1. Jane Foster, Avengers (2012)
Hollywood studios love sequels, with their intimations of a built-in audience and built-in marketing. They just don’t necessarily love jumping through the hoops necessary to assemble the entire cast for those sequels. But even when there are good plot or real-world reasons for a sequel to focus on a new character, or drop old ones, filmmakers often want to get the explanations over quickly and get to the good stuff—or gloss over the fact that they couldn’t get the full cast back together—which occasionally leads to laughably quick dismissals of key personnel. Take the quick moment in the new Avengers movie where the story deals with the absence of Natalie Portman’s character, Jane Foster, the love interest from Thor. Co-writer/director Joss Whedon has said he wanted to take the lead heroes away from their support systems, and he didn’t want to interfere with plans for Thor 2, which will bring Thor and Jane back together in 2013. And Avengers already had enough plotlines and characters crowded into its story. Even so, given how Thor ended, with Thor staring off toward Earth, desperately hoping for a chance to reunite with his lady-love, it’s a snicker-worthy moment when a SHIELD agent in Avengers offers up the film’s due diligence for Thor’s plotlines by showing him a picture of Jane on a computer and explaining that they lured her away from the action with a mocked-up research offer on a distant island. Naturally, Thor is grateful that they’ve lied to her on his behalf; the last thing a god needs is his girlfriend showing up at a dramatically appropriate moment.
2. Hicks and Newt, Alien 3 (1992)
The problem with the cursory blow-off of an original character for a sequel is how often that process disrespects everything that happened in the previous movie, turning it into an essentially empty struggle. Consider Aliens, in which Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ripley fights her way through an alien-infested encampment and faces off mano-a-mano against a gigantic alien queen, all in order to save a 10-year-old girl named Newt, played by Carrie Henn. Like all the Alien franchise movies, Aliens is about desperate survival against long odds, and it’s a triumph when Weaver, Henn, and Michael Biehn (as Cpl. Hicks) manage to survive the alien onslaught and escape into space; it’s a notable step up on the humanity scoreboard, given that Weaver was the only survivor of the first Alien film. And then Alien 3 hand-waves that hard-earned survival away, as their survival pod crashes and the prisoners on a mining-colony prison rescue Weaver, glance at the shredded, bug-infested corpses remaining in the pod, and type up a report noting the deaths of Hicks and “unidentified female approx. 10 yrs. old.” There were reasons the sequel couldn’t bring back Henn and Biehn—the latter had a shooting conflict, while the former had decided not to pursue an acting career that would keep her away from her family. (Six years after the shooting of Aliens, she could hardly play the 10-year-old Newt anyway.) Alien 3 spends more time on the aftermath than most sequels, with Ripley mourning Newt and insisting on an autopsy to prove her corpse isn’t full of aliens. Still, it’s a mighty abrupt dismissal, particularly for a hero and the adorable child who formed the centerpiece of the previous movie.
3. Carol Anne’s entire family, Poltergeist III (1988)
Much has been written about the so-called “Poltergeist curse,” given how many actors from the franchise died in a relatively short time period. But when Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) wound up as the only member of the Freeling family in the third and final chapter of the saga, it wasn’t because she’d suddenly been orphaned. When Poltergeist III begins, Carol Anne is staying in Chicago with her aunt (Nancy Allen, playing the sister of JoBeth Williams’ character) and uncle (Tom Skerritt). The reason for Carol Anne’s visit is doled out slowly, but it eventually becomes clear that her parents have shipped her off to stay with Pat’s family so she can attend a special school for children with emotional issues; it’s a convenient excuse to explain the disappearance of most of Poltergeist’s cast.
4. Stephanie and Newton, Short Circuit 2 (1988)
After the events of the first Short Circuit film, it appeared that living robot Johnny 5 would live happily ever after with Stephanie (Ally Sheedy) and Newton (Steve Guttenberg). As it happens, however, their Indian buddy Ben, played by the far-less-expensive Fisher Stevens, changed locales—and names, since he was Ben Jabituya in the first film, but inexplicably became Ben Jahveri—and moved to the big city to start a toy-manufacturing company. Unfortunately, his efforts prove so successful that he falls behind on order fulfillment. Cue the arrival of a large wooden crate at his warehouse; inside is Johnny 5, who bears an audio cassette from Stephanie (recorded by an unbilled Sheedy) which explains that she and Newton have sent their robot buddy to help Ben make his manufacturing deadline. Shenanigans inevitably ensue, but they remain steadfastly Guttenberg-free.
