Sequels are a major part of the movie business today, but they are hardly new creations. Since the dawn of film, Hollywood has been revisiting characters and worlds that struck a chord with their audiences. Take, for example, 1916’s The Fall of a Nation, which was a sequel to its more well-known predecessor The Birth of a Nation.
However, sequels have changed over time to include better continuity and more complex storytelling. In some cases they have even exceeded their originals — The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 and The Godfather Part II are a few that come to mind. Still, it can be difficult to keep momentum going through multiple films, and the sequels that we’re about to discuss weren’t always successful.
Good, bad, temporary, or long-term, however, each one made an impact on their franchises and completely changed course from their originals. With that said, the wait is over. Here are 16 Sequels That Changed Their Franchises Completely. See if you agree.
16. Chronicles of Riddick
When you think of Vin Diesel’s Riddick character, you probably think of him as an original action hero. Not the case. Riddick’s franchise rose up accidentally from Pitch Black, which was essentially an Alien knockoff. In the first film, he is very much an antagonist until later on in the proceedings. Pitch Black centers mainly on Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), who is forced to take charge when her transport crashes on a desert planet and leaves her in charge following her Captain’s death.
Riddick is a dangerous prisoner who escapes in the madness. Fry’s goal is to keep what remains of her crew alive, and she finds that Riddick’s genetic modifications will give them an advantage if she can keep him from turning on them. Thankfully, there are some hideous creatures pursuing the survivors to help with that. Still, Riddick is not a central protagonist until The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004, which was followed by Riddick in 2013. We expect that that trend will continue with the upcoming fourth entry in the franchise.
15. Mission: Impossible II
The first Mission: Impossible was a tense, white-knuckle mystery thriller with a great cast and some of director Brian de Palma’s best work behind the camera. (Unfortunately, it was also his last good film.) After that, the money followed one of the hottest directorial imports of the time — John Woo, whose Hardboiled and A Better Tomorrow were hyper-stylized slow-mo action masterpieces. Of course, those films were solid because he was working within the confines of a budget. Mission: Impossible 2 did not gift him with those same restraints, and as a result, we get what is inarguably one of the dumbest big-budget films ever made.
Thankfully, J.J. Abrams righted the ship a little with Mission: Impossible III, and that set the stage for the superior Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. So the changes that MI2 made to the franchise were thankfully temporary, but for a brief moment in time, we didn’t see much of a future. It did, however, up the ante for the franchise in a major way, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
14. RoboCop 3
The first RoboCop film is a smart takedown of 1980s greed and excess, and it continues to be relevant to today’s audiences (more so than the forgettable remake of 2014). While RoboCop 2 continued to revel in its predecessor’s excesses, it did so with a lot fewer brain cells attached. Still, it was very much a RoboCop film with Peter Weller, Nancy Allen and others returning to keep the connective tissue in place. Then came RoboCop 3 — a film so bad that pretty much no one wants to talk about it, nor what it did to the franchise.
The first mistake that studio Orion Pictures made was in trimming the R rating to PG-13. Watching it now, it probably could have gotten away with PG. That would be like someone making a PG-rated sequel to Alien. Strike one.
The second mistake Orion made was in not getting Peter Weller to return to the role. Robert John Burke is a fine enough actor — see Dust Devil — but he’s completely wrong for the role Weller established. Strike two.
Last but definitely not least are the offensive racial stereotype ninja robots. Strike three.
13. Return to Oz
Made as a direct sequel to 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, the two films could not have been more different. Of course, different isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. Writer-director Walter Murch crafts a stark and exciting tale that finds child star Fairuza Balk taking over for Judy Garland with a new cast of characters that includes Jack Pumpkinhead from the original L. Frank Baum books The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. As a children’s film, it can be a little difficult to watch (read: frightening) and that’s saying something, since the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) from the first film isn’t exactly the cheery sort.
