Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

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

Features
by The Playlist Staff
May 2, 2013 3:04 PM
35 Comments
  • |

"X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006)
Franchise: X-Men
How Threequel-y Was It: One of probably many films literally hate-fucked into existence, this franchise extension, teased at the end of "X2: X-Men United," was the product of Fox utilizing an accelerated shooting schedule and an orgy of completed scripts in order to beat Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" to the big screen. They didn't have a director, script or cast when they started promoting the release date, a good two months before "Superman Returns," which meant they eventually had to approach Brett Ratner, the Guy Fieri of directing, to bring back the merry mutants. What resulted was even more busy than the usual threequel, with Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) resurrected as the Phoenix, Magneto (Ian McKellen, pimpin') joining up with underground mutant Morlocks, and a weaponized cure to turn our heroes into regular citizens. The first two films had a distinct sexuality, while this one features a cuckolded Rogue (Anna Paquin) trying to get her cheating man back by taking the cure, a de-powered Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) somehow going turncoat on best friend Magneto, and a Phoenix that is so hyper-sexual it turns off horndog Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) until she finally has to be put down by his claw. Along with kooky gender politics, there was also the needless deaths of several characters, the suggestion being that this installment would change everything, despite those deaths immediately being called into question before the end of the film. Just in case.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date)? 3/3 Worst, though slightly more competent than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

"Ocean's Thirteen" (2007)
Franchise: Ocean's Eleven.
How Threequel-y Was It: While the first two films had style and wit to spare, they were open acknowledgements that director Steven Soderbergh took these as a paycheck in order to fuel his independent experiments, and by the third film, no one was in doubt that this was just for the money. But as far as threequels go, this one isn't bad, still suffused with the bright colors and sexy movie-star glamor that made the first two cable favorites. And while almost literally every side character from the first two films is back, the picture never feels bloated or overly complex, defaulting to that boozy, laid-back vibe provided by George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the leads. But there's certainly no tension here: the crew unite to take revenge for ailing buddy Elliot Gould after his casino is shut down by villain Al Pacino. But Pacino is decidedly dialed-down as the baddie, and driving him to financial ruin doesn't have the same feeling as it did knocking off Andy Garcia's sniveling jerk in the first two films. Moreover, Gould casually mentions his casino being eliminated by Garcia in the first film; why repurpose one minor motivation for the first film, and turn it into the major, and only, driving force in the third? This merely cemented the feeling that the gang was simply in it for the cash this time around.
Where does it rate in the franchise: 3/3 Worst, though they're all around the same level.

"Rocky III" (1982)
Franchise: Rocky
How Threequel-y Was It: This was the point where Sylvester Stallone was the biggest star in the galaxy, and the line separating star and character had almost vanished. Taking on directing duties for this installment, Stallone tells you everything you need to know in an opening montage that rivals Eisenstein. Glimpsed are sequences of Stallone-as-Rocky (and possibly Stallone-as-himself repurposed for "Rocky III") filming advertisements and appearing on kids' shows, Rocky enjoying the spoils of fame as he makes sweet love to wife Adrian (Talia Shire). Meanwhile, a new challenger is rising, and in snippets we glimpse supervillain Clubber Lang (a peerless Mr. T) laying waste to his opponents, loudly crowing about his desire to dismantle the Italian Stallion in the ring. The sheer force of Lang's jabs seem to almost rattle the frame, dislodging the domestic bliss of Rocky and Adrian, as Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" wails on the soundtrack like you're hearing it for the first time (which moviegoers were at the time). The montage closes in on Adrian's drunk brother Paulie (Burt Young) as he stumbles into an arcade and hurls a flask at a real-life Rocky pinball machine, sending the glass crashing to the floor in slow motion over the credit "Directed by Sylvester Stallone." Sublime.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date): Controversially ranked by Gabe 1/3 but probably 2/3 to everyone else.

"Jurassic Park 3" (1993)
Franchise: Jurassic Park
How Threequel-y Was It: What's striking about those first two "Jurassic Park" films is just how secretly nasty they could be, a surprise coming from Steven Spielberg, known to protect women and children first. As a result, "Jurassic Park 3" begins with some atonal b.s. about a hang gliding kid that would fit quite nicely in the CV of some eighties-era Spielberg wannabe, which makes it no surprise that this third installment is helmed by Spielberg fanboy Joe Johnston. The idea of using a second island in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" was somewhat tolerable, but then revealing there's another island, with a host of new dinosaurs, seems craven even by genre standards, and a step down from the "Lost World" finale that put a T-Rex in San Diego. Everything feels a bit more off-brand in "Jurassic Park 3," like they're conscious about forcing this into a continued story even if it's the first of the three films not based on a book. Now the raptors communicate. Now the T-Rex fights the Spinosaurus. And Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) isn't enough: he has to have a handsome young sidekick that jumps into the action headfirst. Yeah, guys, Alessandro Nivola didn't happen, and we have contempt for how you tried to make him happen.
Where does it rate in the franchise? 3/3 Worst. Joe Johnston is no Steven Spielberg.

