The very moment Fonzie adorned boardie shorts and a leather jacket to water-ski across a caged shark, Happy Days mutated into Numbered Days. The show went from cultural icon to ridiculous gimmickry in one fell jump, never fully regaining its once revered status as a sitcom staple. The lone silver lining of this whole debacle was the image of “Jumping The Shark,” a description that quickly entered pop culture lexicon as shorthand for when things had just gone too far. It still rings true in TV, but it's also set up camp on the big screen in recent years, applied when a series takes a drastic turn down Desperation Drive.
Such sad displays have appeared more often than fans and filmmakers would care to admit, with reputable franchises making gaffes that forever altered their legacy within the grand scheme of cinema. It gets ugly when brainstorming sessions spiral into a game of “throw everything at the canvas to see what sticks” — the kind of thought process that worked wonders for someone like Jackson Pollock. Only thing is, no one was looking to the late artist for narrative coherence. Plus, he never drip-painted anything as horrific as a dancing, emo Peter Parker.
Here are Screen Rant’s 15 Movie Franchises That Jumped The Shark.
15 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
The third entry in the Terminator series was divisive to say the least. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to deny that Rise of the Machines was the point at which James Cameron’s sci-fi franchise took an ugly detour that's still being shoved down the throats of viewers today. Originally conceived in the late '90s, the project took on many faces during it's pre-production purgatory, eventually landing in the lap of director Jonathan Mostow. With no Cameron in sight, T3 would boldly bring Judgement Day to life through the eyes of an adult John Connor (Nick Stahl) and spouse-to-be Katherine Brewster (Claire Danes).
The setbacks, of course, are severe. Mostow can’t even approach Cameron’s ability for thinking-man’s mayhem, and the action scenes shift towards a dumbness that's profoundly affected the following installments. The T-X (Kristanna Loken) is another stomping ground favorite for Terminator purists, and the infamous breast enlargement bit with the traffic cop narrows “Jumping The Shark” to a single cleavage-heavy moment. After that, any potential for cultural profoundness died with Arnie in the molten steel of T2. The next two entries in the series were far worse films overall, but Rise of the Machines was undoubtedly the tipping point.
14 Home Alone 3 (1997)
Oh, John Hughes. Years removed from his '80s icon status, and inching towards a late life exile in Chicago, he found time to write and produce this little number that put the kibosh on a Home Alone franchise without Kevin McCallister. Plans of a third film had dated back as far as 1993, with ideas to reunite the cast for another outing of Sticky Bandits and Macaulay Culkin charm — a pitch that fell victim to lost time. As a result, this late addition is the equivalent of ordering a meal and getting reheated leftovers...from another restaurant.
New kid Alex D. Linz is cute enough, doing his best to hone the devious innocence that made the first two films holiday classics, but he pales in comparison to Culkin’s singular charisma. The bandits are boring, led by actors who aren’t funny in any sense of the word, while Hughes just seems content churning the same gears until things arrive at a predictable climax. When the most exciting thing in the movie is spotting Scarlett Johansson as a concerned older sister, the proverbial shark has long been scaled. The subsequent made-for-TV movie Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House (2002) was just plain unnecessary.
13 Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
As strict shorthand, Halloween 3 is instantly recognizable as “the one without Michael Myers.” Intentioned as the first in an anthology series that would probe the supernatural and service various boogeymen, it was a creative idea completely lost on viewers wondering where Michael went. A knee jerk reaction, though valid given the underwhelming results, the series bought the rights to Myers from creator John Carpenter, and resurrected him for 1988’s The Return. Regardless, the outlandish quality behind the character’s return proved that an undead shark had also been purchased in the exchange.
Halloween 4 condemned the franchise to drive-in bait from here on out; exploitation flicks that teens would neck to when Nightmare On Elm Street 4 wasn’t screening on their side of town. By lazily falling back on Carpenter’s classic instead of forging ahead with originality, the series basically self-terminated all merit and churned out a gory nude-fest that made enough cash to fund the next one. Some homecoming.
12 Jaws 3-D (1982)
3-D is never the answer. The third Jaws was originally intentioned as a spoof-tastic outing dubbed Jaws 3, People 0, with Universal Studios commissioning John Hughes to write up a treatment a la National Lampoon. Somewhere along the line, however, an exec decided to sway things straightforward, and toss in an unhealthy dose of three-dimensional schlock to boot. It’s crass, it's sensationalist, and to be frank, it's terribly executed. Screenwriter Richard Matheson, who penned the first film, backed this claim up by attesting the added glitz as having “no effect whatsoever” and being “a waste of time.”
But wait, there’s more. The studio strong-armed Matheson into writing a part specifically for Mickey Rooney - a decision proved fruitless by the famous actor’s eventual unavailability. Lumped together with the idiotic inclusion of the Brody boys (John Putch and a miserably underused Dennis Quaid), Jaws 3-D skillfully ensured audiences they would never arrive at Jaws 19, regardless of what Marty McFly said. Insert shark pun here.