Watching Return to Oz, you get a distinct feeling that this is a film Tim Burton might have made had he been active in the mainstream a few years earlier. It’s dark and gothic, introducing elements like electro-shock therapy on our young hero. Still, it’s well worth a watch even though it effectively destroyed the original film franchise before it had a chance to get going, and it caused future efforts to follow their own courses with varying degrees of success (i.e. Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful, Tin Man, etc.).
12. Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
Each Texas Chainsaw Massacre film outside the original and its surprisingly decent 2003 remake has existed in a plane of utter confusion. Just look at how the films have gone in recent memory. There was Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, a prequel to the remake. That was followed by Texas Chainsaw 3D, a direct sequel to the original classic that ignored all previous sequels and remakes (and prequels to remakes).
Of course, the confusion began with Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986), which reintroduced audiences to Leatherface under the guiding hand of the original’s director, Tobe Hooper. Hooper, not wanting to make a rehash of his previous effort, turned out a bizarre comedy-horror film that was completely different in tone and short on subtlety. It also managed to nab Dennis Hopper for its cast in spite of battles with the censors that resulted in a rare “unrated” theatrical release.
That set up Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III, which attempted to get the series back to its horror roots. Then we got a young Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger in the horribly maligned Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994). This film seems to exist on its own as a strange remake/sequel hybrid that both older and newer franchises seem to ignore.
Had Hooper just towed the line and made an updated replica to his original, these films would have probably had more commercial success, and we wouldn’t be left trying to figure out what each one is supposed to be. Consequently, the next iteration will be simply entitled Leatherface, and (we think) it’s a prequel to the original, thus making it fall in line with Texas Chainsaw 3D. It has been targeted for a 2016 release.
11. Magnum Force
Okay, we know some of you will see Magnum Force on this list and head immediately to the comments to tell us how full of it we are, but hear us out. Watch the first Dirty Harry, and you’ll see that Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a cop in badge only. He’s definitely more of a vigilante, as seen in the way he illegally pursues Scorpio (Andy Robinson) to his groundskeeper lair at Kezar Stadium sans warrant to torture him into a confession. Then — spoiler alert — he flat out embarrasses Scorpio in the film’s climax, teasing him with the possibility of that last .44 bullet that we damn well know he knows isn’t in the chamber.
Fast forward to Magnum Force. Now Harry is on the trail of a death squad of motorcycle cops, who are doing pretty much the same things he did in the first film. Shoot first, ask questions later. Sure, there is a bit more premeditation, but the line is a very thin one. Just one sequel after the original where Callahan tossed his badge in the lake, he is now telling us that playing by the rules has its place. Make up your mind, dude.
Subsequent films continued to keep Harry hovering around the political center. There was the female partner in The Enforcer; the vengeful rape victim in Sudden Impact. By the time The Dead Pool hit theaters, Callahan is sort of indistinguishable from other cop film protagonists. That said, Dirty Harry remains one of our all-time favorites, and any Dirty Harry film is always a good time.
10. The Sting II
There is a right way and a wrong way to harness the success of an Oscar-winning film and turn it into an ongoing franchise. Films that did it right: Rocky II and most of the sequels. Films that did it wrong: The Sting II. Sure, it had the comedic chops of Jackie Gleason behind it, but he was also horribly miscast, replacing then-A-list leading man Paul Newman. Even worse, Mac Davis’s Robert Redford impersonation wasn’t doing anyone any favors. About the only suitable replacement was Oliver Reed for Robert Shaw as the villainous Doyle Lonnegan, but the movie itself is so bad you can’t really tell it without punishing yourself with subsequent viewings.
The original had franchise potential. It was made in 1973 and received rave reviews. Had Hollywood been able to lock down Newman, Redford, and the surviving cast, they could have had fun with a new caper. Instead they waited 10 years to make the sequel, and when they did, it didn’t remotely resemble the film that had come before it, from the lacking intelligence of the script to the actors filling the roles. The Sting II definitely changed its franchise completely by killing it off altogether, considering there was a third movie in the works, but it got scrapped when this thing went off the box office rails, grossing only $6.3 million in ’83 dollars ($17.2 million adjusted).
9. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night Part II
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II played in the same sandbox as films like Halloween III and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary: it attempted to do something dramatically different with its genre from previous films. While the other films quite clearly failed — Halloween went back to Michael Myers and there hasn’t been an Urban Legends film since — there was enough in this flick to cause the Prom Night franchise to stick it out with Mary Lou Maloney for another sequel. Neither were hugely successful, and after Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, it jumped back to slasher territory with Prom Night IV: Deliver Us from Evil, a film about a psychotic priest.
The plot is completely unrelated to the Jamie Lee Curtis original and instead of a knife/ax-wielding killer in a ski mask and all black outfit, we get a snotty prom queen, who exacts revenge from beyond the grave following a horrific prank-gone-wrong. The only remote similarity it has to the first is in the casting of Michael Ironside (Scanners), whose performance is a dark riff on Leslie Nielsen’s in the original. Ideally, Prom Night II would be more at home in the Carrie franchise.
8. Urban Legends: Bloody Mary
It’s always a little puzzling when filmmakers get their hands on a series of films and try to dramatically alter course by shifting them into another genre (or in this case, sub-genre). Perhaps even more puzzling is when those directional shifts turn out better than expected. Such was the case with Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, the third and final film in the burgeoning Urban Legends horror franchise.
The first two films were standard masked-killer slasher fare, but the third ventured into supernatural horror by riffing on the old mirror legend that states if you say “Bloody Mary” three or five times into a mirror in the dark, she will appear. The popular urban legend has appeared in other films — most successfully, the original Candyman — but most efforts fell short. Bloody Mary is decent enough, but it wasn’t good enough to keep the franchise going. Instead, it killed it off altogether, and there is no sign of life that there will be a fourth movie or a reboot at this point. However, it’s still worth your time for a few effective scenes and the always captivating Kate Mara.
7. The Karate Kid II
The Karate Kid II was one of the most highly anticipated films of 1986. Most of us had already seen the original a million times and couldn’t wait to see where the next film took our heroes. There was definitely some buildup for it, too, with that Peter Cetera music video inserting flashes of the movie in between his squalling. Then opening night came, and the movie picked up right where the original left off with that parking lot confrontation between Miyagi and Kreese — so far, so good.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film didn’t know what it wanted to be. While the first movie worked because of the Miyagi-Daniel friendship and the coming-of-age elements, this one was more of a silly action movie and love story that only dabbled in what made the original a classic. By the end, we could remember our adolescent selves walking out disappointed, and our feelings for the movie have not improved over time. This set a precedent of badness that carried over into The Karate Kid III and The Next Karate Kid, shattering all hope for what could have been a promising franchise.
6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Halloween III: Season of the Witch only temporarily changed its franchise, but for the brief moment that it did, it did so thoroughly. Michael Myers fans were disappointed to get an unrelated terror tale bearing the Halloween name, but it’s actually a pretty solid flick if you can get past that realization. Sure, the plot’s a little stupid —a mask-making company seeks to take over the world on Halloween with its specially designed grotesque creations, and they’re going to do it through the children! — but the execution is creepy and effective.
At this point, Halloween creator John Carpenter was not on board with seeing yet another Halloween film. To this day, he (rightly) possesses a disdain for how producers continually tried to explain Michael Myers, referring to his creation as a “force of nature.” With more creative power, he was able to keep producers from doing a third Michael Myers film, instead hoping to turn the series into an annual horror anthology with a scary movie set around the holiday. In retrospect, we the moviegoing public probably should have supported the idea, considering that Halloween 4, 5, 6, H20, Resurrection, and the Rob Zombie dreck would follow, thus forever damaging the integrity of what had been a chilling film series.
5. Rambo: First Blood Part II
There is a reason the Rambo movies died out after 1988, and we didn’t see the character again for 20 years. While First Blood was a thoughtful movie with something to say — seriously, it aligned much closer to drama than action movie — Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III contributed nothing of value to what their predecessor had so wonderfully conveyed.
