This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
There’s still an element of snobbery where sequels to certain films is concerned. Whereas it’s now almost compulsory to greenlight a blockbuster with a view of a franchise in mind, it’s hard to think of most Best Picture Oscar winners being made with a follow-up in mind. Yet in perhaps a surprising number of cases, a sequel – or in the case of Rocky, lots of sequels – have followed.
These cases, in fact…
All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Followed by: The Road Back
Don’t be fooled into thinking sequels for prestigious movies are a relatively new phenomenon. Lewis Milestone’s 1930 war epic All Quiet On The Western Front, and its brutal account of World War I, is still regarded as something of a classic. A solid box office success, it took home gongs for Best Director and Outstanding Production, and seven years later, a sequel followed.
James Whale directed this time around, drawing as the original did on the writing of Erich Maria Remarque. The film in question was The Road Back, and it picked up the story of Second Company that had been started in the original.
The sequel never earned that much love, but then it was mired in controversy. The German government of 1937 threatened Universal Pictures with a boycott of all of its movies unless the anti-Nazi messages in The Road Back were removed. Universal’s new management at the time caved to the pressure, and the film was dramatically recut. James Whale, for one, hated that Universal had bowed to the demands. The content of the film, as a consequence, tends to have been lost in favor of the furore that surrounded it.
The Godfather (1972)
Followed by: The Godfather Part II
To date, The Godfather boxset is the only one that has two Best Picture Oscar winners in it. Deserved ones, too. In fact, even The Godfather Part III – the belated and generally quite maligned sequel – snagged a Best Picture Oscar nomination as well.
The first The Godfather didn’t have the easiest time getting to the big screen, but when it was unleashed in March 1972, it soon became a gigantic hit. It smashed box office records, both in the US and overseas, and won three Oscars.
There was much left of writer Mario Puzo’s source material to explore and so The Godfather Part II would act as both a prequel and sequel to the original film. You don’t need us to tell you that it’s regarded as the best film sequel of all time in many quarters. In truth, the two films feel like one, big, absorbing saga.
And you know what? It may not have had anywhere near the same impact, and the sheer amount of time it took Francis Ford Coppola to make didn’t help, but we have a soft spot for The Godfather Part III. It’s the weakest film in the boxset, certainly, but not one without merits of its own…
The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Followed by: Ziegfeld Girl
Hardly the most known of Best Picture Oscar winners, William Powell and Myrna Loy headlined The Great Ziegfeld, that triumphed at the Academy Awards in three categories (including Best Dance Direction, no less). It also ran for near-three hours, a comfortable favorite on a roadshow release, earning MGM a solid profit as well as some trophies for its prize cabinet.
Two sequels would follow, the first of which – Ziegfeld Girl, in 1941 – would reuse some footage from the first film. As if it was a straight to DVD Darkman sequel. Ahem.
Ziegfeld Girl was notable for its cast, with the movie being headlined by James Stewart and Judy Garland. Director Robert Z. Leonard returned, and again, the movie was a solid success, albeit without Oscar attention second time around.
MGM consequently rolled the dice again, and in 1946 Ziegfeld Follies would follow. This time, however, the film was a collection of pretty much unrelated sketches, albeit with some superb talent from the MGM stable. Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Esther Williams were just a few of the names in front of the camera, and while there were no Oscars, Ziegfeld Follies did collect the Best Musical Comedy prize from the Cannes Film Festival in 1947.
Gone With The Wind (1939)
Followed by: Scarlett
Just the kind of sweeping epic that the Oscars were made for, Gone With The Wind – based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell – remains the most successful film of all time at the box office, if you take inflation into account.
Originally released in 1939, the film’s unadjusted gross before inflation is edging $400 million, and Academy Awards were duly thrust in its direction. It won eight out of the 13 prizes it got put forward for, including the coveted Best Picture.
Mitchell was asked by MGM to pen a continuation of the story, which she refused to do. She died in 1949, and in 1975, her brother, Stepehens, gave permission for a sequel to be written. MGM wasn’t keen with the eventual idea, though, and abandoned plans for a further film.
