Hollywood’s obsession with unnecessary sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes might be frustrating to some cinemagoers, but it isn’t anything especially new. For decades, studios have looked for ways to exploit existing cinematic properties, and while there are plenty of examples of films and franchises that warrant follow-ups in some form or another, there are a fair few that might have been better off left alone.
The various pitfalls of franchise expansion are well known. Sometimes, a sequel may end up adding little the original. Other times, they take things in a new and unwanted direction. Occasionally, they even end up damaging the impact of the original.
Some films are so brilliant that they are better left alone, and while a misguided sequel or two may end up damaging the franchise as a whole, there are still some movies out there that remain as fresh and innovative as ever – so long as you pretend they sequels never existed.
With that in mind, here are just 15 Movie Franchises That Would’ve Been Better Without Their Sequels – how many of your favorites feature?
15. The Matrix
The Matrix is one of the best films of the ’90s thanks to cutting edge special effects, action sequences but, most importantly, a great script and plot touching on philosophy and religion.
Keanu Reeves’ Thomas Anderson is the perfect movie every-man – an office drone who discovers the world is a lie and that he is the chosen one, sent to awaken the human race from a slumber that has seen them become living batteries. It works because it’s not only a great sci-fi story, but one that makes some valid points about our very existence.
Unfortunately, at no point do the sequels even come close to replicating that. Much of this has to do with the Wachowskis’ decision to double down on almost everything in a move that means more guns, more stunts, more Agent Smith, and more Zion, except with a whole lot less quality control.
But it’s the two films’ focus on philosophy and mythology that really proves to be their undoing, as anyone who sat through the Engineer’s ergo-laden monologue in the second film will attest. The first movie ended with Neo flying off into the sky, to save humanity. They should have left it there.
14. Jurassic Park
It’s not that the Jurassic Park sequels are bad – granted, The Lost World cranks up the scares and gore to 11 and the third installment introduces the daft concept of talking dinosaurs – it’s more that they find a way of taking a huge dump on some of the first movie’s most beloved characters.
Take Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm. In the first movie, he’s a lovable rogue, full of pithy one-liners and seductive poses. But when we catch up with him in The Lost World, he’s become a miserable, deadbeat dad, a killjoy who has lost some of his knack for a killer quip.
It gets worse in Jurassic Park III, though, where we learn that Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant eventually split from Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler because of his refusal to have children. Did he learn nothing from his experience on the island?
The less said about Dr. Henry Wu’s transformation from friendly park employee to black Polo Neck clad dino-cloning super villain in Jurassic World, meanwhile, the better.
Though it might seem strange to think now, there was a time when the Saw movies did not simply serve as a lazy vehicle for a series of increasingly elaborate and super-gory set pieces involving interchangeable b-list movie actors and nonsensical plot twists.
No, the first Saw movie had a little more class. Granted, it may have essentially been a schlocky version of Se7en, but it had real, respected actors like Cary Elwes and Danny Glover among its stars, along with a Lost/Person of Interest star Michael Emerson and a compelling plot. It also had an absolutely brilliant twist ending that **SPOILER ALERT** had sadistic serial killer Jigsaw come back from the dead to escape and resign our heroes to a truly grizzly fate.
The problem was that Saw became a massive box office success off the back of a very modest budget, and studio heads soon began seeing dollar signs. Six more films followed, full of gore and unnecessary Jigsaw backstory. When they eventually killed him off, another far less memorable killer came in his place, with the filmmakers eventually running the concept into the ground.
12. Men In Black
Watching Will Smith’s first outing as Agent J in Men In Black, you would be forgiven for thinking director Barry Sonnenfeld never had even the slightest inkling a sequel was on the cards — or, at least, not one involving Tommy Lee Jones.
After defeating Edgar the Bug, Jones’ Agent K reveals that he had, in fact, not been training up J as his partner, but as his replacement. K ends up having his mind erased and returning to civilian life and the woman he loved, with Linda Fiorentino’s Agent L stepping up in his place.
Viewers were left imaging a future of fun adventures for J and L, while Jones’ K gets his happy ending. Except, by the time plans for a sequel rolled around, L herself has apparently decided to return to her former life, with K being reactivated into service.
Not content with undoing much of what made Men In Black’s ending so great, the third installment saw Jones sidelined for a time travel story that introduced Josh Brolin as a younger Agent K, and the idea that he had served as Agent J’s surrogate father of sorts this whole time. Why must everything be connected?
While Shane Black’s upcoming reboot could yet change things, it’s fair to say that the Predator sequels that have followed John McTiernan’s glorious 1980s original have failed to recapture that same magic. Part of that is down to the fact that the first Predator film is actually a lot smarter than you think, and way smarter than all the sequels that followed – especially the Alien vs Predator fiascos.
