Why long-awaited sequels are never that good

[Note from the editor: This article is by prospective staff writer Nathan Kerner. Enjoy!]

It seems we’re currently living in a golden age of cinema; at least, that’s what the internet has been telling me. Personally, I don’t see it, but for those film fans out there who have been waiting a long, long time for sequels to their favorite movies, the immediate future certainly looks bright.

Not only is a new Star Wars movie coming out, but also a long-awaited sequel to Jurassic Park. A new Ghostbusters movie (or possibly even an entire universe) appears to be in the works, Neill Blomkamp is setting social media afire with his concept art for a new Alien movie, and Harrison Ford has reportedly signed up for a sequel to Blade Runner. If you’ve been waiting decades for the return of your favorite franchises, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleased by what’s coming in the next few years.

But there’s a much better chance you won’t, because it’s all going to be terrible.

The article continues after these advertisements...

I haven’t done the scientific analysis, but I do know one thing just through observation: long-awaited sequels, especially if that wait has been a decade or more, are never satisfying. They may not be entirely bad, but they never live up to expectations. So even though the internet is celebrating the return of several classic franchises, I can only roll my eyes with each new trailer that comes along.

Here are just a few reasons why you should take a deep breath and prepare for all the crushing disappointments just around the corner.

The original creative team is gone

Leaving aside the obvious example of Star Wars, let’s look at 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It continues the story of the previous two films, it’s centered around John Connor, it has Arnold Schwarzenegger back, and it finally shows us Judgment Day. By all measures, it should have been great. Except it was missing one key element: James Cameron.

Why long-awaited sequels are never that good

Cameron created the Terminator universe, so if anyone should have continued the story, it should have been him. Over a decade after T2 became the summer movie of 1991, along comes T3, which while not being terrible, just felt underwhelming. Director Jonathan Mostow displayed a sure hand with the action scenes, but lacked the ability to blend the fantastical elements with the more human moments.

James Cameron, in his early years, had a knack for those moments. His affection for the material and the characters is missing from Terminator 3, so really, what are we left with? A twelve-year wait punctuated by a film that can be summed up with, “eh, it’s alright, I guess.”

So when you get excited for the new Jurassic World trailer, remember that instead of Steven Spielberg, we’re getting a director who previously only made a romantic comedy with a budget that was maybe 1/100th of what the original Jurassic Park cost.

And I’m sure that many of you reading this are eager to point out cases where the original creative team did come back, only to drop the ball, such as with the Star Wars prequels. Which brings me to my next point.

Even if the original creative team returns, it doesn’t matter

Let’s talk about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Everyone was really excited for that movie, including me. And then it came out. Without even opening the whole George Lucas can of worms, it’s clear what happened to Spielberg and Harrison Ford in the 19 years since The Last Crusade: They got old.

Indiana Jones was awesome in the ‘80s because he was a man of action who always took on the big challenges by himself. At 65, Harrison Ford, while still game for the physical challenge, seemed to move a step slower, which would explain his expansive supporting cast in that movie.

Why long-awaited sequels are never that good

Meanwhile, Spielberg had come a long way from when he was the king of blockbusters in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He had made prestige films and won Oscars, and it would seem that when it came to Indy, Spielberg had simply moved on from the material. Coming back to it, he managed to get some of the feel right, but something was missing.

Filmmakers grow and change over the course of their careers. Spielberg has said that he would have changed the ending of Close Encounters if he were making it now, because fatherhood has altered his perspective on life, and he would never have Neary leave his family to go aboard the mothership. Basically, even if your long-awaited sequel has the same director, it still won’t be the same director. Just look at Prometheus. Remember how excited everyone got because Ridley Scott was coming back to the Alien franchise?

And even if your most beloved filmmakers were exactly the same people they were years or decades ago, that wouldn’t matter either, because…

Filmmaking has evolved, and the original movie’s cultural moment has passed

Star Wars, when it was released in 1977, changed the sci-fi genre. Science fiction films of the era were previously slow-paced, and laced with social commentary. There’s nothing wrong with that; it was just the aesthetic of the day. And Star Wars stood out because it was different. The prequels, on the other hand, were just another series of CGI-filled blockbusters that were heavy on effects but light on plot.

Why long-awaited sequels are never that good

In 1994, Jurassic Park had the most realistic looking dinosaurs audiences had ever seen on screen. Jurassic World will be just another film with CGI monsters running around. Filmmaking itself changes, which is why the original King Kong is still respected as a major special effects milestone, while Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake was mostly “meh”.

But the best example of this is John Carpenter’s The Thing and its 2011 prequel. Carpenter’s film was itself a remake, but its practical effects and puppet work were incredible, which enhanced the horror because everything looked so disgusting. The 2011 film, on the other hand, saw a lot of its practical effects either “enhanced” or completely replaced by CGI in post-production, and now no one but me seems to remember that film ever existed.

Why long-awaited sequels are never that good

These coming sequels appear to have garnered goodwill because of who’s involved, whether it be Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (how did the lovable, dimwitted goofball from Parks and Rec become A-list, anyway?) or J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII (even though his most accomplished film to date is the Star Trek reboot, which was a solid B-minus at best). But none of the people awaiting these films seem to have taken into account the history of disappointment that long-awaited sequels bring with them. They will more than likely be reminded very soon.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I can clearly remember being excited when I saw the trailer for a new Star Wars movie some 17 years ago, and we all know how that turned out.

You may also like...

  • So the answer is, “Unrealistic Expectations”.

