It came as a great surprise to me last week when Christina Applegate was confirmed to be returning for Anchorman 2 (tentatively titled Anchorman: The Legend Continues). It's not just that her absence from the teaser trailers hinted that Veronica Corningstone would also be gone from the Channel 4 newsroom. The character didn't immediately seem necessary to me. I guess I'm just used to female leads not always carrying over to sequels, and if anyone has that love 'em and leave 'em attitude of James Bond and Indiana Jones, it's Ron Burgandy. But there's also the possibility that her departure would leave Ron, Champ, Brick and Brian as lost as the Marx Brothers without Margaret Dumont. Okay, maybe that's a bit much.
Throughout the history of film franchises actors and their characters have dropped out of series, often to disappointing results. Keanu Reeves not returnng for Speed 2: Cruise Control, Arnold Schwarzenegger declining to come back for Predator 2 and Vin Diesel rejecting (at the time) the Fast and Furious and xXx franchises that broke him out as a star all come to mind. The continuity is typically upset by these sorts of exits, and it's particularly bad when a love interest fails to come back because it soils the happy ending of the original installment (this can also work for prequels like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Worst is when the character does return but he or she has been recast, a la the cases of Clarice Starling, Rachel Dawes and Jim Rhodes.
While it hurts when a major player doesn't sign on for the sequel, often for me it's supporting characters who are most missed in subsequent film installments. Samuel L. Jackson's character in Die Hard with a Vengeance is a good example. I also would have liked to see Crispin Glover continue through the Back to the Future, not only because it would have killed the controversy of his likeness being used in Part II but also some incarnation of his character or an ancestor would have been a nice inclusion in Part III. Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) should have returned in X-Men: The Last Stand, regardless of the annoyance of the makeup, and Linda Fiorentino should have been in Men in Black 2 (and 3).
That last one brings up the reverse question of which characters and actors should not have come back. Even with the clever casting fun of Men in Black 3, Tommy Lee Jones's Agent K should have stayed retired as planned. As for an ongoing debate, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Peter Venkman/Bill Murray should not do Ghostbusters 3. Of course, few people would have had a problem with Jar Jar Binks being killed off somewhere before the start of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Here are a few responses to this discussion question received on Twitter:
I wish Lugosi had played Dracula in all of Universal's sequels. Jon Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. do not make good Draculas. - @gholson
I still wish the later Nightmare on Elm Street sequels shifted focus to Jacob, the titular Dream Child of NOES5. Also hoping they find a way to bring Parker Posey back for the SCREAM TV show. - @brandonRohwer
Or at least Jamie Kennedy to play a college-aged Randy in some more posthumous videos - @klausityklaus
Wesley Snipes in Major League II. - @reelrecon