5 Historically Bad Movie Franchises We Keep Forgiving
Like a shotgun blast of nostalgia, 2015 has peppered us with announcements of new sequels to beloved franchises from decades past. And if the Internet's response is any indication, we couldn't be more delighted. Another Aliens movie! Two new Ghostbusters films! Jeff Goldblum is making Independence Day 2! It'll sure be great to see Goldblum kicking alien ass again, and to watch a new group of wacky paranormal investigators police the tormented spirits of people's dead loved ones. They're even making a TRON 3! What luck!
The thing is, in our rush to be excited over the reemergence of series we loved 10, 20, even 30 years ago, we haven't stopped to ask ourselves one very important question: What the hell are we so excited about? Why do we want sequels to these films so badly, when sequels rarely do anything but taint our memory of the original? Heck, we already got sequels to Aliens and Ghostbusters years ago, and you know what? We didn't like them. There are just some franchises that we constantly reward with entirely too much good will, no matter how hard they've worked to turn us against them.
OK, so after literally decades of breathless anticipation, Hollywood is finally moving forward on another Ghostbusters film. Two, to be exact, which may or may not tie into an entire cinematic universe of Ghostbusters movies. That's great news for all us Ghostbusters fans, right? Surely better news than we could've reasonably hoped for in the wake of series co-creator and founding Ghostbuster Harold Ramis' death.
It's certainly better than a Slimer spinoff based on nightmarish Internet slash fic.
Let me ask you all a question, and feel free to write your answer down or just speak it aloud to whatever room you happen to be sitting in -- what was it about Ghostbusters that made that movie so great?
Was it the rich, sprawling mythology of the ghostbusting universe?
Or was it Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis teaming up to make a comedy in the prime of their careers?
Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's that second one.
Also in the prime of its career: Ernie Hudson's mustache game.
See, people have a borderline rabid sense of nostalgia for Ghostbusters and the Ghostbusters brand, but the movie is about those three actors, period. Three of the biggest giants in the history of comedy came together to make a weird, funny movie. That's what the fans clamoring for another Ghostbusters film and the maniacs who greenlit two different reboots don't seem to understand -- the Ghostbusters brand and the performances of Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis are the same thing. They're inseparable. That movie could've been about fucking time-traveling cab drivers and it probably would've had the exact same impact on all of us. It was a unique premise executed by three of the most unique comedians ever captured on film. Without them, the brand is meaningless.
Now, to be fair, right up until the day Harold Ramis died, fans were demanding another Ghostbusters film starring the original cast. But even that was a mistake. To illustrate my point, let's talk about Ghostbusters II.
Featuring inspired wackiness like Santa hats on the job.
Ghostbusters II was released just five years after the original Ghostbusters. To put it in perspective, that's roughly the same amount of time that passed between the release of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Is Retroactively Less Good Because of This Shitty Movie. Every single member of the original cast came back. Even the fucking mayor was played by the same actor. Bill Murray was still cranking out hits, Harold Ramis had yet to anger whatever mummy cursed him to gain the weight of an extra person, and Dan Aykroyd hadn't thrust Blues Brothers 2000 into screaming life beneath the sallow moon of an angry god. Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Rick Moranis were all given expanded roles. Ghostbusters had just spent most of the 1980s coasting on a lucrative wave of merchandising, cartoons, and cross-promotional breakfast foods. The brand could literally not be any hotter than it was in the summer of 1989.
And Ghostbusters II still sucked.
"Maybe this movie isn't very good." -- the person who had to paint this picture.
Don't get me wrong -- I like Ghostbusters II. I think Peter MacNicol is hilarious, particularly if you watch Ghostbusters II and Dragonslayer back to back. But as I've gotten older, I've come to realize that I'm in the minority. Most people cannot stand Ghostbusters II. Chief among that lot is Bill Murray, and now that I'm in my thirties and have gotten slightly better at reading the subtleties of human emotion than I was when I was six, Murray's complete lack of enthusiasm is staggeringly obvious in his performance. He absolutely does not want to be there. The movie is so joyless that it's literally a joke in the film -- nobody gives a rat's ass about the Ghostbusters anymore, and the only reason Bill Murray is hanging around is because his friends needed him.
He clearly just showed up in his street clothes.
That was the best-case scenario for a Ghostbusters sequel -- all of the original cast, with director Ivan Reitman returning to film a script again written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd. And we didn't like it. Yet the throngs of vocal Ghostbusters fans kept demanding another sequel for decades, bursting into frenzied activity whenever the slightest hint of a Ghostbusters III would come spilling out of Dan Aykroyd's insane head.
