Whether it’s to capitalize on popular trends, flex some creative muscle, or just extend a profitable franchise well beyond the point at which its creators have run out of ideas, if you keep a series going on long enough, odds are it’s going to end up in space at some point.
We know it’s the final frontier and all, but the cosmic vacuum isn’t always the right fit for some characters or ideas. Sometimes it’s a great fit, but we’re way more likely to wonder why we’re in space than to think, “Yes. This story could only be told with these characters in this setting. We’re sold.”
Here are 16 movie, TV show, and book installments that made the leap at escape velocity and kicked themselves loose of the earth.
Writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg built a solid sequel hook into his 1981 picture book, Jumanji: After the heroes of that story finish playing the dangerous, eponymous board game and go dump it in the park for the next suckers to pick up, their neighbors, Walter and Donny bring the box home. But the followup, Zathura, has the two main characters abandoning all of that jungle nonsense and playing a space-themed game instead, because space is obviously way cooler.
This one is more explicable than most of the other entries on the list, considering neither Allsburg nor readers were interested in seeing two different people playing “Jumanji.” We aren’t really sure what that book would even be about, so Zathura actually makes quite a bit of sense. But we still think that the difference between having jungle-themed events play out in real time and having your entire house transported to space and then returning through a time-erasing black hole is a bit of a leap.
15. Ice Age: Collision Course
Production company Blue Sky Studios and distributor Fox have built their entire, $2.8 billion Ice Age franchise around a sabre-toothed squirrel who really loves acorns. And it seems they’ve run out of places for plucky little Scrat to bury his nuts because the upcoming fifth(?!) entry in the animated series sends him to outer space.
It kind of makes sense, considering that the main danger of the film is an asteroid, and space rocks come from, you know, space. It’s right there in the name. But debris hits planets often enough without the involvement of fully functioning alien saucers that plucky, prehistoric squirrels accidentally free from the ice. So that part feels like a bit of an excuse to put Scrat into a tiny space suit, which we’d hate if it weren’t so adorable.
14. Airplane II: The Sequel
The original Airplane! is a parody of air-disaster movies in general and the dead-serious 1957 film Zero Hour! in particular. And it’s hard to criticize a zany movie sequel for doing something ridiculous, but the property still had plenty of terrestrial genre tropes to draw from. And the 1982 follow-up does use some of them — it just sets them in space for unknown reasons.
The creators of the first film weren’t involved in this one at all, and that may be why it falls a bit flat. But it folds in subplots involving suicidal bombers and corporate negligence, which also appear in the more earnest Airport (1970) and The Towering Inferno (1974), which is what good parodies do. But again: It puts them in space. It’s just weird.
We honestly don’t know what else to say about Airplane II. It’s definitely a thing that exists, and it has some funny moments, which include a great performance from William Shatner as the commander of a moon base.
13. Critters 4
The title creatures of the Critters series, which look like rabid versions of the adorable, ’80s plush toys Popples, are from space, so that’s fair.
But the whole point of the first three entries is what happens when these rolling space monsters meet up with humans. First, they hit a farm; then, they take on a whole town; and in the third film, they end up in the city because almost as many way-too-long-running series have an “in the city” entry as an “in space” one. Critters, along with Friday the 13th, is one of the few properties to include both.
But considering the franchise’s escalation, the little monsters had nowhere to go but up — which they literally did. Critters 4 freezes the beasties for half a century so that they can plausibly end up on a space station and eat people there instead of, say, going to Europe or something like the Griswolds in the Vacation series.
12. Adventure Time: “Sons of Mars”
We weren’t super surprised when Adventure Time revealed that its annoying character Magic Man wasn’t from around here. It did raise our eyebrows, however, when this fourth-season episode had him sending heroes Finn and Jake to the Red Planet to answer for his crimes.
It’s a good episode, albeit a slightly stranger one than the animated series’ usual level. It seems the King of Mars is none other than America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who is also immortal. But then he makes a deal with Death to trade his own life for Jake’s when the magic dog dies accidentally, so then Death turns Abraham Lincoln (King of Mars) into a statue forever. And honestly, we’re only including those details so that it’s obvious how completely bizarre this episode is.
Oh, and at the end, Finn frees a tiny manticore, which is a monster from Persian mythology that is equal parts man, lion, and bat, from his bottle prison. In case you were still following along at home.
“Sons of Mars” wasn’t the first Adventure Time on Mars; Finn (then named Pen) took a quick trip there in the pilot episode so that President Lincoln could tell him how important it is to believe in himself. But somehow, the full-length installment felt even more like a rigorous Mad Lib.
11. SeaQuest DSV: “Splashdown”
A TV show about a high-tech submarine comes with certain guarantees, not the least of which is the concession that this vessel will always be in the ocean. But SeaQuest DSV thwarted that expectation in its second season finale, “Splashdown,” which has aliens descending to pluck the craft out of the sea and transport it to the planet Hyperion, millions of light-years from Earth.
