We love trilogies. At this point in film history, there are more trilogies out there than we can count without help from IMDb. Sometimes, a trilogy is planned as three movies from the beginning. Or if it’s from Marvel, a trilogy of trilogies may be announced. Occasionally, a stand-alone film does so well that the studios decide to reshape it into a three-part series, with varied results. Sometimes a franchise goes on further than that…leaving us to wonder just how fast and furious a franchise can actually become.
In this list, we’ll talk about third installments that limped their way through development, flopped at the box office, or failed to keep the fans engaged. Some of these third installments are fine enough on their own, and are merely the most disliked in a beloved franchise. For others, part three may have simply been the point at which the studios decided not to continue. And for several entries, we’ll talk about part threes that made fans weep, even as studios elected to push ahead with further outings in the series.
Of course, there are also a few third installments that were suggested, but didn’t quite make our list. Omen III: The Final Conflict and Psycho 3 are both films that have passionate supporters and detractors—so we left them out. Without further ado, here are 15 Movie Threequels That Ruined The Whole Trilogy.
15. Alien 3
For better or worse, they’re still making movies about these Giger-designed xenomorphs. They’ll never top the first two, not ever. Alien wowed the world as gothic horror that turned the claustrophobic trapped-in-a-house scenario on its head (even though it was a ship). Aliens took that concept and ramped it up into a spectacular action-horror film, one that made us love Bill Paxton even more than we already did. So how could the third installment not be great?
For starters, there were years of development hell, script changes, and even complaints about Sigourney Weaver’s salary, even though she made way less than many male action stars in the industry. Despite high levels of suspense, superb direction from David Fincher, and a sex scene with Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones), many fans never connected with this film. Love or hate Alien 3, we can probably all agree that the franchise went way downhill from there.
14. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
What do we love about JRR Tolkien? Well, there’s the vivid descriptions, detailed back stories, and all those wonderful characters for starters. When fans heard that there were finally going to be movie versions of his beloved tales, some fans were wildly excited, while others nervously clutched their rotoscoped Bakshi videotapes even tighter.
Fans ultimately loved what Peter Jackson did with the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Despite a few quibbles, we trusted him to make The Hobbit into a movie. We were a little less sure about three movies—was there really enough story there? Turns out…no, not really. The third installment in a series that should have been a single film was little more than a long, protracted battle that reminded us all that they should have just asked the Great Eagles to fly them the rest of the way.
13. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
Let’s be clear about one thing from the beginning: this movie is awesome. Conal Cochran is a great villain, and everybody knows the jaunty song from the Silver Shamrock commercial. Heck, we don’t even care how weird it was that someone used a shamrock as a logo for Halloween costumes. Those wacky Irishmen!
What hurt Halloween III: Season of the Witch is that after two movies with babysitter-stabbing-enthusiast Michael Myers, fans had specific expectations going forward. In the late ’70s, John Carpenter wanted to release a new low-budget horror movie every fall as part of an anthology series, each one with a fresh new story (sort of a film version of American Horror Story). But Michael Myers had too many fans, and the studio wanted another film with him. (Carpenter’s planned second film in the series was eventually released as The Fog, by the way.)
12. The World’s End
After the spectacular fan reactions to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it might not have even been possible for this last installment of The Cornetto Trilogy to garner the same kind of fan reaction. That said, we suspect that this will be the entry that infuriates the most people.
If you’re a fan of moral lessons and character growth, this tale of an ill-fated pub crawl halted by an alien outbreak won’t work for you at all. Unlike Shaun and Nicholas in the earlier films, leading man Gary King (Simon Pegg) doesn’t learn a dang thing. In Shaun, he learns to man up and be responsible. Hot Fuzz is the opposite—he learns to chill out sometimes. Seeing Gary learn absolutely nothing may have been the only thing that made sense dramatically, but not everyone dug it.
