What makes an action film great? It sounds like a simple question, but it really isn’t. While most movies are judged by the quality of their acting, writing, direction, and overall premise, the action genre isn’t always held to these same standards. There have been numerous great action movies that featured some bad acting, bad writing, and outlandish premises. It’s not that conventional aspects of great movies can’t help an action film be great as well, but the genre isn’t dependent on such qualities. However, when a great action movie does come along, you just know it. It reaches out and grabs you in a way that few other cinematic experiences can.
As difficult as it is for someone to make a great action movie, it is almost impossible for someone to come along and make a great sequel to that movie. The intangible aspects which define the best action films are almost impossible to recreate. As such, those who attempt to do so more often than not end up producing something that may share the name of a great action film, but is ultimately so bad that it tarnishes that same name forever by failing to come up with even a reasonable answer to the question, “What makes an action film great?”
These are the 15 Worst Sequels To Great Action Movies.
15 The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day
The story of how the original Boondock Saints overcame an initially bad reception and an incredibly limited release to become one of the most beloved action movies ever made is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Whatever Troy Duffy’s film about two Irish brothers who decided to take on Boston’s underworld lacked in originality, it made up for it in personality. There’s an energy about the movie that only exists in passion projects.
Comparatively, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is a soulless film. Nearly every aspect of the movie feels like a glorified attempt to recreate the joy of the original film by following directly in its footsteps. You’ve got another quirky federal agent, another unhinged friend turned assistant, and many attempts at recreating some of the original movie’s most notable scenes with decidedly uninspiring results. If Duffy’s goal with Boondock Saints II was to remind viewers of why the first movie was so great, he accomplished it -- by showing them how terrible that movie could have been.
14 Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
It’s funny, but until the release of Mad Max: Fury Road, when most people referred to Mad Max, they were typically talking about Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. While the original Mad Max is a well-made example of a simple revenge film done on a limited budget, The Road Warrior’s violent road trip through the end of the world was such a frantic masterpiece that it became hard for many people to associate it with the original movie.
There are actually times in Beyond Thunderdome when director George is able to recreate the grit and intensity of the first two movies, but they are few and far between. While this sequel sometimes gets a pass from fans who remember some of the excellent fights and memorable one-liners, the truth is that it’s incredibly difficult to watch any other Mad Max movie and try to enjoy the entirety of Thunderdome. It lacks the raw intensity of the other movies in this franchise and tries too hard to create a mythology for the Mad Max character by incorporating traditional Hollywood elements.
13 Another 48 Hrs.
While the buddy cop genre wasn’t necessarily invented in the ‘80s, it was definitely perfected during that decade. During that time, directors and producers realized that the key to a great buddy cop film was to have two actors with great chemistry play fundamentally different characters who must find a way to work together. One of the best examples of this approach is the 1982 action/comedy film, 48 Hrs. Despite its fairly bare bones script, the movie ultimately succeeded thanks to the onscreen chemistry of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy.
Another 48 Hrs.' greatest failure is its complete lack of that same chemistry. It’s clear that whatever inspired Nolte and Murphy to work together so well in the original movie had vanished by the time this sequel was released in 1990. Neither man looks especially thrilled to be there, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that the movie's “comedy” consists of well-worn jokes and its “action” consists of nameless thugs dying in generic, dull shootouts.
12 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
To be fair, the Transformers sequels arguably got progressively worse as they went along, meaning that the second might not technically be the franchise’s worst installment, based on your preferences. To be even fairer, the 2007 Transformers reboot has more than its fair share of detractors. So far as Michael Bay-directed, CG-fueled reboots go, however, 2007’s Transformers was at least a digestible piece of popcorn entertainment. It was basically what people expected it to be.
Revenge of the Fallen and all subsequent sequels, meanwhile, managed to exceed all expectation by somehow being even worse than fans could have possibly imagined they would be. Shia Labeouf speculated that the problem with Revenge of the Fallen was that they tried to do everything bigger than the original and, in the process, lost the heart of the first movie. All due respect to Mr. Labeouf, but the movie’s real problem is that it is two and a half hours of generic storytelling, bored acting, and action scenes that are so impossible to decipher that they might as well not exist. It’s the kind of movie that people like to point to when criticizing mainstream filmmaking.
11 The Matrix Revolutions
It’s sadly very difficult to completely appreciate the impact of The Matrix unless you happened to have been around at the time of its theatrical release. The Matrix cribbed aspects of super-stylish action movies that had been around for years, but it made the entire genre feel fresh again thanks to its blend of amazing action sequences, compelling sci-fi storytelling, and a marketing campaign that remains one of the best ever. It was an instant classic that became a cultural touchstone.
