"Grease 2" Star Michelle Pfeiffer Says She "Hated It With a Vengeance"
THE ACTOR WASN'T PROUD OF THE 1982 MOVIE MUSICAL SEQUEL.
It is a common refrain to complain that there are no new ideas in Hollywood, as franchises and sequels dominate the box office. However, sequel-itis at the movies is not merely a 21st Century phenomenon—theaters in the 1980s were full of empires striking back, Police Academy 3, Rocky IV, and Rambo V. And it wasn't just action films that got extra full-length features either. Almost every movie that hit it big found a sequel in the works, including the classic 1978 musical film Grease, which was followed by Grease 2 in 1982. Of course, it wasn't nearly as well-received, and critics weren't the only ones who thought it was not good, especially compared to the original. An up-and-coming Michelle Pfeiffer starred in the musical as new Pink Ladies queen Stephanie Zinone and has said that she "hated it with a vengeance." Read on to find out more Grease 2 and why the actor was so embarrassed by it.
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The original Grease was a pop culture phenomenon.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The musical Grease, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, originally debuted in Chicago in 1971. Based on Jacob's experience at the city's William Taft High School in the late '50s, it ran for eight months before moving to Broadway in 1972. It was a hit in New York City too, running for eight years and closing in 1980. But even before that original run ended, the musical's popularity had already inspired a film version. Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, hit theaters in 1978.
The film version became the highest-grossing movie musical of the time, despite a cast of "high schoolers" whose average age was 28. It turned Travolta and Newton-John into overnight sensations and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes. The only thing that blocked the album from becoming the bestselling soundtrack of 1978 was Travolta's other danceable box office hit, Saturday Night Fever. The film is considered a classic today, having been preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Paramount Pictures put a universe of sequels into motion.
Even before Grease found a movie audience, Paramount Pictures had already contracted Allan Carr, who adapted the stage play, to write sequels. There were reportedly three follow-up films and a TV series planned, each set in a new generation of high schoolers, ending in the late '60s. However, hopes of bringing the original leads back for cameos fell through. Instead, the only feature film sequel to date, Grease 2, featured a new set of "teens," led by Pfeiffer as Stephanie and Maxwell Caulfield as exchange student Michael Carrington, Sandy's cousin. It's set two years after the events of the original movie and came from a mostly new creative team, with Jacobs and Casey notably absent.
Critics decided Grease 2 was not the one that they wanted.
Though the Tomatometer would not be invented for decades to come, Grease 2 was a total splat. (It retroactively has a dismal 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.) For The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "This time the story can't even masquerade as an excuse for stringing the songs together" and called those songs "hopelessly insubstantial." Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs down, writing that Grease 2 merely "recycles Grease" and is "adrift in time," as opposed to its pointedly nostalgic predecessor. Couple its subpar quality with releasing on the same weekend as E.T. and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and there was no hope of the film succeeding on any level even close to the original.
Pfeiffer was trying to be careful with her role choices.
In a 2021 interview with The New Yorker, Pfeiffer said she was cautious about the roles she took when she was starting out in her career, aware that a single misstep could make or break her. Still, her early work did follow her. As Rolling Stone observed in a profile of the star in 1992, when Batman Returns was released, Pfeiffer had "snapped more gum than sipped champagne" onscreen—a likely reference to Grease 2. Pfeiffer admitted it was probably the role she regretted the most, blaming her greenness and believing in the power of a franchise.
"At the time, I was young and didn't know better," she told WENN in 2014. "I hated that film with a vengeance and could not believe how bad it was."
Grease 2 has become a cult classic.
Regardless of how she feels about the movie and her work in it now, Pfeiffer more than survived the experience. The following year, she starred as Elvira Hancock in the crime drama class Scarface. Five years later, in 1988, she scored the first of two consecutive Oscar nominations, getting a nod for Best Supporting Actress with Dangerous Liaisons. In 1989, she was up for Best Actress for her performance in The Fabulous Baker Boys. Caulfield even confessed to Page Six in 2021 that he was jealous that his co-star's profile rose so quickly after their famous flop.
Somehow, Grease 2's reputation also improved in the decades since its release, with younger viewers appreciating its feminist and sex-positive storylines. Den of Geek even called it "a cult classic cooler than the original" upon its milestone anniversary in 2022. "It may have taken 40 years, but this once-maligned musical, highlighted by songs like The Four Tops' soaring opener, 'Back to School,' and the sex-ed anthem 'Reproduction,' has been re-evaluated to the point that it even turns up on Turner Classic Movies occasionally," the outlet said.
Back in 2014, Pfeiffer was already aware of Grease 2's unlikely resurgence. "I hear it's a cult movie now," she told WENN. And in 2019, the actor said on The Late Late Show that it's one of the movies from her filmography that fans approach her about the most.