As I said earlier, the fervor was still just as strong in 2014, when Ramis died -- we had somehow managed to convince ourselves that a Ghostbusters sequel starring our favorite comedy idols, now aged well into their sixties and working much less often, would be better than the Ghostbusters sequel we got back when all those guys were still in their thirties, writing and performing comedy regularly. In the time since Ghostbusters II, the brilliant comedic mind of Harold Ramis only produced one good film: Groundhog Day. The rest of his writing credits read like a treatise arguing for the destruction of humanity, including such gems as Analyze This, Analyze That, Year One, and the Brendan Fraser laugh factory Bedazzled. Dan Aykroyd's post-busters II resume is even grimmer.
The only one left with a career is the leprechaun on that pennant.
It doesn't matter if the cast is all-female or all-male, or if it's being written by the director of Unaccompanied Minors or Nothing But Trouble. The fact is, we don't love Ghostbusters. We love Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis. And that setup worked exactly one time.
Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9, one of the best science fiction movies of the past decade, is going to make an Alien film that is a direct sequel to the last one that anyone liked. And Aliens fans and science fiction geeks alike are rejoicing, singing the praises of a man who actually gets what is so great about the Aliens franchise. How do we know he gets it? Because he drew a picture of Sigourney Weaver and Harvey Biehn-Face.
"Maybe I should have the bomb. My life is basically over anyways."
Why are we so excited? Neill Blomkamp has made exactly one movie that everyone liked. His two follow-up efforts, Elysium and Chappie, failed to dazzle anyone. The most positive piece of criticism most people can agree on is that they were both heavy-handed. Why should we be excited that this guy, who apparently got into Hollywood so he could make movies about robots in shantytowns, is taking the reins of 20th Century Fox's long-dormant "rape-dragons in space" film series?
For that matter, why are we still excited about the prospect of a new Alien film? Let's face it, there hasn't been a good Alien movie in 30 years. And there have been four of them. Five if you count Prometheus, which you shouldn't, for several reasons. That series has already gone in every possible direction, and only 20 percent of it was worth watching.
It might be time to accept that the Aliens franchise isn't very good.
"I should've Skerritted out of here in the '80s."
There is nothing intrinsically great about any of the films, even the two quality first installments. Alien is a haunted house movie that happens to have a space monster in it instead of a masked supernatural spree killer. Aliens is an action movie that happens to have space monsters instead of drug dealers and/or terrorists. And that's where everyone should stop watching the series. Alien 3 is noteworthy only as a relic of David Fincher's early years, sort of like a bronzed set of baby shoes full of Charles Dance and Charles S. Dutton. It is important to note that Charles S. Dutton's death scenes in both Alien 3 and Mimic are identical -- he wrestles a monster insect to death.
I assume his character meets a similar end in Roc Live.
Alien: Resurrection is triumphantly terrible, and is an excellent example of why we should not be excited about the involvement of a filmmaker who "gets" Aliens. Joss Whedon, king of the Marvel Universe and the reason we were all tricked into liking Adam Baldwin, wrote the screenplay for Resurrection, and it is the most ridiculous pile of fanboy trash ever constructed. It's like every single Aliens comic from the early 1990s was melted in a casserole dish and fed to E.L. James. And Joss Whedon "gets" everything.
Well, almost everything.
They even made two different movies about the aliens fistfighting other aliens, and those still weren't any good. There is no other direction to take these films in. The aliens aren't scary anymore -- three-and-a-half decades of diminishing sequels and terrible video game adaptations have reduced them to shiny phallic cannon fodder. Thanks to modern visual effects, they're not really compelling as foes either -- the aliens' iconic creature design is hard to appreciate when they're just CGI dots spilling out of a pyramid and getting blasted to jagged shards of acid-boiled flesh confetti. Remember how exciting it was to watch people battling swarms of computer-generated monsters in I, Robot and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of Hayden Christensen's NASCAR Rattail? Yeah, it's not going to be any more exciting just because the swarms of monsters happen to be waves of the same bony dick torpedoes that ate Bill Paxton smashing into rusty, graffiti-scarred battle robots in an equatorial Hooverville.
Also, Sigourney Weaver is in her 60s, and Michael Biehn isn't far behind. They're both great, but man, are we really looking forward to another action-adventure film starring elderly versions of our favorite stars from the 1980s? If you answered "yes," The Expendables 3 begs to differ.
