Film franchises have the unique power to transport viewers not just to a single 120-minute world, but a rich multi-movie universe peopled with embattled heroes, sinister villains, epic scenes and just about everything else you could want. Franchises have made monumental stories, like the Star Wars saga, come to life onscreen. At other times, they’ve simply served as a half-baked attempt to capture the magic of the original--if there was any to begin with. (Looking at you, Ice Age: Collision Course.)
More often than not, these franchise films, no matter how noble or artistic their storytelling intent, get tangled up in one another, leaving a knot of retreaded plot and character recastings. By their nature, movies get a pass when it comes to their reflection of reality. After all, the reason most people seek out movies is to get a break from real life and spend time in a place where anything is possible. But when it comes to the order of events in a movie franchise, some mistakes are just too obvious, illogical or dumb to simply ignore. Here are 16 Movie Franchise Timelines That Make Absolutely No Sense.
16 The Fast & Furious
In a film franchise whose main stars have four wheels and a V8 engine, one would hardly expect to find a plotline more complicated than shoot guns, drive cars and ogle hot girls. But over its seven installments (and counting), the Vin Diesel vehicle has wound its way through more twists and turns than a drag race. The first film, released in 2001 starts off simply enough: An LAPD police officer named Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) goes undercover in a group of street racers in the hopes of tracking down the culprit behind a series of truck thefts, forming lasting ties with racer Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) in the process. Things are still relatively easy to follow in the 2003 sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, only this time Brian leaves L.A. to chase a gang of Miami drug dealers.
The third film, 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, is where things take an inexplicable turn. Much of the movie follows the teenaged Sean (Lucas Black) as he travels to Japan to learn the mystical art of “drift” racing from Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang), who tragically perishes in the course of the film. Yet the movie is capped with an appearance by Diesel’s Dom, who claims that Han used to roll with his crew back in the day. So when Han pops up in 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, it can leave the casual viewer scratching one’s head in confusion. The solution lies in unscrambling the series’ chronology. Although Tokyo Drift was released early on, it’s actually supposed to take place between the events of Fast & Furious 6 and 2015’s Furious 7. The mystery of why everyone in Drift is still using flip phones in the 2010s, on the other hand, is one that really defies explanation.
15 Hot Tub Time Machine
Hot Tub Time Machine lays out its premise right in the title: Get in the hot tub, travel through time. Simple enough. But messing with time travel is always tricky and even the most simple-minded time travel plots can get really convoluted really fast. The second film picks up right where the first left off, with Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson) living in luxury after using their knowledge of the future to profit in the past.
An effort to avoid a gunshot to Lou’s groin leads the boys back into the jacuzzi yet again, but this time instead of going backward in time they inexplicably end up traveling 10 years into the future, where Lou is surprisingly still alive. You would think that, since traveling into the future has proven that the gunshot was not fatal, they would turn right around and head back to the present. But this twist instead convinces them that the gunman is from the future and must be stopped before he travels back in time and takes his shot. Nonsensical? Sure. But that’s what you get for trying to stretch Hot Tub Time Machine into a two-movie idea.
In a series of movies that begin in the 1950s and follow a beloved, giant lizard as it terrorizes people the world, there are bound to be some inconsistencies. In fact, trying to draw a clear and traceable through line through more than 60 years of these monster movies proves near impossible. Although most of the 29 releases were put out by Toho, a Japanese film and production company, there are also a handful of American adaptations and Hollywood releases, further muddying the waters.
Godzilla theorists have basically split the decade-spanning franchise into three eras. The first is known as the Shōwa period, ranging from the release of the original Godzilla in 1954 to Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975. Characterized by a more playful and friendly Godzilla, these films also spawned some of the other notable monsters in the canon, such as Mothra and Rodan. The second era is the Heisei period, beginning in 1984 with The Return of Godzilla, which was meant to be a direct sequel to the 1954 film and largely ignores all plotlines of the earlier films to portray a Godzilla that strikes fear in the hearts of all citizens. The millennium era began in 1999 with yet another reboot of the series, appropriately titled Godzilla 2000. And this isn’t even accounting for any of the American-made films, the first of which, titled Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, was released in 1956. But perhaps the less said about the American Godzilla films, and particularly the 1998 Roland Emmerich one, the better.
While it’s clear that most horror movie franchises are more interested in upping ticket sales than anything as trivial as timeline continuity, some series take some pretty egregious missteps that are impossible to gloss over. Halloween is one of those franchises. Even casual horror fans can recognize the white faced mask of Michael Myers, the Halloween baddie who murdered his entire family save for his little sister and subsequently spent most of his life locked in a mental institution. He breaks out 15 years after the incident to finish the job, terrorizing his poor sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends on Halloween night.
As with many popular horror franchises, the Halloween story has been reworked and rebooted, most notably by Rob Zombie in 2007, whose Halloween closely mirrored the original 1978 film but tried to delve deeper into Michael’s psyche and understand his need to slaughter. But even before then, the series get muddied. In 1982, Halloween III: Season of the Witch made things a lot more confusing when it abandoned the Michael Myers plotline completely in favor of a story about the terrible and mystical power of Stonehenge (yes, really). The fourth, fifth and sixth entries in the series essentially take up where the second installment left off, only to be completely ignored by 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection. Even Michael Myers couldn’t match that kind of slicing and dicing.
Of all the superhero lore out there, Superman always seemed like he had a pretty straightforward story. Alien boy’s planet is destroyed. Alien boy travels to Earth. Alien boy is adopted by regular Midwestern couple. Alien boy discovers superhuman abilities. Alien boy vows to protect his adoptive planet from a whole spectrum of intergalactic baddies. This story was brought to the big screen in 1978, where Christopher Reeve donned the iconic blue and red suit to battle Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and save Metropolis—all while wooing Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. The timeline remained relatively linear in 1980’s Superman II, 1983’s Superman III and 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
But much like the way the caped crusader flew so fast around the Earth that he actually turned back time, director Bryan Singer decided that he would turn back the franchise and base the events of 2006’s Superman Returns on the first two original films, without so much as acknowledging the series’ third and fourth installments. A move that, according to most fans of the films, was smart, as they were riddled with cheesy special effects and poor casting choices. From there, the franchise was abandoned until Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel rebooted the origin story in 2013, which took Superman to moody, edgy new heights (with a darker, moodier costume to match).
Highlander might not be the best-known film franchise in history, but it certainly might be the screwiest in terms of movie-to-movie continuity. The series begins in 1986 with Highlander, which chronicles the history of Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), a member of a mysterious race known as the Immortals forced to fight other Immortals to the death in a long and strange tradition. Due to the, well, immortal nature of the Immortals, the flashback-ridden films don’t take long to get complicated. The second entry, 1991’s Highlander II: The Quickening, takes place in 2024 with a series of 1999 flashbacks and involves a plotline about the disappearing ozone layer while suggesting that Immortals are actually aliens from a planet called Zeist.
But the third film, 1994’s Highlander III: The Sorcerer, completely disregarded the events of the second movie and ended up pretty much retreading much of the story of the original Highlander film, withholding any information on the Highlanders’ mysterious origin and leaving audiences to their best guesses. Splintering things further is not just one, but three television series, including a short-lived animated show in 1994, each centered around a different Immortal from the Highlander canon. The fourth film, 2000’s Highlander: Endgame attempted to tie up loose ends by integrating characters from the cinematic universe with those from the 1992 TV series, Highlander: The Series. And with rumors of a reboot floating around for nearly a decade now, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the Highlander lore gets even more perplexing.
10 James Bond
The degree to which you find the timeline of the 20-plus James Bond films confusing all depends on what theory you subscribe to: is James Bond a real man, or simply a code name given to 007 agents? Aside from the obvious fact that Bond has been played by a rotating stable of smooth-talking actors, avid fans have spotted differences in character interactions and knowledge that seem to suggest that James Bond is a moniker bestowed upon agents to protect their true identities and the events in the films have less of a bearing on one another.
But some sharp-eyed viewers cited Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as proof of a real man named James Bond. Tracy briefly became Mrs. 007 to George Lazenby’s Bond before being killed by infamous Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and her death really struck a chord with Bond, who makes references to her that are both ambiguous and explicit. The most glaring example is 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, where a completely different Bond (Roger Moore) visits his deceased wife’s grave. The most recent Bond films, starring Daniel Craig, seem to offer a more definitive conclusion. At the end of 2012’s Skyfall, Bond is forced to retreat to his home turf to battle with the deliciously creepy Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Once there, the audience catches sight of the gravestones of Andrew Bond and Monique Bond—James Bond’s parents. If Bond really is the name of a secret agent, he's really looking great for a senior citizen.
9 Mad Max
In a time when the near nonstop car chases and mobile heavy metal bands of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road are still the first thing to come to mind when people think of the franchise, the world of 1979’s Mad Max seems almost quaint. Mel Gibson’s Max wears regular clothes. He drives a car without giant wheels or enormous spikes sticking out of it. He has a wife, a child and the ability to speak more than a few grunted words at a time. There is still such a thing as a court and criminal justice system.