5. Detective Taggart, Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
The process of pulling together the third film in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise proved difficult, with attempts to take Axel Foley to London never making it off the ground. By the time screenwriter Steven E. de Souza sold his ultimately diluted “Die Hard in a theme park” concept to Paramount, John Ashton and Ronny Cox, who played Foley’s impromptu partners, Detective Taggart and Capt. Bogomil, were committed to other films. Beverly Hills Cop III never tries to explain Bogomil’s absence, perhaps because the film is too busy playing up the fact that Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) has been promoted—that’s right: say hello to Beverly Hills’ new Deputy Director of Operations for Joint Systems Interdepartmental Operational Command—but given that Taggart was originally an integral part of the story, adjustments had to be made in a hurry. As a result, Rosewood suddenly found a new partner (played by Hector Elizondo) and a quick exchange was added to the script: When Axel says he’d love to say hello to Taggart, Rosewood cheerily announces, “Then you’ll have to fly to Phoenix. Taggart’s retired!”
6. Laurel, Men In Black II (2002)
At the end of Men In Black, Linda Fiorentino took the place of Tommy Lee Jones at Will Smith’s side. She’d seen and dealt with an awful lot of weirdness over the course of the film, so slotting her into place as the next agent made sense. But Fiorentino was dropped from the sequel, forcing Men In Black II to quickly reverse and spend the first hour of its running time getting Tommy Lee Jones back in the saddle as Agent K. J brushes off Fiorentino’s disappearance quickly, by saying she went back to being a deputy medical examiner, but had her character stuck around, perhaps the series wouldn’t feel the need to keep doubling back into K’s past on every trip to the well.
7. Io, Wrath Of The Titans (2012)
The romantic relationship between Perseus (Sam Worthington) and Io (Gemma Arterton) in Clash Of The Titans was always a little gross, given that she lets him know early in their acquaintance that a god cursed her with immortality for refusing his advances, and she’s been watching over Perseus and protecting him since his infancy. Grosser still: She makes it clear to him that her immortality has worn on her, and that she desperately wants the peace of death—but when she finally achieves her goal at the movie’s end, he promptly has his dad, Zeus, resurrect her so he doesn’t have to live his life alone. Or maybe that was all a fever dream, since the sequel, Wrath Of The Titans, has Perseus mourning by Io’s grave, then quickly heading back to their son, and getting on with his combat-filled life. Apparently he was fresh out of favors from Zeus by that time—or maybe she had to kill herself a few dozen times before Perseus finally let her rest.
8. Judy, Fred 2: Night Of The Living Fred (2011)
For the first feature-length expansion of Lucas Cruikshank’s kid-approved, parent-reviled character Fred, English pop star Pixie Lott took on the role of his longtime crush Judy. This market-conscious casting allowed Fred: The Movie to receive theatrical release in the UK, even though it was just (wildly successful) Nickelodeon fodder in the United States. Lott didn’t make it back for Fred 2 (Fred fansites whisper that she didn’t get along with Cruikshank, though they seem to be guessing), so he dispenses of her in a typically manic opening monologue, revealing that the pair are no more, then moving on. Without Lott (and her shoehorned-in musical numbers), Fred 2 was direct-to-TV fare in both the UK and America.
9-10. Tess and Isabel, Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
The trilogy that started with Ocean’s Eleven skewed heavily toward a male cast, but Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean did feature prominently in the first two films, and Catherine Zeta-Jones was a major character in the second one. And yet when it came time to close out the cinematic triptych with Ocean’s Thirteen, neither appeared onscreen. The filmmakers claimed they couldn’t work either woman into the script organically, so they chose to leave them out rather than forcing the issue. Onscreen, their disappearance is dismissed with a single line, as Danny Ocean (George Clooney) tells his compatriots that his current grudge match is “not their fight.” Given the first two films’ romantic-subplot focus, though, it was certainly odd to put both leading ladies aside in the final chapter of the series. And since the Ocean’s series is as much a testament to Hollywood star power as an ode to complex crime capers, it’s a bit odd that the film couldn’t “organically” find room for two of the world’s biggest actresses at that time inside this already-overstuffed effort.
11. Vicki Vale, Batman Returns (1992)
It figures that a brooding, antisocial, obsessive superhero like Batman would have trouble maintaining a long-term romance. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when photojournalist Vicki Vale, the love interest played by Kim Basinger in Tim Burton’s Batman, failed to return for the sequel. The screenwriters acknowledge her absence by explaining that Vicki just couldn’t handle being the girlfriend of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton). “There were two truths, and she had trouble reconciling them,” Wayne explains to the new girl, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer). The one-line brush-off does double duty, both dismissing Vale and setting up Kyle as the perfect counterpart to Batman, since Kyle has her own alter ego—Catwoman. So the two-truths thing should be no problem for her.
