The Non-Sequel Actors

Next weekend sees the release of two high-profile sequels: The Equalizer 2 and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. The pair of part II’s have something rather interesting in common: they serve as the first sequels that their stars Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep have ever appeared in. Pretty surprising huh? Both have been mega-stars for decades and have never followed up on a character until now.

This got me thinking: what other major actors have never been in a sequel? And it’s not an easy list to cobble together.

Some actors are known for their cases of sequelitis. We know Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in a multitude of them, including Marvel Cinematic Universe pics and franchises ranging from Star Wars to xXx to Incredibles. He was John McClane’s sidekick in Die Hard with a Vengeance. And looking early in his filmography, 1990 saw him appearing in The Exorcist III and The Return of Superfly. There’s also Patriot Games from 1992 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 from 2004. Son of Shaft will be out next year. Dude loves his m****f***ing sequels!

Sylvester Stallone has made a career of out of them. Creed II will mark his 15th sequel by my count. There’s the Rocky, Rambo, and Expendables series and there’s also Staying Alive (which he directed and had a cameo in), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the just released Escape Plan 2: Hades.

Eddie Murphy has returned in the following series: 48 Hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, The Nutty Professor, Dr. Dolittle, and Shrek. There could be a part II of Coming to America on the horizon.

Harrison Ford has the famous series like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the Jack Ryan pictures. There’s also More American Graffiti, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and last year’s Blade Runner 2049.

OK, back to thespians who don’t constantly appear in sequels. Leonardo DiCaprio? Well, who can forget one of his first roles as Josh in 1991’s Critters 3? 

Matthew McConaughey has a similar situation. Since he’s become known, no sequels (not even returning in Magic Mike XXL). Yet one of his first roles was in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. 

Unlike his 80s comedic counterparts Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, and Steve Martin (all in plenty of them), I couldn’t immediately think of any sequel that John Candy did. Yet he provided a voice-over in the 1990 Disney animated follow-up The Rescuers Down Under. 

With Marlon Brando, I guess it depends on how you look at it. He refused to come back for a flashback cameo in The Godfather Part II. Yet he did appear in 2006’s Superman Returns… with a caveat. That footage was culled completely from his work nearly three decades earlier in Superman and it happened two years after his death.

So here’s the deal… it is really tough to come up with performers in the modern age who haven’t appeared in at least one sequel. However, here’s five of them and feel free to list others in the comments!

Warren Beatty

He’s famously picky about his projects and he’s never played the same man twice. There were rumors that he wanted to do another Dick Tracy, but it never materialized.

Annette Bening

Beatty’s wife has had a long and distinguished career free of sequels. She was originally cast as Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns but dropped out due to pregnancy.

Russell Crowe

The Oscar winner has yet to return to a role, though I’d certainly sign up for The Nice Guys II. P.S. – I do not count Man of Steel as a sequel.

Jodie Foster

She declined to return as Clarice Starling in 2001’s Hannibal after an Oscar-winning turn in The Silence of the Lambs ten years earlier. That was her biggest chance at a sequel and there are none before or after.

Jake Gyllenhaal

His first role was as Billy Crystal’s son in City Slickers, but he was nowhere to be found for part II or any other sequel. However, that long streak ends next summer with Spider-Man: Far From Home.

And there you go! As I said, feel free to chime in with your own non-sequel actors…

Ranking the Superhero Summers

We’re past the midway point of the 2017 summer box office and one thing is clear: it’s been a rather terrific season for the superhero flick genre. In fact, there’s a very good chance the summer’s top 3 earners will belong in that classification. That’s not the first time this has happened (more on that later), but it’s still pretty remarkable.

This got me thinking – what have been the greatest and worst superhero summers of this 21st century? After all, it was the summer of 2000 that got the superhero genre alive and kicking again and it’s never let up. 17 summers ago, it was the release of X-Men that helped revive a genre that had hit a low point three summers earlier with Batman & Robin. In 2002, it would be Spider-Man that would set the opening weekend record and ensure that no summer following would be missing some comic book character headlining. **2001 is the only summer of this century in which there’s no superhero pic.