From this point, both Max’s normalcy and his fictional world deteriorate at an absolutely alarming rate. While things obviously seem unstable in the first installment, 1981’s The Road Warrior pumps up the conflict with an inexplicable global war and a Max that has become a hardened vigilante—no doubt due to the death of his wife and son in the first film, but a drastic turn nonetheless. By 1985’s Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome, the world has escalated into a full nuclear summer, which is where Fury Road picked up 30 years later, swapping out the intense need for fuel for water instead. Sure, one could scour the internet and find theory after theory about what exactly caused the downfall of Max’s world. But ultimately it’s all just conjecture. Viewers are left to simply strap in and enjoy the ride.
In space no one can make you comply with logical cinematic continuity. The original Alien film, released in 1979, follows the crew of the starship Nostromo, led by the fearless Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), as they do battle with a stealthy and extremely deadly alien organism. The movie spawned a number of sequels as Ellen Ripley is pitted against the alien creatures again and again, attempting to keep them from reaching Earth and destroying all of humanity. Things take a turn for the nonsensical once the Alien vs. Predator launched its first effort in 2004.
Originally conceived in a 1989 comic book, the AVP story centers around a group of archaeologists who discover an ancient pyramid that serves as a battleground for aliens and the predators of the eponymous 1987 series. This significantly recasts the lore of the Alien films, positing that aliens have existed on Earth long before Ripley and her gang were fighting to keep them from breaching our planet in the first place. Of course, there’s been heated debate whether or not both AVP and 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem are considered canon. Most come to the conclusion that the Alien and Predator films exist in the same universe, but that the AVP films are a thing in their own right. But even though that issue has been settled for the most part, it seems likely that the upcoming and currently untitled Alien installation is aiming to muck things up again as director Neill Blomkamp announced that he will be ignoring the events of 1992’s Alien 3 and 1997’s Alien: Resurrection.
Like the Fast & Furious films, there really doesn’t seem to be much to the Rocky franchise in the first place, leaving some to wonder how it could possibly veer into nonsensical territory. The first film, released in 1976, is simple enough, tracking boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he goes from sleazy club fights to the big leagues, eventually taking on Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The films continue in this vein for several more entries, knocking Rocky out both physically and metaphorically only to build him back up again.
Like a boxer punched one two many times, the franchise gets a little confused past the fourth installment. Rocky V finds our hero retired and brain damaged after his big bout with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV. He sits out the fighting, instead training protégé Tommy Gunn (professional boxer Tommy Morrison). Also, Rocky gifts his brother-in-law Paulie with a robot butler. In the follow-up, 2006’s Rocky Balboa, all worries of brain damage are tossed aside after Rocky is goaded into the ring yet again to take on Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver). And, in the most flagrant offense, the robot butler was completely glossed over, which was a shame because it seemed as though Paulie had really grown fond of it.
6 Friday the 13th
The scariest horror movie baddies are the ones that just keep coming back. The Friday the 13th franchise takes this idea to its absolute extreme, essentially granting machete-wielding killer Jason Voorhees the power of immortality over a dozen films. Ever since 1981’s Friday the 13th Part 2 (1980’s Friday the 13th cast Jason’s mom as Camp Crystal Lake’s murderer-in-residence), Jason has been mowing down unsuspecting teens with relative physical immunity and infuriatingly little backstory or explanation for nearly 30 years at the most recent installment in the series, 2009’s Friday the 13th.
Just as abominable as Jason’s unexplained eternal life are the completely harebrained plots he’s been thrown into throughout the run of the franchise. While Jason’s murders make sense in the Camp Crystal Lake setting where he’s supposedly exacting revenge against the neglectful counselors who let him drown years ago, elsewhere his wrath is purposeless. The blood-soaked shenanigans at the camp are interrupted by 1985’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which plunks viewers at a halfway house where one of Jason’s would-be victims is terrorized by a killer in a hockey mask who, weirdly enough, isn’t Jason Voorhees. In 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason follows a senior class on a cruise to New York City. And the insanity goes over the moon (literally) in 2001’s Jason X, where a group of students from the future take a cryogenically frozen Jason into space.
4 Planet of the Apes
The first film, released in 1968, follows Charlton Heston’s astronaut George Taylor as he navigates life on a strange planet dominated by humanlike apes in the year 3978, only to find that he has actually been on Earth the entire time. In 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Taylor and a crew sent to rescue him from the planet discover a group of telepathic humans who live underground and worship a giant nuclear warhead, which inevitably leads to the destruction of the planet at the end of the film. And, impossibly, this all is supposed to take place in 3955.
And the discrepancies don’t end there. Some have argued that there are alternate timelines within the franchise’s scope, but even so things start to get a little hairy. In 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the original film’s ape stars, Cornelius and Zira, have escaped from their planet before it was destroyed and time hop back to Earth in the year 1973 to have a baby named Caesar, who, in 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, will lead the apes to the eventual rebellion in the 1990s. But then in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the time travel route is completely eschewed in favor of a plotline on gene therapy creating super advanced apes—one of which is known as Caesar—set in the present.
