Judd Apatow's This Is 40 is being dubbed as "semi-sequel," a clever buzzword that, when defined in the official Hollywood.com Reboot Glossery, basically boils down to "spin-off." Which is not a bad thing: as Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann have escaped the supporting character confines of Knocked Up to star in their own comedy vehicle, so have many other characters and actors since the beginning of film history.
In anticipation of Hollywood's latest spin-off, we take a look back at where the trend came from and where it's going from here….
The Early Days of Spin-offs
In the turn of the 20th Century, movies were even more episodic than they are today, with serials dominating the theaters. Genres of every kind had films slowly released over time, but rarely did they "spin-off" in the traditional sense. Eventually, silent stars like Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd would help spin-off newcomers into their own movies. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, not specific characters they played, became franchise lynchpins. Later, Universal's horror movies would become a steady stream of almost-kinda-sorta spin-offs, as was the case with 1936's Dracula's Daughter, which continues the events of the Bela Lugosi 1931 Dracula from the perspective of his next of kin. Spin-off or sequel? In the heyday of cinema, it was murkier territory.
Charters and Caldicott
Was Hitchcock the first to film a true spin-off? Actors Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne first appeared as their alter egos Charters and Caldicott in the director's 1938 thriller The Lady Vanishes, before being revived for his 1940 film A Night Train to Munich. The duo aren't the main characters of either movie — Margaret Lockwood actually stars in both, but as different characters, adding to the confusion. Obviously, people saw the continued use of the characters as reason to bring them back for more adventures: 1941's Crook's Tour put Charters and Caldicott at center stage, appearing in 1943's Millions Like Us, and the two were nearly included in The Third Man before being combined into a new character.
The Comic Book Movies
TV spin-offs were commonplace throughout the 20th Century, but 1984's Supergirl marks the beginning of movie spin-offs' fruitful life. The movie follows Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian like Superman who also escaped the planet's blast. She heads to Earth — complete with Superman insignia-branded threads — and saves the day from an evil witch. Marc McClure, who played Jimmy Olsen in the 1979 Superman, returns for the movie, the only actor thread linking the two.
Superhero movies are prime for spin-offs, and Hollywood is certainly aware of the potential. Elektra spun off of Daredevil, Halle Berry sent the drowning Batman franchise plummeting even further with Catwoman, and Hugh Jackman has continued to own the silver screen version of Marvel's Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the upcoming The Wolverine. With characters out the wazoo and room for cameos to act as testing grounds for new franchises, spin-offs may end up being more prevalent than ever.
With intricate mythologies and ever-growing ensembles, comic book movies are easy to spin off. Everything else? A wee bit harder.
But studios have tried: five years after winning a Best Supporting Oscar for his work on The Fugitive, Warner Bros. brought Tommy Lee Jones back for another round of law enforcing in U.S. Marshals. No Dr. Richard Kimble to be found — Jones was now the star, chasing Wesley Snipes as guilty-until-proven-innocent man on the run. In more reasonable territory, producers found luck in back story (and The Rock's popularity) by prequelizing The Mummy Returns with the Dwayne Johnson-led Scorpion King. Robert Rodriguez took his faux-trailer for 2008's Machete from the movie Grindhouse and spun it off into a full length feature in 2011. With the added time afforded by the feature-length format, the world was granted a Lindsey Lohan nude scene (for what that's worth).
As This Is 40 proves, there's more flexibility in spinning off comedy than in drama. Not every movie would make sense to have a sequel. But as long as there's one character worth paying attention to, Hollywood has worked their alchemy to keep the "franchise" going. After outshining her male costars in Barbershop 2, Queen Latifah had her own salon story: Beauty Shop. Can't get Jim Carrey to come back for a sequel to the ubersuccessful Bruce Almighty? Not an issue, Steve Carrell can try his hand at another Biblical story with Evan Almighty. And This Is 40 isn't the first time Apatow's noticed the spin-off potential of his characters — in Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand's breakout character Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall is given the star treatment.
The Future of Spin-Offs
The future is bright for spin-offs. Comic book movies continue to gain steam, while long-gestating projects never seem to disappear (see: Tom Cruise's Lev Grossman Tropic Thunder spin-off never failing to revive itself just when we though it was dead). Then there's the case of Star Wars, now in the hands of Disney, who plan to release two to three adventures in a galaxy far, far away per year starting in 2015. They've already hired writers, and the rumors are that the plan is all about spin-offs.