This leads to my newest list: ranking the superhero summers with explanations provided below. We’re talking 17 summers, so I’m counting down from the worst to the best in my humble opinion.

17. 2009

The Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Just one flick in this particular summer. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had just kicked off the year before, so there was no follow-up ready. Instead, we got Wolverine’s first spin-off and it’s the worst of the whole bunch by a significant margin.

16. 2007

The Movies: Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

The third Spidey entry closed the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire on a very weak note and the Four sequel was none too impressive either (to be expected after a middling at best predecessor).

15. 2010

The Movie: Iron Man 2

Tony Stark’s return to the screen after 2008’s juggernaut suffered from being overstuffed with two many villains, etc… One of the lesser MCU entries.

14. 2006

The Movies: X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns

Two pics that failed to meet expectations – The Last Stand suffered a big quality drop-off after the second X and Superman Returns (the first Supes flick in nearly 20 years) couldn’t live up to the hype.

13. 2015

The Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four

Disappointing as it featured two of the weaker MCU entries and a seriously misguided Fantastic Four reboot.

12. 2013

The Movies: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine

IM3 was an improvement over part 2, The Wolverine was an improvement over Origins. Man of Steel? A letdown in many respects, just like Superman Returns.

11. 2004

The Movies: Spider-Man 2, Catwoman

Would probably rank higher because Spidey 2 is arguably the best of the bunch, but loses points due to the catastrophe that is Halle Berry as Catwoman.

10. 2016

The Movies: Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse 

A mixed bag. Civil War is one of the finer MCU pics, Squad is that mixed bag, and Apocalypse was a major disappointment.

9. 2003

The Movies: X2: X-Men United, Hulk

X2 is perhaps the strongest X entry, but Ang Lee’s Hulk (while having its moments) was often a pretentious bore.

8. 2000

The Movie: X-Men

Only X-Men in this summer, but it deserves props for kicking off the genre in a major way once again.

7. 2002

The Movie: Spider-Man

Even more than X-Men, Sam Raimi’s first Spidey ensured a heaping of genre entries for years to come.

6. 2014

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Guardians was pure joy, Past was a solid X pic. Loses points for the mess of a Spidey sequel.

5. 2005

The Movies: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four

OK, so Fantastic Four was not so good. Yet this is in my top 5 because Batman Begins not only kicked off the heralded Nolan trilogy, but it’s my personal fave superhero pic of the century.

4. 2011

The Movies: Thor, Captain America: First Avenger, X-Men: First Class

Though not of these flicks are great, they’re all solid in my view. Thor and Captain helped usher in the MCU era as we know it and First Class rebooted its franchise in a pleasing way.

3. 2012

The Movies: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man

Avengers is the granddaddy of MCU, Rises ended up the trilogy in a mostly satisfactory manner while Spidey was a slight letdown (though miles better than its sequel). As referenced earlier, these 3 pictures would mark the highest 3 earners of that season.

2. 2017

The Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Three highly entertaining and well-done entries that marked the first super-heroine success.

1. 2008

The Movies: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Knight is considered by many to be the genre’s artistic peak and Iron Man was a fine start to a franchise that just keeps charging along. Incredible was a more satisfying (though still flawed) Hulk pic than five years earlier and Guillermo del Toro brought his visual splendor and humor once again to the Hellboy series. A rather easy pick for #1.

Or is it? What are your thoughts on the superhero summers?

Summer 2006: The Top Ten Hits and More

Last week, I brought you top ten summer movies – along with other notable pics and flops – of 1996. Now it’s time to recount what was before our collective eyeballs 10 summers ago in 2006.

As I do with these lists, we’ll count down the top ten and then mention some others that made their mark, both positively and negatively.

10. The Devil Wears Prada

Domestic Gross: $124 million

Meryl Streep received her 267th Oscar nomination (or something like that) for this hit comedy which also helped break Anne Hathaway out of Princess Diaries mode.

9. Mission: Impossible III

Domestic Gross: $134 million

It may be in the top ten, but part 3 of this franchise that has now five entries is by far the lowest grosser (making $81 million less than part 2). This did give J.J. Abrams his first big directorial break and, as you may know, he’s moved forward with some other well-known franchises.