A film about a crack team of US military types being picked off in a dense jungle setting by an unseen enemy not only works as a great premise for a sci-fi/action/horror movie, but also an allegory for the Vietnam War and US foreign policy as a whole. It also made a whole lot more sense to have the Predators based out in the jungle, a genuine hunting ground, rather than Predator 2’s setting of L.A., which serves as little more than a meat market.
Predators does at least make things interesting, with a comic book-style plot of warriors assembled from various backgrounds and disciplines, but it owes a lot to the original and lacks much of the charm and underlying themes of the first effort.
RoboCop is Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece. It’s a violent, brilliant, biting satire of big corporation America focused on themes of Christian symbolism and masculinity. It’s the story of one man’s struggle to rediscover his humanity after being blown to holy hell. It’s dark, funny, and emotional, and it works effectively as a standalone movie. If only it had been left to be just that.
RoboCop 2 followed, based on an inventive Frank Miller script that was heavily rewritten at the request of the film’s producers. By the end, it resembled a lazy retread of the first movie, minus the memorable characters or plot. And things got whole lot worse with the kid-friendly Robocop 3. A tame, colorful outing complete with child sidekicks and robot ninjas, it was a painful excuse to market RoboCop toys to children, and as far removed from Verhoeven’s violent vision as you could get.
2014’s completely pointless RoboCop remake wasn’t much better either. The production values are more than slick enough, but the reboot was completely lacking the violence and satirical edge of the original.
9. Dumb and Dumber
Dumber and Dumber To stands as undisputed proof that some things are best left in the past. Fans had to wait 20 years for a sequel featuring Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey, but when they got it, most wished they hadn’t.
Where once the characters of Harry and Lloyd were dumb but lovable losers on a silly quest together as young men, they had now become sad, old, and a little bit creepy. All of a sudden, the gross-out jokes that were once juvenile but funny became just plain juvenile and even a little weird. At the end of the first Dumb and Dumber, fans are left thinking that, ultimately, Harry and Lloyd will be okay. Come Dumb and Dumber To, however, and it was clear things have not gone well.
And yet, Carrey, Daniels, and the Farrelly Brothers should have known better – Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd had already showed how pitfalls of returning to a set of characters who, if not perfectly pitched on the page, could come off all kinds of wrong on the screen. But they didn’t heed that warning.
8. Final Destination
Final Destination is one of the great underrated teen horror flicks of the genre’s late ’90s/early 2000s heyday, with a killer cast of actors including familiar faces like Ali Larter, Sean William Scott, and Devon “Stan” Sawa. It had an innovative premise and some measured, memorable death set-pieces, along with an incredible ending that proved the tagline “You can’t cheat death” to be true.
But, like all successful horror movies, it also lent itself to multiple sequels and diminishing returns. Granted, Final Destination 3’s rollercoaster-led effort, which saw original writer/director James Wong return and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star, was better than most, but the three other follow-ups added little to the franchise.
There was a lazy first standard sequel, 3D effort that promised to be the “final” film in the franchis,e and that another, forgettable, prequel entry. All of which fell into the Saw trap of elaborate setups and super-gory deaths alongside little in the way of plot or development. But then, it is a horror movie…
Taken is a film with a very clear formula. Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills is a man with a very specific set of skills. His daughter gets taken. He has to use those skills to get her back. Again and again and again and again. For 90, heart-stopping, minutes. There’s not really anywhere else you can go from there with a sequel, other than to have other people taken, with a similar sort of outcome. But that didn’t stop them from doing exactly that, though. Twice.
Taken 2 was bad enough with the roles reversed and Mills rescued from danger by his daughter, who, as audiences already knew, had none of the specific skills he boasted of in the first movie. Then there was Taken 3, which saw Mills on the run and framed for the murder of his ex-wife. No one was taken, and Mills only got to use his specific set of skills on a couple of occasions. To put it bluntly, Taken 3 made Taken 2 look like Taken. Both sequels are trash.
6. Police Academy
Revisit the very first Police Academy movie, without considering any of the seven vastly inferior sequels, and you could be in for pleasant surprise. Because while the antics of Steve Guttenberg’s Carey Mahoney and the other cadets may have dated badly in some respects – the film’s approach to homosexuality leaves a lot to be desired – it’s a lot more fun than you think. In fact, in a lot of respects, the first Police Academy shares a lot more in common with the anarchic spirit of Animal House than any of the more family-friendly efforts that followed it.
If anything, it’s slightly more intelligent too, touching on issues surrounding race and gender alongside the usual array of crude gags and Michael Winslow beat-box effects. Granted, it’s a far from polished effort, and a few gags will leave you feeling uncomfortable, but judged as a standalone ’80s comedy, it’s up there with the best, something which got lost in the plethora of sequels that followed and detracted from its success.
5. Conan The Barbarian
The first Conan the Barbarian movie is an absolute classic, crafted by the underrated genius John Milius and based on a script by Oliver Stone. It’s also a film that boasts not one but arguably two career-best performances from Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones as the titular hero and his terrifying nemesis, Thulsa Doom, respectively.
