A “soft reboot” isn’t the only way to keep a franchise fresh and relevant, and that’s good because we aren’t even completely sure what a “soft reboot” is. Sometimes, series runners can kick new life into their moneymakers simply by rewriting history to keep them going.
That can mean bringing fan-favorite characters back — regardless of how dead they were — or it can mean shuffling past events around, or even ignoring them completely to get the series out of a corner. The power of retcons (“retroactive continuity”) is infinite, and they aren’t just for comics. But they don’t always make complete sense, either.
Here are 15 movie retcons that had us completely baffled.
15. Star Trek: Nemesis – Ever-bald Picard
The final film outing for the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew involves an aborted Romulan plan to sneak a clone of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) into the Federation to serve as a spy. Apparently, the Romulans thought that was a silly plan, even for them, so they banished the clone, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), to Romulus’ previously unheard-of sister planet, Remus, to work in a mine. The existence of Remus is a retcon in itself, but that isn’t the confusing bit.
Apparently, the filmmakers decided that nobody would really buy that Shinzon is a clone of Picard unless they were both bald.
After Picard meets Shinzon for the first time and discovers what he is, the captain gets nostalgic and pulls out his old photo album from Starfleet Academy. This includes an old picture of Picard looking all kinds of Tom Hardy, including the shiny dome. And that wouldn’t be a huge problem if the series episode “Tapestry” didn’t exist, which shows a younger Ensign Picard with a glorious head of hair.
14. Saw VI – Agent Perez is still alive (and nothing comes of it)
The Saw series is already like 40 percent retcons, since each installment reveals new information about what had happened in previous ones until none of it makes a whole lot of sense, but one revision in particular had us wondering why the filmmakers bothered.
In Saw IV, FBI Agent Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) receives a face full of shrapnel while investigating a Jigsaw Killer crime scene. We see paramedics take her away, we see her partner, Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) making the call to her parents, and then in Saw V, we see him grieving next to Perez’s empty, blood-covered hospital bed and recounting her last words to villain Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). All of this tells us that Perez is dead … but wait!
Saw VI brings her back for very little reason — not that we aren’t happy to see her again. They say something about keeping her status “need-to-know” to ensure her safety, and then she gets really close to catching Hoffman and stopping all the murders, but then she doesn’t and dies for reals. It’s all pretty anticlimactic, really.
13. The Wolverine – Professor Xavier’s new body
A mid-credits scene of The Wolverine has Logan returning from his adventures in Japan, only to have time freeze on him in the airport. And not just for the reason that it seems to stand still when the rest of us are trying to get through security. No, it’s happening because that’s one of Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) main abilities, which is the series’ way of saying that while we totally see him explode in X-Men: The Last Stand, he’s not so much blown up anymore. And sure enough, he comes wheeling in to confuse both Wolverine and the audience with how decidedly integrated he is all of a sudden.
A post-credits scene in The Last Stand gives us some indication of how this works: Xavier transferred his consciousness into a braindead patient. And the commentary track reveals that this guy was, in fact, Xavier’s twin brother. So that’s why he still looks like Patrick Stewart in The Wolverine.
But hang on, what?
Assuming the twin-brother argument is true (no on-screen rationale exists), it doesn’t explain why Xavier II is still in a wheelchair in both this movie and the post-apocalyptic scenes in Days of Future Past. And if that patient isn’t the professor’s identical twin, it means that the X-Men leader stole a body and then used some powerful psychic mojo to completely change its appearance and cripple its legs. And that’s a weird superpower, even for this universe.
Even ignoring all of that, creating a twin brother specifically to give Professor Xavier a chance to come back, itself, a pretty big retcon. And they don’t even mention him in X-Men: First Class, and we’re pretty sure that would have come up. All in all, this is just one of the many lingering question marks left in the X-Men franchise. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the answers.
12. Fast Five – Letty lives
About 15 minutes into Fast and Furious, the fourth installment of the irregularly named car-action series, we hear about Letty Ortiz’s (Michelle Rodriguez) off-screen murder, and she even gets a funeral. Later on, a flashback shows us exactly what happened: the bad guy flipped her car, shot her, and then let her burn in the wreckage of her vehicle.
We don’t actually see Letty’s body, but we assume they buried something and verified the death somehow. But none of that matters because a mid-credits sequence in Fast Five shows her alive and working for a criminal gang, and her proper return in Fast & Furious 6 — seriously, these titles make no sense — has her looking miraculously burn/bullet-free.
The explanation we get is that the villain, instead of shooting Letty, aimed at her car instead and blew it up. And because of action-movie rules, the most that this sort of thing will do is give you amnesia. Which it does.
11. The Omen series – When did this happen?
The Omen series of horror movies tells the story of Damian, the spawn of Satan and a jackal. Or something. He’s definitely evil. We’re only talking about the first three movies here, and we think we’re alright doing that considering most people don’t even know that a fourth movie exists in the form of a crappy TV movie. So let’s just look at the core “trilogy” because it’s pretty messed up.
Our problem here isn’t that the movies retcon each other directly — we don’t find out that Damien is not the Antichrist, although that would have been an interesting development. The issue is one of time.
The Omen, Damien: Omen II, and Omen III: The Final Conflict came out in 1976, 1978, and 1981, respectively, and they presumably take place in the years in which they are released. But Damien is five years old in the first film, 12 in the second, and 32 in the third, which means that every installment pushes the events of the previous ones farther back in time, and the older ones retroactively shove the earlier ones forward.
Depending on which film you’re watching, The Omen takes place in 1976, 1971, or 1954; Omen II happens in 1983, 1978, or 1961; and Omen III is in 2003, 1998, or 1981. We didn’t really expect the filmmakers to pull a Boyhood and follow their fictional character’s life in real time, of course. That would be super boring, and nobody likes waiting that long to be disappointed.
10. Friday the 13th, Part 2 – So … what was the big deal?
Nobody expected the original Friday the 13th to spawn so many sequels, reboots, crossovers, and space adventures, so we can almost forgive the creators for this particular retcon. But it’s no less confusing.
Here’s how it works: The first film is about Pamela Voorhees, who goes on a maniac killing spree to avenge the death of her son, Jason, who drowned as a result of some super-negligent camp counseling. She carves her way through nine victims before the Final Girl lops her head off with a machete. According to current horror-movie rules, Mrs. Voorhees would find a way to come back again and again, but Friday the 13th helped create that trope, and it decided to start with Jason.
The sequel takes back the killer’s entire motivation in the first film by saying that not only did Jason not die in Crystal Lake, he also witnessed his mother’s death. Which either means that those eight murders were a huge overreaction, or Pamela didn’t know her son was alive and Jason was just hanging out, biding his time in the woods for over two decades — despite the fact that the camp opened as normal the year after his accident.
9. Halloween H20 – half of the series never happened
We’re going to see a lot of retcons that suppose that earlier installments of a series just didn’t happen, but the Halloween series called one of the gutsier do-overs.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, in addition to having an incredibly stupid title, also erases 17 years of the franchise. That may or may not include Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but that entry has nothing to do with the rest of the series, anyway. This means that the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies — which contain subplots that have Michael Myers’ niece (Danielle Harris) also becoming a killer after forming a psychic link with her uncle and the source of the unstoppable murderer’s power traced to Druidic cults and runes — have not effectively gone out the window. It’s not that we really blame the people running Halloween for dumping all of that extra, supernatural weight, but that’s a pretty big mulligan.
Halloween: Resurrection, which follows this one, also pulls a major retcon by creating an elaborate scenario that has Michael switching places with a paramedic so that he is the one that dies at the end of H20. And apparently that was alright with everyone, even though he really didn’t have time to have done it.
8. Alien 3 – Babies on board
Director James Cameron’s Aliens ends on a low but hopeful note: Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and what remains of Bishop escape the Xenomorph-infested planet LV-426 having nuked all of the aliens and hurled their queen out of an airlock. It’s not the happiest ending possible, since hundreds of people died in the meantime, but it’s as good as one can hope for in an Alien movie.
Alien 3, however, takes even that slight bit of optimism and dashes it against the rocks like a pioneer woman doing laundry. See, it turns out that even though we were with the Alien Queen literally every second she was on the humans’ ship, she still managed to leave two eggs in different parts of the ship — one near the cryotubes, and another on the Emergency Evacuation Vehicle that crashes on the prison planet. And that’s a pretty neat trick considering the Queen never leaves the cargo bay in Aliens. You know, except for that time when she falls into space.
Alien 3 had a lot of false starts and a troubled production, but some of the other ideas for how to get Xenomorphs into the mix didn’t make much more sense than what the final movie went with. An early script had a facehugger stowing away inside of android Bishop’s bisected body, and then the evil Wayland-Yutani Corporation had its own supply of killer aliens independently of that.
