When Oscar glory comes knocking for a successful Hollywood actor, it must be hugely tempting when the chance arrives for them to reprise that award-winning role. But while sequels and reboots are a common enough sight in the movie industry these days, examples of stars who’ve returned to their Oscar-winning roles are relatively few and far between.
The reason, perhaps, is because it’s so difficult to recapture the creative lightning in a bottle that led to the Oscar win in the first place. Nevertheless, some actors do occasionally take up the offer and return to the filmmaking well. And as the list below proves, the results can sometimes be highly accomplished – though seldom quite as powerful and fresh as the films they’re following…
Won for: The French Connection
Played the role again in: The French Connection II
An outright sequel to an Oscar winning movie was pretty much unheard of when Gene Hackman agreed to reprise the role of Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle for the follow-up to The French Connection.
The original remains a classic, and for good reason. Directed by William Friedkin, it’s generally the breathtaking chase and practical stunt work that gets the lion’s share of the credit, yet there are damaged, interesting characters at the heart of the movie. Hackman, as Popeye Doyle, puts in arguably his best screen performance too, and Friedkin’s documentary approach to shooting the film has been widely mimicked since in mainstream cinema. The film marched to the Oscars, with Hackman taking home one of its five gongs.
He’d be tempted back a couple of years later for the sequel, which saw John Frankenheimer take over directing duties. He made a decent fist of it too. This time, Popeye Doyle heads to France, and whilst it doesn’t hit the heights of the first film, nor have anything as distinctive to set it apart, it’s still a very good cop movie.
Wise to reprise? Yep.
Won for: Arthur
Played the role again in: Arthur 2: On The Rocks
The seven years between the two Arthur movies were not kind to Dudley Moore. His decline, alcoholism and subsequent illness have been well charted, and it still feels like an immense loss that such a gifted comedy performer didn’t get to see his 70th birthday.
When he made Arthur, back in 1981, he was at the height of his movie powers, certainly. Off the back of 10, he paired up with Liza Minnelli, and took on the role of the infamous drunken millionaire who opts for the working class girl over the wealthy heiress.
The genius piece of casting here though was bringing in John Gielgud to play Arthur’s manservant, Hobson. The less genius piece of casting was, after the character died in the first film (bringing Gielgud an Oscar in the process), to bring him back as a ghost in the sequel.
If it sounds like a bad script conference idea, that’s certainly how it played out as well. And while there are very occasional merits to Arthur 2, it’s telling that Dudley Moore would all but disown it. Very wise.
Wise to reprise? Yikes. No. A forgettable movie for all concerned.
SHIRLEY MACLAINE AND JACK NICHOLSON
Won for: Terms Of Endearment
Played the roles again in: The Evening Star
Terms Of Endearment is pretty much a template Oscar-winning movie, but it’s hard to begrudge Shirley MacLaine her statue. Her performance as Aurora Greenway in James L Brooks’ movie mopped up no shortage of awards, including the Oscar, and it’s a complex role, taking in a sizeable passage of time as the drama unfolds. The movie would win five Oscars in all, includes ones for Brooks and for Jack Nicholson.
Nicholson had a supporting role in the first film, as Garrett Breedlove (the role has originally been written for Burt Reynolds, who turned it down to make The Cannonball Run instead). Garrett, a retired astronaut whose focus is now on women and drink, somewhat inevitably is a character that Nicholson fits perfectly.
A follow-up to Terms Of Endearment had been mooted for some time, with a particular focus on picking up Aurora’s story. When it finally happened though, in the shape of 1996’s The Evening Star (13 years after the original film), it was all a bit disappointing. Nicholson’s return is a cameo in effect, and whilst MacLaine is strong again, the absence of James L Brooks from the production was sorely felt. The movie disappeared shortly after its release, was widely booed by critics, and is barely mentioned now.
Wise to reprise? No. On both counts.
Won for: Cocoon
Played the role again in: Cocoon: The Return
We don’t talk about the film Cocoon enough here, although that’s something we’re rectifying now the Blu-ray has come down in price. Ron Howard’s film, which might just be the only Steve Guttenberg movie to ever trouble the Oscars, was the one where a bunch of older folk go swimming in a pool with some weird, well, cocoons at the bottom, and suddenly feel young again.
Howard proved himself an able director of ensemble comedy here too, perhaps overegging the schmaltz a little, but rarely taking his eye off the human stories. And he gets great performance from Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley (sporter of some of the planet’s finest facial hair) and Don Ameche. Heck, you get bonus Brian Dennehy too, and not many films can say that.
In truth, there were several candidates for a supporting Oscar nomination here, but it was Ameche as Arthur who took the lion’s share of the plaudits. Wisely, the late actor also nipped off to an alien planet at the end too, which opened up a sequel possibility.
That sequel, Cocoon: The Return, followed three years later. But this time, Cocoon had snagged two Oscars, one for Ameche and one for its visual effects. Most of the cast returned for the sequel, including Ameche and Guttenberg, although Ron Howard wasn’t involved this time.
And you know what? It’s not a bad sequel either. It’s primarily because the characters are so good that it’s no trouble to spend more time with them, even though similar motions are being gone through. Unfortunately, poor reviews and bad box office killed chances of a fancy box set…
Wise to reprise? It did no harm, in truth. And Ameche is great in both films.
Won for: Wall Street
Played the role again in: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Perhaps the most iconic leading performance of the 1980s, given just how it helped define the decade, Michael Douglas’ turn as financial monster Gordon Gekko is still really quite brilliant. Given extensive monologues to wrap his voice around, Gekko, and the ‘greed is good’ mantra, landed Douglas Oscar gold.