With the second Rambo film, Stallone and company essentially built a beautiful muscle car and forgot to put an engine in it. It was a clear money grab more focused on body count than characterization and story. What made its predecessor unforgettable was no more. Thankfully, Stallone brought some of that original spirit back to the fourth Rambo, but the graphic nature of the violence established in Rambo II only escalated.
4. The Road Warrior
While Mad Max: Fury Road seemed to utilize Furiosa (Charlize Theron) more than the title character at times, it was still very much in good company with The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. It featured pro wrestling-style characters, insane car stunts, and a unique environment compared with most post-apocalyptic fare. It definitely didn’t change the tone and feel of the series.
No, that distinction would have to go to The Road Warrior. Everything about George Miller’s follow-up to the original Mad Max felt bigger, bolder and more out of control. While the first entry in the series was set in the same world, it was sparse and desolate enough to be a story that could have worked in any time period. It’s basically just a revenge drama.
The Road Warrior was the film that took things to a mythical proportion, and while that distinction didn’t always work to perfection, it served the franchise well, as evidenced in its own superb rendering and the success of Miller’s latest.
The original Alien was quite clearly a horror film set in space. The monster is kept largely in the background through much of the narrative, and when it does finally appear, it’s in a quick and unnerving flash. From there, it’s back to the shadows — until a baby bursts out of one of our unfortunate character’s chests. Even then, director Ridley Scott seemed to understand that the less you saw, the more effective it would be.
Then came Aliens, a great film, but definitely not the follow-up that you expect considering the original’s M.O. You don’t have to wait too long before meeting up with the Xenomorphs, and they get a lot more screen time as they pursue our beloved Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her brave batch of space marines. By taking the first film’s sole survivor and empowering her to take the fight to the aliens, director James Cameron not only creates a tense action film, he essentially births the female action hero. Unfortunately, the series — which embraced the turn from horror to action — tanked in quality after that, but it did make it more acceptable to cast women in strong leading roles. Today’s badass heroines owe their livelihoods to Ripley, even if Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection are things that exist.
One of these things is not like the other. When laying out the Thomas Harris adaptations, you might be quick to say that Hannibal Rising is the film this saying applies to, because it centers more on the character of Hannibal Lecter than the hero investigators at the heart of Manhunter, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and, to a lesser degree, the Hannibal television series. However, Lecter’s transition from menacing supporting character to leading man actually happened a little before that in the follow-up to Silence known simply as Hannibal.
From the moment producers found out they’d have to replace Jodie Foster’s memorable turn as FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling, it seemed like the tone would shift more dramatically toward Anthony Hopkins, and it did just that. Hannibal found Lecter playing a warped sort of antihero up against a deformed madman of his own creation, all the while trying to balance that with his penchant for doing evil. It creates an odd aura that doesn’t exactly work. Hannibal Rising and the television series followed more closely to this tonal shift and suffered for it, though we will acknowledge the series had some seriously cool moments.
1. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Sam Raimi’s original low budget horror movie The Evil Dead had a very subtle sense of humor, but nothing to the effect of its offspring. Army of Darkness, the third entry, is sometimes erroneously cited as the film in the series that went full-comedy, but the reality is that things got lighthearted in Raimi’s first sequel. While the horror elements were more pronounced than in AOD, Dead by Dawn dives into the laughs early with Ash (Bruce Campbell) and the epic battle he wages against his own severed hand.
Before the end of the film, he makes the full-on metamorphosis to a chainsaw wielding, wisecracking badass. Compare that to the stark originality of the first, and there is no way these two movies exist in the same franchise (except that they do). While the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead successfully brings back some of the original’s graphic violence, the character-play is much more in line with Evil Dead 2 and AOD, to the point that it’s now the original that doesn’t even seem like it belongs. Still, it’s a damn fine standalone horror movie, and a big part of one of the greatest film trilogies ever.
So there you have it, readers. For better or worse, temporary or long-term, those are the sequels that changed their franchises completely. Think of any that we left off the list? Any arguments to be made about what we’ve said above? We’d love to hear about it. Sound off in the comments section!