11. Blade: Trinity
Horror fans were pretty geeked about Blade when it came out. Solid action horror movies were few and far between in the late ’90s, and this was a great one with a superhero-y twist. The first sequel wasn’t bad. But this? Fans began to wonder if maybe writer/director David S. Goyer had hit his head or something—because if the script was any indication—he was fresh out of good ideas. Even a spectacular cast couldn’t save this crapfest.
A bevy of jokes about Wesley Snipes’s money troubles speculated that he had a monetary incentive for appearing in Blade: Trinity. (We aren’t sure what Triple H’s excuse was.) Ultimately, this third installment was met with two main fan reactions: 1. They should have stopped after the first movie. 2. Please, for the love of all that is holy, no more.
10. SAW III
Yes, we know that the SAW franchise picked up steam after this threequel happened. Or, at least the studios thought more SAW movies were a good idea. We’re guessing that studio execs are not really watching these films in their entirety. They’re quite extreme. After this gruesome homage to violent comeuppances, fans were pretty much over the torture porn genre. If it was to continue, we’d need fresher scripts, stronger stories, and real, believable reasons as to why these things kept happening.
SAW III was not particularly interesting, and lacked the giant, twisty surprises of the previous films. Did they think we wouldn’t notice? We did. To their credit, Leigh Whannell et al amped up its game for the fourth movie script. The franchise recovered, which is nice. Because after the third one, far too many horror fans were ready to stick a fork in it. Or a power drill.
9. American Wedding
If you think about it, it’s amazing that they could even make this many movies from a single gag about fruit-filled pastry fornication. Even the Zinger Zapper would be impressed. Every generation has one of these teen sex-romp comedies that defines it. Yours may have been the American Graffiti series, or Dazed and Confused, or something like Animal House or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If your teen sex-romp of choice is the American Pie series, however, you already know that the third installment was already the threequel nobody wanted—for basically the same reason nobody wanted to see Arthur Fonzarelli married with a kid.
8. Iron Man 3
This is another instance where the fan hate comes from a very specific problem with a film, rather than the entirety of the film itself. We love Iron Man. We love Tony Stark, and we love Robert Downey Jr. All of those things are great. We love Happy, and Pepper, and Coulson, and all our other MCU peeps. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was well underway by the time Iron Man 3 was released, but Buckethead’s solo future (if there was one to begin with) may have gone down the tubes with this flick.
After the second installment in the Iron Man series was met with complaints about all of Iron Man’s opponents being the same, fans were stoked to learn that they were bringing in the Mandarin. Ben Kingsley was a great casting choice, and the Mandarin is a fantastic character. And then…he was handled like a friggin’ joke, akin to turning The Joker into a pathetic birthday party clown, or reducing The Punisher to a drunk who gets in bar fights. No. Bad MCU! Bad!
7. Darkman 3: Die Darkman Die
Fans loved Darkman almost as much as they hated Durant. The first movie was dark and wonderfully effective, thanks in no small part to an esteemed cast and crew. Recasting Peyton Westlake for a sequel was already a bad idea. But killing off Durant? Fans can only be asked to endure so much. By Darkman III: Die, Darkman Die, they had had enough. Even the title was awful—and far too long. Normally, Jeff Fahey improves every movie or show he touches. But even he couldn’t save this steaming pile of aggressively mediocre garbage.
In fact, when it came time for us to find a photo to use with this entry, we couldn’t bear to subject you to Darkman III. Instead, enjoy this photo of the real Darkman during happier times…of course, “happy” is relative when you’re talking about Darkman.
6. Superman III
Few things can ruin any art quicker than taking something (or someone) hardcore and watering them down for a family-friendly crowd. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, ask LL Cool Jay to explain it to you from atop his pile of TV money. Trying to turn Richard Pryor into a family-friendly victim of happenstance didn’t really work…at all. Pryor was an exceptional, world-changing comedian. But when it came time to delve deep into a disturbed character’s psyche, he couldn’t pull it off. Shame, that. Annette O’Toole plays Clark’s old crush Lana Lang, by the way, which makes it extra icky when she later plays Clark’s mom in Smallville.