It then promptly dumps the ship into the local ocean, and suddenly things are back on track.
This was basically the final straw of an already bizarre series of developments that took the show from a decent, underwater version of Star Trek to an even crappier, underwater version of Star Trek: Voyager. Suddenly, a show that was ostensibly about exploration contained genetically engineered life forms; giant, prehistoric crocodiles; and, yes, aliens.
“Splashdown” also puts the SeaQuest in the middle of Hyperion’s civil war, which would possibly be interesting if we could stop wondering why a species capable of traveling millions of trillions of miles to steal a human watercraft lacked the technology to make its own superboat.
10. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
We aren’t really sure what to make of this 1953 comedy, other than that it sounds like the sort of thing a studio would whip up when two of its most bankable stars had all but run out of famous monsters to meet.
The title isn’t even accurate; Abbott and Costello only think they go to Mars. In fact, they land in New Orleans and confuse the endless parade of costumed alcoholics for a gaggle of terrifying, extraterrestrial creatures. And we can’t really blame them for that because we’ve seen what happens there, and it is indeed scandalous.
The comedy duo do, in fact, travel to Venus later in the film, so it isn’t a total bust. And calling a movie Abbott and Costello Go to “Mars,” Which Is Actually New Orleans, and then Go to Venus for Reasons Completely Unrelated, but Then They Come Back because Venus Doesn’t Want Them would be a bit much to fit on a marquee.
9. The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars
Do you know who actually went to Mars, though? Other than Matt Damon? A bunch of sentient appliances.
The Brave Little Toaster book series and its film adaptations are a lot like the later Toy Story franchise, except that its heroes would make way worse birthday presents for children. It may be closer to Beauty and the Beast, really, but Toaster and his friends have always been home fixtures, and they’re pretty fine with that because they have all the excitement they want. And that’s especially true considering they all go to Mars to save their owners’ child from a rogue refrigerator and his cohorts, who all want to blow up Earth with rockets in some weird revenge plot against the unscrupulous company that made them shoddily and then donated them to NASA as dead weight.
This story has a lot going on, basically. But then Evil Fridge learns a valuable lesson about people not being all bad, but it still costs him the election as Supreme Commander of Mars.
8. Space Buddies
Disney’s Air Bud series, which starts with a movie about a dog that can play basketball and just gets sillier from there, had five main installments and another two in its Buddies spinoff before its creators threw up their hands and went, “How about space?” And that’s fair, because they’d already hit all of the major sports and gone to Alaska, so what else could they really do?
Plenty, it seems. After Space Buddies, the franchise includes entires about Christmas (Santa Buddies) and Halloween (Spooky Buddies), and then the dogs get superpowers from magic rings (Super Buddies) because of course they do.
But in the pups’ extraterrestrial outing, they manage to accidentally launch into orbit, walk on the moon, and survive a meteor shower. They also meet a Russian dog named Spudnick and stage a Michael Bay-style escape from an exploding space station when they stop to refuel. We’re not really sure what we’re supposed to learn from any of this other than that puppies look really cute in tiny space suits, but we probably could have reasoned that out for ourselves.
7. Dino Crisis 3
Dino Crisis is kind of a companion series to developer Capcom’s more famous Resident Evil. The RE team even worked on these games, but we always felt like it never got a fair shake because “Resident Evil but with dinosaurs” just seems like an idea too awesome to have fizzled out after just a few years and a handful of entries.
And Dino Crisis 3 certainly didn’t do the franchise any favors. It launched exclusively for Microsoft’s original Xbox in 2003 and, like its predecessor, abandons the first entry’s survival-horror theme in favor of action, guns, and body armor. It’s basically a vaguely dinosaur-themed version of Aliens set on an adrift colony ship, complete with a sole-survivor young girl character, but with reptilian genetic monsters instead of Xenomorphs.
That’s the other weird hiccup; you aren’t even fighting dinosaurs in Dino Crisis 3. The derelict vessel’s rogue computer is creating genetic hybrids — for some reason — since the human crew is gone. But since the first two games had dinosaurs ripped out of prehistory via portals made of “Third Energy,” we can’t really criticize this one for having an iffy premise. We just feel like a property can support a jump to space or dinosaurs, but cramming both in might be too much.
6. Hellraiser: Bloodline
By the time we reached the fourth installment, the Hellraiser series had delivered on its promise of having “such sights to show us,” and most of them were deeply unpleasant. Bloodline aimed to be the most ambitious entry of them all: A 300-year saga showing a single family fighting Pinhead and the Cenobites across multiple generations.
It sounds great, and it should have been, but the studio ordered new scenes and some drastic changes in editing to make Pinhead more prominent and reduce the running time from 110 minutes to 85. One of the biggest changes gave the movie a framing narrative with flashbacks instead of a linear one, which means that the third storyline becomes the “main” one. And it so happens that that is the one that takes place in space.
