howard Hawksian action-adventure movie about a group of tough guys and a couple of badass women: Alien alum Sigourney Weaver and Near Dark’s Jenette Goldstein. The result was a huge hit, but bore virtually no resemblance to the first film. Or, for that matter, to its own sequel…
26. Alien 3 (1992)
Everyone from cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson to Near Dark screenwriter Eric Red to Chronicles Of Riddick mastermind David Twohy to longtime series producers Walter Hill and David Giler worked on the screenplay to the ill-fated second sequel to Alien. Radical ideas were proposed: Hill and Giler, for example, envisioned a two-film story arc, with Sigourney Weaver only putting in a small cameo in Alien 3. The studio was understandably spooked about the prospect of the franchise’s marquee star all but disappearing, yet the film headed into an even bleaker direction when David Fincher took over directing duties and made a punishingly austere, atmospheric thriller that finds Weaver crash-landing on an all-male prison colony that has fallen under the spell of an apocalyptic religion that forbids sex. Amazingly, the film is even grimmer than that description would suggest.
27. Freeway II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby (1999)
Freeway cunningly, perversely re-imagined Little Red Riding Hood as a sordid, sleazy 1970s-style exploitation movie. Star Reese Witherspoon was understandably a little reluctant to reprise her role as a street tough teen, so returning writer-director Matthew Bright more or less started over with new star Natasha Lyonne. Freeway II riffs on Hansel and Gretel in a whole new adventure that manages to trump its predecessor in the sleaze department with a plot involving child pornography, child murder, child prostitution, cannibalism, and other assorted nastiness. Vincent Gallo is indelibly creepy as “Sister Gomez,” a “nun” whose godly garb hides both a sizable penis and all manner of unforgivable perversions and crimes. It’s nasty, creepy stuff, and it has fuck-all to do with the first Freeway.