We will say that Evil Superman was pretty cool, and that Reeve will always remain our favorite Man of Steel. But after Superman III, it seemed prudent to end the franchise and let the threequel sink into obscurity. The less said about Quest for Peace, the better.
5. Jaws 3D
It’s rare that a movie can cause so much hatred for a monster that its real-life counterparts are then hunted to near extinction. But that was the impact of Jaws. Well, that and inventing the “summer blockbuster.” Jaws was a masterpiece, and even Jaws 2 managed to show us new things about Chief Brody, his family, and the town of Amity. It also must make us ponder how delicious people must be if these huge sharks prefer us to every other thing in the ocean.
This threequel was set at the kind of theme park we all thought was cool before we saw Blackfish. A cast that included Bess Armstrong, Lou Gosset Jr., and a then-unknown Lea Thompson was hardly cause for celebration. But the gimmicky 3D imaging, horrible plot, and the awful Steve-Irwin wannabe character made us cringe the whole way through.
4. X-Men Apocalypse
“The third one is always the worst,” says Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) in X-Men Apocalypse. Well, if you know that, why didn’t you do anything about it?! If you’ve been reading X-Men comics for years, you’ve no doubt got a ton of gripes about how the second trilogy of X-Men movies, First Class and Days of Future Past took some liberties, and made some controversial casting choices. But if you’re mainly about the movies, you were probably okay with them.
This threequel though? Startlingly few folks liked it. Not the hardcore comic readers, not the casual fans, not even people who hadn’t seen the first two. Bad villains, dumb plot, character development all over the place. We say watching this movie might be better than staring at a blank wall. But if you have the means, skip it and rewatch Logan instead.
3. The Matrix Revolutions
We already know that The Matrix doomed action movie fans to decades of slow-motion gunfire and action heroes who can all suddenly limbo under the path of a bullet. Back then, people still repeated lines from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure whenever Keanu’s name came up. Some fans even thought that the real star of the series was actually Hugo Weaving. Fair point.
Initially, folks were pretty stoked to hear that their beloved Matrix was becoming a trilogy. The second film was action-packed and understatedly amazing. Plus, it set up more insane and thrilling questions to be answered in the next film. Well, if you’ve ever heard the expression “don’t let your hand write checks your butt can’t cash,” you’ll know that’s exactly what they did. By the time the series finally ended, the only question that remained was how the Architect, and resolution, managed to be so disappointing.
2. X-Men 3: The Last Stand
Imagine, if you will, a beloved movie series. The film’s director is, at the time, widely respected by fans and industry people. But there’s a conflict. They want him to direct a different film instead of the threequel he’d been planning on. Now imagine that the studio said something like, ‘hey man, don’t worry. We’ll get someone else to direct the 3rd movie.’ Fans would collectively say, “No, that’s okay. We’ll wait.”
When this happened to the first X-Men trilogy, studios (somehow under the opinion that we’d all forget about X-Men in an extra year of waiting for a proper third entry) ignored the wishes of everyone involved and went ahead with a new director by the name of Brett Ratner. “No!” fans protested, “If you do that, it’ll suck!” Well, they did, and it did. Thanks, 20th Century Foxt. This is why we can’t have nice things.
1. The Godfather Part III
How do you take all the cool out of a badass mafia don? Have him burst into tears a few times, maybe watch him have a low-blood sugar episode that looks more like a seizure, and explain to his daughter why she shouldn’t sleep with her first cousin—because her last name isn’t Lannister. We can argue that mafia dons are murderous thieves and shouldn’t be romanticized this way, but we don’t all go to films to learn moral lessons.
This third Godfather film essentially spat on the characters we’d loved since the ’70s, and introduced others we just couldn’t bring ourselves to care about. Winona Ryder dropping out didn’t help either. If nothing else, they should have known that bad guys in league with the Vatican would upset a lot of people. How such a marvelous franchise could end like this is a mystery for the ages.
Disagree with any of our picks? We’d love to hear why in the comments.
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