20th Century Fox recently announced that Jeff Goldblum will be returning to reprise his role as recycling-obsessed bicycle enthusiast and chess-playing alien destroyer David Levinson in Independence Day 2, set to release 20 years after the decade-defining first film. Independence Day was monumental in a number of ways: It solidified Will Smith as a bankable A-list action star, it launched the career of Roland Emmerich, it began the trend of viral marketing with a Super Bowl trailer that industry people still talk about to this day, and it gave us a video of Randy Quaid jackhammering his dead-eyed wife in a Rupert Murdoch Halloween mask.
It was still a more dignified outing than Christmas Vacation 2.
Independence Day also created the "show a major landmark getting destroyed" genre of modern disaster films (many of which were made by Emmerich), although none that followed in its wake would ever top the White House and the US Bank Tower getting detonated by goddamned alien death rays.
And when Goldblum's involvement was announced, the Internet rejoiced. "Finally, the Independence Day sequel we all deserve!" they seemed to say. "We're going to party like it's 1996!" Which means we're going to have to cut the party short so we can wake up in time for school in the morning.
It'll take hours to clean the cobwebs off our favorite Doc Martens.
The thing is, what reason do we have to be excited, other than just general enthusiasm for another Jeff Goldblum movie? Independence Day came out almost 20 years ago, and it was kind of a big risk when it did -- an effects-heavy science fiction / action film with no big name stars. There was a reason 20th Century Fox created viral marketing for this movie -- they had to trick people into wanting to see it. Remember Cloverfield? That's the kind of mystique that was surrounding Independence Day (or ID4, for all you down-ass motherfuckers) in the months before its release. That first trailer came out of nowhere, and Fox was careful to let very little information about the movie come out until right before it premiered. And at the time, we had never seen anything like it. Now, in 2015, I can name at least half a dozen films exactly like Independence Day that came out just within the past year.
Roland Emmerich hasn't done much with the keys to the kingdom we handed him back in '96, either. So far, he's produced a terrible Godzilla reboot, The Patriot, the jumbled masses of terrible science and idiot confusion that were 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 B.C., and White House Down. There was also a dumbass movie about Shakespeare somewhere in there. Half of those movies follow the exact same road map he established in Independence Day, and it hasn't exactly gotten better with each retelling.
Except in Day After Tomorrow, it's humanity that catches a cold.
Also, all of the aliens were defeated at the end of the first film, and not in a gentle way -- Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum fly the crashed alien ship from the famous Roswell incident into space, dock at the alien mothership, upload a computer virus that Goldblum invented while he was drunk in Area 51, then fire a nuclear missile directly into an alien's face to blow up the entire invading fleet and rocket back to Earth on a wave of atomic celestial fire. Where the hell do you go from there?
"Going to chase survivors all over the Milky Way -- excuse me, the Willky Way."
The point is, Goldblum or not, when has waiting two decades for a sequel ever resulted in a movie we enjoyed? What are our examples? The Phantom Menace? Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Shit, waiting five years is risky business, even if you're Ghostbusters II.
Emmerich and his producing partner Dean Devlin seem to be at least partially aware of this, too. Fox originally greenlit two Independence Day sequels, to be filmed back to back, but Devlin recently stated in an interview that they've decided to only film one for the time being, just to make sure people still give a shit about Independence Day. I'm barely paraphrasing there.
Zoolander (And Any Comedy Sequel)
Earlier this week, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson delighted fans the world over by appearing at a fashion show as their respective characters Derek Zoolander and Hansel to announce the production of a new Zoolander film, which many of you may recognize as a sequel to a movie that came out 12 years ago and died the death of a carnival goldfish at the box office. This could possibly be blamed on the fact that Zoolander came out two weeks after 9/11, but we were kind of blaming everything on 9/11 back then.
That said, Zoolander has some legitimately funny moments, and has since earned a solid fanbase on video, so the response to the announcement rang overwhelmingly positive across all four corners of the Internet.
Especially the duckface corner.
To rebut that blindly enthusiastic response, I ask you this: How many comedy sequels have actually been good? Furthermore, how many Ben Stiller sequels have actually been good?
Think about it -- with very little exception, every single comedy sequel that has ever been produced has, at best, been a huge waste of time. Caddyshack II. Both goddamn Dumb and Dumber sequels. Fletch Lives. Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Another 48 Hrs. Anchorman 2. Beverly Hills Cop 2 and 3. The wholly unnecessary Hangover trilogy. Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. The aforementioned Ghostbusters II had multiple legendary comedic geniuses behind it, and even they couldn't figure out where the hell to go with their sequel.
"OK, what if we took the first Hangover, but THIS time, we do the first Hangover?"