3 Back to the Future
Look hard enough into any plot involving time travel and you’re bound to find some inconsistencies, and Back to the Future is no exception. The story begins as simply as a time traveling story involving a potential romance between mother and son can do as young Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is sent from 1985 to 1955 in a time machine conceived by his scientist friend, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd). After inadvertently catching his young mother’s romantic interest, Marty has to make sure his parents eventually do end up together to ensure his continued existence.
In 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, the rules of time travel are suddenly more flexible. The plot is focused on Marty and girlfriend Jennifer Parker (Elisabeth Shue) traveling to 2015 in order to stop their son from committing a robbery and going to jail. Equally important is bully Biff Tannen, who steals the time machine and takes a sports almanac from 2015 with the intention of giving it to his 1955 self to make him a sports gambling bazillionaire. The Biff of 2015 then returns to his proper year. Only one thing—shouldn’t he return to a 2015 in which he is, in fact, a bazillionaire? And shouldn’t that leave Marty, Jennifer and Doc stranded in 2015 without a way back to 1985? Similarly, Doc’s precaution about the shock caused when a past self runs into a future self is completely ignored as young Biff and old Biff enjoy a friendly chat over the stolen almanac.
The creative liberties taken in the X-Men universe timeline is certainly not unexplored territory, but as a flagrant abuser of all sense of time and order, they bear repeating here. Like, for example, how the X-Men are gifted with many different powers and talents, but none so amazing as the power of eternal youth. In 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, set in the 1980s, the entire cast appears in incredibly good shape for having battled it out with one another since 2011’s X-Men: First Class—which took place in the 1960s. Some characters have stayed young and beautiful for even longer, such as Angel (played by Ben Foster and Ben Hardy), who looked as good in Apocalypse as he does in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, which is set in present day.
Apocalypse also decides to throw Wolverine back into Weapon X mode, essentially rewriting the related plot in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While the Origins Weapon X plot can take place no later than 1979, as it was set on Three Mile Island which was destroyed that year, the Apocalypse version posits that it actually happened in the 1980s. And although supervillain William Stryker appears in both timelines, he is confusingly played by two different actors (Danny Huston in Origins, Josh Helman in Apocalypse).
In what’s definitely becoming a theme in this list, time travel just messes everything up. This is the case for everyone’s favorite android assassin even from the first film in 1984, where the titular robot, unforgettably embodied by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is sent back in time from the future to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in order to prevent the birth of John Connor, who leads the humans in an uprising against the machines ruled by the artificial intelligence known as Skynet. To stop the Terminator, John sends Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who protects Sarah—so much so that he falls in love with her and impregnates her with none other than John Connor himself. Easy enough.
In the second film, which takes place in 1995, two Terminators are again sent back in time: one to try again to annihilate John and the other to protect him. Attempting to prevent Judgement Day—the day in which Skynet became self-aware and set out to destroy mankind—Sarah, John and the good Terminator go after the company responsible for creating Skynet in the first place, effectively achieving their goal. That is, until 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, where we learn that Judgement Day has simply been rescheduled from its original 1997 date to 2004. Which brings us to 2009’s Terminator Salvation, where humans have begun the war against machines in the year 2018.
By 2015’s Terminator Genysis, however, these other movies become irrelevant as we jump way back to 1984 where Sarah Connor, in some alternate reality, is actually being raised by a benevolent Terminator sent by an unknown party. This nice-guy Terminator makes quick work of the original evil Terminator, and he, Sarah and a thoroughly perplexed and now utterly useless Kyle travel forward in time to stop Judgement Day—which has been postponed again to 2017. But I would only pencil that in, just in case it changes again...
In the original 1975 film, the infamous giant shark terrorizes the frightened residents of Amity Island only to be felled by Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider), oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw). When a great white starts munching on Amity Island residents again in 1978’s Jaws 2, Chief Brody is on the case yet again—with his two much older sons in tow, despite only a few years having passed from the first film. Still, those kinds of cinematic continuity errors can be passed over—even if the boys were played by entirely different actors.
It’s Jaws 3-D that takes the time jumps to illogical levels. The 1983 film follows the fully adult Mike Brody (Dennis Quaid), despite the fact that he was a child only years ago in the second film. Mike now works as an engineer at SeaWorld along with his also fully adult brother, Sean (John Putch), and his marine biologist girlfriend Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong). But this isn’t even really worth explaining, as 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge not only completely disregards the events of Jaws 3-D by recasting Mike as a marine biologist and Sean as a police officer back in Amity, but was marketed as the third film in the Jaws franchise, too.
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