    I never expect movies to knock my socks off, I go in with trepidation and hope that for roughly two hours I will be engaged enough with the story that I am distracted from my boring day to day life.

    I do not understand the strange hype-culture that fills the internet with constant negativity related to speculation about actor’s or directors and the inability to give things a chance based on… Nothing. People can’t build track records or surprise you if you do not give them a chance. For instance, while the new director of “Jurassic World” had only directed a romantic comedy, that is also true for the director duo of “Captain America: Winter Soldier”.

  • MichaelANovelli

    “…I can clearly remember being excited when I saw the trailer for a new Star Wars movie some 17 years ago, and we all know how that turned out.”

    Best movie in the series? I agree! ^_^

    • I sincerely believe Jar-Jar is underrated.

      • danbreunig

        He never got on my nerves as much as Nien Nunb did in ROTJ.

        • CaptainCalvinCat

          While I cannot sincerely say, that I know if you are being sarcastic or not – I can say, without the shadow of a doubt, that I don’t think Jar-Jar is that much of an annoyance. He obviously was planned for a much more younger audience to be a source of shenanigans – so I take it as that, shrug my shoulders and think “Well, he is not THAT bad. I have nothing against such a comedic element.”

          • danbreunig

            It wasn’t sarcasm. You said it quite well there, also he at least had some kind of a direct impact on SW history (i.e. he being duped into waiving executive power). Nien just sat and chuckled non-stop and annoyingly while Lando drove.

          • Jar-Jar was something viewers just latched onto, and aimed all of their vitriol at that really stemmed from their dislike of how the movie functions on a deeper, mechanical level.

      • Jan

        Dude, I just saw the retro video in which you said as much. I disagree but whatever. That cut from Young Anakin to Tommy Wiseau caught me completely off-guard. Hilarious! Well done!

        • Cheers, always nice to know people appreciate my work. My next one should be done before too long, though this one’s more serious and less funny.

  • Sardu

    I think beyond all your (good) points is the fact that they are all made for the wrong reasons. They get made to pander to nostalgia, and therein sucker us into the theater. As a result the storylines get mangled into places they should never go. If there was a compelling story to be told in a dead franchise- the franchise wouldn’t be freaking dead! Or on hiatus.

  • Danielle Osgan

    Hopefully this will not apply to “Go Set A Watchman”

  • Gallen_Dugall

    The more I thought about this article the more I disagree with it and think these sequels suck because they’re shallow cash grabs that have contempt for their audience who will go see anything with a familiar name slapped on it. No reason why a sequel should be horrible. For example the Star Wars prequels turned out better than they had any right to considering they were conceived as a way to underwrite special effects development and the scripts were written in an afternoon. In spite of this they’re not horrible they’re just kind of mediocre.

    • K-Man

      Agree. Although I think Prometheus was an honest attempt by Ridley Scott to inject something new into the Alien mythos, it just fell flat.

      • Gallen_Dugall

        I take the man at his word when he said he was doing these films to get work for young talent in the industry who he had mentored

  • Maxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    So Man in black 3 was Awsome

    • JD

      yes it was.

    • Chewbacca

      Maybe an extra rule here: Movies picking up after a dissapointing sequel could get it right. I am in the minority, but I am actually a fan of Terminator Salvation. This movie was about to continue the story, in favor of rehashing the old stories, as they did 2 times before, already. Well, seems like we’re in for the 3rd reboot, WITH A TWIST.

  • Cameron Vale

    Based on Cameron’s work in the Alien franchise, it seems much more evident that his Terminator movies were good simply because he was good, and not because he was the original guy. And while I didn’t like the prequels very much, I don’t see any compelling evidence that their critical decline is any more than a huge hype whiplash. Maybe sequels are just like regular movies, they have to stand on their own merits. Or as William Goldman once wrote, “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess—and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

    • Capt. Harlock

      I’m sorta looking-forward to “Avatar 2: Nuked from Orbit.”

  • R.D.

    I don’t expect the new Star Wars to be much more than on the level of one of the recent MCU films, but if they can do that, well, that’s fine by me.

    Though it’s not like sequels coming years after the last targeting those nostalgic for it can’t succeed, as Toy Story 3 did.

  • K-Man

    My gosh! It’s been 17 years since The Phantom Menace was released? I’m getting old.

  • danbreunig

    “…even if your most beloved filmmakers were exactly the same people they were years or decades ago, that wouldn’t matter either, because…Filmmaking has evolved…”

    It’s easy to fault filmmakers for why we can’t enjoy movie franchises as much as we want to anymore for the reasons you mentioned (not least of all the cash cow factor), but even if our favorite filmmakers and franchises technically get everything right, just the way we the audience individually and collectively want them, we’ll never be completely happy with the results. It’s because we ourselves–audience, moviegoers, or otherwise–are not the same people anymore. That film series you loved to death at age 7, 10, 16, 23, 58–as much as it fulfilled you at an earlier point in life and impacted you for the better–just won’t have the exact same pleasant impact on you anymore, because you’re no longer at that same point in life. It’s unrealistic to expect anything new in a favorite film franchise to bring you the same level of satisfaction it did when you were at a different point and perspective many years ago. Film making has evolved, and so have you and I.

  • JD

    I really dread a sequel to blade runner.
    every one involved is to old for the parts

  • The_Stig

    I won’t disagree with you, but in The Force Awakens’ case JJ Abrams and his crew would have to TRY to suck worse than the prequels.

  • Pingback: Why I’m not excited about Star Wars going on forever – the agony booth()