11 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl (2003) still holds up as one of the most exciting adventure flicks in recent memory. Two-part follow up Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007)? Not so much. In stripping the effortless charm of the original and blowing each exchange up to melodramatic proportions, the series teetered dangerously close to jumping their own shark (or Kraken) in the span of two films. But the full effect of such shameless sensationalism wouldn’t manifest until Disney and Johnny Depp teamed up for a fourth treasure hunt: On Stranger Tides.
It’s here, in an attempt to rectify the self-serious nature of the prior films, that Pirates painfully shows it's inability to recapture the magic of Black Pearl. Jack Sparrow’s whimsical routine is worn paper-thin, and the sheer amount of noisy, aimless set-pieces set against a confusing plot is almost frustrating to watch — especially when the idea was to craft a simple, standalone story. Pirates 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales is due next year, but at this rate, there don’t seem to be any tales worth hearing.
10 Rambo III (1988)
Every time viewers saw John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), the stakes got bigger — as did the hair and the knife. First Blood (1982) found the Vietnam vet taking on a small town, Part II (1985) dropped him into action against a military regime. Rambo III, as a result, slid so far into bombastic delusion that it had the soldier fighting an entire war single-handedly, rendering any sense of suspense utterly pointless. The sorrowful justification behind such a ridiculous premise arrived courtesy of Col. Trautman (Richard Crenna), Rambo’s mentor and apparent inferior when it comes to combat. The days of realistic characterizations were Shark Jumped within the film’s first fifteen minutes.
The rest of Rambo III follows suit, slicing up any remains of Rambo’s emotional core, and substituting it for a chintzy display of exploding arrows and crass shootouts. It ratcheted up the body count to mind-numbing heights, ensuring Stallone's place in cinematic history as one of the deadliest actors ever. But each were irrelevant accomplishments; John Rambo had perished long before as casualty number one in this mind-numbing affair.
9 Batman Forever (1995)
Booting Tim Burton after the suggestively downtrodden Batman Returns (1992), Warner Bros. sought candy colored solace in the hands of director Joel Schumacher. The plan was to reinvent Gotham as a comic book land of corny lines and giggling villains, safe for kids and Adam West fanatics alike. But in the hands of Schumacher, an otherwise excellent filmmaker, the results were perhaps a little too on the nose. Candy colored is one thing, cavity inducing sweetness is another.
Taking over the cowl for Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer gives his most impressive performance as a bad actor, posing opposite a haughty Nicole Kidman and a Robin (Chris O’Donnell) old enough to be his drinking buddy. Burton’s anachronistic world is completely airbrushed out, and replaced with an enormous ode to action figures that finds it's only solace in the nutty performance of Jim Carrey’s Riddler. 1997’s Batman & Robin plays seamlessly as a continuation of this superficial suffering, providing Forever with the distinct franchise honor of Jumping The Flamboyant Shark. Too bad this Batman didn’t have Rubber Shark Eye Repellent.
8 Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Ocean’s Twelve (2004) wasn’t a particularly pretty sight, providing overly complex style that contradicted the effortless charm of the first film. Yet fans were eager to chalk this up to a sophomore slump, and decided to postpone judgement on the heist series until Thirteen arrived three years later. Unfortunately, the low scale flaws of the second film return with a vengeance. Adding Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin to the cast made for fun that lasted about five minutes, soon blending into the rest of a roll call too smug to have even phoned in a performance.
Director Steven Soderbergh spends a little too much time fetishizing glamorous whip pans to stop and craft a narrative that doesn’t have to rely on overwrought twists. Seeing George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon hang out has it's undeniable charms, but even then, it can get a little monotonous. Instead of a grande finale, it offered a muddling bow out. After this mixed reception, any grand plans for Fourteen were eaten up by Ocean’s caged shark.
7 Alien 3 (1992)
Misunderstood or not, Alien 3 was the film that turned Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from badass action icon to Deadpool punchline. Rookie director David Fincher had come from a background of high gloss music videos, and the chic minimalism of the sets proved it; from attire to acting range. This also dovetailed into the story, which mutates into a John Carpenter knockoff of suspense that ultimately lacks any humanizing characters. Ripley, so fleshed out in the first two films, suppresses more emotion than her shaved head does hair. It doesn’t help that the beloved characters from Aliens (1986) wind up dead in the first five minutes.
Time, and Fincher’s brilliant career have shifted opinions on the film favorably, with occasional praise even going to the visual bleakness and distinct style. Regardless, it takes a whopping step down from prior installments, and the shark is all but jumped by the time an anticlimactic finale closes things out. 1997’s Resurrection only solidified the fall from grace that this film initiated.
6 Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
The smash success of 1988’s Die Hard was both a gift and a curse. A gift in that it still lays claim to being the greatest action movie ever made, and cursed in that it built the foundation for a franchise that could never keep up. Die Hard 2 (1990) tried so hard to succeed it rehashed the same hostage scenario, while Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) redeemed things slightly through a fresh approach. But by the time 2007’s Live Free arrived, it was only too clear that John McClane (Bruce Willis) was meant to be a one-and-done kind of guy.
