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25 Blockbuster Threequels: Did They Sink Or Save Their Franchises?

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by The Playlist Staff
May 2, 2013 3:04 PM
35 Comments
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"Alien 3" (1992)
Franchise: Alien
How Threequel-y Was It: After the haunted-house scariness of "Alien" and the more go-for-broke thrill ride of "Aliens," the franchise turned darker and more somber with "Alien 3," which takes place on a prison planet inhabited by rapists, thieves, and murderers. (The original, painfully misleading – especially if you're ten – tagline was: "On earth, everyone can hear you scream.") The original version of "Alien 3" was set on a wooden planet inhabited by space monks, but this vision seemed too unwieldy for Fox, so they instead hired music video savant David Fincher, known for his charcoal-black aesthetic, to make his directorial debut. Fincher changed the setting to a prison colony and slathered the film in stylistically impressive grime, although the film didn't really survive its abrupt tonal shift from the previous film -- that was a rollicking good time Fincher literally deadened by killing off the surviving cast members -- and was alienating to say the least. It added up to an unnecessarily dour experience, if one that, aethetically at least, intervening years have been a little kinder to.
Where does it rank in the franchise (to that date): 3/3 It's a fascinating failure, for sure, but at the time was the least impressive of the three movies. It's still more fun to watch than the fourth film, "Alien: Resurrection," and we'll leave last year's kinda-prequel "Prometheus" out of the frame entirely, in the interests of internal Playlist harmony.

"Toy Story 3" (2010)
Franchise: Toy Story
How Threequel-y Was It: While "Cars 2" and "Monsters University" feel more like branding exercises than legitimate follow-ups, the "Toy Story" franchise has always served to grow the characters and find new ways to wring laughs from a premise that is essentially a bunch of talking toys getting into adventures. And "Toy Story 3" really brings the A-game. The scope is expanded, a few new characters are introduced to spice things up, but more crucially, it brings the story full circle. Andy is now all grown up, and the toys that were his companions for 18 years now need to find someone else to love and play with them. Easily the most emotional entry of the series, Woody and the gang nearly find themselves incinerated and contemplating their own mortality in one of the most intense sequences in the series (and maybe in any animated movie in recent years). But "Toy Story 3" is all about passing the torch, saying goodbye to past memories, and hopefully making room for new ones, wherever life takes you, and if your heartstrings didn't tug a little when Bonnie embraces her new friends at the end, you have no soul. A truly satisfying, worthy finale to the series, that perfectly closes the loop on the three movies.
Where does it rate in its franchise (to that date): Well, no franchise is ever truly finished and "Toy Story" has lived on past the third installment with a handful of shorts and Tom Hanks saying himself "Toy Story 4" was in the works (though it doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon). But "Toy Story 3" leaves the series on a high note, and as the best of the bunch, so 1/3.

"Die Hard with a Vengeance"
Franchise: Die Hard
How Threequel-y Was It: Starting as an everyman cop in an extraordinary situation in "Die Hard," each progressive entry in the series has seen John McClane become more of a superhero (seriously he should've died a zillion times by now) in increasingly outlandish and empty movies, with villains becoming more anonymous until whats-his-name in "A Good To Day To Die Hard" threatened to we-don't-remember-and-it-doesn't-matter. "Die Hard With Vengeance" represents the tipping point of the series, between its grittier beginnings and homogenized, pre-packaged latter day excursions. On the one hand, you have a scenery-chewing Jeremy Irons playing a guy named Simon who sends McClane around Manhattan on an overly elaborate and evil game of... wait for it... Simon Says. On the other hand, you have McClane in Harlem wearing a sign that says "I hate Niggers." It's a weird mix of cartoony and provocative that never really works, though it's not without its charms, either.
Where does it rate in its franchise: 3/3 Worst, (though there are Playlisters who would insist 'Die Harder' is the lesser sequel). Third best in a series that has gotten worse and worse with each entry -- maybe the developing "Die Hard 6" will buck the trend...but probably not....

"Spider-Man 3" (2007)
Franchise: Spider-Man
How Threequel-y Was It: Where to begin with Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3? And what to say that hasn't already been said by hordes of disappointed geeks? "Spider-Man 2" ably balanced character-driven drama with effects-driven action (see the subway showdown between Tobey Maguire's Spidey and Alfred Molina's Doc Ock for the perfect melding of the two in a single scene), but "Spider-Man 3" tried to cram way too much into its two-plus hours. Instead of one stellar villain as its predecessors had, "3" takes its title too literally and offers a trio of sub-par baddies in the form of Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace) and Harry Osborn (James Franco). Adding to all that weight, the dialogue isn't nearly as much fun as it was in the two previous outings, causing each joke to land with a thud. As if all of that weren't bad enough, it also features Emo Spidey, Kirsten Dunst singing *and* Bruce Campbell's worst cameo in the series, as a French maitre d'. "Spider-Man 3" certainly left things open for "Spider-Man 4," etc., but creative issues and multiple script rewrites of the fourth installment ensured that they wouldn't make Sony's release date. Raimi and the cast pulled out, making room for Marc Webb's reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man" in 2012. That one is gearing up for its second outing now, so only time will tell if it can get to, or perhaps beyond, Raimi's tally of three.
Where does it rate in its franchise (to that date): 3/3 Worst.

