Today, studios want films that are built for the long haul. The current approach: If your movie isn’t something that can be spun off into multiple sequels, then you might as well pack your bags and drive to Kickstarter. (We’re still holding out for a Fault in Our Stars sequel.) But the follow-ups we do get often fail to live up to their overinflated hype, relying on the same tired gags audiences were exposed to in the original (witness the new trailer for Dumb and Dumber To).
This weekend’s 22 Jump Street is Hollywood’s latest attempt to squeeze every bit of potential franchise juice they can out of a project that, initially, was a one-off comedy reboot. However, with this film, directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord are trying something many sequels avoid doing: They’re actively making fun of the process. “Ladies, nobody gave a shit about the Jump Street reboot,” barks Nick Offerman in the film’s trailer. “But you got lucky, so now this department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.”
Some critics have taken to calling theses types of movies “meta-sequels.” For Miller and Lord, the plan seems to have worked, proving that sometimes the best way to combat the cash-grab stereotype is to be as self-deprecating as possible — or perhaps write a script that isn’t complete trash.
This method doesn’t always work, but it can be fun when a movie tries it. Here’s a look back at a few other movies that couldn’t keep but point out that yes, jeez, they’re a sequel, so what?
Muppets Most Wanted
Muppets Most Wanted, the sequel to 2012’s critically acclaimed The Muppets, dives headfirst into insecurity with a song-and-dance number literally titled “We’re Doing a Sequel.” Sure, the Muppets have always been self-referential, but this scene is some next-level stuff: “We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood, and everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” sing Kermit and Company.
Back to the Future III
Not as outwardly self-aware as some of the other films on this list, Back to the Future III has a scene in which Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown decide to switch their patented catchphrases. Yes, we see what you guys did there.
The entire Scream franchise is Wes Craven’s meta-commentary on horror movies. Scream 2 and Scream 3 not only told audiences that sequels are often terrible, they even went to the trouble of re-creating a movie within the movie (called Stab) to hammer home their point. “Stab 2? Who would wanna do that? Sequels suck!” yells Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy, who solely exists for the purpose of spelling out the film’s plot points.
Once again: Jamie Kennedy. “Is this simply another sequel? Well, if it is, the same rules apply,” he says on a videotape he recorded before his murder in Scream 2. “If you find yourself dealing with an unexpected backstory and a preponderance of exposition, then sequel rules do not apply. Because you are not dealing with a sequel, you are dealing with the concluding chapter of a trilogy.”
Toy Story 2
Pixar movies are known for their Easter eggs. Hell, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them. While these moments are mostly about trying to connect each film to the greater Pixar universe, they do include the occasional meta-sequel reference, like this one in Toy Story 2. Having arrived at Al’s Toy Barn in search of Woody, Mr. Potato Head and friends end up taking a ride down the aisles with Tour Guide Barbie. At one point, they pass by a rack of Buzz Lightyear toys. As Barbie explains, “In 1995, shortsighted retailers did not order enough [Buzz Lightyear] toys to meet demand.” This is a reference to the aftermath of the first Toy Story. At the time, Disney had underestimated the success of the film, and thus created fewer product tie-ins than they should have. When Toy Story lit up the box office, parents soon found themselves empty-handed when their kids asked for Buzz Lightyear toys.
Wayne’s World 2
“That was just like the first movie!” says Garth in the trailer for Wayne’s World 2. Though the scene ended up getting cut from the final version, it does speak to the overall spirit of the movie and its tendency to break the fourth wall.
Airplane II: The Sequel
“I have the strangest feeling we’ve been through the exact same thing before,” Julie Hagerty says to Robert Hays in Airplane II: The Sequel. Well, it’s not the exact same thing. In the first movie, the airplane is on its way to Chicago. In the sequel, it’s heading to the moon.
In his review of the first Gremlins movie, critic Leonard Maltin called the movie “icky and gross.” For the second film, Maltin was asked to make a cameo appearance to reiterate his displeasure: “I know some people found this movie fun, but me, I’d rather spend two hours having root-canal work done. What’s fun about a movie full of ugly, slimy, mean-spirited, gloppy little monsters who run amok and attack innocent people?”
The critic is then promptly eaten.
Human Centipede 2
Tom Six’s follow-up to his vulgar, ass-to-mouth torture flick is anything but subtle when it comes to gore and self-awareness. The film is about a man who becomes obsessed with the first movie, watching it repeatedly and eventually replicating what’s onscreen. “It’s a film!” screams one of the lead character’s victims. “The Human Centipede is a film!”
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
The second Blair Witch movie looked to capitalize on the success of the original by explicitly referencing it over and over again. The plot, similar to that of Human Centipede 2 (without any ass-to-mouth moments that we can recall), features a group of 20-somethings who, inspired by the first movie, begin researching a book on the Blair Witch. However, not all are there for academic purposes. Some are just along for the ride. “If you don’t believe in the Blair Witch, then why the hell did you bother to come?” asks one of the group members. “I thought the movie was cool,” she responds.
Die Hard 2
“Man I don’t believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” When Die Hard 2 hit theaters in 1990, we were asking ourselves the same question.
Die Hard 4
Die Hard 4 was made exclusively of ‘splosions, Bruce Willis smirks, and quotes like this one: “I guess you’ve done this before.”
Smokey and the Bandit 2
A bonus self-referential sequel. Smokey and the Bandit 2, the follow-up to the ‘70s action classic, features Burt Reynolds hawking a song called “Let’s Do Something Cheap and Superficial,” a thinly veiled reference to the fact that they’re even doing a sequel in the first place. Unfortunately, the song is never actually sung onscreen. However, you can listen to it here: