When it comes to blockbuster franchises, you could say that Hollywood has shown a tendency to overstay its welcome. Whether it’s due to a lack of fresh ideas or simple greed, the fact is that for every good sequel churned out by the moviemaking industry, there are about a dozen terrible ones that make you question what made the first film so special to begin with, and in some cases, even retroactively ruin the ones that came before it (looking at you, Terminator: Genisys).
As Tina Fey once said while hosting her second stint at the Golden Globes, “This is Hollywood, and if something kind of works, they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it.” With that in mind, let’s take look back at some of the most egregious examples of a franchise just not knowing when to quit. Here are 15 Great Movies That Became Terrible Franchises.
15. The Hangover
With 2009’s The Hangover, Todd Phillips created a witty, raunchy, fast-paced bro-comedy that served as a launching pad for the movie careers of Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms (and even Bradley Cooper, to some degree). Filled with memorable cameos from the likes of Rob Riggle and Mike Tyson, The Hangover was instantly received as a hilarious, endlessly quotable farce ala Anchorman, grossing a staggering $467 million and winning a Golden Globe award for Best Picture — Musical or Comedy.
Looking to keep the momentum going, Phillips re-teamed with Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis shortly thereafter to make The Hangover: Part II, which was released just two years later. Described by Rotten Tomatoes as a “crueler, darker carbon copy of the first installment,” the sequel was derided by critics for reliance on juvenile sight gags in place of the first film’s punchy dialogue. Despite this, it ended up grossing even more money than its predecessor, all but forcing Phillips to go back to the drawing board with The Hangover Part III, a tremendously unfunny, half-cooked action thriller that made the mistake that so many mainstream comedies often do: taking a memorable bit player from a previous installment (in this case, Ken Jeong’ Leslie Chow) and cramming his one-note shtick down the audience’s throats ad nauseum. The Hangover Part III earned just $112 in America against a $103 million budget and currently sits at just 20 percent on the review aggregator.
14. Final Destination
In terms of repetition, there are few movie franchises that have managed to copy and paste their way to success more than Final Destination. Released in 2000, James Wong’s supernatural horror film took a unique spin on the slasher genre — the notion that no one person, but death itself was stalking a group of teenagers who “cheated” it in order to collect what it was owed — and combined it with a talented cast (Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, and Tony Todd to name a few) and a series of impressively orchestrated death scenes just long enough to taper its thin story and tight 98-minute runtime.
The problem was, every successive chapter that followed Final Destination did next to nothing to build upon this story, instead swapping out the initial catastrophic event that fueled the protagonist’s premonitions — the first film was a plane crash, the second a highway pileup, the third a roller coaster derailing, and so forth– with a cast of equally unmemorable twenty-somethings plucked right from the pages of a Gap catalog. As a series of Rube Goldbergian death sequences, Final Destinations 2-5 certainly served their purpose, but as actual films with things like characters and story, they fell miserably short. Then again, maybe they were never meant to be viewed as anything more than the former to begin with.
13. Meet the Parents
Jay Roach’s Meet the Parents was nothing short of a masterpiece in awkward situational comedy, replete with memorable exchanges (“You a pothead, Focker?”) and quite possibly the finest comedic performance of Robert De Niro’s career, save maybe Analyze This. A remake of a 1992 indie film of the same name, it managed to gross over $330 million internationally and wound up on many critics “Best of” lists at the end of the year. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert praised Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg’s screenplay in particular, calling it “a comedy of bad manners that builds brilliantly on interlocking comic situations.”
Four years later, fans of the perfectly contained comedy were treated to its completely unnecessary sequel, Meet the Fockers, a lazy, mind-meltingly stupid sequel that added Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to the mix and literally nothing else. Gags from the first film were recycled to the point of delirium, De Niro appeared to be mailing it in from the get-go, and any semblance of humanity was traded in for an excess of vulgar sight gags. Little Fockers was received even worse, with our own Mike Eisenberg calling it “one of the most disappointing and pitiful movies of 2010.”
It’s hard to imagine how a franchise that started off with two of the greatest sci-fi films of all time could somehow erode its goodwill over the course of its next three films, but such is the power of Terminator: Genisys. In 1984’s Terminator, James Cameron expertly crafted an action-heavy storyline with heart that blended elements of science fiction and horror with incredible special effects, launching both his career and that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the process. His follow-up, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, is widely-considered to be not only one of the greatest sequels of all time, but one of the greatest science fiction and action movies ever made.
Then, things went so, so wrong. Following Cameron’s departure, the franchise was dropped into the lap of Jonathan Mostow, whose Terminator: Rise of the Machines, while not being the worst thing ever made, added next to nothing to the Terminator mythos (save its final few minutes). It would be six more years before Terminator would return with 2009’s Salvation, a heartless, lifeless CGI-fest that is perhaps best remembered for being the source of Christian Bale’s most epic on-set freakout. Of course, even the disaster that was Salvation paled in comparison to the absolute sh*tshow that was 2015’s Terminator: Genisys, a sloppy, that succeeded in retroactively ruining the experience of the first films through a shameful series of plot contrivances.