"Superman III" (1983)
Franchise: Superman
How Threequel-y Was It: Richard Donner promoted "verisimilitude" in his directed portions of the "Superman" series. But Richard Lester, who directed portions of "Superman II," including a few comic bits, was seen as the future of the franchise. What resulted was a clash of two brands, "Superman" and Richard Pryor, the comic legend who was utilized in a dubious fashion to provide needless merrymaking as a contrast to Christopher Reeve's earnestness in the title role, something that clearly the execs thought would not be enough of a draw on its own. While the first films have a timelessness to them, this picture's threat of computers spelling our doom is definitely a product of eighties genre filmmaking, right down to the horrific and completely inexplicable robot lady threat of the third act. Even the villain leaves much to be desired: without Gene Hackman's grizzled Lex Luthor, the story pivots on the machinations of Ross Webster, an apparent last-minute addition in place of Brainiac (an idea nixed by the studio) that simply repeated the irritated-billionaire-villain routine that we'd seen in the last two films. The jokes don't land, the action doesn't work, and "Superman III" ends up being a typical threequel, over-stuffed with plot lines, like the subplot involving Clark returning back home to Smallville and reuniting with a childhood sweetheart, which is rendered an afterthought by Pryor's dubious PG-rated shucking-and-jiving.
Where does it rate in its franchise (to that date)? 3/3 Worst. At least until "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace."

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35 Comments

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:07 PMReply

    My apologies for the spam my internet just went on the fritz. Hopefully they get deleted soon.

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    I have to say that "Return of the King" is my favourite of the Lord of the Rings, and "Dead Man's Chest" left me excited to see "At World's End", which I was quite disappointed with, but I still enjoyed. "Dark Knight Rises" disappointed me, because it lacked the visceral darkness, and intellect of "The Dark Knight", and the excellent pace of "Batman Begins", and my hat goes off to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for the performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and the consistent "appropriate use of a shotgun." T:3" lacked the character arcs I love so much about the second, which really are what made it for me.

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:05 PMReply

    I have to say that "Return of the King" is my favourite of the Lord of the Rings, and "Dead Man's Chest" left me excited to see "At World's End", which I was quite disappointed with, but I still enjoyed. "Dark Knight Rises" disappointed me, because it lacked the visceral darkness, and intellect of "The Dark Knight", and the excellent pace of "Batman Begins", and my hat goes off to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for the performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and the consistent "appropriate use of a shotgun." T:3" lacked the character arcs I love so much about the second, which really are what made it for me.

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:05 PMReply

    I have to say that "Return of the King" is my favourite of the Lord of the Rings, and "Dead Man's Chest" left me excited to see "At World's End", which I was quite disappointed with, but I still enjoyed. "Dark Knight Rises" disappointed me, because it lacked the visceral darkness, and intellect of "The Dark Knight", and the excellent pace of "Batman Begins", and my hat goes off to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for the performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and the consistent "appropriate use of a shotgun." T:3" lacked the character arcs I love so much about the second, which really are what made it for me.

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:05 PMReply

    I have to say that "Return of the King" is my favourite of the Lord of the Rings, and "Dead Man's Chest" left me excited to see "At World's End", which I was quite disappointed with, but I still enjoyed. "Dark Knight Rises" disappointed me, because it lacked the visceral darkness, and intellect of "The Dark Knight", and the excellent pace of "Batman Begins", and my hat goes off to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for the performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and the consistent "appropriate use of a shotgun." T:3" lacked the character arcs I love so much about the second, which really are what made it for me.

  • Mark T | May 8, 2013 1:04 PMReply

    I have to say that "Return of the King" is my favourite of the Lord of the Rings, and "Dead Man's Chest" left me excited to see "At World's End", which I was quite disappointed with, but I still enjoyed. "Dark Knight Rises" disappointed me, because it lacked the visceral darkness, and intellect of "The Dark Knight", and the excellent pace of "Batman Begins", and my hat goes off to "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" for the performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and the consistent "appropriate use of a shotgun." T:3" lacked the character arcs I love so much about the second, which really are what made it for me.

