When it comes to Hollywood, the first question that gets asked when a movie does well is how to turn it into a franchise. Sometimes, the material justifies its sequels (we're looking at you, John Wick). However, there are just as many franchises with only one good movie in the whole series, and it's often the first.
There are a lot of reasons a great film will often be followed by a slew of lackluster follow-ups. Often, it's because the sequels are just baseless cash grabs with no heart. Other times, it's because the premise of the original is so unique and high-concept that it simply doesn't leave room for sequels - and yet the producers don't let that stop them for a second.
While some over-stretched franchises have amassed legions of devoted fans and others are somewhat universally considered to be cinematic failures, the fact is some film series would have done themselves a favor if they'd quit after their first installment.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
To this day, it's still baffling that this fun, awkward comedy of manners ended up getting two follow-ups, both of which were wildly successful at the box office, defying basic reason. Meet the Parents mined awkwardness for comedy gold with a simple story about a kind-hearted doofus named Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) who tries desperately to impress his girlfriend's parents - especially her gruff, overprotective father (Robert DeNiro), who happens to also be a retired CIA agent. The lie detector scene is a signature moment in modern comedy, and for people who find humor in full-body cringing awkwardness, Meet the Parents raised the bar.
In Meet the Fockers - set two years after the original - Greg and his fiancee (Teri Polo) decide to introduce her more traditional parents to his free-spirited hippy parents, and guess what! Things are awkward again. It's like the same movie, but with the added star power of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman. When Meet the Fockers made absolute bank - earning $522 million worldwide - the producers decided to show us how awkward it would be with children thrown into the mix, and thus we got Little Fockers. Despite its abysmal 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film still earned $310 million worldwide. But when it comes to a comedy's legacy in fans' minds, making money doesn't mean as much as making people actually laugh.
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- Actors: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Teri Polo
- Released: 2000
- Directed by: Jay Roach
Ocean’s ElevenPhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
The 2001 remake of the 1960 heist movie Ocean's Eleven is one of those rare remakes that manages to live up to, or perhaps even surpass, the original. There is a lighthearted breeziness and endless charm to watching George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon pal around in Las Vegas plotting a fun, stylish casino caper with the sort of dynamic flair director Steven Soderbergh can pull off so effortlessly. It's ridiculous, but the exact right amount of ridiculous, and the chemistry, setting, and story proved to be the perfect recipe for a modern classic.
So how do you follow up such a thrilling crowd-pleaser? Send the whole crew to Europe for Ocean's Twelve, making the entire film an elaborate set-up with needlessly convoluted twists and a lot more cast members in the ensemble. It felt slow, bloated, and unnecessary. So, when Ocean's Thirteen returned the plot to Vegas, it seemed like it might have a chance at capturing the fun of the first. Instead, it was just a mediocre rehash of the first, with less believable disguises and way less charm. Bottom line? One grand heist was plenty.12879Should've stopped here?
- Photo: Warner Bros.
When The Matrix hit theaters, the dystopian cyberpunk action thriller proved to be a true game changer when it came to fight choreography and computer graphics. In the movie, all of humanity is unknowingly enslaved by sentient robots who keep humanity pacified by locking humans - whom they use as living batteries - in a virtual reality construct that recreates the regular, long-gone world they were used to. A group of humans who have freed their minds and live under the ground of the devastated Earth try to rebel, with the help of Neo (Keanu Reeves), who they believe might be a messianic savior capable of shaping the virtual reality world to his whim.
While the movie may feel complex because of its rich mythology and sprawling backstory, in reality, it's essentially a straightforward hero's journey with a deceptively simple story that allows the film's groundbreaking visual elements to shine through. However, with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions - released within six months of each other in 2003 - the Wachowskis got too absorbed into the mythology and philosophy of their own world-building. Suddenly, it was no longer a straightforward story told inside a complex universe but a convoluted and needlessly confusing jumble of random fight scenes between characters you barely know, all in the midst of tons of exposition.
Characters like the Merovingian, the Keymaker, the Architect, and the Trainman come in and out of the story with various allegiances, as do additional freed humans, who all have different ideas regarding whether or not Neo is truly a savior. The sequels depend deeply on audiences caring as much about the mythology of The Matrix as the Wachowskis do, and for most, people that simply wasn't the case.
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- Actors: Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Gloria Foster
- Released: 1999
- Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
- Photo: Universal Pictures
As far as teen sex comedies go, American Pie quickly became the standard for its generation, featuring extremely raunchy sight gags, some painfully embarrassing moments of awkwardness, and young comedic talents that would establish their careers based off the movie's success. American Pie was also similar to so many other comedies in the same vein because it featured protagonists doing some truly messed up stuff - like Jim (Jason Biggs) filming his encounter with Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) and streaming it on the internet without her knowledge. Looking back, it might make you wonder if they even needed the first American Pie.
However, the movie did so well that it spanned a massive franchise of equally problematic yet far less funny sequels, including American Pie 2, American Wedding, American Reunion, and five direct-to-DVD American Pie Presents… spin-off movies. Each installment gets more and more derivative, and the already unlikable protagonists somehow become even more grating and one-dimensional. Where the first American Pie succeeded - namely, in treating the main characters like the self-absorbed jerks they all were - the sequels all failed by glorifying their behavior.
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- Actors: Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Shannon Elizabeth, Christina Milian, Mena Suvari
- Released: 1999
- Directed by: Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz