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Sequel time

How to build your very own second-class movie — without even trying. By Sarah Bunting

Are you frustrated and bored at work?  Do you long to make your mark on popular culture, even if that mark is a critically reviled waste of celluloid?  Have friends or colleagues ever accused you of opportunistic tendencies, acute cynicism, a lack of taste, or all of the above?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it's time for you to consider an exciting and lucrative career in mediocre movie sequels!

No experience in film?  No innovative ideas?  No problem!  Remember, it's not a firm grounding in the history of cinema that brought us "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd." You don't need a pioneering artistic instinct to generate a "Jurassic Park XVIII."  All you need is a moderately successful original film, and greed.  Actually, you don't even need a moderately successful original film.  Any film will do, really.  Got greed?  Great.  Let's begin.

Step one: Aim low

Shaggy () and Scooby in Warner Bros. - 2004
Shaggy () and Scooby in Warner Bros. - 2004

First, you'll need to select a movie — the genetic material from which to clone a soulless franchise.  The safest route for beginners is a horror movie; even when a film doesn't seem to lend itself to a sequel ("The Ring"), or when the original is so miserably written and acted as to resemble a high-school production of "Turn of the Screw" ("Underworld," with the first of two inexplicable sequels now in production), a horror franchise is a reliable source of income.  Just invest in several dozen cases of fake blood, sit back, and watch the profits roll in.

Another prudent choice if you're just starting out in the sequel business is an original movie that isn't good.  A so-so (or outright stinky) original movie means no glaring gap in quality between the original and the sequel — "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" is bad, but it isn't as though its parent "Scooby-Doo" led the movie-going public to expect much.

And if your second-rate original movie verges on soft-core porn, so much the better.  "Wild Orchid" is known for one thing, and it isn't the dramatic stylings of Mickey Rourke.  Why worry about trifles like acting and plot when Cinemax has a 4:30 a.m. time slot to fill and can't get the rights to "Poison Ivy II: Alyssa Milano Gets Naked"?  Think up a pun for "Last Tango In Paris 2" and cash that check, baby!

Step 2: Glom on to someone else's successMany producers prefer to sequelize good movies — movies that did great business at the box office, or that critics actually respected.  Building on an unqualified success assures you the loyalty of movie-goers who liked the first film, and lots of press too. 

But in order to mess with success as efficiently as possible, you'll need to have a plan, and the best strategy for irretrievably ruining the reputation of the original movie is to recast a crucial role — preferably the lead.  You might think that, if you can't get the original cast to return for another go-round, the universe is trying to tell you not to proceed.  Think again. 

Jodie Foster didn't carry "Silence of the Lambs"; Anthony Hopkins did, and once he signed on for "Hannibal," it didn't really matter who played Clarice Starling, or whether she looked or sounded anything like Foster, or that the writing reeked.  The original "Speed" didn't do as well as it did because Keanu Reeves is a believable action star, so replacing him with the physically slight, too-thoughtful Jason Patric for "Speed 2" made perfect sense (and the real star of that movie is the boat!). 

Step 3: Hey you, do you want to be in a movie?Remember: It's a sequel.  Don't use one of the stars that made the initial film a success when a cheaper and less talented "star" will do.  Don't cast John Travolta in "Grease 2" when Maxwell Caulfield is available.  Don't pressure Jim Carrey to participate in "Son of the Mask" when you can use the rabidly annoying but comparatively inexpensive Jamie Kennedy instead.

If you don't want to replace the star (read: the star insisted on a two-picture deal), or you do replace the star but the movie still looks good on paper, consider waiting waaaaaay too long to put out the sequel.  This approach worked like a charm for "Rage: Carrie 2," which shared virtually nothing with the original (and which killed Emily Bergl's career dead); for "Terminator 3," starring the governor of California; and most notably for "Staying Alive," the hilariously awful follow-up to "Saturday Night Fever."

Step 4: Why watch the original film?
“Staying Alive” illustrates another principle critical to the creation of a pedestrian sequel, namely that it should fail to grasp what made the original film a success in the first place.  "Saturday Night Fever" wasn't about dancing; it was about the disaffection of youth.  By setting the action in the context of the cutthroat world of professional modern dance (no…seriously), "Staying Alive" missed the point by a nautical mile. 

The first "Blair Witch Project" worked because of its lo-fi style, and a viral marketing campaign that convinced people they were watching a documentary; the producers of "Blair Witch 2" didn't seem to understand that that kind of lightning doesn't strike twice.

Step 5: Beat that dead horse!A word of warning: You may find yourself with a sequel or sequels that do well at the box office and escape the wrath of critics.  How can you get rid of the respect you've earned for preserving the integrity of the original movie?  Don't quit while you're ahead, ever.  Overstay your welcome for years, as the "Lethal Weapon" franchise did, or put out a sequel in which everyone onscreen looks exhausted, a la "Austin Powers in Goldmember."  Produce a string of movies, each more worthless than the last, and dare the studios to stop you.  They won't.  If nobody put a bullet in the head of the National Lampoon series after the appalling "Christmas Vacation," it's never going to happen.

Better yet, churn out sequels based entirely on merchandising opportunities.  "Star Wars" Happy Meals!  "Jurassic Park" mini-raptors free with every oil change!  Buy a twelve-pack of toilet paper, get a cheaply made and unstylish pair of "Men In Black II" sunglasses (must use coupon, offer not valid in Hawaii or for employees of Scott Tissue)!

Do whatever you have to do, but make it bad, because it's a sequel and that's your job.  What's that you say?  You think "Breaking The Waves" is begging for a sequel — starring Joe Piscopo?  Kid, I think you've got a future in this business.