1. The Hangover Part II (2011)
“Never say never again” is a mantra by which Hollywood lives—and it’s the guiding principle behind most sequels. But it takes a special kind of cash-grab chutzpah to manufacture a new chapter to a story that’s reached its logical conclusion. When Todd Phillips’ boys-behaving-badly raunch-fest The Hangover (2009) proved a surprise smash, it was perhaps inevitable that Warner Bros. would rush to provide audiences with a second dose of morning-after mischief. There was just one problem: Didn’t the original’s premise—three dudes awake in Vegas with no memory of the previous night’s bachelor party, and no inkling as to the whereabouts of the groom—really only lend itself to a single movie? Would viewers really buy that these same three friends would again black out, again come to with no recollection of the night before, and again spend an entire day looking for someone they lost along the way? Insultingly redundant, 2011’s The Hangover Part II essentially Xeroxes the narrative of its predecessor, retracing its steps with only the most cosmetic of changes. (The shenanigans happen in Bangkok instead of Las Vegas, there’s a monkey instead of a baby, etc.) The implausibly identical plot didn’t prevent The Hangover Part II from pulling in monster grosses, but it did tarnish the critical reputation of the franchise—so much so that Phillips went out of his way to break from template with the new (and supposedly conclusive) The Hangover Part III.
2. King Kong Lives (1986)
It’s hard to get more conclusive than the end of King Kong, regardless of the version. John Guillermin’s 1976 remake had Kong shot multiple times before he took his long fall off the World Trade Center, and what little pathos the movie had came from watching the poor beast get slaughtered. Bringing him back for another round is questionable enough, especially considering King Kong Lives was released a decade after the previous film. But the explanation as to how the monster survived is even more ludicrous. Kept alive by a college trying to raise its public profile, Kong is in a coma at the start of movie, waiting for an artificial heart transplant. Linda Hamilton, two years off of The Terminator, plays his fresh-faced, bafflingly dedicated surgeon, and the story follows her attempts to save a giant ape who killed dozens of people during his last rampage, and will almost certainly go on to kill more. Animal preservation is one thing, but the almost unimaginable cost in money and time of such a doomed-to-fail venture is hard to accept, especially when the movie uses it as an excuse for sentimentality, potshots at the military, and broad stereotypes.
3. Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971)
There are definitive endings, and there are definitive endings. Before agreeing to appear in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, Charlton Heston asked that his role be kept to a minimum, and his character be killed off. The writers did him one better, and concluded the movie with the explosion of a doomsday bomb that destroys the whole planet. In order to get around this minor inconvenience for the subsequent Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, screenwriter Paul Dehn fell back on that old sci-fi cure all: time travel. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter), apes who had been with the series from the start (though McDowall was absent from Beneath), found a rocket ship, fixed it, and used it to fly themselves and a colleague out into space before everything blew up. They then stumbled through a time warp that sent them back to present-day Earth, before humans had wiped each other out and apes had evolved into the dominant species. Like a lot of the franchise’s plotting, it’s a lumpy solution that almost works. Escape is a not-entirely successful mix of campy sentiment and brutal tragedy, but the entry continues the franchise’s willingness to challenge its audience, even as it fails some basic plausibility tests. And the eventual reveal that the events of Escape form the origins of the ape revolution, thus creating the world of the original movie, is pretty ingenious.
4. Die Hard 2 (1990)
After seeing The Towering Inferno, crime novelist Roderick Thorp conceived of a sequel to his 1966 novel The Detective. Nothing Lasts Forever became Die Hard, which was such a big hit that it demanded a sequel. But Thorp hadn’t written one, so producers turned to Walter Wager’s 58 Minutes, which has an NYPD captain waiting for his daughter to land at JFK. After a few alterations—the airport is now Washington Dulles, the passenger is now the hero’s wife—Die Hard 2 became the unlikely story of John McClane defeating terrorists with forceful guile… on Christmas Eve… again. The holiday timeframe gives the film too much of a carbon-copy feel, and was wisely abandoned in subsequent sequels, none of which are based on novels.
