Belated franchise revivals: the new Hollywood trend?

As Richard Donner floats the possibility of The Goonies 2, we wonder whether belated franchise revivals are a new Hollywood trend...

“Movies,” William Goldman wrote in his book Adventures In The Screen Trade, “are always a search for past magic.”

“If you have Burt Reynolds in Smokey And The Bandit XII,” Goldman went on, “you are dealing with a pre-sold piece of merchandise. There is a huge audience out there waiting for it (or at least there has been in the past, and if you’re  the studio, since you live and die on past magic, you feel it must be out there still – please).”

It may be impossible for Hollywood film producers to predict what audiences will like in the future, Goldman reasoned, but they can readily look back and see what they liked in the past. Few producers could have predicted that Rocky – a low-budget movie starring a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone – would have made $225m, but its success prompted the release of five lucrative sequels.    

In recent years, the “past magic” mindset Goldman originally wrote about 1983 has led to an increasing number of reboots and remakes. Total Recall was a tremendous success with audiences in 1990, so cinema-goers would surely enjoy a new version remade with modern special effects, wouldn’t they?

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As history has shown, film studios aren’t necessarily on firm ground when it comes to reprising once-successful properties. The year 2011 was a particularly bruising one for remakes, with the likes of Conan The Barbarian, Straw Dogs and Fright Night all struggling at the box office to varying degrees.

The problem, at least in part, is that studios often have a hard time marketing a remake or reboot in the face of audience suspicion. A film like RoboCop may have a loyal, pre-installed audience that fondly remembers the 1987 original, but that same audience won’t necessarily warm to the idea of a remake or reboot.

How, then, can Hollyood studios revive a much-loved film property without provoking too much of an internet backlash? The answer, perhaps, is to create a belated sequel, preferably with as many cast members and filmmakers from the previous film returning as possible.

Take 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull as an example. When the project was announced, the signs seemed positive: original director Steven Spielberg was back, as was Harrison Ford as Jones. News outlets speculated as to whether a 60-something Ford could still play the part of a swashbuckling adventurer, but the overall mood was one of cautious anticipation.

When The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull came out, its reviews were initially warm. Even when audiences reacted with vocal disappointment in its wake, the movie was still a hit – surfing a wave of nostalgia, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull made almost $800m worldwide. In terms of box-office, the fourth Indy movie certainly managed to recreate some of the franchise’s “past magic”, even if it didn’t exactly earn much affection in the process.

Since 2008, we’ve been hearing about an increasing number of sequels that continue an existing franchise rather than reboot or remake it. Although not a sequel in the strictest sense, Prometheus was so eagerly anticipated because of director Ridley Scott’s much-publicised return to the science fiction genre in general and the Alien franchise in particular. Had any other director been involved, it’s unlikely that Prometheus – which served as both a prequel to Alien and a franchise reboot, of sorts – would have been looked on so favourably before its release.

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By having the actors and creators of ageing franchises involved with belated sequels, movie studios can not only build anticipation on the web, but also give said sequel an added air of legitimacy. It appears to be a growing trend, too, with an increasing number of such productions either rumoured or officially announced over the past five or six years. Here’s a list of the belated sequels we currently know about, and the people currently said to be involved in their making:

Blade Runner 2

Director Ridley Scott has been talking about his interest in making a sequel or prequel to the seminal Blade Runner for at least six years. “It’s not a rumour, it’s happening,” Scott told MTV in 2012, before floating the possibility of Harrison Ford returning as Deckard.

Top Gun 2

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer told The Huffington Post that a sequel to 1986’s Top Gun is “getting closer and closer”, despite the sad death of director Tony Scott in 2012. Bruckheimer has a story in place, however – it involves drone aircraft and Maverick showing them that human pilots aren’t “obsolete” – and while the production undoubtedly hinges on Cruise’s involvement, Top Gun 2 still looks as though it could happen within the next few years.

Beetlejuice 2

A sequel to Tim Burton’s 1988 fantasy comedy Beetlejuice was planned as long ago as 1990, but the project never quite came together. It’s only in the last couple of years that Beetlejuice 2 has shown signs of moving forward, as actor Michael Keaton revealed that he and Burton had been talking about reuniting for it. With Winona Ryder also hinting at a return, it could just be that Beetlejuice 2 is the film Burton has lined up after his current production, Big Eyes.

Ghostbusters 3

Another long-in-gestation project, Ghostbusters 3′s fate seemed doubtful in the wake of Harold Ramis’ tragic passing and Bill Murray’s flat refusal to return as Peter Venkman. With the sequel set to introduce a new generation of Ghostbusters, its strongest connections to the original films are Ivan Reitman (who’s no longer directing but is still producing) and Dan Ackroyd, who’s returning as Ray Stanz. Reports once suggested that Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street fame) were directing, but that now appears to be out of the question. With filming apparently planned for 2015, the race will surely be on to find a suitable director.

