When a movie performs well at the box office, studios exercise their right to produce a sequel in an effort to wring more cash out of the property. For this list, we’re taking a look at sequels which doomed their franchise.
Sometimes, a long-running series can be derailed by one poorly-received entry, squandering years of good will and prosperity; other times, a would-be franchise can be stopped dead in its tracks by a weak follow-up. Either way, these movies put a damper on further sequels. Some of these once-popular series died forever, and others took decades to recover from their weakest entry.
Here are 13 Sequels So Bad They Killed Their Franchises.
13. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1995 adaptation of the popular video game, Mortal Kombat, isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but it’s a fun and colorful romp, and it lives up to the game’s concept while also being a solid spiritual remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. It had some wonderful production design (like him or hate him, Paul W.S. always makes great-looking movies), and scene-stealing performances from Linden Ashby and Christopher Lambert.
Naturally, when the sequel released in 1997, its first move was to replace most of the main cast, including Ashby and Lambert, and this was just the first of a great many problems with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Despite having a larger budget than the original, Annihilation looks pitifully cheap by comparison, with awful CGI, shoddy fight choreography, and a made-for-TV cast which includes multiple alumni of American Gladiators.
The resulting movie is an ugly train wreck, and audiences stayed away. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation grossed less than half of the first film’s global box office take, and is universally reviled as one of the worst examples of a film based on a popular video game, and, indeed, one of the worst movies of all time. A third film has been in development hell for nearly two decades, where it remains indefinitely.
12. Rocky V
Rocky won the Academy Award for Best Picture after its release in 1976. The first sequel, Rocky II, followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, and is a more-or-less beloved entry in the series. Rocky III and Rocky IV shift gears from intimate character dramas to crowd-pleasing action movies, but are still beloved for their overt melodrama and larger-than-life nature.
1990’s Rocky V, on the other hand, is beloved by no one. Despite bringing back original Rocky director John G. Avidsen in an attempt to bring the series back to its roots, critical reception was negative and audiences stayed away. Even adjusted for inflation, Rocky V is the lowest-grossing entry in the series.
After spending years vocally expressing his displeasure at how the series ended, Sylvester Stallone eventually wrote and directed Rocky Balboa in 2006, which blew away expectations and reinvigorated Stallone’s career. Then, out of nowhere, director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) directed Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan as Apollo Creed’s son and Stallone as an aged Rocky, the mentor figure to Jordan’s young fighter.
We recommend watching the films in this order: Rocky, Rocky Balboa, and then Creed. They work exceptionally well as a trilogy. The extra entries, while fun in their way, are merely supplementary. Except for Rocky V. That one’s no fun at all, except as snark bait.
11. Jaws: The Revenge
Like Rocky, Jaws was a critically acclaimed blockbuster; it was the highest-grossing film of all time until 1977’s Star Wars, and was nominated for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture (though it won three, it lost Best Picture to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Also, like Rocky, Jaws was followed by a multitude of sequels which nobody asked for. However, unlike Rocky, none of the sequels to Jaws did anything to justify their unwarranted existence.
Jaws 2 was an average thriller bolstered by the excellent marketing tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” Jaws 3-D was seen as rock bottom, a disastrous debacle of terrible special effects and a cheap gimmickry. Still, Jaws 3-D is a masterpiece compared to Jaws: The Revenge, which is universally accepted as one of the worst films of all time, with a striking 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The story involves a shark with a silly lust for revenge against the Brody family, and Michael Caine is there for some reason… It was a total disaster and absolutely killed the franchise.
Jaws: The Revenge absolutely destroyed any credibility that remained after Jaws 3-D, and the series closed not with a shark-exploding bang, but with a pathetic whimper, never to return until an inevitable remake comes along.
10. Superman IV
Richard Donner’s Superman films, while corny and dated to some, are still iconic and endearing, and are decidedly more consistently appreciated than Zack Snyder’s more polarizing version of the character. Superman III is derided as a significantly lesser film than its predecessors, with a horribly miscast Richard Pryor derailing the already nonsensical cyber-crime plot.
As loathed as Superman III is, however, it did nothing to stop production on an equally sub-par spinoff, Supergirl (the 1984 movie, not the CBS series), and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, which was the final nail in the coffin of the floundering franchise. After running the franchise into the ground, the Salkinds sold the rights to Superman films to Cannon Films, who neglected to give Superman IV the production value it deserved, trimming the budget from a respectable $35 million to just $17 million, leading to cringe-worthy special effects which wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of the low-budget Adventures of Superman TV series.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was a box-office bomb and grossed only $15 million in the United States, and killed the series for nearly two decades. A final sequel, Superman Returns, was made in 2006, which served as a sequel to Superman II, completely ignoring Superman III, IV, and Supergirl, as if they had never happened. Despite being financially successful, a sequel to Superman Returns never materialized, and Warner Brothers chose to reboot the franchise with 2013’s Man of Steel.
