In an industry that has become outright dominated by remakes, adaptations, and sequels, there’s nothing more revitalizing than entirely fresh stories brought to the big screen with solid performances and sharp filmmaking. While toy-based actions films (Transformers) and young adult romance movies (Twilight) have found record-breaking success at the box office, for many cinephiles, original films, the ones that depict bold adventures (Inception), relatable human drama (Chef), tense supernatural horror (The Babadook), and hilarious comedy setups (Neighbors), ultimately prove to be the most memorable and satisfying – not to mention the main reason that recurrent movie-lovers continue to support local theaters.
Many of Screen Rant’s Favorite Films of 2014 (Birdman) as well as our Most Anticipated Movies of 2015 (The Hateful Eight) were, and are, original projects – though, admittedly, we enjoy our fair share of franchise properties too. That said, 2015 is not off to a great start – punctuated by two high profile follow-ups to stories that, frankly, never warranted a sequel. Both The Woman in Black (2012) and Taken (2008) delivered self-contained movie experiences with the right blend of filmmaking and intriguing setup to score solid responses from many critics and moviegoers alike – only to be undermined (to near-parody) via Hollywood’s attempt to turn successful films into full-on multi-picture franchises (e.g., The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death and Taken 3).
Which got us thinking, what other great movies has Hollywood shamelessly blown-out in an attempt to double-dip (or even quintuple-dip) with a longer franchise. To be clear, our list is composed of “Great Movies That Never Needed a Sequel” – and is not a roundup of the “Worst Movie Sequels” (meaning: No Highlander II). Whereas Star Wars: Episode I may have been an underwhelming prequel, most viewers agree that there’s still plenty of room to explore the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Instead, these are quality films that simply did not have enough meat on the fundamental premise to be stretched onto additional franchise installments – and, while some made money for their respective studios, any new income came at the expense of the original film’s initial integrity.
Of course, our list is not all-inclusive, so feel free to share your own list of great movies that never needed a sequel in the comment section.
Taken/Taken 2/Taken 3
Why Taken Was Successful: The original Taken featured a straightforward setup – allowing plenty of time for Bryan Mills (and actor Liam Neeson) to showcase his “very particular set of skills“. Following the unforgettable scene where, calm under pressure, Mills says to his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace), “They’re going to take you”, director Pierre Morel captured a tour de force of exciting action set pieces as well as a capable but often pragmatic protagonist. For all intents and purposes, Kim was little more than a MacGuffin-like object, driving the battle between ex-CIA agent Mills and international sex traffickers – placing the focus entirely on the goal at hand, along with the film’s dangerous (and ruthless) hero, without getting bogged down in unnecessary details.
Why Taken Doesn’t Work As A Franchise: In the subsequent sequel (and trilogy-capping third entry), the core Taken premise is stretched to the breaking point, undermining the simplicity that made the original (and Mills) so intriguing. Beholden to its roots, the sequel attempted an interconnected (and downright convoluted) tale that forced Mills to unpack his “skills” after his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), is “taken” by sex-trafficker parents looking for revenge. Knowing that he couldn’t simply add a third victim to be taken in the next chapter, Taken 2 helmer, Olivier Megaton, kills Lenore off at the beginning of Taken 3 to galvanize Mills back out of retirement (while entirely undercutting his efforts in the previous chapter). As a result, since Taken 2 labored under the central premise, in trying to keep the franchise rolling, Taken 3 completes Mills’ (and the series’) transition into a bland ex-CIA operative cliche – with neither film providing moviegoers a single moment more memorable or entertaining than anything in the original installment.
Jaws/Jaws 2/Jaws 3/Jaws: The Revenge
Why Jaws Was Successful: Similar to Taken, the Jaws series started off with a relatively straightforward premise – brought to the big screen by one of film’s most talented (and later famous) directors. Like any great horror-thriller, Spielberg used patience and restraint to terrify his audience, making the very idea of his killer shark even more frightening, by treating viewers to only fleeting glimpses of the titular monster. The story itself was compact, based on the novel by Peter Benchley, providing uncluttered drama as marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) investigate a series of grisly deaths at a local New England beach.
Why Jaws Doesn’t Work As A Franchise: The fate of the shark (and the human characters) is cleanly wrapped-up in both the novel source material as well as first movie – and Benchley never wrote a second book installment. Nevertheless, despite Spielberg’s feelings (at the time) that “making a sequel to anything is just a cheap carny trick,” producers pressed on with Jaws 2. In the years that followed, the straightforward tale of a killer shark would lead to three sequels – where, one after another, (oversized) great whites continued to threaten beachgoers. To that end, filmmakers watered down the core man vs. nature themes in favor of horror cliches – stretching the one-off premise to a point of absolute absurdity: including human-to-shark psychic connections and above water attacks on helicopters, among other ridiculous ideas that tried, desperately, to add new aspects to an otherwise standalone concept.
Speed/Speed 2: Cruise Control
Why Speed Was Successful: Jan de Bont’s Speed effortlessly combined two setups that moviegoers love: hostage situations and car chases – as Los Angeles SWAT officer Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) attempts to evacuate hostages from a bus rigged with explosives (should the speed dip below 50 miles/hour). It’s an intriguing setup from the outset but Speed also managed to payoff its premise with equally exciting action moments. Modern viewers may scoff at the bridge-jump scene but the high speed evacuation set piece, coupled with smart story twists, and solid chemistry between Reeves and co-star Sandra Bullock, ensured that Speed did not simply rest on a clever premise (or quotable catch phrases: “Pop quiz Hot Shot”).
Why Speed Doesn’t Work As A Franchise: Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the sequel: which, once again, sees Bullock’s character, Annie, aboard a doomed/speeding vehicle – this time a cruise ship programmed to collide with an oil tanker. Whereas Speed was a mostly original screenplay idea by Graham Yost (Justified), aided by significant rewrites from future Avengers director Joss Whedon, Reeves and the original writing team did not return for the sequel – leaving new scripters, Randall McCormick and Jeff Nathanson, to find a fresh angle (Speed on the open seas) that could also retain enough of the original setup to satisfy returning filmgoers – while also introducing an entirely new male lead (Jason Patric). The result was a lazy paint by numbers sequel that outright undermined the featured pairing/relationship of its far superior predecessor. Maybe “relationships that start under intense circumstances” never last after all?
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