7. Terminator: Genisys – Just, like, all of it
While Halloween H20 managed to erase three films out of an eight-movie series, Terminator: Genisys takes out the entire franchise as it had existed in just over two hours. And that’s pretty impressive.
Not only does the film subvert the events of the original Terminator; by the end, it has destroyed every bit of continuity we’ve come to know. T2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Terminator: Salvation also cease to exist thanks to fundamental changes in where the evil computer network Skynet comes from and how the heroes are going to fight it. And how Genisys does this makes pretty much zero sense.
The main irritants are that someone sends a liquid-metal T-1000 back to kill Sarah Connor (
Daenerys Targaryen Emilia Clarke) when she was a kid, and someone else sends a friendly T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to save her. That cyborg ends up raising Sarah, and it’s present to destroy the original T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) that Skynet sent back to kill her in the first movie.
And then it turns out that Skynet isn’t a defense network, but rather a global operating system that runs your phone, computer, tablet, and, oh yeah, the entire world’s nuclear arsenal. Also, Skynet assimilated John Connor, Borg-style, in the future, but then it sends him to the past to make sure it ends up existing, but it did this after the human resistance had destroyed it, so that doesn’t make any sense, and we also can’t figure out where the two Terminators in T2 even came from because Skynet was gone, so it would have had to send them back at the same time as the original one that ended up in 1984, but none of that matters because that movie isn’t even canon anymore.
6. Evil Dead 2 – He went up there again?!
The prologue to Evil Dead 2 recounts the events of the first film. Kinda. Ash (Bruce Campbell) tells the audience about how he and his girlfriend went to a cabin, and some evil got out and gave them a pretty rough time of it.
But this is confusing to some audiences because it wasn’t just Ash and his girlfriend in the first film; another couple and Ash’s sister are also there. But the revised version we get at the beginning of Evil Dead 2 erases the other three characters from the backstory, so it kind of ends up looking like Ash went to the cabin with his four friends, the evil got out and killed everyone but him, and then Ash went home, got another girlfriend, and then took her back to the cabin where nothing good ever happens.
Granted, Ash isn’t even close to being the smartest guy in a genre already known for having some of the dumbest characters. But even that would be a bit much for him.
5. Spider-Man 3 – Isn’t it enough he’s a supervillain?
Looks like we have to pick on Evil Dead 2 director Sam Raimi again. But Spider-Man 3 has a lot of issues.
We don’t have room to list them all here, but we have to zero in on the part where we find out that Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) killed Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben (Cliff Robertson) all the way back in the first movie. This is a pretty pointless revelation, since we’re pretty sure that Spider-Man is equally inclined to stop all criminals whether they have a prior connection to him or not.
But we actually can’t test that hypothesis because Spidey knows almost every supervillain he fights in both this series and the two Amazing Spider-Man films. The Green Goblins are Peter’s best friend Harry (twice!) and his father, the Lizard is Peter’s college professor, Doctor Octopus is his role model, Venom is his professional rival, and Electro is just some guy he met once who immediately became obsessed with him. And most of those are straight from the comics, sure, but it didn’t seem super necessary to give Sandman that extra revenge angle. He’s a guy who turns into sand, and that seems pretty dangerous on its own.
But Spider-Man 3 reveals that rather than that one guy who Peter tracked down and terrorized in the first film, Uncle Ben’s real murderer was the guy who would go on to get crazy powers. It all seems pretty unnecessary. Just stop the bad guy, Spider-Man. Why does it always have to be personal?
4. Independence Day: Resurgence – Apparently, the aliens just blew up the world for fun
The original Independence Day claims that the aliens are attacking Earth because they’re like locusts; they take over a hospitable planet, use up all of its natural resources, and then move on to the next one. And that was why they blew up all of our landmarks: for our trees and water.
But early in Resurgence, we learn that while they were hovering menacingly over the planet’s major cities and making all of our postcards irrelevant, another ship was over in Africa with a different mission. It was drilling to the planet’s core to release energy that the invaders would use to power their spaceships, and that’s actually what they were after the whole time. The only reason they stopped drilling was because Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith took out the mothership. And the core is, in fact, why the villains return in the sequel.
