Slow-Cooked Sequels: Does money never sleep?

By Nicky Branagh

Have you noticed that delayed sequels have been particularly prevalent at the local multiplexes over the last few years? Long-awaited film follow-ups are nothing particularly new; the 8os saw just such a trend:  consider the likes of Psycho II (1983), appearing 23 years after Hitchcock’s classic and Scorcese’s The Color of Money (1986), which followed on from The Hustler (1961) a quarter of a century later. Roll on a further 25 years and there has been a notable surge of film sequels hitting cinemas, a significant amount of time after their predecessors. Last year in particular was a big one for the delayed sequel, with Toy story 3, Tron: Legacy and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps all being released during 2010. This fad looks set to continue, with American Pie: Reunion lined up for release in April 2012 – nine years after American Pie: The Wedding (2003) – and Men in Black III to head to cinemas in the following month, a full decade after the initial sequel.

From a cinema-going viewpoint, demand for these sequels ten years down the line just doesn’t seem to be there. Were people gagging to see what Norman Bates would get up to upon his release without Hitchcock behind the camera? Did anyone really think Indiana Jones would make a comeback aged 64? Could the Blues Brothers resurface sans John Belushi? Going by the assumption that consumers aren’t chomping at the bit for film follow-ups up to 28 years on from the forerunner (hello, Tron: Legacy), is the production of such movies really worth it? Of course, none of this matters because as Wall Street 2 (2010) taught us money never sleeps and box office figures, on the whole, suggest that sequels – delayed or not – rake in a suitable profit.

Hannibal (2001), for instance, didn’t go down particularly well with critics (the feature currently rates at 39% on Rotten Tomatoes), especially when you pit it against the original. The sequel to five-time Academy Award winner Silence of the Lambs (1991) saw Julianne Moore appear as Clarice Starling after Jodie Foster declined to reprise the role, as well as a change in director and screenwriters. None of this affected the numbers; Hannibal went on to gross over $350m at the global box office, compared with Silence of the Lambs’s $270m, leaving only a $20m difference in earnings after productions costs, in favour of the Jonathan Demme original. Anthony Hopkins’ return as Hannibal Lector, however, was probably a considerable draw here. Most impressive considering he was only on screen little more than 16 minutes in the Oscar hit. In a similar vein, the name of a certain returning character to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), helped that sequel gross a healthy $135m at the worldwide box office. Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (1987) is a well-loved, iconic character of the 80s: the braces, the slicked-back hair, the chunky mobile phone – all features that combine to create that money-mad persona in the film-goer’s mind.

This said, in 2010, the audience who paid to see the original were 23 years older. While die-hard fans may have been keen to see Gekko and his sharp-tongued, double-crossing ways back on screen, it was difficult to imagine a new audience caring enough to pay to see the film. Sure enough though, a wishy-washy ‘financial crisis’ backdrop and the introduction of fresh faces (Shia LaBoeuf and Carey Mulligan) led Stone to strike an audience balance – and the film did well.

Money Never Sleeps wasn’t La Boeuf’s first shot at a high profile delayed sequel, either. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), which hit screens 19 years after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), grossed more at the box office than any of the other three films in the Indy franchise, even though the story gained a luke warm reception. Despite not reaching the dizzy heights of Indy 4‘s $786m, Disney sci-fi adventure Tron: Legacy (2010) received similar success at the box office – even though it arrived at cinemas almost 30 years after Tron (1982). With Jeff Bridges back in the lead role, younger stars Garett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde attracted a newer audience – one not familiar with the technologically advanced – if a bit dull – original. Indeed, when it comes to considering a delayed follow-up, a critically applauded film and/or box office smash is not always a prerequisite. Tron, Scream 3 (2000) and Rocky V (1990) are all prime examples of this. So why bother creating another?

The established franchises had proven themselves to be relatively solid earners, making it easier to see why the latter two would have got the green light. But Tron, on the other hand, seemed like an odd one to revisit. Having said that, with such technological improvements in film there was clearly an exciting opportunity to embrace these developments and aim the movie at a new, tech-savvy generation. And what studio would want to ignore the added bonus of merchandising potential for a generation of gadget-happy gamers? Money certainly overshadows general critic response when it comes to delayed sequels and most perform decently – Tron included.

The relatively well-received Scream 4 (2011) might have underperformed at the box office in comparison with its slated predecessor, but it still made money. Indeed, it seems that only two delayed sequels have bombed to the point of financial loss, going by estimated budget costs: Basic Instinct 2 (2006) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). Though these films were pretty much slated Pixar’sToy Story 3 (2010) garnered rave reviews across the board (and a Best Picture Oscar nod to boot). The final film in the trilogy made more money than the first two COMBINED and is currently the only animated movie ever to gross over $1b.

The success of a delayed sequel must really be judged on a case-by-case basis; there are many variables that affect how well a film does. However evidence suggests that established franchise features are more likely to score higher in terms of box office numbers than lone sequels (see the likes of Rocky Balboa (2006), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and Die Hard 4.0 (2008)).

Also, ultimately, film critics seem to have little influence over how well a delayed sequel plays at the box office and generally speaking, films of this nature have gained a very varied response. Having said that, there are very few classified as complete turkeys (although one in particular does stand out *cough* Basic Instinct 2 *cough*). Oh, and it’s also worth noting that critics are less likely to take kindly to a delayed sequel starring Shia LaBoeuf. 

*All box office statistics from Box Office Mojo.

*For the sake of this article, ‘delayed sequel’ is defined as a film that hit cinemas 10 years or more after its predecessor.

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