A few moments in this fourth installment are chest-thumpingly awesome, with the helicopter crash and elevator scene immediately coming to mind. But for every slice of retro-action, there’s an equally ridiculous counterpoint arriving in the form of censored content or an airplane sequence that can’t even be believed after seeing it. The film strips McClane of his signature catchphrase, and in the process jumps the shark of authenticity — a sin that's overcompensated to laughable effect in 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard. That film etched the franchise’s gravestone, but it was Live Free that offered the tools.
5 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Things were wearing thin on the Enterprise going into the late '80s, but even the most miffed of Trekkies couldn’t have predicted the intergalactic slump that would be dug out by William Shatner and company with The Final Frontier. Appointing Captain Kirk himself to direct, the film led the crew on a wild space chase for Sybok, a renegade Vulcan in the midst of his search for God. As a result, viewers are treated to a gallery of ill-timed humor, inconsistent mood, and action scenes that make The Voyage Home (1986) look like The Seven Samurai (1955) by comparison.
Shatner clearly had no business in the director’s chair, and the highly touted blockbuster bombed big time opposite smashes like Indiana Jones and Batman. Arriving a decade after the poorly received original, it was the beginning of the end for a franchise that jumped the great big shark constellation in the sky. 1991’s The Undiscovered Country was moderately successful, but things wouldn’t be the same after this gawkish entry until the series was rebooted by JJ Abrams years later.
4 Spider-Man 3 (2007)
If it weren’t for the brilliance of his previous work, Sam Raimi could’ve very well have gone down as the guy who okayed Tobey Maguire dancing in Spider-Man 3. What happened? Passed off as the negative side effects of the Venom suit, these cringe-inducing detours play awkward gyrating for some kind of inner angst or attempt at being *gulp* cool. It remains unbelievable even a decade later. The rest of the film follows in this inferior mash-up routine, bunching Sandman, Venom, and a Green Goblin wannabe into a project that tries so hard to avoid the trilogy curse it winds up defining it.
It’s a shame really, given the quality of the first two films. Raimi is a solid director, but this overblown attempt reveals a crippling inability to corral multiple ideas into something remotely coherent. It’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012) if Nolan suddenly decided to make Bruce Wayne an utter dofus. Fans preferred to start fresh with Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland rather than return to Tobey’s side of town. That says it all.
3 Superman III (1983)
Superman III made some tragic mistakes before arriving at the intersection of “Jumping” and “The Shark.” One was booting director Richard Donner, who had helmed the first two films and guided them to a patriotic blend of chaos and charm — which was evidently lost upon producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Replacing him with Richard Lester not only resulted in the wasted talents of Margot Kidder (a brief cameo) and Gene Hackman (nowhere to be found), but a loss of the atmosphere that had so been built up over the course of the franchise.
Instead, viewers were given…Richard Pryor. Even if the villainous role of computer genius Gus Gorman had somehow been tailor-made for the comedian’s talents (which it wasn’t), the results would’ve been jarringly off. As it stands, it was poorly conceived and executed, saved only by the gung-ho performance of Christopher Reeve fighting a corrupted version of Superman. Lester was reportedly “always looking for a gag onset,” and the hiding place seemed to be the mouth of this slowly gasping franchise.
2 The Godfather Part III (1990)
The Godfather Part III isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, it isn’t appraised as such, but rather compared to the first two films, which set a bar that’s still being quantified as the greatest one-two punch in cinematic history. Part III, by contrast, exposed the brittle nerves of guilt that resulted from the high-octane Mafia lifestyle. Director Francis Ford Coppola intended the film as an epilogue to his saga, with the working title The Death of Michael Corleone furthering espousing this intent.
Of course, Paramount wasn’t having any of that “artsy” reasoning, and the rip-roaring promotion behind the film botched reactions worldwide who expected The Second Coming. It didn’t help that the project was slower, clunkier, and backed by a less-than-stellar turn from Sofia Coppola, which concluded the trilogy on a note of uncertain acceptance. It absolutely double-tapped any chances for Part IV, which flickered out for decades afterwards; so in that regard, buzz-cut Al Pacino most certainly made a shark jump he couldn’t refuse.
1 Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (2008)
Winning an award for the longest gestation period of a shark jump, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull returned after thirty years to reclaim the top spot on the list. It brought back an older, grayer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) through the guise of a hollowed out CGI-fest that had more monkeys and killer ants than it did true adventure. Series creators Steven Spielberg and George Lucas attempt to blend the serials of the '30s with sci-fi of the '50s, and the results are just bad, plain and simple. Any moments of excitement, like the Mutt motorcycle chase, is more a frustrating teaser of quality than a rousing return to form.
The grand moment of Crystal Skull is without a doubt the nuclear test site sequence. Stranded without refuge and only a few seconds from certain death, Indy hides out in an empty refrigerator before blasting off to staggering safety. Arriving about ten minutes into the film, it proved so baffling that it sparked a new pop culture contender for declined franchises: “Nuke The Fridge.” It doesn’t quite roll of the tongue like “Jump The Shark,” but the ability to challenge the very parameters of this phenomenon didn’t go unnoticed. Hats off to you, Dr. Jones. Anticipation for Indiana Jones 5 is tentative to say the least.
Did we leave off your favorite shark-jumping film? Let your voice be heard in the comments.