12. Ali, The Karate Kid, Part II (1986)
At the end of The Karate Kid, Daniel-san (Ralph Macchio) accomplished more than simply defeating the goons from the Cobra Kai dojo through determination, pluck, and a crane kick. He also won over Elisabeth Shue, the rich girl who was once his rival’s girlfriend, and whose parents are none too happy to see her locking arms with some poor ragamuffin from Newark. The ending of The Karate Kid is a picture of total triumph: Macchio, Shue, and Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi rushing to each other on the mat and celebrating a great victory born of friendship and love. Two years later, at the beginning of The Karate Kid, Part II, Shue has dumped Macchio without so much as a cameo appearance. Macchio comes huffing into Morita’s house, complaining about how she “redesign[ed] my fender” on the beautiful vintage car Morita gave him, and fell in love with a football player from UCLA. So much for the “Glory Of Love.”
13. Coach Morris, The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training (1977)
1976’s The Bad News Bears stars Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker, a hard-drinking Little League coach who recruits a girl pitcher (Tatum O’Neal) and a punk (Jackie Earle Haley) to shore up the talent on his failing team. The film’s box-office success was largely a testament to how amused audiences were by the very thought of the grouchy, foul-mouthed Matthau having to deal with a bunch of kids. But Haley is top-billed in the sequel, because he’s the biggest carryover from the original. Where is Buttermaker, who by the end of the first movie had bonded pretty well with the kids, and seemed to be important to them? Nobody knows, and nobody cares. In the first scene, the Bears gather on the field and speculate about who their coach is these days. “Not Buttermaker!?” one of them cries out anxiously, as if that would be a deal-breaker. No further details are offered on Buttermaker’s whereabouts or why the players seem so relieved to be rid of him, but the short answer is simply that Matthau didn’t want anything to do with an unnecessary, bargain-budget sequel, and the studio guessed—rightly, as it turned out—that fans had been so tickled by the cutely cussing Bears themselves that they’d come out to see them again without the marquee attraction.
14. Bosley, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
When Bill Murray agreed to play John Bosley in the 2000 Charlie’s Angels reboot movie, the whole production caught a huge break—not because it matters that much who plays the house eunuch in any version of Charlie’s Angels, but because Murray’s presence in the film automatically made it easier to sell the idea that there was something smart and hip about this particular big-screen blowup of a lame old TV show. But Murray reportedly got on so badly with co-star Lucy Liu, and was so unhappy with what happened to his role in the editing room, that the producers chose not to ask him back, rather than suffer the public humiliation of hearing him say no. Instead, Bernie Mac was called in to play Jimmy Bosley, John’s half-brother. The movie skirts the issue of what that other Bosley is doing, but it does make time for a visit to the Bosley family home in South Central Los Angeles, where a picture of a smiling Murray is prominently displayed. That may be the filmmakers’ loving tribute to a distinguished former collaborator, or a conciliatory gesture meant to appease Murray fans who bought their tickets before learning he wasn’t in the movie.
15. Clemenza, The Godfather, Part II (1974)
In the first Godfather movie, Richard Castellano created the role of Clemenza, one of the Don’s oldest and most trusted associates. In Part II, the character (now played by Bruno Kirby) is still an onscreen presence, via flashbacks to the early days of the Don’s life and the founding of the Corleone crime family. But Clemenza’s later years are glossed over with a reference to his death sometime between the end of the first movie and the start of the second. Al Pacino’s Michael briefly mentions him to Frankie “Five Angels” Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), the latest resident of the old Corleone family home: “First Clemenza took it over, then you. I was always glad that this house never went to strangers.” Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo reportedly meant to reward Castellano for his sterling work in the first film by expanding and rounding out his character, giving him a tragic story arc and a noble death scene. But when Castellano overreached in his contract talks, demanding excessive control of his dialogue, Coppola simply bumped off Clemenza and created Pentangeli to handle his part of the story.
16. Dan Cain, Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
Maybe the quaintest element of the 1935 horror classic Bride Of Frankenstein is that the filmmakers felt the need to include a preface in which Mary Shelley herself (Elsa Lanchester) explains what really happened to the monster at the end of the first movie, in case viewers thought he’d been destroyed and want to know why he’s still walking around. Times have changed. At the end of the original Re-Animator, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) seemed to be done for, and his sidekick Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) didn’t seem to have much reason to miss him. But at the start of the first sequel, Bride Of Re-Animator, Herbert is fine, and he and Dan are working together down in Peru. By the time of the third installment, which is set in prison, Dan should really be sharing a cell with Herbert and playing Tobias Beecher to his Vern Schillinger, but no: Herbert mentions that, when the law finally caught up with them, Dan turned state’s evidence and sold him down the river. This may be the only known instance of a character in a rapidly diminishing returns movie franchise getting smarter by the time of the third installment.