If that’s what they wanted, though, why did they even bother with all of that destruction? All of those other ships could have just hung out in space while the drilling machine did its thing, and they would have saved all of the fuel they wasted on city-leveling death beams. And since it took the humans 20 years to even discover that the hole existed, it looks like the aliens could have just accomplished their entire mission in one go before Earth even had time to mount a defense.
Resurgence could have fixed this issue by ditching the “molten core for fuel” bit and just had the new, massive ship there to avenge all of the aliens we killed last time by destroying the planet. But as it is, the new movie makes the old one make even less sense than it did originally, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
3. Superman Returns – Lois and Clark’s love baby
Superman Returns is a sequel to Richard Donner’s original Superman and Superman II, and it pretends that the third and fourth movies never happened. And that’s fair, because we’ve been doing the same thing since we first saw them. But even as a direct follow-up to the second film, it has one huge problem: Jason.
Jason is Lois Lane’s son, and we discover toward the end of the film that Superman is his father. And that raises a bunch of questions, starting with the one where we don’t even know if Lois knew that the whole time. You see, she and Superman slept together after the Kryptonian gives up his powers in Superman II, which we assume is where Returns claims Jason was conceived. But at the end of the film, the hero uses a magical super-kiss to make Lois forget his secret identity and reset the status quo. But we don’t know if this erases her full knowledge of the movie’s events or not, and it all just gets increasingly disturbing.
The best-case scenario is that Lois knows Superman is Jason’s father from the start, but that means that she’s been letting her boyfriend Richard raise this kid as his own, and it also means that we have no idea what the timetable on their relationship is. But Lois seems genuinely surprised when Jason kills one of Lex Luthor’s henchmen by shoving a piano at him, which means that she has spent the entirety of the kid’s life also thinking that he was Richard’s. And an even worse thought is that she doesn’t even remember having sex with Superman, which turns this whole thing into a massive horror show.
2. Highlander II – Guess what? They’re aliens
Highlander II: The Quickening is kind of like a sequel to the 1986 immortal-on-immortal action film, except that it takes everything that happens in that plot and just nopes it out of existence.
This wasn’t director Russell Mulcahy’s fault; the studio took control of the movie away from him after the economic collapse of Argentina, where the project was filming. And what they did with the series lore and backstory is nothing less than baffling.
Instead of the race of immortals coming from Earth and only discovering that they’re magical beings after failing to die, Highlander II claims that heroes Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery) are aliens exiled to this world from the planet Zeist after a failed rebellion against the villainous General Katana (Michael Ironside). We aren’t sure which movie the studio execs were watching in 1986, but it wasn’t that one.
It takes a special kind of skill to retcon a story about a bunch of immortal beings who exist solely to decapitate each other in order to make themselves more powerful into something that makes even less sense. But somehow, Highlander II pulls it off. Luckily, Mulcahy managed to put together a director’s cut which restores most of his original ideas and elevates the film from one of the worst sci-fi releases ever made to merely mediocre.
After all that, the very idea of a Highlander reboot should be enough to send a chill down your spine.
1. Star Wars, Episode I – The tiny receptionists living in your blood
Watching Star Wars, The Phantom Menace for the first time is a unique experience. We were there opening weekend and felt our hope die, with confusion, boredom, and disappointment rushing in to fill the vacuum. And we reached maximum “Huh?” at the point where Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) explains why some people are more in touch with the Force than others.
Up until The Phantom Menace, Star Wars fans were content just knowing that the Force bound the universe together, and some people could tap into it to gain superpowers because they’re space wizards, and it just works, alright? But Episode I reveals that the degree to which one can access the Force depends entirely on how many midi-chlorians are present in their cells.
Midi-chlorians are microscopic life forms that speak directly to the Force and can communicate its will to their hosts, and people with higher concentrations of the little buggers are more powerful. This is a hard-science conceit in a science-fantasy series, an attempt to both quantify Force sensitivity and possibly explain why the children of powerful Jedi are, themselves, really strong. But it ultimately just makes the whole system even less sensical than it was already. Why do some people have more midi-chlorians? How does this communication work? What’s wrong with it just being magic?
Writer-director George Lucas apparently felt that it wasn’t enough for someone to say, “The Force is more strong with this kid than anyone else, ever, and I should know because I am a Jedi Master.” We needed to know that Anakin Skywalker’s midi-chlorian count is over 20,000, which we assume is a lot, but Lucas doesn’t bother providing a baseline for normal humans — or even Jedi — for comparison.
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Which other retcons made your head hurt? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
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