9. Conan the Destroyer
Arnold Schwarzenegger broke out with his performance as the title character in Conan the Barbarian, a film directed by one of the most manly men of all time, John Milius (who co-wrote the script with Oliver Stone). A male power fantasy about rippling muscles, fetishistic levels of masculine violence, and surprisingly overt themes of fascism (par for the course with Milius!). Conan the Barbarian is equally beloved by film fanatics and macho gym rats, and is always a great topic of conversation at parties.
While the film was successful, producers were keen to maximize profits with a more family-friendly sequel, a move which studio executives, to this day, still don’t understand is a terrible idea. The Milius-less Conan the Destroyer toned the rating down from R to PG and added in more silly bits of slapstick comedy and bizarre casting decisions (Wilt Chamberlain? Really?). While the sequel was still successful, it failed to capture cultural attention like the original, and was dismissed as a hokey cash-in. No further films followed.
2011 brought a reboot starring Jason Momoa, which would become one of that year’s biggest box-office bombs. Schwarzenegger keeps telling us a third film, Conan the Conqueror, is coming, but we won’t believe it until we see it.
8. XXX: State of the Union
Back in 2002, extreme sports were huge. Everybody wanted to be a skateboarder, or a snowboarder, or jump out of planes, or other weird stuff like that. Of course, Hollywood took note and enlisted director Rob Cohen to re-team with his The Fast and the Furious star, Vin Diesel, for xXx (pronounced “triple ex”), in which an extreme sports athlete who is recruited by the government to be an action hero. It’s a harmless little action flick, but did decent enough business to justify a sequel.
Unfortunately, Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen proved to be unavailable, so Columbia Pictures hired Ice Cube and Lee Tamahori to star and direct, respectively. xXx: State of the Union released in 2005 and was a box office bomb. It was lambasted for its overload of CGI effects, when the whole point of the first film was integrating extreme sports into an action movie.
The funny thing about Vin Diesel is that he has some kind of magical ability to bring projects back from the dead. He took a B-level action series, Fast & Furious, and turned it into one of the highest-grossing international blockbusters of all time. He made Riddick a way better film than it had any right to be… And now he’s at it again. Against all odds, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is scheduled for release in January 2017. We don’t know how Diesel does it, but good for him!
7. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Robert Rodriguez’s take on Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novels, Sin City, is a beloved adaptation, so true to its source material that Frank Miller is even credited as co-director. Rodriguez’s pioneering use of all-digital shooting made feasible the film’s distinct visual palate. It’s sparing use of stark colors against icy monochrome would have been impossible with traditional filming techniques. Sin City earned significant critical praise and did decent business at the box office, though it was ultimately far from a blockbuster.
Work on a sequel began right away, but it was delayed numerous times for one reason or another, and many doubted that Rodriguez would ever get around to actually completing it. When Sin City: A Dame to Kill For came out in August 2014, nine years after the original, fans didn’t care anymore, and the film bombed hard; A Dame to Kill For closed with just $13 million at the American box office, or less than half of what the original made during its opening weekend.
While the critical reception wasn’t all bad, it was unanimously seen by critics as a lesser film than its groundbreaking predecessor. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll see another film in the series anytime soon, and we can count Sin City as another passenger on the slow and crowded train to Reboot City.
6. Piranha 3DD
The old Piranha movies are more remembered for the fact that they were directed by Joe Dante and James Cameron than for any redeeming qualities within the films themselves. Expectations were low for Piranha 3D, which caught audiences off-guard with its unrelentingly graphic violence. Piranha 3D wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it did well enough to spawn a sequel, Piranha 3DD.
While Piranha 3D was produced on a slim budget of just $24 million, the sequel had a budget of $5 million, and it shows. Eschewing 3D’s brilliant indictment of the target demographic’s blood lust, 3DD opted instead to settle as an unfunny comedy with too many D-List cameos (David Hasslehoff, Gary Busey) and bits of extremely fake-looking gore. Ultimately, the film wasn’t even a blip at the box office, receiving a limited release at only 86 theaters. The lack of exposure for the film could be seen as a mercy, since it turned out so poorly, especially compared to Piranha 3D, which we see as something of an unsung masterpiece.
5. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
The Blair Witch Project is one of the most profitable movies of all time, earning over $248 million worldwide off of a microscopic production budget of $60,000. After it’s surprise mega-success, the studio tried to turn the found-footage phenomenon into a yearly event, though their plans hit a snag with the tepid reception of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.
For one thing, there’s no “Book of Shadows” in the film, though that’s just the tip of the iceberg for why this movie simply doesn’t work. There are faint traces of an intelligent film hidden in places, though they’re buried by a meandering test of the audience’s patience, all leading to a twist ending which makes no sense and doesn’t add to the drama in any meaningful way.