The basic problem with the Matrix sequels is that the success of the original film seemingly inspired the Wachowskis to start seeing themselves as world-building geniuses. As such, they decided to use the sequels as an excuse to build a convoluted narrative that apparently requires a record amount of exposition scenes to properly tell. Nowhere is this problem more evident than in The Matrix Revolutions. While The Matrix Reloaded at least paid lip service to the original movie through some half-way decent action scenes and story concepts, this third film abandons nearly all of that in favor of focusing on some of the least compelling aspects of the film’s universe. This bloated series of long dialog scenes, awful robot combat, and drawn out character deaths is a far cry from the brilliance of the original movie.
10 Alien: Resurrection
While Alien certainly wasn’t an action film, James Cameron’s brilliant follow-up Aliens managed to change the direction of the franchise. Aliens is a near-perfect sci-fi actioner that retains many of the frights of the original film while providing just enough moments of adrenaline-fueled relief to keep the narrative moving.
As bad as Alien 3 was, that movie at least had moments where you could tell someone was making an effort to create something worthwhile. Alien: Resurrection, however, is almost entirely devoid of genuine effort. It took everything that made the franchise unique – such as a subtle mythology and the dangerous nature of the Xenomorphs themselves – and watered them down to such a degree that its impossible to be intoxicated by what’s occurring on-screen. This is a paint-by-numbers era blockbuster that treats the innovations of the previous films like a burden that it must occasionally acknowledge with an eye roll.
9 Terminator Genisys
The gradual deterioration of the Terminator franchise is similar to what happened with the Alien franchise. The original movie was a taut masterpiece that blended sci-fi, action, and horror. The sequel took those concepts and molded them into an incredible action film that ensured many people would forever associate the name Terminator with the very best of the action genre. From there, things went downhill quickly. Terminator 3 was a slapped-together attempt to cash in on the Terminator name, and while Terminator Salvation tried to reinvent the concept of the franchise, it failed to entertain anyone in the process.
The worst, however, was reserved for last. Terminator Genisys is the film equivalent of that casserole your mom used to make that really was just reheated leftovers covered in cheese. Director Alan Taylor attempted to blend together pieces from every Terminator film in the hopes of creating some new dish that still packed a nostalgic punch. Unfortunately, his efforts were dogged by bad CGI, worse acting, and a convoluted plot that tried too hard to make it seem like the movie actually had a brain in its head.
8 A Good Day to Die Hard
While the original Die Hard is rightfully recognized as a near-perfect action movie and a surprisingly good Christmas film, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard With a Vengeance don’t always get the love that they should. While Die Hard 2 is certainly the weakest link in the original trilogy, it’s no worse than a decent ‘80s action movie. Die Hard With a Vengeance, meanwhile, is a pretty underrated action flick in its own right. Even 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard was tolerable.
Eventually, though, the action movie awfulness that the Die Hard franchise had so deftly avoided caught up to it with the release of 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Bruce Willis’ paycheck may have got him out of bed in the morning, but it’s clear that it wasn’t enough to inspire him to read his lines like he actually cares. Meanwhile, director John Moore fielded action scenes that are so generic, you’ll swear that the entire film industry banded together and enforced a copyright on quality filmmaking that he was determined not to violate.
7 Starship Troopers 2: Heroes of the Federation
Starship Troopers remains one of the most underrated action films ever made. Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 adaptation not only delivers on a pure entertainment level with its grand action sequences and wonderfully campy dialog, but the movie itself is one of only a few action films that is able to incorporate political commentary in a subtle way that actually enhances the experience. It deserves far more respect than it receives.
Maybe that’s why the direct-to-video Starship Troopers 2 stings as bad as it does. Even though direct-to-video action sequels are typically terrible, this movie goes out of its way to massacre the intelligence and subtlety of the original movie and replace it with…actually, the jury is still out on what this movie was trying to accomplish aside from making a few bucks. If you’ve ever wanted to know how Starship Troopers would have turned out if it had featured fewer sets, less talented actors, more scenes involving big guns and bad CG bugs, and been directed by someone who was seemingly in the depths of a paint-huffing binge... we still wouldn’t recommend watching this movie.
6 The Crow: City of Angels
This entry begins our block of bad action sequels set in Los Angeles. 1994’s The Crow may be best remembered as the movie Brandon Lee was working on when he was accidentally murdered, but it’s also a really well-done story of revenge that doubles as one of the first successful adaptations of a dark comic book. It’s deservedly inspired quite the cult following and fits nicely into the “I’ll watch it if it’s on” tier of action movies.