The writer of classic movies like Dirty Harry, Jaws and Apocalypse Now, Milius showed himself to be a great director on Conan, creating an epic, atmospheric yet sparse story, highlighted by a great central performance from Schwarzenegger, who was a rising star at the time. Milius quickly realized that Schwarzenegger’s physicality (rather than his ability to deliver lines) were key to embodying the character, with the Austrian Oak’s dialogue reduced to sparse uses of the word “Crom” his fictional God, at various intervals, in favour of more climbing, fighting, and even being attacked, for real, by dogs.
Alas, by the time the sequel, Conan The Destroyer, rolled around, it was clear that much of what made the first film great had been lost. The violence was toned down, there was a lot more dialogue for Schwarzenegger, and everything was a little more cartoonish. The 2011 remake, meanwhile, went too far the other way, with a truckload of gore but a real lack of compelling characters. The original remains the only one to get the balance just right.
4. The Exorcist
In The Exorcist, audiences are led to believe that the demonic possession of Regan MacNeil is largely random, designed to make Father Lankester Merrin, Damien Karras, and Chris MacNeil despair at the fate of humanity when such pure evil exists in the world. It’s a pretty terrifying concept, and part of the reason why The Exorcist is so revered among horror fans. It’s also possibly why The Exorcist II: The Heretic is so universally hated, too.
Part prequel and sequel, the film instead posits the idea that those who become possessed are a special breed of folk who are super good and have a special psychic healing ability, including the now grown-up Regan. It’s a mess, and one rightly regarded as one of the worst films of all-time.
The Exorcist III may have been faithful to William Peter Blatty’s original sequel text, Legion, but it also posited a scenario where Karras somehow survived his encounter with the demon and instead became possessed by another spirit, further undermining the original. Then came the mess of Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, two different versions of the same film that had one thing in common: they both sucked. The power of Christ compels you to avoid all four.
3. The Hangover
The Hangover is a fun, knock-about comedy centering on one unforgettable night on the sauce and the various escapades that occur as a result. Much like Taken, it’s a formula that really only lends itself to a singular film, rather than a franchise. You can’t just repeatedly go out and get hammered on a series of bachelor par…well, you can in real life, but watching it happen on film can get a little tedious. The Hangover’s sequels fall into two distinct categories of crap, though.
There’s Hangover Part II, which goes down the Home Alone II route of filmic follow-ups but essentially repeating, almost wholesale, everything that was funny about the first film, except this time in a different setting (specifically, Thailand).
The Hangover Part III, meanwhile, goes down the Halloween III: Season of the Witch route of having almost nothing to do with the original concept, in that, for almost all the film, our merry gang of guys don’t have a hangover. There’s also way too much of Ken Jeong’s Mr Chow. In fact, they only have a hangover in the final seconds of the film, which see’s Ed Helms’ Stu wake up with breast implants. Now that sounds like an interesting hangover movie.
2. The Crow
Alex Proyas’ ultra-dark 1994 version of The Crow is not only cult classic, but a damn fine comic book adaptation that has way more of an influence on film’s like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy than many realize. There’s also a tragic story behind it, with star Brandon Lee getting killed during filming after an accident involving a handgun. That they were able to edit together a coherent version of the movie, despite Lee’s passing, is a credit to those who made the film and the perfect tribute to an actor taken in his prime.
That anyone would even contemplate doing a sequel after all that is contentious enough, but to do it badly, is unforgivable.
Starting with Crow: City of Angels and then on to Crow: Salvation, and last, and definitely least, Crow: Wicked Prayer, Miramax (and later, Dimension) backed three formulaic sequels featuring a lot of people that should have known better. Someone gets killed, rises up as the Crow and gets revenge. Three times. And with the last one pitting Edward Furlong as The Crow going up against David Boreanaz as the world’s least convincing Satanic biker gang leader, it’s truly the stuff of nightmares.
Candyman is that most rare of adaptations – one that transcends the source material. Originally based on a Clive Barker short story set in Liverpool called The Forbidden, art house film director Bernard Rose took the bold decision to switch the action from England to the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago. Backed by an atmospheric Philip Glass score, with Tony Todd cast in the titular role and ably supported by Virginia Madsen and Xander Berkeley, Rose set about creating arguably the most sophisticated and intelligent horror movie to arrive on the scene since Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. It also has a conclusive ending, with Madsen’s Helen Lyle spending much of the film chasing the legend of the Candyman, only to die and become part of the folklore herself.
But, again, this is the horror genre, where straight-to-DVD sequels are churned out en masse. That proved to be the case with Candyman, which boasted two sequels: Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead. While Flesh focused too much on The Candyman’s backstory, the latter felt suspiciously like the script for a film that had The Candyman shoe-horned into it as part of hasty rewrite. Both should be avoided at all costs.
Do you think there are any other franchises that are better off without their sequels? Leave a comment with your suggestions
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