Beverly Hills Cop 4

It’s almost 20 years since the release of Beverly Hills Cop III, yet work could soon be underway on a belated fourth film in the series. Last summer, it was reported that Paramount had signed Eddie Murphy up to reprise his signature role of fast-talking cop Alex Murphy, while Brett Ratner was attached as director in December. It’s yet to be confirmed whether Judge Reinhold, Ronny Cox or any of the other cast members from the first three films are to return.

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The Legend Of Conan

John Milius’ 1982 fantasy Conan The Barbarian launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career as a Hollywood actor. But the ropey sequel failed to scale the original’s heights, while the 2011 reboot starring Jason Momoa struggled commercially. The Legend Of Conan, if it happens, will see Schwarzenegger return as the burly warrior, in a “quality film with an A-director and with A-writers”, according to the Austrian Oak himself. The project still seems to be in its early stages, though, with no director currently attached. Last year, director Paul Verhoeven expressed his interest in directing The Legend Of Conan. We can but hope.

Twins 2

Another revival of a Schwarzenegger vehicle, Twins sequel Triplets is said to reunite the actor with co-star Danny DeVito. The last we heard, screenwriters Josh Gad and Ray Dixon had handed in a positively-received script, while Eddie Murphy was set to play Schwarzenegger and DeVito’s long-lost brother. Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1988 original, is also said to be returning.

Dumb And Dumber To

Here’s one belated sequel that is definitely on the horizon: a sequel to 1994’s Dumb And Dumber. The Farrelly brothers have co-written and directed it, and it again stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as two hapless, painfully dim friends. Dumb And Dumber To’s scheduled for release this winter.

Mad Max: Fury Road

As we mentioned in our article about directors returning for belated sequels, George Miller’s been trying to get his fourth Mad Max sequel going for years. But after a lengthy stay in development hell and a difficult shoot, Mad Max: Fury Road is due for release in May 2015, with Tom Hardy taking Mel Gibson’s place as Max.

Independence Day 2

Although Will Smith’s ruled himself out of this belated alien invasion sequel, there are still plenty of links back to the 1996 blockbuster. Roland Emmerich will again direct, having co-written the script with producer Dean Devlin, while Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum are set to reprise their roles. All being well, Independence Day 2 will be out in the summer of 2016.

The Goonies 2

There’s been talk of a sequel to The Goonies for years, and Richard Donner recently confirmed that he still plans to make one. In a very brief talk to TMZ, Donner said, “we’re doing a sequel” to the 1985 adventure hit, and when asked whether the cast of the original were likely returned, he replied that “hopefully all of them” would do so.

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According to Ain’t It Cool’s anonymous sources, The Goonies sequel is being fast-tracked by Warner Bros, who are currently looking for writers and a director – Donner will produce with Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus, but won’t be calling the shots behind the camera.

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The films briefly listed above are but a few examples of movie productions that are looking back to earlier glories and original talents. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is an intriguing hybrid project, in that it’s both a sequel to 2011’s X-Men: First Class and a reintroduction for the original trilogy’s core cast, including Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. It’ll also see Bryan Singer return to the franchise as director for the first time since 2003’s X2, and the hope seems to be that the combined star power of the original cast and the younger, hipper actors of First Class will create an unbeatable summer hit.

JJ Abrams and his crew are taking a similar approach with Star Wars: Episode VII, which will serve as a direct sequel to 1983’s Return Of The Jedi and will star Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher as older versions of their leading characters. Then there’s Terminator: Genesis, which will see Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise his role as an ageing T-800. “I have human flesh,” Schwarzenegger said of his return to the role, “underneath is a metal skeleton – but the human flesh ages just like everyone else does. The skeleton doesn’t change.”

The common factor in all these films is nostalgia. As The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and the Star Wars prequels proved, nostalgia can be a powerful marketing tool when it comes to selling movies. Remakes and reboots often generate a huge amount of criticism and distrust in online discussions, but a sequel with a returning cast or director has at least the chance of generating a bit of goodwill, and perhaps a decent turn-out at the box-office in the process.

There might be something else at work here, too. While Star Wars: Episode VII and The Goonies 2 partly trade on our fond memories of earlier films, it’s possible that belated sequels feed Hollywood’s nostalgia for its own past, too. Almost without exception, the films mentioned above hark back to a time when the internet barely existed, an era before videogames began to take over from movies as a dominant form of entertainment.

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The hope appears to be that, by bringing back the performers, writers or directors of films from the 80s and 90s, the magic of the past will manifest itself in future sequels.

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