Any discussion about what went wrong with City of Angels must begin with a condemnation of director Tim Pope’s attempt at turning the film into an art house project. Actually, it’s sometimes impossible to tell whether Pope was intentionally trying to tell a confusing story through obscure – sometimes seemingly random – shots or if the studio stepped in at some point and told him that he had to trim about an hour from his first cut. Given how confusing and uneventful the movie is, we’re willing to bet it’s a combination of both.
5 Escape from L.A.
Escape from New York is one of those movies that most people kind of stumble upon. Either they’re familiar with John Carpenter and they decide to dive into his filmography or they just hear whispers about the moving being an action cult classic. However they find it, the reaction is almost always one of shock. That’s because Escape From New York is a surprisingly creative blend of sci-fi and action that draws a surprising amount of entertainment from a simple premise.
Escape From L.A., on the other hand, feels like a bitter parody of the entire B-movie concept. It’s actually pretty amazing that it was made by John Carpenter, because it plays out like the kind of action sequel you typically get from a studio that just wants to milk a little more money out of a property. It hits many of the original movie’s notes but fails to recreate any of Escape From New York’s gritty charm. If you’re into poorly done CG surfing sequences, though, it does have your back.
4 Beverly Hills Cop III
Rounding out our terrible action sequels set in L.A. block is the worst thing to happen to the Beverly Hills Cop franchise since Beverley Hills Cop II. In fact, it’s really the second movie that even justifies Beverly Hills Cop III’s position on this list. Whereas the first film was much more of a comedy, the sequel’s inability to actually make people laugh pretty much turned it into a particularly dull action film.
A particularly dull action film is still far better than what Beverly Hills Cop III has to offer. Released around the time that Eddie Murphy just stopped caring, Beverly Hills Cop III sees Axel Foley take yet another trip to Beverly Hills to solve yet another friend’s murder. This time, though, his investigation forces him to spend a good chunk of the movie in a theme park called Wonder World. Actually, the original was pitched as Die Hard in a theme park. What we got, though, was a painfully generic action movie that tries to squeeze in the occasional joke between action scenes that feel like they belong in an episode of Looney Tunes.
3 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Honestly, what more can you say about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at this point? We know that it was the highly-anticipated fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise. We know that some fans doubted that the movie would be able to live up to the almost mythical status of its predecessors. We know that the final cut of the film still included things like nuclear weapons-proof refrigerators and aliens despite the fact that a number of, presumably, talented people had the chance to cut these thematic tragedies somewhere along the way.
Yet, knowing all this is quite a different experience from actually trying to watch the movie. There’s just no spark to the film. There’s no life to its mundane tale of Indiana Jones going through the paces once again for a reason that you’ll struggle to remember throughout the film. On the plus side, those who have seen the movie know what it feels like to be punched in the jaw by Dr. Jones.
2 Speed 2: Cruise Control
1994’s Speed should have never been as successful as it ultimately was. The concept – a bus needs to maintain a certain speed limit in order to keep from blowing up – is ridiculous, most of the acting varies between wooden and over-the-top, and the writing hits every mark on the genre cliché checklist. Yet, the final cut of the film really is one of those "lightning in a bottle" instances of everything just coming together to form something pretty great. It’s certainly not the kind of movie anyone could ever hope to recreate.
Enter Speed 2: Cruise Control. The plot outline, which involves an uncontrollable cruise ship, reads like a particularly bad Saturday Night Live sketch premise. No, that’s not fair. It reads like a particularly bad Mad TV sketch premise. Even if the idea of a cruise ship that can’t stop wasn’t the dumbest possible follow-up scenario to the first movie, the horrible acting, non-existent drama, and painful pacing would have sunk this sequel.
1 RoboCop 3
Almost every action fan knows that 1987’s RoboCop is a true gem of the genre. It’s an incredibly smart and mercilessly brutal look at a future where corporations run everything and people are only viewed as consumers. What fewer fans know is that RoboCop 2 is an incredibly interesting – if fatally flawed – follow-up to the original which at least tried to deliver a story that was in the spirit of the first movie.
As for RoboCop 3, it is a glorious testament to why you never try to turn a hard rated-R film franchise into a PG-13 crowd-pleaser. RoboCop 3 doesn’t fail because it removed the violence, drugs, and sexuality of the first two movies. It fails because it replaces them with jetpacks, robot ninjas, and a plot featuring political commentary so blunt that the producers would have made more money if they’d used it to club people over the head so that they can rummage through their pockets. It’s as far of a cry from everything that made the RoboCop name respectable as you'll ever have the misfortune of finding.
What other action sequels failed to live up to their predecessors? Let us know in the comments.