The flop that became a surprise hit
When Grease was released in cinemas in 1978, its producers were all too aware of the power of a sequel. Although the musical would go on to become the highest grossing film of that year, it was beaten at the box office in its opening weekend by Jaws 2 – the follow-up to Spielberg’s hugely successful shark-attack horror.
By then, film-goers were growing accustomed to successful movies spawning sequels, and Hollywood was relying on them to hook in an audience already sold on the original. A few years earlier, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II – which won the Academy Award for best picture – suggested that sequels could even improve on the original.
On a budget of $6m, Grease made back ten times that in just one month (and would go on to gross $400m). So it seemed a no-brainer that Paramount Studios should decide to produce a sequel. (At one point there were plans for a four-film franchise and a spin-off TV series.)
Matching the success of an original is a tall order for any sequel – particularly to a film as huge as Grease, and especially when you’re attempting it without the star power of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, but with a new, mostly unknown cast.
Even so, Grease 2 didn’t just fall short – it flopped with gusto. Despite having almost twice the budget of the first film, it barely made back its costs. The film was critically mauled, and – aside from Michelle Pfeiffer, who was likely on her way to great things anyway – it didn’t propel anyone to stardom. It might even have ruined a few careers.
And yet in the almost four decades since its release, Grease 2 has emerged as a cult favourite. It might have a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and frequently appear in lists of the worst sequels – but it also has an army of fans willing to argue to the death that it is, in fact, “The Empire Strikes Back of the Grease movies.”
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