11. The Matrix
Not unlike the original Terminator, the Wachowski Bros’ The Matrix was considered something of a game-changing sci-fi flick when it was first released back in 1999. The astounding visual effects, the extensive world-building and inventive fight sequences… The Matrix was a modern day masterpiece rooted in the philosophies of Kant and Descartes that blew audiences minds and established the Wachowskis as the next great sci-fi filmmakers.
The Matrix Reloaded, on the other hand, was about as heavy-handed and, well, overloaded as it possibly could have been. A movie that confused a mass of CGI-heavy fight scenes with compelling storytelling, Reloaded was dubbed one of “The 25 Worst Sequels Ever Made” by Entertainment Weekly, and as for its 2003 follow-up, Revolutions, well, let’s just say that there are some memories that are simply too painful to dig up.
10. Scary Movie
Possibly the only entry in the satirical horror franchise that actually understood satire, Scary Movie was, if nothing else, a raunchy send-up of a genre that had been ripe for parody for close to two decades. Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, it was the kind of lowbrow comedy that pushed the limits of good taste in all the right ways, be it with its borderline cruel treatment of minority groups, the mentally disabled, or its star, Anna Faris.
Then again, Scary Movie was responsible for the rise of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the writing/directing duo behind such crimes against humanity as Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, and Meet the Spartans, and no movie that has ever been seen by human eyes is worth that heavy, heavy price. The fact that Scary Movies 3-5 starred Charlie Sheen pre and post-Tiger Blood phase should also tell you all you need to know about the quality level of Scary Movies 3-5 (36%, 37%, and 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively).
There is little that can be said about John Carpenter’s Halloween that hasn’t already been said. It’s a suspense-filled, terrifying triumph of low budget filmmaking that launched a thousand imitators in the slasher genre in the 1980’s and beyond. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, for God’s sake, and its 1981 sequel is nearly as beloved among horror fans.
There’s a reason that Carpenter intended for the Michael Myers saga to end after Halloween II, however, and the rest of the franchise is proof enough of that. While Halloween III: Season of the Witch attempted to take the franchise in a different direction by removing Myers from the equation, it did so by introducing one of the most nonsensical story in horror history: a laughable tale of Stonehenge-infused, laser-shooting, child-killing masks and the Irish witches who make them. When the franchise did bring Myers back into the fold, the result was a series of repetitive slasher stereotypes that were consistently trashed by critics. The only bright spot in the Halloween franchise following the first two was arguably 1998’s H20, which retconned the events of the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments only to be immediately betrayed by the events of the woefully depressing final chapter, Halloween: Resurrection.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean
Has there ever been a major Hollywood franchise that wore out its welcome faster than Pirates of the Caribbean? What began as a playful action-adventurer featuring a plethora of entertaining performances from Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Keira Knightley (among others) in 2003’s Curse of the Black Pearl quickly devolved into an exercise in beating a dead horse, with Depp in particular being forced to mine his already emptying well of goofy reaction shots at seemingly every available opportunity. Not that there was a whole lot of source material to begin with, being that the franchise owes its creation to a highly popular theme park ride at Disneyland.
With an average run-time of 2 and a half hours, the Pirates of the Caribbean films not only began to suffer from an overbearing excess of characters and incomprehensible side plots, but an endless reliance on CGI set pieces in place of actual story (CNN film critic once described At World’s End as “a confusing mishmash of throwaway sight gags, madcap verbal non-sequiturs, and slapstick set pieces”). As such, the films approval ratings with critics and fans alike steadily declined with each successive chapter: 2003’s Black Pearl (79%) was followed by the mediocre Dead Man’s Chest (54%), the soul-crushingly bloated At World’s End (45%), and the scatterbrained On Stranger Tides (32%). One can only imagine how next year’s Dead Men Tell No Tales will be received (hint: probably not great).
Say what you will about the final twist in the film (I happen to love it), but there’s no denying that James Wan’s Saw ushered in a whole new era of horror filmmaking — one that, for better or worse, focused on over-the-top gore and an ever-building sense of dread over cliched jump scares to shock its audiences.
Unfortunately, the tightly-plotted, somewhat character-focused nature of the first Saw was then thrown by the wayside in favor of excessively brutal depictions of torture and sadism in the six (!) sequels that would follow, sequels which would rely on increasingly convoluted and often plain laughable plot contrivances to not only keep its antagonist, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), alive, but paint him as quite possibly the smartest serial killer to ever walk the face of the earth. Even the most dedicated fans of Saw had given up on the franchise by the time that Saw 3D rolled around in 2010, and yet, an eighth sequel (entitled Saw: Legacy) was announced earlier this year. It’s kind of fitting that the franchise that helped coin the idea of “torture porn” would continue to torture us even after all this time, when you think about it.
