Sherlock Gnomes isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.
The movie industry is built on franchises. In 2017 alone, major studios released 31 sequels, from Thor: Ragnarok to Smurfs: The Lost Village to Johnny English 3. With numbers like those, they can’t all be hits. And indeed, the vast majority of Hollywood sequels are strange obscurities. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, there are 3 Alice Through the Looking Glasses. Most of these peculiar productions have entirely faded from collective memory, drowning in Wal-Mart bargain bins throughout the nation. We gathered a collection of a precious few to run down what went wrong and marvel at these shameless examples of Hollywood hubris.
Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2011)
There’s nothing that gets cartoon money signs exploding in studio executives’ eyes like a successful children’s movie. Pixar has spent the last few years revitalizing dormant franchises with long-delayed sequels; the pent-up anticipation for Finding Dory netted it more than a billion dollars at the box office. However, there was no pent-up anticipation for Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. A decade removed from the original, no one was lining up to find out what Beagle Tobey Maguire had been up to. And even if they had been, Kitty Galore features none of the original’s cast. The movie replaced Maguire and cat nemesis Sean Hayes with cheaper alternatives. The sequel also swapped out the hard-hitting Iraq War critiques of the original Cats & Dogs for subpar James Bond puns. The movie made over $100 million at the box office and still didn’t recoup its budget. Making CGI dog mouths flap unconvincingly is expensive, you guys.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)
The original Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is best known for being a sleeper hit in the early months of 2012. The movie made over ten times its $10 million budget. Most people in the United States know it as “that movie my mom mixes up with The Grand Budapest Hotel all the time.” But it’s also a charming little British romp with just a little bit of icky colonialist subtext. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, meanwhile, is the only sequel to openly advertise that it’s not as good as the original. It fared significantly worse than the original, and this is perhaps because audiences were prepared for diminishing returns as soon as the title was announced. There are some goofy hijinks involving a hotel inspector’s mistaken identity, some fairly genial comedy from a cast of British icons, and a typically grumpy Maggie Smith. As far as sequels go, it’s entirely inoffensive and forgettable in every way.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2010)
The first Percy Jackson movie was released in 2010, in the middle of the YA-adaptation boom brought about by the impending conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise. The first iteration of this franchise was a plodding tour through Greek mythology that felt like a tenth-grade homework assignment. The movie bore next to no resemblance to the relatively charming book it was adapted from. At least that film was granted some stylistic flourishes, though, thanks to director Chris Columbus, who also did the first two Harry Potter films. The sequel, directed by Diary of a Wimpy Kid helmer Thor Freudenthal, however, has none of the original’s messy charm. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters adds a charisma vacuum in the form of supporting character Cyclops’ half-brother, and trades Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean for split-second cameos from Stanley Tucci and…Nathan Fillion as the god of UPS? In 2013, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (Nice save on that impossibly long title, by the way) already felt ten years old.
Son of the Mask (2005)
There’s a pretty clear correlation between returning cast members from the original and the quality of a big-budget sequel. Son of the Mask is the perfect example. The original Mask starred Jim Carrey, riding high on a rubber-faced comedy wave that we really haven’t seen a hint of since. Son of the Mask replaces his character with one played by Jamie Kennedy, an actor whose Wikipedia page was almost certainly written by Jamie Kennedy himself (Seriously, it’s full of inner monologues with no citations. Only Jamie Kennedy could know what Jamie Kennedy was thinking when he was working as a host at Red Lobster). The only returning cast member from The Mask is Ben Stein in the briefest of cameos, and even that isn’t much of a coup, given that all Ben Stein does these days is wait to phone into Fox News at the first possible opportunity. Son of the Mask was a massive bomb, grossing less than half of its reported budget. Maybe next time, don’t replace the star of your movie with a less talented version of himself? Oops, sorry Evan Almighty, didn’t mean to offend.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
The Bourne Legacy is one of the more successful films on this list, against all odds. Above all, this is a relic of the brief, bizarre time in Hollywood history when studios decided that Jeremy Renner was the next big thing. Even Renner seemed kind of befuddled about it. Sure, he was the Oscar-nominated lead of The Hurt Locker, but why was everyone forcing him to play spies when he was so clearly not a leading man? Rumors that he was about to take over the Mission: Impossible franchise came to naught, but Renner did briefly seize control of another blockbuster franchise, headlining 2012’s Bourne-less Bourne sequel. The Bourne Legacy falls into a similar category with Son of the Mask; namely “Movies that massively misinterpreted the success of their predecessors.” Say what you will about Matt Damon‘s choices today, but these movies don’t work without him. Universal quickly figured that out, luring him back for 2016’s almost-as-lifeless Jason Bourne, and effectively erasing Renner’s contribution to the carefully maintained Bourne canon. Ironically, that move ensured that this relatively successful sequel would also be one of the most forgotten titles on this list.
Machete Kills (2013)
Robert Rodriguez is an acquired taste. The original Machete proved this beyond a doubt, rubbing audiences’ faces in a surreal orgy of exploitative violence. The movie was charming, in a bizarre way, but Rodriguez’s repeated claims that he had plans for an entire franchise of Machete films were less so. The second film added Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga to its nonsensical mess and failed to impress at the box office. The sequel lacked any of the original’s knack for shock value. So much for the pre-packaged advertisements for Machete Kills Again and Machete Kills Again… In Space.
Side note: The original Machete itself could be considered a forgotten sequel, given that its status as a sequel is barely acknowledged in most circles. But Danny Trejo‘s Machete first appeared in Rodriguez’s 2001 children’s film Spy Kids, as the titular kids’ uncle. This makes Machete and Machete Kills, at the very least, spin-offs of that hit franchise. All of this is complicated by the fact that the star of Spy Kids, Alexa Vega, costars in Machete Kills, playing a character who is not her Spy Kids character. I have been waiting to write about this confusing phenomenon for many years, and I continue to wait for Robert Rodriguez or Danny Trejo’s comment.
You’d think at this point Hollywood would have learned a lesson or two from at least a few of the movies on this list, but you’d be wrong. In 2017, we’ll get a Goosebumps sequel and a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo follow-up that replaces Rooney Mara with Claire Foy and leaps straight to the third Dragon Tattoo sequel. As long as Hollywood builds its foundations on intellectual property, there will be movies that consign themselves to the scrap heap of history simply by existing. Call it the Sherlock Gnomes principle.