  • andrew m | May 6, 2013 10:50 PMReply

    This is probably a franchise that most don't think about, but The Transporter 3 might have been the first time I really thought the third installment of a series was outright the best. They are thoroughly dumb movies to be sure, but the whole series is a lot of fun, and the third one really gets it right - enough that I'd love to see a 4th.

  • Tom McGibbet | May 5, 2013 4:30 AMReply

    Also, Identity might have a much smoother plot, but Ultimatum is still the superior film. It is pure, genius cinema, and cemented the trilogy's influence over the entire action genre.

  • Tom McGibbet | May 5, 2013 4:29 AMReply

    The muddled and weirdly dark (but still reasonably enjoyable) Back to the Future II and At World's End better than the breezily entertaining Dead Man's Chest and Back to the Future III? Definitely not. Also, John McClane and Samuel L. Jackson chemistry raises Die Hard 3 above 2.

  • Owen Hughes | May 4, 2013 11:13 AMReply

    Of the five "threequels" pictured at the top: "Return of the Jedi" (although I'm the only person in the world to prefer it to "Empire") is considered the "bad one" of the original Star Wars Trilogy; "Spider-Man 3" got a lukewarm 63% on Rotten Tomatoes and was basically derided by fans; "The Matrix Revolutions" was despised by critics (36% -- even though I personally liked it more than "Reloaded"); "Return of the King" was not a true sequel, because it was the third part of a 9-hour-long film that was all planned out and SHOT in advance, based on the last third-and-a-bit of a single book that had been released 50 years earlier. Of these five, "Iron Man 3" seems to be the only one that critically might (at present we can't tell) outstrip EITHER f its predecessors. But then, like RotK it's also kind of an exception: it's actually the seventh film in a series, four of which had previously featured the character Tony Stark/Iron Man. Going by production/release order, "Iron Man 2" was actually the third film to feature the character, and also the third film in the franchise. In terms of story continuity, the third film in the timeline to feature the character was 2008's "The Incredible Hulk", which was both critically and commercially a disappointment (until "Iron Man 3", which I can only say I LIKE right now, it was my third favourite in the franchise after "The Avengers" and "Thor", though).

  • cirkusfolk | May 3, 2013 1:35 PMReply

    Wow. Almost every one of these films got the worst of the series rating, and the few that didn't (Toy Story, Dark Knight Rises etc) should have. I must admit the only real flaw I see is ranking BTTF 3 as the worst. Oh and btw, saw Iron Man 3 last night and it is easily the worst too. Regenerating fire people, really???

  • Tally | May 11, 2013 1:49 PM

    Die hard with a vengeance is def the better sequel out of all the die hards. and the 3rd back to the future isnt bad. overall a solid trilogy. BOOO PLAYLIST FOR YOUR OPINIONS.

  • The Ritty | May 3, 2013 2:31 PM

    BTTF 2 is FAR worse than 3... give me a break. 3 is great. Lists made by 20-something know nothings raised on crap. Die hard 3 the worst!? whoever wrote this list is a total moron.

  • Nastee | May 3, 2013 10:20 AMReply

    TDKR was the worst of the three, by far.

  • Krazy Joe | May 3, 2013 9:40 AMReply

    So many of these are wrong.

    Jurassic Park III was better than Spielberg's overlong, preachy 2nd film.

    Terminator 3 was better than Terminator 2 because it fixed T2's time travel errors and had the balls to end the way T2 should have ended!

  • Krazy Joe | May 3, 2013 9:32 AMReply

    FOOLS!

    Back to the Future III was the best film in the trilogy!

  • HarveyDent322 | May 3, 2013 3:26 AMReply

    Glad you liked MI: 3 but the only time I saw it I thought I was watching a soap opera with some action beats thrown in which was why that was the only time I've watched it. I understand trying to give nuance to our action heroes but I greatly preferred the high caliber, over-the-top action that John Woo put on the screen for MI: 2. I may even go so far as to rate the sequel higher than the original because it accomplished in spades what it set out to be much more than 1 and 3 which was fun, summer action movie.

    Also, MI: 2 IMO still holds the title for the best hand-to-hand fight in a Hollywood movie between Tom Cruise and Dougray Scott. Great, great action.

  • Alan B | May 2, 2013 10:16 PMReply

    Also, Nivola is a terrific actor, and the only reason he didn't "happen" was because Kenneth Branagh's super-ambitious Shakespeare/musical-hybrid 'Love's Labour's Lost' failed at the box office. It's the same reason why Adrian Lester also didn't "happen". The making of a star is the result of MANY FACTORS, not just the actor's talent. So be offended that a rising star took a chance that didn't come off: no one else gives a shit.