The one legitimate exception I could think of is Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and maybe the Austin Powers sequels, but even those movies are just replaying the same beats from the original. I don't think I've watched any iteration of Austin Powers in over a decade, so they were hardly essential.
Ben Stiller himself is responsible for two of the most hollow, shameless retreads in the history of film -- Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers, which dared us to continue giving a shit about whether or not Robert DeNiro was going to continue being angry at Stiller's character, Gaylord Focker, who you can tell is a comic foil because his same sounds like "Gay Fucker." If that joke didn't land the first time, don't worry. They ride that train for two more movies.
"Hey, you don't throw away gold when it gets old. You polish it up and put it right back on the mantelpiece."
Stiller is a talented comedic actor, and he has made some very funny films, but man, what new ground are we expecting him to cover with a Zoolander sequel? Every possible form of the "models are dumb" observation was made in that first film. There is literally a scene where the characters joyfully spray each other with gasoline because they are so fucking stupid. Where do you go from "gasoline fight?" Are Derek and Hansel going to have a pillow fight with Jansports full of haunted Navajo skeletons? What international conspiracy are they going to bumblingly unravel this time around?
"The Illuminati killed Marilyn Monroe because she was really, really, really ridiculously onto their plan to kill Kennedy."
We've actually had to debunk reports of Space Jam 2 two different times within the past 14 months. The Internet community at large is so terribly excited for the prospect of a second intergalactic cartoon basketball adventure starring a professional non-actor that the emergence of a photoshopped teaser poster is enough to generate headlines across countless news sources for several days. This movie has so much good will and such a vocally supportive fanbase that it seems like only a matter of time before Warner Bros. officially announces a return trip to the bottomless well of success that is Space Jam, a 90-minute commercial from 1996. And this time, it'll star LeBron James, because of that one thing he said!
"I like donuts."
"BREAKING: LEBRON NOW OWNS KRISPY KREME AND DUNKIN' DONUTS "
Let's take a moment to examine why we all liked Space Jam so much in the first place:
1. The soundtrack.
I have no idea what to put in that second slot. The Looney Tunes? The bizarre Bill Murray cameo? Michael Jordan's thrillingly enthusiastic performance? Oh wait, I just figured it out:
2. We were all children.
To be clear, I was 14 years old when Space Jam came out. I saw it on video and then immediately forgot about it. But the event that was Space Jam was hard to ignore. That movie was everywhere, particularly the soundtrack, which permeated every level of popular culture. It was a huge marketing spectacle, and it made the movie feel much more significant than it actually was. At its heart, Space Jam is just a really expensive kids' movie. It was designed to appeal to children. But it's 2015 now -- we're all 19 years older. If Warner Bros. makes a Space Jam 2, it's going to be for children today, not for people who were kids back in 1996.
Get ready to jam with LeBron and the cast of My Little Pony.
What exactly are we excited to see, anyway? The Looney Tunes' triumphant return to the big screen? Bugs Bunny and the rest of the mutant animals he hangs around with haven't spent the decades since Space Jam doing much of consequence. They made one more movie, Looney Tunes: Back In Action, which has been sitting in the used DVD bin of the 7-11 across the street from my apartment since I moved here last September. I have no idea if anyone under the age of 10 even knows who Bugs Bunny is, or why they would be excited to watch him play basketball with humans.
Speaking of humans, when did we decide that 2015 LeBron James was analogous to 1996 Michael Jordan? Wouldn't Kobe Bryant make more sense? I mean, there's obvious reasons why you wouldn't put Kobe Bryant in a children's movie, but LeBron James' involvement was what fueled the Space Jam 2 rumors to begin with. What is it about LeBron James that brought our nostalgia drives back to sputtering life? Is it because he has just as many endorsements as MJ, and thus seems a more natural fit to succeed His Airness in representing the Looney Tunes brand? Jordan himself obviously can't come back, because he's spent the past 20 years transforming into a crazy person.
Exhibit A: Hitler mustache.
And that's the thing -- Space Jam only exists because of Michael Jordan's endorsement deals. He made a series of Nike commercials starring Bugs Bunny in the early '90s. People liked them, so Warner Bros. decided to turn that concept into a movie. Furthermore, legendary Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones, one of the people most directly responsible for the tone and style of Bugs Bunny and all the supporting characters, allegedly hated Space Jam just as hard as he fucking could. So it wasn't like this film was a magical confluence of creative principles -- it was literally the visual definition of the term "selling out."
Tom is the long-awaited sequel to Enemy Mine. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.