Our Ten’s List: Best and Worst Movie Spin-Offs.
Spider-Man spin-off Venom is swinging through the box office, so we look at ten of the best – and worst – movie spin-offs.
Comic book franchises love to spin-off marketable characters. Quite often these side stories are dreadful, as our list documents. Venom is making big money, but it taking a big beating from critics. We round up five of the best movie spin-offs and five of the worst in an attempt to see what they have in common. It’s not just comic book films here, either: several high-profiled comedy franchises decided to develop side characters to both excellent and awful results, and a surprising number of animated films also handed the wheel to new characters. Yes, that is a reference to Disney’s Cars, which just narrowly missed making the list with Planes – a clunky wreck of rehashed material that deserved at least a dishonorable mention before being pushed aside by the likes of Catwoman and Wolverine Origins.
Worst Movie Spin-Offs.
5. American Pie Presents – Band Camp.
Original Series: American Pie.
Hey, remember when American Pie was a comedy Juggernaut? Remember that one-off joke they made about an amorous relationship with a flute? Did that sound like a solid premise for a whole ‘nother movie? Yeah, I didn’t think so either!
In the 2000’s, American Pie was the comedy franchise to beat. Four main-series films also gave rise to four direct to DVD spin-offs. The first was Band Camp, a sophomoric and juvenile side story that featured none of the characters or comedic talent of the original films (yes I say that despite Eugene Levi being in both series…statement still stands…) It’s jokes were lame and recycled, the cast was lacking the charm of the main series, and the straight-to-video lack of polish was glaring. Band Camp isn’t the worst of the American Pie Presents films, but it was the first which is good enough for a spot on the list.
Original Series: Batman.
When we attempted to answer the age old question of “How Bad Is?” Catwoman, I actually kind of liked it…but I can totally see why most people hated its guts. Catwoman does pretty much everything wrong as a spin-off. It totally reworks the character being spun-off into an unrecognizable iteration. It has no connection at all to the original franchise. It disregards source material and canon. Finally, it has a tone and style that is wholly alien to the originals.
Catwoman not only doesn’t follow up on Michelle Pfiefer’s excellent outing as Selina Kyle in Batman Returns, it feels as if the film makers hadn’t bothered to even see that version. Or read the comic book versions, either. While Hale Berry can make many bad movies disappear with her disarming smile, the sheer oddity of this film and its “who is this even for?” tonal dissonance meant Catwoman definitely lost several of her nine lives thanks to this outing.
Original Series: The Mummy.
The Mummy was a jaunty, goofy action comedy starring Brendan Frasier. Its unique charm was a dedication to camp and homage to the original Universal monster movies of Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff. Of course Universal Studios saw that the franchise was making money and decided to spin-off a relatively minor character into The Scorpion King – a roid-raged sword and sandals action flick that took itself way too seriously.
If The Scorpion King had waited it out a decade, it would probably have done better. First, the big, red bull fueled, historical epic film really came back into vogue during that time. Second, The Rock had developed into the kind of action star who could sell any project based on charisma and name recognition. Back in 2002, The Scorpion King was his first leading role, and his overblown WWE stylings only compounded the film’s failings. The dubious production values and laughable CG of The Mummy series was a bonus in a schlocky feature; in The Scorpion King it just pointed out how “not ready for prime time” the whole affair was.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Original Series: X-Men.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is another horrendous spin-off from a comic book inspired series. Much like Catwoman, the studio completely botched a beloved character with a strong track record in previous films. Unlike Catwoman, Origins seems to have been trying too hard to own its source material instead of run away from it.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to remain faithful to the 50 plus years of Wolverine’s back story, and shows what a mess trying to mimic that much accreted material can be. Logan‘s mystique for much of his series was that he was a near-total enigma. Marvel doled out his story in drips and drabs, always with the caveat that even Wolverine himself could not properly remember his origin. Honestly, once Marvel nailed down his backstory, the character lost a lot of cool, mostly because the result was a mix of prosaic cliches and mindbogglingly unbelievable melodrama. This translated onto the screen as a project that felt both rushed and overstuffed, with wild tone problems. Add to this the baffling decision to mangle a fan favorite character, Deadpool, in favor of being “gritty” and “realistic”, and you get a spin-off that managed to please nobody.
Original Series: Daredevil.
Spinning-off comic book characters is usually a perilous proposition. There’s an original franchise, so you have to calculate how faithful in tone and story to that you want to be. Likewise, the character has been seen before, so you have to decide what bits of that portrayal you are going to keep or chuck. Finally, the spin-off character is usually a less central or well-known character. How much do you bank on people wanting an origin story for a minor character, or do you skip it?
