Pretty Woman was one of the highest-grossing movies of 1990, netting Julia Roberts her second Oscar nomination and cementing her position as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. A feel-good love story with a happy ending, the film seemed destined for a slew of sequels, but that never happened. Instead, nine years later, we got… Runaway Bride, a feel-good love story with a happy ending that reunited Roberts with her Pretty Woman co-star Richard Gere. Now streaming on Netflix, Runaway Bride is part of a strange, rarefied subset of movies that you might call non-sequel sequels. Runaway Bride has absolutely nothing to do with Pretty Woman, except for its two leads, but in the audience’s mind, does it really matter? The actors are playing new characters, but it’s the same genre and the same tone as their previous movie. Close enough, right?
Runaway Bride wasn’t quite the blockbuster Pretty Woman was, but it still did really well, proving that moviegoers will accept this cinematic sleight-of-hand if the familiar ingredients are mixed just right. However, non-sequel sequels tend to be a disappointment because they fail to recapture the old magic. (It’s hard enough for traditional sequels to be as satisfying as the original — now imagine a film where the actors you love are now playing totally different people in a completely different storyline. It’s a recipe for viewer frustration.)
With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 such non-sequel sequels, as well as an analysis of how good they were (or not). I decided to leave off a few memorable long-running onscreen partners — like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder — to focus on duos who joined forces relatively soon after a big hit in order to see if they could replicate its success. You went to these follow-up films specifically because you liked the duo in the last thing they’d done together. Frequently, though, you’d have been better off sticking with the original film, as is often the case with sequels.
The Sting (1973)
What Was Different This Time? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid introduced the world to the buddy chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, casting them as wisecracking outlaws. The actors’ conspiratorial us-against-the-world vibe worked well for that elegiac Western, and although they played different characters in The Sting four years later — con-men in the 1930s — that same sense of them being in on a shared secret joke carried over. In both films, you felt a bond between men who knew they were sharper than everyone around them — and part of the fun was tagging along with their exploits. In a sense, they were still just good ol’ Butch and Sundance.
How Did It Turn Out? Butch Cassidy won four Oscars, and The Sting did even better, taking home seven, including Best Picture. The two movies didn’t just share the same two stars, though: George Roy Hill directed both films, and he was the one who coaxed Newman and Redford into the reunion. (“We enjoy working together, we’ll have fun, so let’s do it,” Hill supposedly told them.) It was a good call: The Sting is one of the few star reunions on this list that’s an unalloyed success.
What Was Different This Time? The appeal of Twins was the odd-couple pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, who played strangers that discover, to their shock, that they’re actually twins. Not only were the characters’ physical appearance the polar opposite of one another, DeVito’s cynic and Schwarzenegger’s kindhearted soul made the two men seem even more endearingly mismatched. But all of that got tossed aside for Junior, also directed by Ivan Reitman, which found Schwarzenegger cast as a scientist who impregnates himself in order to test a new fertility drug. DeVito played his colleague, the oil-and-water spark of Twins replaced with “Look, it’s a pregnant Arnie!” gags.
How Did It Turn Out? Twins was a delightful hit comedy that helped cultivate Schwarzenegger’s lighter side. But by the time of Junior, it was clear that, although he can be really funny in stuff like Kindergarten Cop, he needs the right material. Junior wasn’t it, and DeVito is equally wasted. What was clever about the first movie was how different the two men are. The follow-up utterly squandered their dynamic.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
What Was Different This Time? Technically, this was actually the third pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But their first, Joe Versus the Volcano, was far from a hit — it was 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle that cemented the idea that they were America’s favorite romantic duo. They next teamed up for a redo of The Shop Around the Corner, with Sleepless in Seattle director Nora Ephron again taking the reins. You’ve Got Mail followed a similar formula: Hanks and Ryan are both smart grownups who, eventually, fall for one another. Their chemistry was always more adorable than powerfully sexual — these were sophisticated, chaste rom-coms for the whole family.
How Did It Turn Out? You’ve Got Mail was as big a smash as Sleepless in Seattle, and both movies are now adored love stories. “We’re just really there to have fun; this is supposed to be a creative experience and there’s no reason to get heavy,” Ryan said in 2018 when explaining her and Hanks’ rapport. And indeed, their movies’ easygoing vibe is their chief appeal. Life is hard enough — sometimes, you just want to watch nice people find love.
What Was Different This Time? Swingers made stars out of director Doug Liman, actor/writer Jon Favreau and actor Vince Vaughn. Five years later, Favreau sat in the directing chair for his first feature, recruiting Vaughn for a dark comedy about two old friends who get mixed up with some gangsters. The guys in Made are a little older than the bros in Swingers and a little less lovable — they’ve had to deal with more disappointment in their lives — but the Favreau/Vaughn dynamic hadn’t changed, with Favreau’s character being the put-upon straight man dealing with Vaughn’s motor-mouthed instigator.
How Did It Turn Out? Pretty good, actually. Made didn’t have the quotability and novelty of Swingers, but it helped launch Favreau’s filmmaking career, which thus far has produced Iron Man, a few mega-successful Disney live-action remakes and The Mandalorian. And Vaughn got to show off an edgier vibe than in their previous collaboration, hinting at some of the darker roles he’d do later in his career. Still, in a pinch, you’ll pull out Swingers if you want primo Favreau/Vaughn.
What Was Different This Time? Nine years earlier, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson proved to be a charming hitman duo in Pulp Fiction, a sensation that resurrected the former’s career and gave the latter his only Oscar nomination to date. But the two men switched up the formula significantly for Basic, which didn’t have them playing Tarantino-esque enforcers. Instead, it was a Rashomon-style military mystery with Travolta investigating a fatal training exercise led by Jackson’s brutal commander. What went wrong? Did Jackson die in the firefight? And why is no one talking about a Royale With Cheese?
How Did It Turn Out? Basic was a bomb, demonstrating that for a movie-star reunion to work, it helps if their new movie is close in genre to the thing they previously made together. Still, Basic is a ton better than their god-awful new Capital One commercial.
Righteous Kill (2008)
What Was Different This Time? For years, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were put on a pedestal — two world-class actors who’d never appeared on screen together, even though they’d both been in The Godfather: Part II. Well, Heat changed that, although the Oscar-winners only occasionally shared a scene in that iconic crime-thriller. But more than a decade after Heat, they’d play detective partners in Righteous Kill, giving fans what they thought they’d always wanted — a buddy-cop drama starring two of America’s finest thespians. But here’s the problem: By that point, both men were long past their prime and just looking for a paycheck.
How Did It Turn Out? Righteous Kill isn’t so much bad as it is boring, a monumentally underwhelming summit between De Niro and Pacino, who both look like they have better things to do. All was not lost, though: They’re so much better in The Irishman, especially as Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa heads toward his bloody end.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
What Was Different This Time? Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were just kids when they became superstars thanks to Titanic, the king of epic, doomed love stories. Fans always wanted them to work together again, but Revolutionary Road presented an intriguing premise: What if Jack and Rose had married but then become miserable suburban drones? That’s essentially what happens in this moody mid-century drama, which is all about the quiet terrors of so-called domestic bliss. Where DiCaprio and Winslet were star-crossed sweethearts in Titanic, here they’re disenchanted with their lives and each slowly destroying themselves. Maybe there’s no such thing as living happily ever after?
How Did It Turn Out? The film was a modest commercial success that received three Academy Award nominations. But for those who just wanted to bawl their eyes out at another whirlwind Leo and Kate romance, Revolutionary Road instead offered something far more somber and realistic — the daily unhappinesses of a loveless marriage. Nevertheless, the movie demonstrated the increasingly capable dramatic actors they’ve since become. “[W]e were in this house which was tiny, oppressive, claustrophobic, sweaty, boiling hot, with a whole crew of people. It was like a pressure cooker every single day,” Winslet said of the shoot. “And so we were physically close together and able to have a constant dialogue about the scenes — running lines, sharing ideas. He knows my buttons, and I know his, and we know how to push them in very specific ways.”
The Internship (2013)
What Was Different This Time? 2005’s Wedding Crashers was such a smash that a sequel seemed inevitable. Fifteen years later, we’re still waiting, although hope springs eternal, but in the interim stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson hooked up for a zeitgeist-y comedy about two aging, bro-y salesmen who get downsized. But after bluffing their way into an internship at Google, they quickly realize just how ancient and out-of-touch they are around their hipper, younger, more tech-savvy coworkers. This milieu was far different than the one in Wedding Crashers, but the rapport was the same: Vaughn delivers the one-liners, while Wilson plays the more sensitive dude.
How Did It Turn Out? Actually, the biggest difference, and the biggest problem, was that The Internship was rated PG-13. “The Internship was supposed to be an R-rated comedy [like Wedding Crashers],” Vaughn later said. “Right before we started shooting, the studio said they wanted to go PG-13. I said I just didn’t see that. I said we’d do it both ways and then make the call. But the ship had sailed, and I found myself in a movie that was PG-13, which was not my initial intent.” Which just goes to show that, if you’re going to have Vaughn and Wilson in your irreverent comedy, you might as well unleash them. That’s not the only reason The Internship crashed and burned at the box office, but it certainly didn’t help. Also, audiences really loved the specific characters they played in Wedding Crashers — without that core component, what was the point of bringing these two every-dude actors back together?
What Was Different This Time? Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence co-starred in a few films — most prominently playing the temperamental lovers in Silver Linings Playbook, which won her Best Actress. But there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Serena, which found them depicting a newly married couple in the 1920s who are terribly in love — until Lawrence’s Serena learns something awful about her husband’s past. Forget the high-wire balance of comedy and drama in Silver Linings Playbook — this was pure furrowed-brow romantic tragedy.
How Did It Turn Out? Despite their star power, and the fact that it was directed by acclaimed international filmmaker Susanne Bier, Serena was a fiasco. Critics hated it, and the movie didn’t so much open as it got dumped. (Indeed, Serena made less than $200,000 in the U.S.) Ironically, it had been Lawrence who proposed that Cooper be her co-star in Serena after having such a great time with him in Silver Linings Playbook. Sometimes, lightning doesn’t strike twice.
What Was Different This Time? Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had worked together on Saturday Night Live, and they co-starred in Baby Mama, a so-so 2008 comedy that was a minor hit. But in some ways, their team-up for Sisters was mainly a byproduct of their popular three-year run as hosts of the Golden Globes from 2013 to 2015. Audiences weren’t going to Sisters because they were necessarily interested in a comedy about bickering siblings forced to live under the same roof — it’s just that they wanted to see Tina and Amy do something new together. The characters could have been anyone — it’s the actresses’ real-life rapport that got asses in seats.
How Did It Turn Out? Sisters is an aggressively just-okay film that coasts on its stars’ charm. They’ve made enough stuff together, including Mean Girls, that you really don’t need to waste your time on this, although it actually performed better than Baby Mama. All in all, though, you’ll probably be happier just rewatching their old SNL clips — and, hey, they’ll be back hosting the Globes next year. They’re the one duo on this list where, really, the movies are beside the point.