Sequels are regarded as inferior films for a good reason—they’re really hard to make successfully. Yes, audiences want more of the same, but they also want something a little different. Balancing these needs for an audience is quite an undertaking, making mediocre sequels forgivable for most audiences (who assume that maybe the next one will be better). However, a bad sequel can hurt a franchise’s growth and a really bad sequel can kill it outright. Here are 15 filmmakers who, in one fail swoop, managed to ruin a beloved franchise with an ill-conceived follow-up.
If you want to thank anyone for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, thank Joel Schumacher. Batman and Robin single handedly put the final nail in the coffin for the original series that began with Tim Burton’s Batman. The success of Schumacher’s Batman Forever gave him carte blanche to turn up the franchise’s campy, homoerotic overtones to new heights, making a comedic mockery out of a franchise that was well-received for its brooding seriousness. Disappointing box office and bad reviews across the board forced Warner Bros. to scrap Schumacher’s proposed follow-up, Batman Triumphant, in favor of the fresh take we got from Mr. Nolan in 2005.
McG’s Terminator Salvation wasn’t an awful movie, just a largely unnecessary one. The film’s hook—giving viewers a feature length film set in the franchise’s dystopian future—largely missed the time traveling appeal of The Terminator franchise. The film’s emphasis on Sam Worthington’s human-Terminator hybrid felt like it was riding the coattails of James Cameron’s other franchise, Avatar, and sorely lacked the machismo of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg protagonist. Not only that, but the movie emphasis on oversized cyborgs instead of a coherent script made many feel McG was aping Transformers instead of trying to craft a crowd-pleasing Terminator. A proposed Schwarzenegger-centered follow-up has been announced without the involvement of McG.
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Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) was intended to reboot the classic franchise for modern audiences. So what happened? The film looked good, the make-up effects were a huge step up from the Charlton Heston epic, and the cast (featuring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Helena Bonham Carter) was amazing. The film should have been a slam dunk, but instead fell flat thanks to its over-emphasis on production design and special effects. Burton’s film lacked the passion and freshness of the original, not to mention a decent story. Top these flaws off with a ridiculous twist ending (involving, I kid you not, the Ape-raham Lincoln Memorial) and Fox had the perfect excuse to reboot the series with the much more successful Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
How does one follow up one James Cameron’s Aliens, one of the most successful sequels of all time? The answer is you probably shouldn’t try. That didn’t stop producers Walter Hill and David Giler from cobbling together their preferred parts of various Alien 3 scripts and handing it off to David Fincher. Together the trio crafted what can only be described as one the bleakest and most nihilistic sequels ever made. Indeed, the film wiped Aliens slate clean in the first five minutes, killing of the supporting cast before placing the titular creature and Sigourney Weaver’s character on a prison planet occupied by murderers and rapists. All the crazy weaponry that Aliens an action classic was also abandoned in favor of an anti-tech plot line. While the film is ranked as the second highest box office grosser of the franchise, director David Fincher’s fundamental rejection of everything that made Aliens great ultimately alienated most audience (pardon the pun). Fincher, now a multiple Academy Award nominee, has since disowned the film and has refused to take part in DVD special features or retrospectives.
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With the failure of Alien 3, you can imagine why Fox would be eager to reboot the franchise. Released five years after the trilogy ended, Alien: Resurrection teamed surrealist French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet with screenwriter (and future Avengers director) Joss Whedon. While the sequel recycled much of the gun play and military action of Aliens, it also revived Sigourney Weaver’s character as a half-human, half-alien clone. While the concepts held promise, it is very clear that Jeunet’s whimsical, brightly colored style did not match the tone of Whedon’s script. Direction and writing are clearly at odds with one another throughout, causing a clash that failed to reinvigorate the series new direction. There hasn’t been a straight Alien sequel since the Resurrection’s misstep.
Okay, this is the last Alien post, we promise. Actually, the post is about the blockbuster crossover series, Alien Vs. Predator. While the first film in the series, directed by Resident Evil’s Paul W.S. Anderson, failed to light the world on fire critically, it was well-received as pure popcorn entertainment. It’s sequel, Alien Versus Predator: Requiem fared less well. Directed by newcomers Greg and Colin Strause, the film’s emphasis on gory special effects pleased many fans, but those looking for solid story, acting, cinematography, or dialogue walked out of the theater less than pleased. AVP:R is, at its core, a big budget Sy-Fy channel original movie and its failure is just one of the reasons why Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was retconned from being a straight prequel to Alien.
Superman: The Movie was a phenomenon of its day. Richard Donner’s film had a wonder and nostalgia that was simply iconic, but that didn’t stop him from being fired while directing Superman II. Richard Lester (director of the legendary A Hard Day’s Night) was brought in to replace him, lightening up the film’s dramatic tone. The financial success of Superman II as a sequel later put Lester in the director’s chair of Superman III. Much like Joel Schumacher’s direction of Batman and Robin, Lester took this as his cue to turn the third entry in the series into a Richard Pryor comedy. We mean that literally, Pryor was written into the film in a shoe-horned fashion. While the comedian handles Lester’s slapstick set pieces well, the duo deflate the serious tone of the initial films. The ill-will garnered toward Superman III would be one factor that influenced the budget of Superman IV being slashed, creating a cheaply made (if equally reviled) sequel.
