A sophomore slump refers to an instance in which a second, or sophomore, effort fails to live up to the relatively high standards of the first effort. (1)
It’s exciting when a new filmmaker manages to make a big splash with their first film. An impressive debut can, and often does, generate a lot of interest from studios and audiences alike. For many movie lovers, it immediately elicits the following statement:
“I can’t wait to see what they do next….”
Suddenly, there is the burden of expectation. Audiences who loved a director’s first film are now excited by the prospect of a whole career of great films. Off of just one great movie, we begin crafting our own narratives, asking questions like “Could they be the next Speilberg? The new Hitchcock?” Unfortunately for most directors, the second movie is often the one that faces the most scrutiny. It could be the added pressure of audience expectations or working with an expanded budget; either way, the second time around proves to be one that rattles many film makers and results in movies that are more or less considered to be an underwhelming follow up. This has become known among film and music circles as the dreaded “sophomore slump”.
While the sophomore slump has been well documented in the film industry, there are plenty of examples of GREAT follow-up films; some of which have become remembered as the high mark in a director’s career. All these films can be found in the collection of our Chester County Library Catalogue.
This month we at the Chester County Library Multimedia Department are giving you a list that proves that sometimes second truly is the best.
In 1979, director Ridley Scott followed up his debut film The Duellists (1977), with the Sci-Fi Horror masterpiece Alien. The film went on to become an instant classic , spawning its own franchise of 5 subsequent sequels with more on the way. Scott continues to have one of the most prolific careers a director can ask for, with a lifetime of impressive credits including: Blade Runner, Legend, Thelma & Louise, 1492, White Squall, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, All the Money in the World, The Last Duel and House of Gucci.
It is not easy carving a name out for yourself as a filmmaker. Now imagine how hard it would be, if your father was a director known for making what many consider the greatest film ever made: The Godfather… It is still astounding to me that Sofia Copolla climbed out of such a looming shadow as her father’s career and truly created a style of film making all her own. Her first film, The Virgin Suicides, proved to many that Sofia was a true talent and could make a great film. It was her second film, Lost in Translation, which cemented her as a legend in her own right. Lost in Translation received critical praise and went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Bill Murray), and Best Original Screenplay (which Sofia Coppola won). Sofia Coppola continues to have an illustrious career, making unique and expressive films such as Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, The Bling Ring, and The Beguiled.
Paul Thomas Anderson was just 26 years old when his first film Hard Eight premiered and gained some significant attention at the Sundance film festival. I guess his youth helps explain how in just one short year, he churned out the magnum opus Boogie Nights, which chronicled the pornographic film industry spanning over the entire decade of the 1970s. It is a massive movie filled with incredible performances from an all star cast including: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds giving what is truly a career best performance, and most famously it is the film that convinced audiences that Mark Wahlberg was a true movie star. Anderson is no slouch, and continues to make some of the biggest and most artistically relevant films of this day and age. Later films in his career included Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, and one of this year’s best films: Licorice Pizza!
After his 1970 feature The Landlord did moderately well, Hal Ashby’s second film Harold & Maude proved to become a well loved cult classic among audiences; so much so, that even in a long career with many well-received films, this is still considered one of his best.
While he admittedly had plenty of experience directing for the stage, Bob Fosse had only one previous film under his belt, when he directed the film that would forever change movie musicals. After a rather lackluster debut, with 1969’s film adaptation of stage show Sweet Charity, Fosse turned the tides with Cabaret, which went on to winning eight academy awards at the 1972 Oscars including Best Director, which he famously beat out Francis Ford Coppola who was nominated for The Godfather. Fosse’s filmography was incredibly short but Cabaret was as great and as big of a success anyone could hope to have with only the second film in their career.
John Carpenter is the master of genre film-making, but his stamp on the Horror genre is one that remains unparalleled to this day. Following his first major motion picture (we aren’t counting his student film Dark Star here), the crime/drama Assault on Precinct 13 is not an easy task. As far as first film’s go that movie is a hard act to follow. In fact the only way to top yourself is to absolutely change the landscape of film. Lucky for Carpenter, and for us, he did just that by making the ultimate Horror movie slasher with the original Halloween. There have been many slashers since, but none that served as such a monumental game-changer as this one.
Possibly one of the biggest and most important step ups in a directors career is Quentin Tarantino’s progression from his exciting debut hit Reservoir Dogs to the cinema classic Pulp Fiction. While Reservoir Dogs is a fun fan favorite, it seems ironically sophomoric in comparison to the much more mature, better scripted, better acted, better shot follow up of Pulp Fiction. While the style and tone of both remain undeniably Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs feels like a rough draft or practice round for the Tarantino’s legendary and beloved second feature film.
Sometimes following up a movie that is completely from a different genre can be a great way to not become pigeon-holed as one type of filmmaker. For the legendary duo of the Coen Brothers that turned out to be the perfect move for their career, when they followed up their gritty and tense crime drama Blood Simple with their zany cartoonish love story between an ex cop and ex criminal that will make you howl with laughter!
The Wachowski Sisters are absolute filmmaking game-changers! They have constantly broke down boundaries and continue to push audiences to expand their minds and think outside of the box. It is insane to look back and realize that after their tremendous, but criminally underseen neo noir Bound, the made what was only their second major studio film which turned our to be The Matrix. As far as second movies go, there is no bigger jump in impact, quality and excellence in film making than making The Matrix as your sophomore film. That statement would be true following almost any film in a directors filmography and that is truly saying something.
I will fully admit to still never having seen Tobe Hooper’s first film, Eggshells. While that film did not seem manage to much of a cultural impact, Hooper’s second film was an absolute lightning rod of a horror film and stands today as one of the most effective horror films ever put to film. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre invented an entire sub genre of horror, introducing a gritty, unpolished style that changed the landscape of horror films forever. Not too shabby for your second film.
Finishing out our list is what could be possibly one of the best second films of recent memory. With Jordan Peele’s newest horror film Nope already in theatres, its a perfect time for audiences to go back and appreciate just how great his second film Us was. After Get Out served as on of the most impressive debuts that any Horror filmmaker could have hoped for (it even nabbed Jordan Peele an Academy Award for Best Screenplay), the prospect of following it up with a second film was a daunting prospect to say the least. Us managed to ratchet up the terror and show true improvements and strides in his approach to cinematography and composition. Us was a big success at the box office and yet it is still one of the most criminally underrated Horror films of the last ten years.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, April 7). Sophomore slump. Wikipedia. Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophomore_slump