The makers of Elektra saw the pitfalls on either side of these decisions and decide to fall down both holes simultaneously. It acknowledged the first Daredevil movie, but then hand-waved away any meaningful connection with it. Instead of keeping the character as a righteous anti-hero, Elektra becomes a fairly vanilla hero. In the comics, she’s a tragic figure because of her backstory; in the film she’s a tragic figure because the plot keeps victimizing her. Her story is one of the more sordid and emotionally fraught in the Marvel universe, but the film picks and chooses interesting bits that don’t add up to a coherent plot. Magic, ninjas, secret societies, mysticism, and resurrection all go into a visual and storytelling blender and come out as a mess. Seeing as Daredevil was a dud with audiences and critics, this ill advised spin-off was already starting in the hole.
Best Movie Spin-Offs.
5. Beauty Shop.
Original Series: Barbershop.
Beauty Shop is nearly the perfect blueprint for making a comedy spin-off. It shares much of the same premise and style of the parent series, but explores the material with a new perspective. If you liked Barbershop, there’s a high probability you’ll like Beauty Shop. Queen Latifah is the perfect person to helm the new franchise – both as a box office draw and a character from the original who stole nearly every scene she was in. Given her popularity in the early 2000’s, it was a no brainer to give her her own vehicle. Critics panned the film as too close in substance and style to the originals, but missed the point of a good spin-off: keep what works but revitalize it with a fresh angle on the story.
4. Shaun the Sheep.
Original Series: Wallace and Gromit.
Like the #5 film, Shaun the Sheep shares a style with its predecessor, this time in the form of visual aesthetics. Besides the quirky and whimsical claymation style of Nick Park’s work, however, Shaun is a much different animal when compared to Wallace and Gromit. The main series is a bit old fashioned and avuncular, while Shaun the Sheep is less restrained. You could call it edgier…or about as close to edgy as you can get with a PG cartoon starring a clay sheep. The antagonist of Shaun the Sheep wants to murder him, after all!
The pacing is faster, the jokes less goofy, and the writing is much more clever. There are all sorts of references peppered through-out the film to draw smiles from adults while the story works to keep kids entertained. Having seen quite a few of Park’s films during my time teaching, I’ve always appreciated the style while being relatively bored by the old-fashioned humor. Shaun the Sheep shakes free of that dowdiness to great effect and makes a film that is good for kids and grown-ups.
3. U.S. Marshals.
Original Series: The Fugitive.
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel with a spin-off. Sometimes, all you need to do is put some high-traction studs on those wheels and let em rip. The follow up to The Fugitive feels so much like the first film that you’d be forgiven for thinking they just remade it with Wesley Snipes instead of Harrison Ford. This winds up playing to all of the strengths of the first film, while augmenting it with more physicality.
The Fugitive, based on a TV drama, wound up gaining fame not for its dramatic story of a man trying to clear his name while hunting the real perpetrator of his wife’s death, but for its big action sequences and the antagonistic cat-and-mouse interaction of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. More people can remember the iconic jump from a waterfall or from the derailed prison train than the final revelation of who killed Dr. Kimble’s wife. To improve on that formula, U.S. Marshals just tells a virtually identical story with Snipes in the role of the fugitive, allowing the studio to go all out on the big stunts. It may not be the most enlightened spin-off plot, but it gives us another go around with a franchise that seemed impossible to get a sequel out of.
2. Puss in Boots.
Original Series: Shrek.
Another great strategy for a good spin-off is to find a character who is the antithesis of the main series’ lead and let the change in personality drive the property in new places. It worked to good effect in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty: let Steve Carrell’s sad-sack character explore the material and world in ways Jim Carrey’s blustery chatterbox never could. In Puss in Boots, we get to further delve into the fanciful world of Shrek in a way the big green lug never could.
Shrek as a franchise is dominated by Mike Myers titular protagonist. Much of the humor, character interactions, and plot lines all arise from Shrek being such a sarcastic curmudgeon. He detests adventure, so he’s always the reluctant hero. Puss, on the other hand, craves adventure. He’s suave and over-confident and seeks out characters and locations that just wouldn’t make sense for Shrek. He opens up new material for story and jokes. With Shrek having become so established, Puss in Boots is a breath of fresh air that retains the magic of the original while being its own creature.
Original Series: Rocky.
There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than sequels…except maybe reboots. Sequels let you build on recognizable characters, while reboots let you revisit faded glory. A good spin-off can do both, without the stigma that has attached itself to sequels and reboots. Creed is a masterclass in recapturing the glory of a franchise’s prime years and keeping memorable characters, but also being free to do new things.
At first blush, Creed is just Rocky with a new protagonist. Dig deeper, and you see that Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) allows Sylvester Stallone to keep the most vital parts of the first film while exploring new ground, all without having to sacrifice any of the lore like a reboot. Creed is more than a clone of the Italian Stallion; he shares broad-stroke characteristics like being an underdog, an unknown, and a rags-to-riches story. He differs in the fact of his pedigree, the self-destructive drive of his ambition, and the idiosyncrasy of his identity. Creed allows the franchise to embrace its best moments while also doing something new. It’s a great film on its own, but being a spin-off gives it history and legacy that imbues Creed with added depth. It will be interesting to see if the series can maintain walking that knife’s edge of old versus new when the sequel drops later this year.