Instead, a sequel made it to the screen in 1994, but only the small one.
Entitled Scarlett, this saw Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton take on the lead roles (the ones made famous by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable), in a television miniseries that was most known for what it was a sequel to, rather than the content of the new story. Given that it was a TV production, Scarlett was, of course, ineligible for the Oscars. Not that many felt it would have stood much of a chance, mind…
The Silence Of The Lambs (1990)
Followed by: Hannibal
The last film to sweep the big five awards at the Oscars – Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Director – The Silence Of The Lambs was the second time that the character of Hannibal Lector had been brought to the screen (his name was spelt differently in Michael Mann’s brilliant Manhunter, though). The Silence Of The Lambs was very much its own entity, though, and such was its commercial as well as critical success, that it became the first film ever to win Best Picture in spite of being available on video at the time of the awards. The significance of that is that most big Oscar winners are released in the last third of the year, the awards window. The Silence Of The Lambs debuted in April, before it won its gongs in the following March.
It took a while to bring another chapter to the screen, although the only stumbling block there was author Thomas Harris. A notably slow writer, movie executive people were keen to get what would become Hannibal, but there was nothing they could do until Harris delivered his manuscript.
When he did, and when the subsequent screenplay was penned, Jodie Foster was one of the first to declare discomfort at the sheer graphic violence. She elected to turn down the chance to reprise the role of Clarice Starling, at first blaming a filming clash, but later conceding she just wasn’t happy with the project. In her place came Julianne Moore.
Director Jonathan Demme passed on it too, with Ridley Scott – hot again off the back of Gladiator’s success – taking the helm. Anthony Hopkins, crucially, signed up to reprise the role of Lecter.
Yet glory didn’t follow again. This time, the box office numbers stacked up again, but the critical acclaim didn’t. Foster was right: Hannibal was a very gory film, and ultimately not a great one. All the style of the first half being squandered come the final reel.
No matter, though: Brett Ratner was around the corner to help complete the boxset. There was certainly no danger of Oscars when he recruited Ralph Fiennes to star alongside Hopkins for Red Dragon, and again, while the money came in, the reviews were brutal. It didn’t help that Red Dragon was the same story that Mann had skilfully turned into Manhunter: the new movie was plain weak.
One more Lecter film followed, but none of the key creatives were around. Hannibal Rising is a project best avoided, and it wasn’t until the TV series led by Bryan Fuller – Hannibal – that the character got a further screen outing befitting him.
Followed by: Rocky II
The story of the original Rocky has long since passed into movie legend. Sylvester Stallone had written the script, and turned down a fair whack of cash to ensure he could star in the film himself. It proved a wise move. He snared a Best Actor Oscar nomination for taking on the role of Rocky Balboa, the film won Best Picture, and Stallone built himself a career.
It’s a career that he’s savvily put back together on more than one occasion, and the Rocky series – along with assorted Rambos – has been pivotal to that. More than any other Best Picture Oscar win, Rocky has enjoyed sequels. Lots of them.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Rocky II and Rocky III too, which both had little chance of any kind of awards glory, but served as fine, entertaining movies in their own right. Rocky IV, meanwhile, remains for this writer at least a flat-out ’80s classic, 89 minutes of ’80s politics, cinema conventions, and Dolph Lundgren.
1990’s Rocky V? That’s the series’ only real stumble, and over 15 years later, it allowed Stallone to reinvent the Rocky films again in a way that indirectly may lead him back to the Oscar podium. For Rocky Balboa proved a surprise hit, and captured a more sombre, less bombastic tone. That, in turn, has fuelled 2015’s sort-of-spin-off Creed, which has earned Stallone an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He’s the only actor ever to twice win nominations for playing exactly the same character.