  • nechoplex | May 2, 2013 9:48 PMReply

    "The Bourne Identity is easily the best one of the bunch" That's some ridiculous statement right there. That movie is good, but not even near the greatness of Supremacy. Identity lacked the exciting action and so much more.

  • Derrick | May 2, 2013 11:22 PM

    Glad someone else acknowledges this. Supremacy was amazing..

  • Alan B | May 2, 2013 9:37 PMReply

    'Lethal Weapon 3' might not be the best film in the series, but it is THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE. Not only does the film an opening titles sequence featuring Fire, Sting and Kamen, but the threequel also features STUART FUCKING WILSON as JACK TRAVIS. Not only does the character have the awesome backstory of a COP GONE ROGUE, but he's pulling THE LATE '80s/EARLY '90S REAL ESTATE SCAM TO END ALL REAL ESTATE SCAMS. Herzog in 'Jack Reacher' had NOTHING on this guy: whether Wilson's shooting JACOB FROM LOST in police stations with ZERO CONSEQUENCES, driving forklifts at people for some reason or sporting the most awesome 'tache this side of Kurt Russell in 'Tombstone' (or Sam Elliot in 'Tombstone' or Bill Paxton in 'Tombstone' or EVERYONE IN 'TOMBSTONE'), Wilson is THE MAN. Nothing stops this guy.

  • Echo Seven | May 2, 2013 8:52 PMReply

    Two Towers is the weak link in LOTR. Yes, Helm's Deep is the action pinnacle of the trilogy, but the rest of the film is filled with an inordinate amount of filler and bloat. From Aragorn's love triangle to superfluous warg attacks to the interminable Entmoot that ends with the Ents pussing out then being tricked into war by a hobbit trick that doesn't make one iota of sense, Two Towers is the entry most in need of some judicious trimming. It also committed the unforgivable sin of turning valiant warrior Gimli into Jar Jar Binks, with a lame, sophomoric slob / height / clumsy / hermaphrodite / out-of-shape joke virtually every time he's onscreen. ROTK may need 3 fewer endings, but on the whole it's a tighter, better film.

  • Skippy | May 3, 2013 8:50 PM

    100% agree with you.

  • Ogre RumpleDumps | May 2, 2013 7:08 PMReply

    The Matrix Revolutions is the biggest, giant steaming turd of a threequel ever made. Fact.

  • daniel | May 2, 2013 6:30 PMReply

    Return of the Jedi is, in terms of sheer let down, the worst film I have ever seen. The new films are nearly as bad, but at least if you knew nothing about them whatsoever and heard only the vaguest outline of what the story might be, they could sound promising. But no matter how you slice it, Jedi is an utter mess, missing every single cue set up in Empire, and collapsing into a repetitive, grating, pointless hash.

  • Erik | May 2, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    I agree that Prizoner of Azkaban is by far the best film in the franchise, but...you should've mentioned David Thewlis's performance. His Lupin is the heart and soul of that movie.

  • Andrew | May 2, 2013 4:04 PMReply

    Ocean's 13 is in my opinion way better than 12, and Die Hard 3 is much better than 2, and I have no idea why I'm wasting my time stating this. Stuck in the office. Nothing else to do, but nerd rant, I suppose.

  • Other Andrew | May 2, 2013 7:19 PM

    Couldn't agree more. Ocean's 13 was a return to form after the, easiest way to put it, weird Ocean's 12, and Die Hard with a Vengeance is absolutely better than Die Hard 2 (which was still a good movie). Although I personally feel Last Crusade was better than all three Indiana Jones' movies, just barely over Raiders though. I have to say though, the scene in Temple of Doom where he pulls out his heart is totally kick ass.

  • andrew | May 2, 2013 3:59 PMReply

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Last Crusade over Temple of Doom? Surely you jest.

  • KrazyJoe | May 3, 2013 9:42 AM

    Temple of Doom sucks.

    I only acknowledge 3 Indiana Jones films....and Temple of Doom aint one of them....

  • Tony | May 2, 2013 3:49 PMReply

    This weekend? Hasn't Iron Man 3 already made about $300m?

  • RNL | May 2, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    Michael Caine took his Bahamas holiday for Jaws 4, not 3.

  • Jess | May 2, 2013 6:54 PM

    Very true. Thanks for the correction.

  • Duranduran | May 2, 2013 3:27 PMReply

    ... Well, I hope the next Tron will be as least as cool as Legacy... ##dream##

  • TheoC | May 2, 2013 3:26 PMReply

    YES Rocky III getting the love. Fantastic montage sequence which ends with Rocky & Creed jumping up & down in the ocean. Also a brilliant ending, the fight we don't get to see.

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