With all the off-shoots in the works, Hollywood is iterating at fractal-like speed, continuing a trend that's been evolving for 100 years.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures; 20th Century Fox]
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When pharmaceuticals baron Tony (Bruce Greenwood) charters a private cruise from Greece to Italy to please his spoiled wife Amber (Madonna) she is not exactly impressed by the converted fishing boat and its lack of modern amenities. She complains constantly and bosses the crew around especially the ship's first mate Guiseppe (Adriano Giannini) at whom she constantly snaps her fingers while hollering commands. But when the motor gives out on the dingy Guiseppe uses to take Amber to explore underwater caves the two find themselves stranded at sea and eventually stuck on a deserted island. The tide turns as Amber with no survival skills whatsoever must now depend on Guiseppe and when the power shifts so do their feelings for one another. Their first few days on the island are funny enough and it's great to see Guiseppe bossing Amber around making her fetch firewood and wash his clothes. But the movie begins to drag when their relationship blossoms and we must endure different montages of them cuddling and playing charades. How the story turns out however is interesting enough.
Madonna has many admirable talents. Unfortunately acting is not one of them. While I understand it is difficult for Madonna to transcend well being Madonna the pop icon doesn't help matters on the big screen. Rather than get into character Madonna tends to mold characters after herself like Abbie in The Next Best Thing with those golden Pre-Raphaelite curls. Here as the spoiled socialite Amber Madonna once again looks and acts like Madonna. (In fact there is a picture of Madonna in recent issue of Us magazine wearing the same outfit--black trousers blue pinstriped shirt--she wears in a scene from Swept Away). And next to Giannini whose mannerisms are genuine and unpretentious Madonna comes across as stiff and unnatural. Believe it or not the film's best interactions come from the captain played by Yorgo Voyagis and his two chefs.
You have to admire director Guy Ritchie for stepping away from his trademark style of direction and diving into a completely different genre. Gone are the freeze frames the slow motion/fast forward action shots and the voiceover narration. Ritchie went from the intricate plots of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch to a simplistic and straightforward adaptation of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 movie except this one is in English and has much less sex and violence. With corny lines like "Run my little vixen run " the film walks too fine a line between being an old-fashioned romance and being just plain absurd. Swept Away also feels as though it is trapped in a time warp. There are references to modern-day luxuries like cell phones but the characters look and act like they are straight out of the '70s from Madonna's Pucci-inspired blouses and scarves to her Jackie O. look-alike shipmate. And while the story of a woman falling in love with a man who beats her into submission may have worked 25 years ago it certainly doesn't fly today.
Young R&B star Aaliyah will finally rest in peace after her family holds a private funeral service for her on Friday in Manhattan, the funeral home told Reuters on Wednesday.
Although the last details are still being worked out by the Frank W. Campbell Funeral Home and Virgin Records, Campbell's general manager said the funeral will be private. He added that Aaliyah's family had had private visitations and that there were no plans for a wake.
A public service is also being scheduled for Friday, Aaliyah's label, Blackground Records' spokesperson told Reuters. No details where or when it would take place were discloses, although New York is a likely choice. An announcement is expected Thursday night.
Aaliyah's body was flown back to the U.S. on Tuesday on a private jet that transported her from Nassau, Bahamas to New Jersey's Newark International Airport, People magazine reported.
Fans of Aaliyah are still mourning the death of the 22-year-old singer as they hold candlelight vigils in her memory and run to music stores to buy her CDs. Aaliyah's third self-titled release, suffered a significant bump in the album charts this week.
Aaliyah leapt ahead eight places to 19 as sales increased by 41%, according to SoundScan on Wednesday. Industry observers expect higher sales over the course of the week, Reuters reports.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the plane crash that killed Aaliyah and eight others.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the pilot of the Cessna 402 argued that the chartered plane was overloaded and had trouble getting one of the engines started.
The twin-engine plane that crashed in the Bahamas may have been overloaded by at least 700 pounds, Bahamian police sources told Reuters on Wednesday. Investigators derived that figure by weighing the victim's bodies and the baggage covered from the wreckage and calculating the weight of fuel aboard the plane.
On Wednesday, The Miami Herald reported that the pilot, Luis Morales III, 30, was given probation after he pleaded no contest to possession of cocaine just 12 days before the tragedy after police found a small amount of crack cocaine in his car. Morales also pleaded no contest to earlier charges of dealing in stolen property and a third-degree grand theft.
Morales, who had been hired by the charter just two days before the crash, wasn't authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly the plane for the operator, U.S. aviation officials said Tuesday.
FAA records show that Blackhawk International Airways is cleared to fly charters under a single-pilot certificate, but according to Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the FAA in Atlanta, Morales wasn't on the name authorization papers.
Morales apparently held a commercial pilot's certificate to fly multiengine aircraft with instruments.
"The whole thing is under investigation, and under what certificate that flight was operating has not been established," Bergen said.