6. American Pie
It may not have stood the test of time, but American Pie was considered a return to form for the much-maligned teen rom-com when it was first released in 1999, and remains the greatest movie in which someone fornicates with a apple-filled pastry to this day. Heck, Roger Ebert even gave it three out of fours stars, calling it “cheerful and hard-working and sometimes funny.” That might not sound like the most glowing review, but “hard-working” is far more that can be said (or ever was said) for its 2001 sequel, the thoroughly disgusting American Wedding, or the braindead direct-to-DVD “frat” spin-offs that followed it. If Jason Biggs had only avoided those sequels, he might have become the star we all knew he should have been.
5. Ice Age
Piggybacking off the success of animated smashes like Monsters Inc. and Shrek, 2002’s Ice Age benefited from a stellar cast (Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary as Manfred the mammoth, Sid the sloth, and Diego the Sabre-tooth, respectively), a witty story and some simple yet beautiful animation. And like latter of those two franchises (and most kids stuff in general), it made approximately 6 gazillion dollars at the box office and inspired a series of uninspired, unmemorable sequels that were chastised by critics as the shameless cash grabs that they were. One was about global warming, I think.
This year’s *fourth* sequel, Collision Course, marked a new low for the franchise, failing to recoup its $100 million budget here in the States and scoring just a 13% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being “An unoriginal and unfunny [movie] that offers further proof that not even the healthiest box office receipts can keep a franchise from slouching toward creative extinction.” For the record, that pun is about 1000x funnier than any of the ones you’ll find in Collision Course.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is rightfully considered to be the greatest monster movie of all time, the original summer blockbuster, and an absolutely brilliant piece of visual storytelling and character work. Jaws 2 was a movie where Police Chief Martin Brody not only found himself pairing off with another Great White shark, but defeating that shark via electrified cable wire. Jaws 3-D was, well, in 3D. In 1983. Jaws 4: The Revenge posited that sharks were capable of having personal grudges, outswimming a plane from Cape Cod to the Bahamas, and roaring like King Kong when provoked.
Seriously, the shark roared like King Kong. And exploded after being rammed with a goddamned boat. I can’t make this stuff up, you guys. As Michael Caine said about Jaws 4: The Revenge, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
3. Police Academy
Though not exactly a critical success, the fact is that Police Academy remains one of the defining comedies of the 1980s — a goofball, slapstick, dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers movie that served as a vehicle for yet another killer Steve Guttenberg performance in a long line of killer Steve Guttenberg performances — not to mention, the brilliance that is Michael Winslow. Grossing over 150 million dollars when it was first released, Police Academy was shockingly rebuked by (totally jealous) critics as a “sophomoric dopefest”, though later developed a cult following for the piece of lowbrow brilliance that it truly was.
The six Police Academy sequels that followed would never truly reach the level of the original, increasingly relying on recycled jokes and elementary-level humor for their laughs and losing Guttenberg after the fourth entry. While the first four sequels performed incredibly well at the box office, the last two, 1989’s City Under Siege and 1994’s Mission to Moscow completely tanked, with the latter earning just $126,247 in its limited U.S. run.
2. Paranormal Activity
A classic example of a gimmick being stretched far beyond its point of elasticity, the Paranormal Activity franchise has been scaring and/or boring audiences to death since 2007. Largely responsible for the resurrection of the “found footage” horror film, the first Paranormal Activity was praised by most critics and made use of a clever marketing system that had people all around the country literally demanding to have the film screened in their cities. It remains one of the most financially successful films of all time, having been made for the price of a used Hyundai Accent and grossing over $190 million.
The thing was, a huge percent of Paranormal Activity‘s success lay in the uniqueness of its found footage approach, a narrative construct that the would serve as the franchise’s ultimate hinderance as each successive entry made its way to theaters. The jig was up long before last year’s The Ghost Dimension arrived in theaters, the scares were few and far between, and both the critical reception and box office returns were increasingly dismal. Thankfully, this sixth entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise appeared to bring it to an end once and for all.
1. Air Bud
While the idea of a golden retriever gaining the skills necessary to become a successful basketball player is well within the grounds of plausibility, as it was in the 1997 box office smash Air Bud, the franchise’s subsequent attempts to place a dog in a professional sport ranged from merely improbable to an affront on the most basic understandings of physics. A volleyball playing dog? OK, maybe. A soccer playing dog?? Please, dogs can’t even kick, bro. A FOOTBALL PLAYING DOG??! How would that even work? Buddy can’t learn a dig route and wouldn’t last a second out on the field Michael Vick was on. It’s preposterous.
Nothing will ever match the magic of the original Air Bud. Not The Shawshank Redemption. Not Ghostbusters, female OR male version. Not The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or that movie where a zombie fights a shark. NOTHING. The creators of Air Bud literally made the perfect film in 1997, then proceeded to pounce all over its greatness with each sham of a story that followed. I award the makers of Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch in particular zero points, and may God have mercy on their souls.
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