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (2003)
Franchise: The Terminator
How Threequel-y Was It: The third in this time-spanning franchise opens on an intriguing hypothetical: what if you prevented the destruction of the world, but no one could ever possibly know? As a result, humanity's savior John Connor (Nick Stahl) is now a broke drifter, going from leader of the resistance against the evil Skynet to unkempt vagrant and addict, an element of the film given added dimension by Stahl's latter-day tabloid adventures. The return of the T-100 gives him purpose, and it's great to see a grizzled, broken-down Arnold Schwarzenegger in this iconic role again as he pretends that it's 1992 forever. But the first forty-five minutes of "Terminator 3" play out like "Terminator Dinner Theater," particularly with a needless emphasis on a PG-13 rating. Credit where credit's due: the third film lacks the existentialist dread of the second film and the distinct horror of the first, but director Jonathan Mostow wisely compensates with sheer wall-to-wall destruction. Entire city blocks are felled as Schwarzenegger does battle with an upgraded new villain (Kristanna Lokken, sadly no Robert Patrick), ensuring that if this was going to be a rung underneath the first two films, it would at least be a violent rung. "Rise Of The Machines" eventually closes on a surprisingly downbeat note, one that both effectively honors the spirit of the James Cameron films but also establishes a new status quo, taking the series in a new direction.
Where does it rate in the franchise (to that date)? 3/3 So -- worst. But superior to the later "Terminator Salvation."

We capped our list at 25 out of consideration for your scrolling fingers, but we could have gone on and on. Some of the ones we regret having to leave off include "Jaws 3D" -- after all, "Jaws" was the first blockbuster of them all, and the progressively increasing terribleness of its sequels also set something of a trend. 3D gimmickry, none of the original cast returning, and shoddy effects are what "Jaws 3D" delivers, but, though we're not huge fans of the Rotten Tomatoes system, we do get a snicker seeing how no. 3's appalling 12% is blown, yes out of the water, by Michael Caine's finest hour "Jaws: The Revenge"'s 0%.

"Twilight" too was at one point a trilogy and 'Eclipse' is probably the best of any of them bar the first, as little as that says. "Men in Black 3" scrabbled back some of the goodwill lost on no. 2; "Blade: Trinity" is the least of the "Blade"s but was a little unfairly vilified if you ask this writer; while "Revenge of the Sith" was the best of the "Star Wars" prequels if only because it was the only one that featured something we actually wanted to see instead of more stuff about trade embargoes and galactic tax law. "Goldfinger" is an interesting one to consider as an early proto-blockbuster, and to this day is a high watermark in the James Bond canon; "Army of Darkness" is hardly a threequel at all -- though we do enjoy it greatly, it shares little DNA with the fabulous "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2" except a chainsaw and Bruce Campbell's chin; we're reliably assured that "Resident Evil: Extinction" is better than 'Apocalypse' that came before it, but not as good as the first; while fellow cheapie female-led action horror franchise 'Underworld' went with a prequel for its threequel in "Rise of the Lycans" and managed to keep the fires burning, even without Kate Beckinsale in PVC.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is terrible, but controversially, we rate it somewhat above the also terrible "The Mummy Returns"; "Beverly Hills Cop 3" is a crime against that franchise; "The Karate Kid 3" is as by-the-numbers a retread of past glories as we've had the misfortune to watch; "Star Trek: The Search for Spock" is often unjustly overlooked, but was a solid third entry back in 1984; "Scream 3" has a couple good set pieces (like Neve Campbell being stalked through a Hollywood set version of her original home), but is largely inelegant and not in the least bit scary, so ranks as the least successful in the entire series; "Robocop 3" is a dull pounding headache of a film in which all vestiges of wit or originality from the original are gone; speaking of which, "Rambo 3" fits the same mold.

There are loads more we left out, especially comedies and cultish favorites that didn't maybe quite fit the "blockbuster" mold, but still, this is a fun game, so feel free to join in below about how you can't believe we skipped "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" or whether or not "Look Who's Talking Now" is ripe for reappraisal. -- Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Kimber Myers, Rodrigo Perez, Kevin Jagernauth.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

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.

Email Updates