In The Heat Of The Night (1967)
Followed by: They Call Me Mister Tibbs
There’s a cracking book that charts the race for Best Picture at the Oscars back in 1968. It’s called Pictures At A Revolution, by Mark Harris, and you get a flavour from that – if you needed it – as to just what an important film In The Heat Of The Night was and is. Was it the best film of 1967? Probably not. But since when has that been what the Oscars was really about?
The film would secure five Academy Awards in all, including the top prize. And it would inspire two sequels in quick succession. 1970 saw They Call Me Mister Tibbs, whilst the year after came The Organization. In both, Sidney Poitier reprised his role of Detective Virgil Tibbs. That said, each had different writers and directors, and neither of the made too much of an impact. While Poitier himself came in for praise for his work, the comparably weak stories to the sequels led to neither doing more than a tenth of the business of the original. Needless to say the Oscars were not troubled.
There was still a spin-off TV series that followed as well, in 1988. That too was called In The Heat Of The Night, and it would run for eight seasons in all, finally drawing to a close after 142 episodes and a quartet of television movies. Howard Rollins took on the role of Tibbs, but – after health battles that were reported broadly in the tabloids at the time – he was fired after season six of the show. Carl Weathers was brought in for season seven instead, albeit in a different role.
The French Connection (1971)
Followed by: French Connection II
The classic action thriller The French Connection picked up plenty of gongage at the 1972 Oscars, with prizes for director William Friedkin, star Gene Hackman, screenwriter Ernest Tidyman, and editor Gerald B Greenberg. And then, of course, it picked up the Best Picture prize too, seeing off competition from A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler On The Roof, and The Last Picture Show.
The film also proved a box office success, earning $51.7m on its original release, off the back of a $1.8m budget. Sequels were nowhere near as rife in the early ’70s as they are now, but still, the idea of a follow-up was soon on the table. That said, while the original was tied in part to a true story, the sequel would be a fictional extension of Popeye Doyle’s story.
William Friedkin didn’t return behind the camera, and instead, John Frankenheimer – who would go on to bring more car chases to the screen in Ronin – took the job on. Even then, he would admit he only did so after his movie The Impossible Object flopped.
Crucially, Gene Hackman was persuaded to return to the role of Popeye Doyle, although on its 1975 release, French Connection II wasn’t particularly well regarded. Reviews were decent, rather than great, and box office takings were notably down (just $12.4 million this time around, and the film cost more than twice as much to make, at $4.3 million). The Oscars were not interested second time around, either.
Still, in recent times, French Connection II has earned more admirers, and it’s generally a better regarded sequel than it was originally given credit for. Even its more passionate fans, though, would rarely even consider ranking it above the original classic.
The Sting (1973)
Followed by: The Sting II
Not one of the better-known sequels we’ve been chatting about in this article, but oddly enough, the otherwise-forgettable sequel to The Sting did snag itself an Oscar nomination.
The original, of course, starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford, in one of cinema’s finest caper movies to date. George Roy Hill directed, and the playful, exquisitely enjoyable end result was a major box office success. It earned Universal Pictures $159.6 million in early ’70s money, and would then go on to win seven Oscars, including one for Best Picture.
The sequel didn’t share much in the way of personnel with the original, and it’d follow a decade later. One person who did return was screenwriter David S. Ward (who won an Oscar for the first movie). Jackie Gleason took on the headline role this time, with support coming from Oliver Reed.
It was clear very early on that The Sting II wasn’t a direct follow-up to the original, and indeed, changes were made to accommodate the new story. As its director, Jeremy Kagan, would admit, the sequel was “inspired by” and “is an expansion of” the original.
Not according to reviewers, though, who slammed the movie. In fact, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert made space for it in their round-up of the movie stinkers of 1983, and they were amongst the kindest to the film.
But where did that Oscar nod come from? Well, that was for Lalo Schifrin’s original music to the film. He didn’t win, though. Come the end of The Sting II, very few of us had…
Terms Of Endearment (1983)
Followed by: The Evening Star
James L. Brooks’ 1983 comedy drama picked up five Oscars, after being nominated for 11. It landed Shirley MacLaine a Best Actress prize, Jack Nicholson took home Best Supporting Actor, and the film itself defeated the likes of The Right Stuff and The Big Chill to claim its award.