“Hellraiser in space” is still way better than it has any right to be, but it would have been preferable to build to that instead of just starting the movie with, “Now we’re in space, and so is Pinhead.” It’s jarring, and it does the entire movie a disservice by making the earlier scenes, which take place in 1796 and 1996, backstory instead of equal parts of the film.
5. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
This fall’s contribution to the blockbuster Call of Duty game franchise is in no danger of selling poorly despite its abrupt leap to a battle for the solar system, but it’s definitely had a rocky reception so far.
Since the announcement trailer launched on May 2, it has become one of the least liked videos on YouTube with almost three million “dislikes” in the site’s up-or-down review system. We don’t know if it was the change in setting or the incredibly bad cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that accompanies it, but neither is very good. The only video that the YouTube community has given more thumbs-down to than this one is Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” which has 6.4 million dislikes. But that video also has 1.4 billion views, so who knows what’s going on.
We’re not sure if this backlash is enough to stop Infinite Warfare from making all of the money when it comes out in November. We assume fans will just grudgingly buy the game anyway and then move on to the next “worst thing ever.”
4. Dracula 3000
This one isn’t a sequel so much as it is a really terrible movie about a vampire attacking a salvage team in space. But it’s also just way too ridiculous not to include here.
Captain Van Helsing (Casper Van Dien) and his crew discover an abandoned transport ship called the Demeter, which is adrift with a dead man at the helm. It’s just like the similar scene in Bram Stoker’s original novel — including the name of the doomed ship — only it’s dumber in every conceivable way. The derelict is carrying coffins full of dirt and a vampire (Langley Kirkwood), obviously, or the title would be a complete lie.
The name of the film actually is a bit fibbish, however, because the galactic vampire doesn’t even call himself Dracula. He goes instead by Count Orlock, which is a version of the monster’s name in the classic, silent Dracula knock-off Nosferatu. But Dracula 3000 has a lot of problems, one of which being its very existence, so we can probably let that one slide.
One dark day at Eon Studios, someone decided that because Star Wars had done so well, international superspy James Bond must and should have an adventure in space. And so we received Moonraker, a film ostensibly based on a novel by series creator Ian Fleming but which shares almost nothing in common with its source material but vague Nazism and some rockets.
It’s a silly entry in the franchise’s most goofy period — the Roger Moore years — and it became the highest grossing Bond movie to date for reasons unknown to man or science. We assume a lot of that is the Star Wars effect, because this thing has a female lead named Dr. Holly Goodhead, and the last line is, “He’s attempting re-entry!” People had no internet to warn them of these things in 1979, so they had to learn the hard way.
But it still has a 60 percent on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, so maybe we’re missing something.
2. Leprechaun 4: In Space
The fourth Leprechaun movie achieves a level of insanity that makes it either brilliant or terrible, depending on what you’re into. It doesn’t even bother to give a plausible reason for the titular goblin (Warwick Davis) to be in space. He’s just kind of there, brokering a marriage to a princess on a far-off planet.
Space marines show up and murder the Leprechaun, and that would make this one of the shortest horror movies of all time if one of the soldiers didn’t take the time to urinate on the corpse. That’s when we find out that the Irish monster’s spirit — we’re not making this up — can traverse the stream like an evil, disembodied salmon and take up residence in the guy’s junk.
All of this happens in the first 15 minutes, and it doesn’t let up for the next 80.
The Leprechaun films have never been all that serious; they’ve always contained a certain amount of gleefully dark humor. But this is a whole new level. In Space also contains a cyborg-spider-scorpion hybrid, a growth beam, and both the male and female leads losing their clothes for no plot-relevant reason at all.
1. Jason X
It was hard to decide which of the crazy “in space” movies was the most ridiculous, but we have to give the “honors” to Jason X. The 2002 entry in the Friday the 13th series sends the murderous, unkillable zombie to what is more or less a 25th-century school bus, and it’s our top pick not because it’s the silliest or worst entry on the list, but because it’s the dumbest one that received a theatrical release, and that’s a pretty bold move.
The studio made Jason X as a way to keep the character alive (so to speak) while it tried to get the troubled production of Freddy vs. Jason on track. We doubt it was ever intended to continue the series in any meaningful way, which means that it’s basically a piece of fan fiction that someone actually committed to film.
The most famous part is “Uber Jason,” an even less stoppable version of the famous monster, who comes into being when Regular Jason receives a cybernetic upgrade after a traumatic defeat in a fight with an android. It’s one of the weirdest developments in a series that’s already pretty bonkers, and the fact that the ending teases a sequel makes it even crazier. Luckily, however, we managed to limp along to the age of reboots before Jason X2 ever became a possibility, so we’re safe from that for now.
Did we include your favorite franchise that jumped the shark straight into the last frontier? Let us know in the comments.
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