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If Superman III suffered from being too humorous, Bryan Singer’s reboot, Superman Returns, suffers from being too serious. The film was intended to be a sort-of sequel to the Richard Donner’s original and certainly returned the character to his more serious roots. The only problem was that Singer’s melancholy film lacked any suspense to counterbalance the moody story. The film’s action sequences can be boiled down to “Superman Vs. Plane, Superman Vs. Boat, Superman Vs. Island,” etc, making for an antiquated modern day superhero film. Singer would later admit that the film failed to “position the character” and another reboot, Man of Steel, is set for release this summer.
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Bryan Singer rescinded leadership of the blockbuster X-Men franchise to make Superman Returns, leaving producers looking for a suitable replacement for X-Men III: The Last Stand. They eventually settled on Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a mistake that has haunted the franchise ever since. Ratner, a yeoman director-for-hire, filmed the movie adequately but failed to bring the humanity and pathos of the Bryan Singer films. Instead Ratner did away fan-favorite characters left and right in sweeping, if ultimately soulless, action sequences that plodded through the movie’s convoluted script. Similar problems would later be labeled on future spin-offs of the series, including the next entry on this list.
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After his film Tsotsi won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Gavin Hood won the coveted spot of bring X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the big screen. In the process, Hood would kill the proposed X-Men: Origins series outright. The film rehashed a back story for Hugh Jackman’s hero that was only touched on in previous films, interspersing the plotline’s mile markers with a cavalcade of unnecessary characters and suspense-less action sequences. The film was regarded by fans as an unnecessary, cheap looking, and mostly forgettable mess. Since Origins failure to resonate with fans, a sequel, The Wolverine, has since been reworked into a “one-off” storyline to provide distance from Hood’s film.
The Exorcist continues to be considered among the scariest films ever made. The Exorcist II: The Heretic is counted as among the worst sequels ever made, dropping the religious horrors of its predecessor in favor of a plot involving psychics, voodoo, and hypnosis. Director John Boorman was hired by Warner Bros. based on the success of his own terrifying film, Deliverance. Yet despite his knack for primal terror, The Exorcist II displayed that Boorman had not even a fundamental idea of what made the original a success. Boorman instead opted for a more “positive film” (his own words) that was laughed off the screen by audiences. It’s failure created the template for an entire series of dwindling Exorcist sequels that were all poorly received by critics and audiences alike.
The Wachowski Siblings
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The Matrix came out in the summer of 1999 and stole the rug out from under Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as the sci-fi feature of the year. The directors, Andy and Lana Wachowski, were hailed as modern geniuses and anticipation ran high for the trilogy to continue. The sequels that followed, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, entirely missed the appeal of the action packed original. Though Reloaded would be praised despite its nonsensical plot, Revolutions came out of the gate to horrid reviews accusing the series of anti-climax. The Wachowski’s obsession with religious symbolism and existentialism ultimately detracted from the pulpy thrills that made the original a modern classic. To date there have been no rumblings of a fourth Matrix, despite the last entry warning audiences would see the heroic Neo once again.
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Despite low domestic earnings, Highlander made great box office overseas in 1986. Hence, a sequel was conceived by the film’s director Russell Mulcahy. The result is considered by Wikipedia to be among the worst films ever made. The original film was about a mysterious race of beings who could not die unless they were decapitated by one of their own, a basic immortality fantasy that lent Highlander an epic, romantic feel. Highlander II: The Quickening set things in a dreary dystopian future and established a back story explaining that the mythic immortals were, in fact, aliens from another planet. So much for mystery and romance–viewers avoided Highlander II completely for these reasons, causing it to bomb in the box office. The film has been re-edited twice for home video since its original release, attempting to fix the film’s problems retroactively and finally turn a profit for the producers.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake got a lot of flack from horror fans but the film was a success, allowing the director full creative control over the sequel. What followed was Halloween II, a film that couldn’t be farther from a Halloween movie if it tried. Riddled with extended dream sequences, music video surrealism, an abundance of ancillary characters, and an unlikeable protagonist, Halloween II seemed intent on alienating every Halloween fan out there. It worked and the film made a fraction of what the remake netted. It’s failure has stalled the studio from attempting a third entry in the series.
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George Lucas just sold Lucasfilm to Disney, who are planning an entire series of sequels to the original Stars Wars trilogy. While the move shocked many, those who remember Lucas’ Star Wars prequels were not that surprised. Star Wars: Episode I kicked off a series of films that completely disavowed everything great about the original Star Wars, alienating longstanding fans and critics alike. The CGI-drenched, stiffly acted, and poorly written trilogy put too much focus on galactic tax laws and Senate hearings rather than light sabre fights and swashbuckling action. Lucas failed to make even a half-entertaining space opera out of three movies and as such has washed his hands of the entire franchise.