8. Click

Domestic Gross: $137 million

10 years later, he may be relegated to Netflix territory, but the critically drubbed Click gave us Adam Sandler when he still had no problem reaching the century club and then some.

7. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Domestic Gross: $148 million

Of the five Will Ferrell/Adam McKay collaborations, Ricky still stands as the highest grosser of them all. It’s first, not last.

6. Over the Hedge

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Dreamworks animated raccoon tale was a nice hit, even if it didn’t approach Shrek territory.

5. Superman Returns

Domestic Gross: $200 million

Coming nearly 20 years after the latest Supes flick, Superman Returns was Bryan Singer’s eagerly awaited reboot of the franchise. Yet its $200 million domestic gross was definitely on the lower end of expectations and critics and audiences were a bit disappointed. Seven years later, it would be rebooted once again with Man of Steel.

4. The Da Vinci Code

Domestic Gross: $217 million

Tom Hanks and Ron Howard teamed up for this adaptation of Dan Brown’s mega-selling novel and box office returns were heavenly, even if critics were quite mixed. Two sequels – 2011’s Angels & Demons and this fall’s Inferno – followed.

3. X-Men: The Last Stand

Domestic Gross: $234 million

Brett Ratner took over this franchise from Bryan Singer (busy with Superman) for film #3. Its reputation now is in tatters and is widely considered a mediocre experience at best. That said, it’s the highest grossing X pic domestically of all time – a full $1 million ahead of 2014’s Days of Future Past.

2. Cars

Domestic Gross: $244 million

It isn’t considered one of the greatest Pixar pics, but it still managed to pace second in summer 2006. The Paul Newman voiced effort would spawn two sequels – one in 2011 and the next coming in summer 2017.

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Domestic Gross: $423 million

This summer features a Johnny Depp sequel flop (Alice Through the Looking Glass), but 10 years ago – he was the king of the summer with this follow-up to 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl. It easily blew all competition away.

And now for some other notable movies of the season:

Little Miss Sunshine

Domestic Gross: $59 million

This little indie comedy/drama became a critics darling and struck a chord with audiences and Oscar voters. It was nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Abigail Breslin), and gave Alan Arkin a win in Supporting Actor.

An Inconvenient Truth

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Former Vice-President Al Gore’s feature-length slideshow on global warming was a massive hit as documentaries go (it currently stands at 10th all-time).

And now for the flops of summer ’06:

Miami Vice

Domestic Gross: $63 million

Based on the iconic 80s cop show and directed by its creator Michael Mann, Miami Vice suffered from a reported troubled production and grossed less than half of its $135 million budget.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Domestic Gross: $62 million

This is the one and only example of a Furious flick being listed as a flop as the series would majorly rebound when Paul Walker and Vin Diesel returned for part 4 a few years later.

Poseidon

Domestic Gross: $60 million

Audiences didn’t get on board for director Wolfgang Peterson’s remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, grossing just $60 million domestically compared to its $160 million budget.

Lady in the Water

Domestic Gross: $42 million

This is when it really started to go downhill for M. Night Shyamalan. Critics ridiculed it and it broke his streak of four hits in a row (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village).

Snakes on a Plane

Domestic Gross: $34 million

The trailer got all kinds of publicity with Samuel L. Jackson expressing his displeasure at what was going on in the title. That buzz didn’t end up translating into much, however.

The Wicker Man

Domestic Gross: $23 million

OK, it’s another Nic Cage bomb, but it would gain notoriety later for this gem of a clip…

And that’ll do it for now, my friends! Next summer, you can be sure I’ll be bringing you a recap of summers 1997 and 2007!

Top 25 Best Movie Trailers (1990-2015): Nos. 20-16

We continue to day 2 of my personal favorite movie trailers of the last 25 years and this brings us to numbers 20-16.

Let’s go:

20. Mission: Impossible (1996)

For a budding film franchise starring the biggest movie star in the world at the time, the trailer for Mission: Impossible sets expectations very high with this electric spot and it’s delivered in the form of five pictures and counting.