There was some logic to picking up Gekko’s story again for a sequel many years later too, and thus Douglas signed on the dotted line for Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which was released 23 years later.
Money Never Sleeps is a weaker film, but in the early stages at least, it has a lot of fun with the character of Gekko. The chunky mobile phone as he’s finally released from prison, for instance, is a nice touch, and then we follow Gekko as he tries to reunite with his daughter, and more financial muddles crop up.
Douglas is just as strong here, but the film around him isn’t. Bafflingly, for too much of Money Never Sleeps’ running time, Stone focuses the attention on the character of Jacob Moore, played by Shia LaBeouf. Both the character and the actor are the least accomplished, in an ensemble that thus gives fairly short shrift to the likes of Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella and Josh Brolin. Stone then messes around with financial charts too, and you can’t help but think that an opportunity had been missed, particularly in the aftermath of the world’s economic meltdown. A pity.
Wise to reprise? Nothing wrong with the performance here, and there are moments that explore the character further. It’s a shame that the film gets so distracted from more interesting targets than the ones it chooses.
Won for: The Silence Of The Lambs
Played the role again in: Hannibal, Red Dragon
Given the paucity of screen time he got in Jonathan Demme’s excellent adaptation of Thomas Harris’ The Silence Of The Lambs, it’s all the more telling that Anthony Hopkins’ turn as Hannibal Lector so dominates much of the movie (with Jodie Foster’s excellent Clarice Starling biting off the rest). A huge commercial hit, it was somewhat inevitable that when Thomas Harris got around to finishing off the follow-up book, Hannibal, that there would be a clamour to turn it into a movie.
So it turned out. And whilst Foster declined the chance to reprise the role of Clarice for Hannibal, Hopkins took a fat cheque and signed back on. As a consequence, the impact of Hannibal Lector became somewhat diluted. While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the work that Hopkins put in across both Hannibal and Brett Ratner’s take on Red Dragon, the character becomes overexposed as a consequence. In The Silence Of The Lambs, Lector works because we see so little of him. He’s like the alien in the first Alien movie – only brought out for impact when needed, and all the more effective because of it.
In both Hannibal and Red Dragon, Hopkins is the star turn, and given that we have to spend so much time in Lecter’s company, inevitably, we have to find out more about him. The scarier edges thus become smoothed off, and if anything – moments of gore aside – Hannibal and Red Dragon have more of an undercurrent of black comedy than tense thriller.
Wise to reprise? Financially, yes. Artistically, no.
Won for: City Slickers
Sort of played the role again in: City Slickers 2: The Legend Of Curly’s Gold
Male bonding has rarely hit such box office heights as Ron Underwood’s City Slickers managed back in 1991. On rewatching the film, it still bustles with great one-liners, and the central trio of Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and the much-missed Bruno Kirby takes some beating. Still, Jack Palance manages it. Taking on the small supporting role of Curly, with a nod back to his work in Shane, the moment where he’s standing behind Crystal’s character who is mid-rant about him is golden.
(Incidentally, Charles Bronson was offered the role of Curly first, but turned it down, offended, when he realised that the character didn’t make it to the end of the movie.)
When City Slickers hit big though, two things happened. Firstly, Jack Palance finally won an Oscar. Secondly, Castle Rock wanted a sequel. But how do you resurrect a dead character, and make him qualify for a ropey Den Of Geek list 20-odd years down the line? Easy. Bring in his twin brother, meaning Palance came back, playing basically the same part but with a different name. You’ll be telling us they re-cloned Ripley next.
It didn’t work. The wit didn’t stick, and there just seemed less point to the second film. Plus, we expected Palance to steal the movie second time around, and thus a little of the surprise element was gone there. It was not, in hindsight, a successful production.
Wise to reprise? There was no harm in it. But very few people were watching.
TOMMY LEE JONES
Won for: The Fugitive
Played the role again in: US Marshals
The most recent example to date of an actor taking home an Oscar for a performance and then being tempted back for another crack was Tommy Lee Jones’ decision to play Samuel Gerard again. In The Fugitive, the dispassionate but not unfriendly relationship between Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble and Jones’ Gerard powered the film, with Jones snagging all the best lines, and uttering the phrase “I don’t care” with a conviction few would doubt. It’s not Jones’ best screen performance – his little-seen turn as Ty Cobb is exceptional – yet it’s still excellent. The film’s popularity helped too in his journey to the Oscar stage.
The sequel, though, is really quite shit. Harrison Ford wisely steered clear of US Marshals, leading someone to hatch the plan to give Wesley Snipes a call instead. Original director Andrew Davis was long gone too, and Stuart Baird (best known for helming the fun Executive Decision) took the project on. Robert Downey Jr was also hired, at a point when his name did not sell extra tickets.
US Marshals is a tired, less interesting retread of the first film, that switches more of the attention to Gerard. Unfortunately, there’s no interest in doing anything with him, and in truth, the character could have gone by any other name and it wouldn’t have made much difference. Bereft of tension, US Marshals did a decent amount of business, but nowhere near Fugitive levels. Samuel Gerard has not been seen on the big screen since.
Wise to reprise? Again: for Jones’ bank manager, yes. But US Marshals can’t hold a candle to The Fugitive, and the character of Gerard is far less interesting here.
One last thing: correct me if I’m wrong, but I couldn’t find one instance of a Best Supporting Actress winner reprising their role. Every other acting category is represented….
Upcoming: Helen Mirren is apparently set to reprise the role of Queen Elizabeth II on screen, in The Audience.
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