By David Poland email@example.com
I don’t mind the LAT riffing on an idea I offered up repeatedly in the last few days… that The Hangover: Part II has opened so big because audiences were happy to see the guys back, doing pretty much a minor variation on what they did last time (ratcheting up the harshness), and that WB marketed to exactly that.
But I wish they didn’t make such mincemeat of the idea, trying to turn it into a trend piece.
Just the facts…
Zeitchik offers, “Those (sequeled comedies) that succeed tend to hew very closely to their originals.”
Of course, Zeitchik already threw away Sex & The City 2, last year’s example of a carbon copy of a well-known product whose opening dropped 46% from the first film domestically.
Last summer was light on sequels AND comedies, but note that non-comedy sequels Iron Man 2 opened better than the first with pretty much the same schtick, but The Karate Kid hit the jackpot by changing up the formula dramatically.
Evan Almighty is as freaky a possible example as you could come up with (aside from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), as the second movie not only was without the then biggest comedy star in the world, but completely dumped the original’s successful premise. If you remember, the pitch for Bruce Almighty included Bruce getting the power of God from God, but endlessly pushed him blowing a girl’s skirt up, making Jennifer Aniston’s breasts bigger, and a dog peeing in a toilet on his own. The sequel was about a good man called on to save the world and going all The Santa Clause as he becomes Noah. DQ!
Night At The Museum 2 wasn’t a major variation from the original… except by date. It went from being a holiday movie to being in the heat of summer competition. But all the major characters were back… they just added a couple more. The sequel also suffered from something many sequels of all stripes suffer from… a great idea that was a bit played out. NATM is still an important film to museums. But the idea of the stuff in the museum coming to life was exciting… once.
Bruno also suffered from a chance in the playing field. Borat was completely unexpected. Bruno was unavoidably anticipated. Borat indulged our xenophobia, but was also quite gentle. Bruno was about homophobia and media insanity, but all that really got notice was the gay… which also, by the way, turned some homophobic audiences off. Audiences could think Borat was an ass, but not feel concerned that they would be called out for it. Hate Bruno and you could be on the wrong side of political correctness. But on the most basic level, Bruno was NOT a sequel to Borat… at all… anymore than Bridesmaids is a sequel to Get Him To The Greek.
On the flip side, Meet The Fockers was not a direct copy of Meet The Parents. In fact, it was strongly driven by love of the original, but the very strong addition of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, who not only added star power, but added a whole new set of character relationships. They were as accepting of their son’s new family as DeNiro was not. Third time around, when they moved forward without Hoffman, they went back and added him at the last minute because his absence was not testing well.
Look… ALL sequels… and most “originals” are variations on a very, very familiar theme. This was the key to “high concept” fillmmaking… a phrase you rarely hear these days.
There are two kinds of sequels, those that extend the story and those that repeat the story with some variation, usually a small one. American Pie extended the story the second time, which meant a big opening, and then a third time, when it opened well, but not nearly as well as the first sequel.
In the Austin Powers films, which Zeitchik mentions as a repetitive, things changed in a copy of how Bond changed, changing female leads both times. But in the third film not only added Michael Caine (hat tip to Indiana Jones), but loaded up on celebrity cameos for the first time.
Ghostbusters II did less than half of what the original did domestically, though it opened to double.
The king of comedy sequels, Eddie Murphy, has been all over the place with sequels to 48 Hrs, Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, and Doctor Dolittle. Only Dr. Dolittle 2 did less on opening weekend the second time around. But only Another 48 Hrs grossed more than the original domestically… by $2 million… 8 years later. I don’t think anyone can say that any of these sequels changed much at all.
Martin Lawrence did it three times (House Party, Bad Boys, Big Momma’s House), but only the one in which his partner, Will Smith, emerged as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, did better the second time around. Again, all were near carbon copies. Bad Boys 2 doubled its gross domestically but cost at least 8 times as much to produce and market.
Three Men & A Lady… getting the gang back together led to a bigger opening and less than half the domestic gross. Rush Hour was much bigger the second time around… and grossed less than the original the third time around. Analyze That couldn’t match the original in opening or total. Miss Congeniality 2 opened bigger, but grossed less than half the original domestically. Crocodile Dundee II had triple the opening and 40% of the domestic total. Porky’s 2 opened about the same as the original, but grossed less than a third of the first. Wayne’s World 2 opened to less and grossed less than half the first film. City Slickers 2 opened weaker than the original and grossed about a third. Even the Ocean’s movies… all started about the same domestically… and each made progressively less.
And I think I have now covered every sequeled comedy in which at least one of the films grossed at least $100m domestic. (Please feel free to offer any films I might have left out. But I think I got them all.)
It’s kind of amazing, really, how few comedy sequels there are. Twenty-one in history on this list with one of the two films being a 9-figure grosser. And I will tell you why, in general. A big comedy hit is magic in a bottle… not just concept and effects. Sequels almost always cost a lot more than the original, the odds of hitting again are low, and making the second movie reasonably good is even less likely.
What you see a lot more of is the repetition of teams and leaders. So you have Apatow, Ferrell, Carrey, Sandler, Farrelly, Murphy, etc. Adam Sandler has NEVER made a sequel… yet many would say that every Sandler movie is virtually a sequel. Same with Will Ferrell. Carrey’s only sequel was to Ace Ventura, early in his movie career.
I’d love to see the Anchorman sequel… but I understand the studio’s position. It would likely cost a LOT more and the odds are that it would, no matter how good, make a little less than the original.
The times you do see them take the leap is when the first film was a wildly overachieving underdog, like Meet The Parents or Ace Ventura or, for that matter, Sex & The City. Then the more expensive sequel is, say, the normal price for a comedy with a big comedy star, and the hope for it to be a much bigger film is there. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes not.
And interestingly – I just arrived at this notion as I was writing – this fits The Hangover too. A $35 million movie that grossed $475m worldwide with three non-box-office-names is catnip. According to reports (unconfirmed by me) the sequel still cost less than $100 million to make. So cut the gross in half and there is still no money lost. Match the gross and make very good money (given the back end). Top the gross and make mega-bucks.
Each movie is its own proposition. There are good decisions and bad. But there is no trend.