There was no rush to get another film made, but author Larry McMurtry had penned a follow-up in print, and eventually, it was decided to press ahead. James L. Brooks, though, was missing for The Evening Star, with the job of helming the sequel going to Robert Harling, best known for writing Steel Magnolias and Soapdish (an underrated comedy).
Shirley Maclaine came back to reprise the role of Aurora in the sequel, and Jack Nicholson played Garrett again. But any chance of it recapturing what worked about the first was long gone within ten minutes. The 13 year gap between films didn’t help, but crucially, nor did the fact that critics were quick to slam the flatness of The Evening Star, which ultimately proved to barely register at the box office.
And then there’s…
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
Followed by: The Hobbit trilogy
Not strictly a sequel, granted, but after the raging success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, there was a clear appetite for the same team to bring J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the big screen.
Not that it had an easy journey there. MGM, one of the key partners in the project, had well reported financial problems, that delayed The Hobbit going into production. So much so that director Guillermo del Toro, who had signed up to direct, eventually quit the film, going off to make Pacific Rim in the end instead.
Peter Jackson would eventually return, and he shaped The Hobbit into three films, that captured a good chunk of the commercial success of the Lord Of The Rings movies, but barely any of the critical acclaim. Whereas each of the Lord Of The Rings films snared a Best Picture nod from the Academy, The Hobbit movies didn’t get anywhere close. They make for a very big boxset, though…
And the sequels/prequels that nearly happened…
Just because a follow-up to a Best Picture Oscar winner didn’t happen, it doesn’t always mean that the possibility wasn’t discussed. That’s what happened in these cases, at least…
Titanic: After Titanic snagged 11 Oscars and over $1bn in box office revenue, there was talk about developing a prequel, set around the characters of Jack and Rose. Writer/director James Cameron wasn’t interested, though, and thus the project never got moving.
The 2010 film Titanic II is unrelated, a cheap knock-off produced by the masters of cheap knock-offs, The Asylum.
Gladiator: A follow-up of sorts to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator actually got quite far down the proverbial road. Nick Cave actually penned a screenplay for this one – we talked about it here – after he was approached by Russell Crowe to do so.
The story would have seen Crowe’s Maximus sent to purgatory, before then being transported back to Earth to defeat a, er, Christ-like character. Cave wanted to call the film Christ Killer.
It was decided not to press ahead with the movie for some reason.
Casablanca 2: 70 years after the release of Casablanca came the news that a sequel was genuinely being considered. There had been talk of one almost immediately after the original’s release, but like many such ideas, it was quietly abandoned.
However, a treatment penned a few decades back by Howard Koch was picked up by his son in 2012, and plans for a sequel were formulated. This would take place 20 years after the original movie, and focus on the offspring of Ilsa and Rick.
Warner Bros was involved with this one, but we think – don’t hold us to it – that it’s quietly died a death.
Forrest Gump: Talk of a sequel to the 1993 megahit Forrest Gump was fuelled by the author of the original book, Winston Groom, penning a sequel. Gump And Co. was published in 1995, and a film of it went into development. Eric Roth, who penned the first movie, wrote a screenplay. The film was one of many put on ice after the attacks of September 11th 2001. More recently, Forrest Gump 2 reared its head again, when it was reported that Paramount was investigating the idea of the film in 2007. However, silence says everything here, and there’s been no obvious interest from Tom Hanks either.
Shakespeare In Love 2: Back in 2013, Bob and Harvey Weinstein secured a share of the rights of many of the projects the pair had shepherded through their Miramax years. As such, sequels to a series of earlier films were mooted, including Shakespeare In Love 2. This was one of those stories that bubble up quickly, and seemed to fizzle out just as fast. No further progress on a follow-up has come to light, nearly three years later.
Phew! Roll on Argo 2 after that…