19. Godzilla (1998)

I actually considered the very effective trailer for the superior 2014 version, but this true teaser doesn’t use a minute of footage from the eventual (highly disappointing) 1998 flick and it manages to be an example of expert marketing for getting an audience’s anticipation sky high.

18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Using Trent Reznor’s killer version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, the teaser for David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo promises the “feel bad” movie of Christmas in a glorious and fast paced ad that serves as one example of many wonderful Fincher trailers.

17. Jurassic Park (1993)

We may forget now after four entries in the franchises, but the trailer here gave us our first glimpse of Spielberg’s dinos in all their glory and that alone merits inclusion.

16. Superman Returns (2006)

I struggled with whether to include the fine trailer for the 2013 Man of Steel reboot instead, but this one hearkens brilliantly back to the 1978 Superman with its Marlon Brando voice-over and rich visuals.

And tomorrow – we’ll get to numbers 15-11!

The Superman We Never Saw

When you’ve got yourself a documentary about a major Hollywood production that never ended up being made and its director Tim Burton isn’t the most eccentric individual being interviewed, you’re probably in for something fascinating. And so it is with The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?, which tells the tale of why Burton’s proposed reimagining of the Man of Steel never made it to the screen.

The more eccentric character is by far Jon Peters, the mega producer who had successfully worked with Burton to bring Batman to the masses in 1989. The two were deep into pre-production on the late 1990s Superman Lives project before the plug was pulled and some of this doc’s greatest moments involve Peters being interviewed and, even more so, other people talking about him. Peters started out as Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser before becoming a major producing player. We hear tales of Peters’ insistence on having a giant spider featured in the film, his preference on having scripts read to him while he lays on the couch, his proclivity for putting employees in headlocks and trying out his jiu jitsu moves on underlings.

There’s a lot more to the story of how Superman Lives died and director/writer Jon Schnepp explores it in great detail here. This documentary has had its own difficult history in finally being released and it was partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The Supes reboot went through three screenwriters during its gestation: Kevin Smith at first, who brought his comic book geek sensibility before being jettisoned by Warner Bros brass, Peters, and Burton; Wesley Strick, who would eventually suffer the same fate; and its final writer Dan Gilroy, who would go onto direct my favorite pic of last year, Nightcrawler. Nicolas Cage was to star in the title role and there’s even fascinating footage of him trying on the iconic Superman costume, which the doc spends a lot of time talking delving into. In the late 1990s, Cage seemed like a fairly logical choice as he was coming off an Oscar for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and headlining A list action projects like The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off.  In other words, it was a few years prior to Cage seemingly accepting every single script that came his way. Other casting choices are discussed, including Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen, Christopher Walken as Brainiac, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (that actor would go onto play him in 2006’s Superman Returns).

What emerges from the documentary is a film about a film never made (it was three weeks away from shooting) that probably would’ve been something to behold. Would it have been good? Hard to say. The two subsequent Superman reboots that would follow years later (the aforementioned Superman Returns and 2013’s Man of Steel) were both rather disappointing in my view and many comic book lovers felt the same way. Burton’s track record over the last quarter century has been hit and miss. While his take on Batman was a rousing success, his “reimagining” of Planet of the Apes in 2001 left much to be desired. What’s clear is that it would have been a much different Superman than we’ve ever seen and would have looked a whole lot different (the long portions about its production design are quite intriguing).

One important through line that runs in the doc is the fact that Superman Lives was by no means guaranteed massive success in the late 1990s. We must remember that it wasn’t until the turn of the century that 2000’s X-Men truly helped usher in the golden age of comic book flicks that we’ve seen steadily over the last 15 years. When this project was gestating, 1997’s Batman and Robin had essentially killed that Caped Crusader franchise until Chris Nolan brought it back to life eight years later. Warner Bros. was nervous about a similar fate for Burton’s new project. Ironically, it was Batman and Robin director Joel Schumacher who killed Burton’s Batman series and helped pump the brakes on Burton’s budding Superman picture.

For comic book lovers, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? will be a treasure trove of intel on why this project never saw the light of day. Yet for movie fans in general, it provides key insight into how movies are made… and how some aren’t made. And how its possibly crazy main producer was obsessed with spiders and jui jitsu.