Grease 2 might be one of the most detested sequels of all time. Grease fans hated it, critics ridiculed it, and even the cast of the original Grease movie chimed in with complaints. But even before the movie reached cinemas, there was trouble brewing. Posed to become Hollywood’s latest heartthrobs, stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield should have been over the moon at the opportunity Grease 2 offered.
Instead, Pfeiffer and Caulfield came to loathe Grease 2, with Pfeiffer viewing it as an embarrassing career blip and Caulfield subsequently struggling to get cast in anything for a decade. Where did the pairing of these two budding stars go so horribly wrong?
Few could have predicted the phenomenal success of Grease. Released into theatres on June 16, 1978, this musical romantic comedy – an adaptation of the 1971 stage musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey – was an instant hit with cinema-goers.
Following the love story of greaser Danny Zuko and Australian transfer student Sandy Olsson, the movie took audiences back to the heyday of high school in the 50s. It was packed full of heartache and show-stopping tunes, coupled with spectacular performances from Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.
A critical smash and an Oscar nominee (for the song Hopelessly Devoted to You), Grease also became the highest-grossing musical film ever at the time. With boxing office takings of $366.2 million on a budget of $6 million, it seemed inevitable that the blockbuster would spawn a sequel.
Sure enough, Grease’s co-producer Allan Carr soon secured a deal with Paramount Pictures to create a sequel, on an $11.2 million budget. Production on Grease 2 began less than three years after Grease’s release, with Patricia Birch – a choreographer for the original movie as well as the Grease musical stage production – directing, and comedian Ken Finkleman on writing duties.
However, John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Grease composers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey all turned down the chance to be in Grease 2. Birch and Carr then decided to set the movie in Rydell High School two years after the events of Grease, and feature a romance between two new characters: Pink Lady leader Stephanie Zinone and Sandy Olsson’s English cousin Michael Carrington.
For the male lead of Michael, the filmmakers chose Maxwell Caulfield. Born in Belper, Derbyshire, Caulfield reportedly became homeless at the age of 15 when his stepfather kicked him out. He became an exotic dancer in London, and eventually made his way to Broadway, starring in productions of The Elephant Man and Entertaining Mr. Sloane. He was 21 years old when filming began on Grease 2.
Cast in the role of Stephanie, Michelle Pfeiffer found her first major movie role in Grease 2. At 23 years old, the Californian TV actress was cast because, as director Patricia Birch said, she “has a quirky quality you don’t expect.” Pfeiffer, however, was shocked to find herself in a role that required her to sing and dance.
“[The casting choice] was really weird for me,” Pfeiffer later commented. “I’d been taking singing lessons and I had taken dance, because I loved to dance, but I had never considered myself a professional at all. I went on this audition as a fluke, and somehow, through the process of going back and dancing, and then going back and singing, I ended up getting the part.”
The young Pfeiffer and Caulfield were far from their star-crossed fictional personas. In contrast with his nerdy character Michael, Caulfield was brimming with confidence.
“This, actually, is the ultimate trip,” Caulfield told New York Magazine during Grease 2’s production. “The American Dream. You can be a movie star, or a sports star… just disgustingly rich… Next year, if this film is marketed right, everyone will want to look like Maxwell Caulfield.”
Between filming, Caulfield let off steam by riding a motorbike. In the same New York Magazine interview, he said, “First day here, I smashed the bike against a fence. You can still see the scar. They said, ‘Watch out for this kid – he’s worth $5 million to us.'”
“Now it’s escalating,” he added. “This is the last day of shooting. Now I’m worth $20 million to them.” Caulfield said little about his co-star, quipping in one interview that the pair “got along infamously.” But his cocky attitude soon wore thin with Michelle Pfeiffer. She described him as “self-adoring” in an interview.
In contrast to Caulfield, Pfeiffer hated the limelight. “I went crazy with that movie,” she later said. “I came to New York and the paparazzi were waiting at the hotel. I know the producers put them up to it. I am basically very private, and I’m really nervous about doing publicity.”
Grease 2 also featured breakout roles for Adrian Zmed and Christopher McDonald, in the roles of greasers Johnny Nogerelli and Goose McKenzie. The pair later became famous for starring in T.J. Hooker and Happy Gilmore respectively.
When Grease 2 became a major critical and commercial flop on release in 1982, it was a disaster for the leading couple. “Before it even came out the hype had started,” Pfeiffer recalled. “Maxwell and I were being thrust down the public’s throat in huge full page advertisements. There was no way we could live up to any of that and we didn’t. So the crash was very loud.”
Pfeiffer’s agent later commented that in the aftermath of Grease 2, “she couldn’t get any jobs. Nobody wanted to hire her.” However, Pfeiffer recovered from Grease 2 with her star-making performance in Scarface the following year. She went on to become one of the most successful Hollywood actresses of the 80s and 90s, starring in Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Batman Returns.
The embarrassment of Grease 2 stuck with Maxwell Caulfield for much longer. Speaking to Page Six in 2021, Caulfield described how the movie spoiled his reputation and caused him to resent Pfeiffer. “It was, psychologically, quite a kick in the pants,” he said. “And of course, Michelle rose like a Phoenix, right? Did Scarface, and that so that made it even, frankly, a little harder to swallow.”
“Before Grease 2 came out, I was being hailed as the next Richard Gere or John Travolta,” Caulfield has stated. “However, when Grease 2 flopped, nobody would touch me. It felt like a bucket of cold water had been thrown in my face. It took me 10 years to get over Grease 2.”
Caulfield persevered and took the role of Rex Manning in 1995’s Empire Records. This was a box office bomb, but it later became a cult classic, with fans now celebrating Rex Manning Day on April 8th each year.
Caulfield went on to star in Gettysburg, The Man Who Knew Too Little, and TV movies including I’m Not Ready for Christmas and A Prince for Christmas. But he found more regular work in television, playing Mark Wylde in 158 episodes of British soap Emmerdale and starring in American Horror Story: Double Feature in 2021.
Nowadays, Michelle Pfeiffer cannot bear to watch Grease 2, commenting, “I hated that film with a vengeance and could not believe how bad it was. At the time, I was young and didn’t know any better.”
Caulfield, meanwhile, has developed a more positive attitude towards the movie. He spoke warmly of Grease 2 in a 2011 interview: “For me, it is a very major part of my filmography. I still have my great friends from the experience and when it pops up on TV, I stick with it – it brings back so many happy memories… You’re never going to forget a liplock with Michelle Pfeiffer!”