5. Weekend At Bernie’s II (1993)
The original Weekend At Bernie’s was built on a flimsy premise and an abundance of bad taste, so naturally when it became a surprise hit there was nothing to do but press on with a sequel. That presented the geniuses behind Weekend At Bernie’s II with a problem: How exactly do you follow your one-joke movie about two idiots trying to keep people from discovering their scumbag boss is dead? The solution they hit upon was to reanimate the cadaver as a dancing zombie and use that as an excuse for some of the most tasteless corpse-mutilation humor this side of, well, the original film. Bernie’s intermittently animate stiff is stuffed in a refrigerator, shot with a spear gun, and mangled by a shark in between bouts of dancing. Then, perhaps fearing the morbid slapstick was not painful enough, the writers spiced it up here and there with some broad racial humor. Glue the whole mess together with some surprisingly subpar camera work and sound—particularly pathetic for a Hollywood production with a multimillion-dollar budget—and the result is a film that could serve as an object lesson in just how ugly an ugly money grab can be.
6. The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)
In 2010, Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism managed to reinvigorate the flagging found-footage horror genre, enlivening a shaky-cam, demon-driving narrative with lo-fi effects and a neat parable about the arrogance of atheism. But come on. It was the last exorcism. Pretty much everyone died at the end. And it’s right there in the title! Undaunted by such niggling technicalities, the recent sequel, The Last Exorcism Part II, brings back Ashley Bell’s on-again, off-again demonic plaything, this time terrorizing a family who happens across her. (Gone, oddly, is the faux-doc conceit.) It’s little surprise that Part II was terrible, but it managed to gross three times its budget. So the world should prepare for The Last Exorcism 3: This Time, It’s The Last Exorcism For Real, Maybe.
7. Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Spoiler alert for a 20-year-old film: The story of Ellen Ripley ends definitively with the climax of Alien 3, when the heroine throws herself into a giant furnace, thwarting the Weyland-Yutani Corporation’s attempts to acquire the alien queen living inside of her. But this is science fiction, in which nothing is definitive, so Joss Whedon’s script for Alien: Resurrection leaps ahead 200 years, when a military research ship has finally created a successful clone of Ripley in order to recover the queen embryo and conduct tests on her vicious brood. As in all the other films in the series, the aliens can’t be controlled, and it’s up to Ripley—now possessed of special powers, thanks to some ingrained traces of the queen’s DNA—to exterminate the threat. Whedon’s script does have a few bright spots, like Ripley discovering a series of failed clones, but it’s easy to see why the series ended as a quadrilogy.
8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
1998’s Halloween H20, the seventh film in the series (and the sixth featuring Michael Myers, the most durable psychopath of his generation who was never went into outer space or fought Freddy Krueger), was presented as an event: To honor the 20th anniversary of the franchise, the producers wiped away several bad sequels’ worth of continuity and brought Jamie Lee Curtis back as Michael’s biological sister and most sought-after trophy, Laurie Strode. That movie ended with Laurie beheading her monstrous brother and finally giving herself (and the audience) some closure. But movie franchises don’t shut down if the studio has reason to think there may still be money in them, so after H20 performed well at the box office, Dimension Films ground out Halloween: Resurrection, which opens with what amounts to a 15-minute prologue explaining away the previous film’s ending. While Laurie sits in a room at the nut house, feigning catatonic insanity while waiting for her next encounter with Michael, a nurse explains to the new girl on the ward that Laurie actually cut off the head of an innocent paramedic, who Michael had dressed in his clothes and mask after crushing his larynx, so that when Laurie saw him, he couldn’t say, “About the way I look—funny story!” Michael then arrives and kills Laurie, then hustles off to spend the rest of the movie killing a whole bunch of strangers who, to prove that it’s 2002, are doing something with the Internet.
9. Cocoon: The Return (1988)
At the end of the original Cocoon, the ailing, heavy-spirited senior citizens who had been physically and spiritually rejuvenated through contact with aliens from the planet Antarea agree to relocate to their new friends’ distant world, where they will know immortality and eternal good health. Opportunities in Hollywood being what they are for actors who are past 60 (or those who, like Wilford Brimley, were younger at the time, but stopped getting carded when they were 12), it’s not surprising that all the principal cast members returned for Cocoon: The Return, even though the best story idea anyone could come up with was to have the old folks sign on for a mission that requires them to come back home. As soon as they set foot on the toxic hellhole that is Earth, Hume Cronyn’s leukemia returns. But that doesn’t matter; his wife dies after being hit by a car, so he doesn’t want to live anyway. And Brimley and Maureen Stapleton decide that they want to stay because immortality is no consolation for missing their family, which is always a comforting message for people in the audience who don’t get to consider immortality as an option. The only Earthlings who return to Antarea are Don Ameche and Gwen Verdon, and that’s because, in a development that must have guaranteed some interesting conversations for any moviegoers who didn’t know better than to bring the kids, she finds out she’s pregnant.
10. Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979)
The 1972 blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure has what would seem to be a fairly self-contained story. A luxury liner turns upside down in a storm, and a small group of survivors spend most of the movie climbing up to the hull, where a rescue team is waiting to chopper them out. It took years for producer Irwin Allen to deliver the sequel, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure, because of the difficulty of coming up with a way to tack on another chapter. The original starred Gene Hackman, who, in the climax, sacrifices his life to save the others; legend has it that Hackman was approached to also star in Beyond. Had he agreed, it would have opened with him getting out of the helicopter and asking the survivors, “Did my twin brother make it?” In the end, none of the cast members from the original came back, and the sequel instead stars Michael Caine as the leader of a salvage team who shows up at the sinking wreckage and can think of no reason not to go inside. Then, he and his friends, along with a few other survivors they meet along the way, have to put up with the same kind of shit the people in the first movie had to deal with, as well as the annoyance of getting into firefights with rival scavenger Telly Savalas.
11. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
Slasher movies are notorious for using thin reasons to goad fans back into theaters; in Friday The 13th Part 2, a character whose death motivated the first film’s killer, is resurrected to start mangling teenagers in the sequel. But I Still Know What You Did Last Summer stands out as especially egregious. While not very good, the first movie—scripted by Kevin Williamson and adapted from Lois Duncan’s novel in the wake of the post-Scream slasher boom—at least tried to tell a somewhat realistic story. Drunken teens accidentally run somebody down with a car, try to cover for the crime, and suffer horribly for it. In part two, Jennifer Love Hewitt—now a dippy college student struggling with post-traumatic stress after all that murder—wins a vacation by guessing that “Rio” is the capital of Brazil. This is not the stupidest thing that happens. The sole bit of frisson in the first movie is the protagonists’ nominal guilt over their own crimes. By turning the vengeful killer into a full-bore psychopath, the second movie retroactively destroys what little credibility the original had left. But the worst was yet to come: I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, the direct-to-video final entry in the trilogy, turned the whole thing into a supernatural goof.
12. Oliver’s Story (1978)
The generically titled commercial phenomenon Love Story (1970)—the movie version of a book that Erich Segal had adapted from his own original screenplay—starred Ryan O’Neal as a man whose wife (Ali MacGraw) died, thus bringing to an end that unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime true love that most people are only privileged to read about, or see in the movies. But after some time had passed, it seemed appropriate that the still-grieving hero might experience true love again, if only because Segal and O’Neal were thinking that it would be appropriate for them to experience another hit. Despite an ad campaign built around the reassuring tag line, “It takes someone very special to help you forget someone very special,” the movie only seemed to alienate fans of the original, who had no interest in seeing Oliver get over their beloved Jenny with the help of some hussy. The hussy was played by Candice Bergen, of whom New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael once wrote, “In an acting contest between her and Ali MacGraw, Ali MacGraw would win.” But the next time she reviewed one of MacGraw’s films, Kael conceded, “Now I think I slandered Bergen.” So maybe the best thing that can be said about this movie is that someone who worked on it must have had both a subscription to The New Yorker and a wild sense of humor.
13. Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992)
As if a kooky scientist dad shrinking a group of kids who are then forced to contend with ants and Cheerios wasn’t improbable enough a conceit for a movie, Honey, I Blew Up The Kid somehow manages to take the premise even further. Sure, Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) should have trashed his shrink ray after he almost killed his kids, but instead, after a power surge, he blows up Adam, his rather stupid toddler, to King Kong size. The kid lives, and gets back down to normal size, but not until he’s terrorized Las Vegas, electrocuting himself on the Hard Rock Café’s neon guitar sign. Unbelievably, the franchise even yielded another movie, 1997’s straight-to-DVD Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, as well as a 1997 television series, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids: The TV Show.
14. Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
If a family forgets their youngest son the last time they went on vacation—because a power outage knocked out the alarm clock and the failure to perform a proper head-count before the subsequent rush to the airport, the next time said family plans a big holiday vacation, there are only two things to take care of: set a vast array of different alarms, battery-operated or plugged-in, and do not forget the youngest son. And yet, somehow it happens again in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. John Heard’s Peter McCallister resets his alarm clock during the night—the only alarm the family sets despite the previous snafus—which causes the ensuing mad scramble through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where Peter loses Kevin, which the McCallisters don’t realize until they get to baggage claim in Miami. If anything dates the Home Alone sequel to the early ’90s, it’s the possibility that massive confusion running to a flight could lead to someone getting on the wrong plane, and taking someone else’s seat on a Chicago-to-New York flight around Christmas. Homeland security has made such a scenario basically inconceivable.