17. Xander Cage, xXx: State Of The Union (2005)
The original xXx came out in 2002, a distant era when its star, Vin Diesel, could explain that he wouldn’t be doing the sequel to The Fast And The Furious because he already had two other sure-fire franchises in the mix—xXx and The Chronicles Of Riddick. By the time Diesel and his Svengali, director Rob Cohen, bailed out of the xXx sequel, it seemed like Diesel had so worn out his welcome with movie audiences that the more emphatically his replacement managed to be Not Vin Diesel, the better. So State Of The Union begins with Samuel L. Jackson declaiming, “We got to go off the grid now. Not another skater, snowboarder, or biker. The new XXX has got to be more dangerous, deadlier, more attitude.” (“More attitude?” his dumbstruck second-in-command says.) It’s worth pointing out that this speech is the first indication the audience gets that something went wrong with the old secret agent XXX; in the subsequent scene, a couple of guys mention that Diesel’s character, Xander Cage, was “killed in Bora Bora.” Someone must have decided this offhand mention wouldn’t give fans the closure they need, because included on the “Unrated Director’s Cut” DVD is a ridiculous four-minute film, “The Death Of Xander Cage,” in which Diesel’s bald stunt double blows up real good. That didn’t prevent Diesel from signing on for a third xXx movie, though—possibly reports (and images) of Xander’s death were greatly exaggerated.
18. Jack Traven, Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997)
Keanu Reeves reportedly turned down a staggering sum of money to reprise his role as Jack Traven in the sequel to 1994’s surprise action hit Speed. Said sequel was to be set on a cruise ship and detail a romantic getaway for Jack and his fellow bus-that-wouldn’t-slow-down hostage Annie (Sandra Bullock). When Reeves passed, the leading-man burden fell to Jason Patric, in the new role of Alex, and the film became much more of a shared story between him and Annie. In case audiences were curious about where Jack had disappeared to (or why anyone thought setting the sequel to an action movie famed for its sense of momentum on a cruise ship was a good idea), the script quickly covers that by having Annie suggest that Jack was just too intense for her and having her mutter, “Relationships based on extreme circumstances never work out.”
19. Mikaela Banes, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)
The absence of Megan Fox—and her character, Mikaela—from the third Transformers film has never been adequately explained, though after the news broke that she wouldn’t be returning for the third installment, the Hollywood rumor mill kicked into overdrive about skirmishes between her and essentially every other person who worked on the film. (It certainly didn’t help that she had compared director Michael Bay to Hitler, though Bay himself has said he fired her at Steven Spielberg’s behest.) While the media focused intently on the reasons behind Fox’s departure, the third film wasn’t nearly as invested in explaining it, which feels strange, given how the first two films attempt to set up some sort of forever-love connection between her and Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky. The third simply makes fun of the fact that LaBeouf goes from one impossibly beautiful love interest to another—Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly—and has some of his annoying miniature-robot pals mention in passing that his last girlfriend dumped him.
20. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho 2 (2002)
The first American Psycho was a pitch-black satire, a thriller firmly set in, and commenting on, the excesses of the ’80s, as represented by hollow, bloodthirsty businessman Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). The all-but-unrelated, straight-to-video sequel, American Psycho 2: All-American Girl, takes place in a generic time and place, and mostly just trades on the original film’s bloody content. But it needs to make a connection somehow, so it opens with the protagonist killing Bateman with an ice pick, accompanied by perky narration summing up how her babysitter took her along on a date, not realizing her new love interest was a serial killer. (It hardly needs to be said that Bale didn’t return for the film; Bateman is little more than an anonymous pair of hands and a silhouette.) It’s a hilariously tone-deaf “Screw you” to the drama and depth of the first film; having Bateman’s possibly metaphorical kill-spree interrupted by a soulless tot is a perfect symbol for the way the sequel erases every point the first film made, and replaces it with a handful of sneers and a bucket of blood.
21-22. Matt Hooper and Chief Brody, Jaws 2 (1978) / Jaws 3 (1983) / Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Given the events which took place in and around the New England community of Amity Island in 1975, it’s no wonder that diagnosed cases of galeophobia took off in a big, big way, but it was less a fear of sharks than a concern over unnecessary sequels that caused the Jaws cast to dwindle over the years. When Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) has to deal with a second great white invasion in Jaws 2, he calls Jaws oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) into service, but learns that Hooper is on an expedition and unavailable for shark-hunting. Jaws 3 focuses on Brody’s grown sons, who work at a shark-infested SeaWorld in Florida, and only make an offhanded reference to their parents back on Amity Island. And the Chief’s wife (Lorraine Gary) starts Jaws: The Revenge by bemoaning her husband’s fatal heart attack, which she believes was brought on by his ongoing fear that a shark might return to Amity. (It probably didn’t hurt that Scheider went on record after Jaws 2 as saying that even Mephistopheles couldn’t talk him into doing another sequel.)