In a world so consistently surprising that nothing surprises anymore, Hollywood likes to adds a little spice to the mix every now and then by dropping surprise movie sequels.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of the surprise album drop employed by Drake and Beyoncé: Here’s that thing you didn’t even know was coming. Please enjoy.
Movie sequels themselves have grown increasingly sneaky, with studios cashing in on unconventional marketing strategies and counting on the shock of the sequel’s existence to generate buzz.
The most recent example was the news (and teaser trailer) of a surprise “Ghostbusters” sequel, coming to theaters next summer.
M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass,” in theaters Thursday night, is an especially sly movie, as it serves as the follow-up to both 2016’s “Split” and 2000’s “Unbreakable.” “Split” didn’t even reveal that it existed in the same universe as “Unbreakable” until the very end, teasing the return of superhero Bruce Willis and supervillain Samuel L. Jackson.
Moviemaking is mostly just marketing now, with studios caught in a loop of recycling intellectual property ad infinitum, all of pop culture a syndicated sitcom rerun that never ends. Sequels are boring. But stealth sequels? They still carry the capacity for a kind of crappy wonder. At least until they get so overdone that they become boring, too.
These are the most surprising sequels ever made.
Sequel to: “Unbreakable”
Why it was surprising: M. Night Shyamalan followed up the massive success of “The Sixth Sense” with “Unbreakable,” a relative box office disappointment and, one could argue, his best movie. Rumors swirled around for years that an “Unbreakable” sequel was in the works, but nothing came of them. Then, in 2016, Shyamalan released “Split,” his best film and biggest hit in years. “Split” would have been a fairly big deal regardless, but it was the final scene that got most of the attention: the revelation that David Dunn (Bruce Willis) existed in the same world, and that “Split” was in fact the long-awaited “Unbreakable” sequel. Now “Glass” will complete the trilogy.
Shyamalan is a deeply inconsistent filmmaker whose hubris often gets the better of him. But the guy still knows how to pull off a plot twist. The twist that “Split” is a stealth sequel to “Unbreakable” might be dumb and cynical, but it’s undeniably effective.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016)
Sequel to: “Cloverfield”
Why it was surprising: This was just supposed to be a locked-in-a-cellar thriller called “Valencia,” but then in January 2016, two months before the film’s release, a trailer revealed that it was actually called “10 Cloverfield Lane” and was a sequel to the 2008 J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie. The movie ended up being more of a spiritual sequel than a direct one, but the “Cloverfield” branding raised the profile of what turned out to be an excellent film.
“The Cloverfield Paradox” (2018)
Sequel to: “10 Cloverfield Lane”
Why it was surprising: From a marketing standpoint, this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We knew there was another “Cloverfield” movie coming, but its release kept getting pushed. But on Feb. 4, 2018, a surprise trailer for “The Cloverfield Paradox” dropped during Super Bowl LII. Not only that, it would premiere right after the game on Netflix.
It was a thrilling sign of just how much movies — movie-watching, movie marketing — had changed.
It’s a shame the movie is actually terrible.
“Blair Witch” (2016)
Sequel to: “The Blair Witch Project”
Why it was surprising: This one took a similar tack as “10 Cloverfield Lane,” going by a different name (“The Woods”) before revealing its real title and affiliation with the “Blair Witch” franchise. As bait-and-switches go, it was a good one, with the stealth sequel coming out about two months after its official announcement. And it didn’t hurt that the movie was decent.
“Star Trek” (2009)
Sequel to: All the “Star Trek” movies
Why it was surprising: Because everyone just thought it was a reboot when it was also a stealth sequel starring Leonard Nimoy. A time-travel plot device allowed for the film to serve as an alternate reality story, a way of paying tribute to your father’s “Star Trek” while still looking to the future.
Sequels whose very existence is surprising
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”
“The Color of Money”
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”
“The Two Jakes”