We can’t blame Artisan Entertainment for wanting to capture lightning in a bottle and attempt to annualize their biggest hit (just look at Saw and Paranormal Activity for successful examples of annual horror), but diverting from the found-footage presentation was a risky proposition, and re-editing the film didn’t help. Director Joe Berlinger cut his teeth on hard-hitting documentaries, and wanted to take an analytically psychological approach to this, his first feature film. Berlinger found himself undermined by the studio at every turn, who tried to twist his vision into a more traditional horror film. The finished product ultimately wound up pleasing nobody. Of all the films on this list, Blair Witch 2 is one which most deserves an updated Director’s Cut.
4. Happy Feet Two
Before Mad Max: Fury Road, but after Babe and Babe: Pig in the City (a film which bombed so hard there was no chance of a Babe 3), director George Miller introduced us to the dancing penguins of 2006’s Happy Feet, a fun and touching jukebox musical with stunning visuals, great sing-alongs, and Robin Williams’s perfectly realized ethnic accents. Seriously, his accents are so good, they somehow manage to not be racist.
Happy Feet was a gargantuan hit at the box office, and led to a sequel in 2011, which Miller also wrote and directed, Happy Feet Two. Perhaps five years was too long of a sequel gap, but audiences simply did not respond to the sequel, which, at the domestic box office, failed to gross even a third of the first film’s take.
It’s a shame, too, because unlike many films on this list, Happy Feet Two rocks! It takes the formula of the original and makes it weirder. It doesn’t pull a full Gremlins 2 and become downright bizarre, but it has a lot of fun playing fast and loose with conventions and expectations, and the musical numbers are bigger and bolder than before, and we strongly recommend giving it a watch, preferably on a big screen with a killer audio setup, for maximum effect.
3. Grease 2
Grease is one of the greatest movie-musicals of all time, and anyone who disagrees simply wasn’t “Born to Hand Jive.” After Grease‘s breakout success, plans were put in place for something of a “Grease Cinematic Universe,” which would have comprised no less than four sequels and a television series, all set at Rydell High as the 50s eventually gave way to the psychedelic 60s. The first step in the overly audacious plan for Grease to fully take over the world was, of course, Grease 2.
Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out the way Paramount had intended. Grease 2 was seen by critics and audiences as a lazy attempt to recapture the magic of the first film with a rehash of the same plot (but with the genders of the romantic leads reversed) and some bizarre song choices. “Reproduction” will go down in history as one of the worst songs ever written for any movie. While Grease 3, in one form or another, has languished in development hell for decades, Grease: Live did solid business for the FOX network, proving that while audiences don’t want new Grease stories, nostalgia for the timeless original still runs high in our collective conscious.
2. Batman & Robin
Tim Burton’s Batman is one of the most important movies of the 1980s, and Batman Returns is equally cherished, as its reputation has only improved as the years went on. After the first sequel, however, Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton dropped out of the series, leaving 1995’s Batman Forever in the hands of Joel Schumacher and new star Val Kilmer. Forever was able to strike a balance between the Burton-ness of the first two films while also bringing in new elements to expand the world and turn up the production design to outrageous levels.
However, Schumacher’s second Batman film was a whole other story. Batman & Robin, as it is called, was a huge disappointment. It’s fun to place the blame on Schumacher and new Batman actor George Clooney, but the true fault lies with Warner Brothers, the faceless studio who forced numerous costume changes and additional characters on the script in an effort to sell more toys, among so many other changes to make it more “family friendly,” essentially removing the Bat’s fangs. It took a hard reboot, in the form of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, to restore Batman’s cinematic reputation.
A campy comedy version of Batman could work wonderfully on the big screen. We have high hopes for The Lego Batman Movie, which promises to prove that the Dark Knight can still have a little fun from time to time.
1. Robocop 3
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic, Robocop, is a triumph of modern science fiction. Murphy is killed by a vicious gang, and then returns as a cyborg ass-kicker and dispenses justice on those who did him wrong. Despite appearing to be a celebration of righteous machismo, Robocop also has many layers of nuanced storytelling and world-building, laying bare the creeping fascism and shameless consumerism of the 1980s.
1990’s Robocop 2 is still pretty good, though it’s nowhere near the level of its timeless predecessor. Robocop 3, however, was an unmitigated mess. The violence was toned-down to more family-friendly levels, and Peter Weller was replaced with Robert John Burke. The budget was slashed, and the special effects took a major hit as a result. Meanwhile, Robocop fights ninjas, because kids love ninjas, right?
Robocop 3 was a crippling blow the brand never recovered from. The series retreated to television, where the character was never able to find solid footing, before limping back onto the big screen in the 2014 remake, which, while better than Robocop 3, still pales in comparison to the original. Joel Kinnaman and director Jose Padilha gave it the best they could, but, like Robocop 3, any PG-13-rated version of the story is just so obviously doomed from the start.
What do you think? What other movie sequels completely derailed their franchises? Which movie series would you like to see given a second chance at life? Sound off in the comments below!