10 Movie Franchises That Went Off The Rails
The most beloved movie franchises never start off bad – they become successful franchises because the public embraces the first film and wants to see more. A great sequel usually solidifies franchise status, inevitably leading to third, fourth… and sometimes eighth sequels.
But somewhere along the way, these franchises lost the magic that made their original films so beloved. Here are 10 movie franchises that went off the rails and lost their way.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean
The first Pirates is a certified action/adventure classic. Featuring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Kiera Knightley and director Gore Verbinski at their respective peaks, the film was as thrilling as it was hysterical.
The first two sequels expanded the universe’s peculiar mythology in ways that were both exciting and frustrating. Even if they didn’t work as well as the first, they were the kind of ambitious noble failures one has to respect.
But then Verbinski, Bloom and Knightley left and the following two sequels felt like senseless, passionless cash grabs. Disney keeps threatening to make a sixth film, but it’s hard to imagine this series will ever recapture the charisma of The Curse of the Black Pearl.
2. Friday the 13th
There was a time where the Friday the 13th films were leading the charge into a newfound realm of slasher flicks. It was the glorious ’80s, where teenagers getting terrorized by psychos was viewed as a fresh take on the horror genre.
Though the series had a weird beginning – the masked man Jason Voorhees wasn’t even the villain, it was his maddened mother – Friday the 13th soon became a piece of iconic gory trash. And though it wasn’t helmed by a certified auteur like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, Jason became as famous as a monster can be.
The series never quite reached Jason’s pedigree, but things were officially out of control by the back-to-back releases of 2001’s Jason X, set in the future/outer space, and the campy 2003 failure Freddie vs. Jason, which was not nearly as cool as it should’ve been.
The series always retained a strange sense of humor, but if Jason in space isn’t fun, what hope is there?
It may be hard to remember after so many dire sequels, but the first Transformers movie was actually pretty charismatic. A kind of Spielbergian shoot-’em-up hybrid, Michael Bay found a balance of charm and action in the first film.
Afterward, however, things got increasingly banal. Instead of maintaining the fun of the original movie, Bay decided to dial up the volume and explosions to 11. The following four films became overlong exercises in maximalism.
With the human characters increasingly irrelevant, Shia Labeouf was swapped out for Mark Wahlberg and hardly anyone noticed. There’s some hope that the forthcoming Bumblebee will re-engage with what made the original film fun, but the Transformers movies should most likely be shutdown.
This might not be the fairest of placements as the Saw movies were never really on the rails to begin with. With their lean on twists, their fantastic levels of gore and amateur acting, the Saw movies defined a genre accurately called torture porn. But if you squint past a decade of blood and bile, the original Saw movies had a certain cleverness to them. A bit of a darling underdog story, Saw was a proper indie film that made it to the big time.
As the studio decided to make eight (!) of these movies in total, there was only one way to make the films continuously appealing: go bigger. As the twists got more elaborate, the deaths more insane – it is of moral obligation that I mention that Donnie Wahlberg dies via having his head crushed by two oversized blocks of ice – the characters less defined and more desperate, Saw became a madcap dare: just how crazy could these movies get? The answer, unsurprisingly, is: absolutely nuts.
5. DC Extended Universe
After Christopher Nolan’s killer threepeat of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, it seemed DC was setting itself up for a long reign of success.
Continuing with his gritty tone, Zack Snyder oversaw Man of Steel, a dark take on the boy scout Superman. After that, however, the direction of the films became murky. Desperate to match Marvel’s success, DC attempted to leap forward in time, releasing Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad and Justice League before giving their characters room to breath.
The result was overwhelming and, despite popular internet conspiracies about bribed critics and stifled voices, a failure. Now the DCEU has lost its lead director Zack Snyder, its backup director Joss Whedon, and may soon lose its Batman actor Ben Affleck.
The series does have one shining spot at the moment: director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Let’s hope the sequel can get this franchise back on the rails.
6. The Fast and the Furious
Sometimes going off the rails is exactly what a series needs. The original The Fast and the Furious was a comparatively tame flick about a high-octane gang of street racers that were trying to steal some electronics.
Now, the series has cars flying out of planes, out of buildings, Corona, la familia and The Rock. And they’re more fun than ever. Imagine if other franchises got this kind of treatment – Taken star Liam Neeson would have a rocket launcher for an arm.
All we can hope for F&F is that it leaves the rails behind completely, never to be seen again. Which is a quick way of saying: take this thing to space already.
7. The Matrix
The first Matrix movie changed everything. It created a boom of futuristic, computer sci-fi flicks, validated Keanu Reeves as one of the best action stars in history, and awakened – shall we say – an interest in leather goods in a whole new generation. A fine balance of heady philosophy and thrilling action, the world had never seen something quite like The Matrix.
After the massive financial success of the first film, the studio handed its directors the Wachowskis carte blanche for the two sequels. That’s when things got intense. With the Wachowskis off the proverbial leash, the Matrix sequels went deep into the metaphysical rabbit hole, leaving heads scratched and a vague sense of disappointment.
Alien is one of the greatest horror movies ever. Aliens is one of the greatest action movies ever.
Every other Alien movie averages out to one big mess. Take the pseudo-philosophy of Prometheus, the confused direction of Alien: Resurrection, the studio interference of Alien 3, and you find fascinating failures.
As many off-the-rails franchises find, lore building is hard. Even harder when it’s not planned out properly, or when multiple storytellers are involved. Worse yet when the studio gets its way – that’s how we ended up with Alien vs. Predator and its sequel.
Alien mastermind Ridley Scott righted the ship somewhat with Alien: Covenant, but at this point the series is too tarnished and confused to rectify.
Speaking of tarnished and confused, we arrive at the Terminator films. Unless you live in denial, it’s been 27 years (!) since we had a good Terminator movie. And what a flick it was: T2 was as intense as it was thrilling, as visceral as it was moving, as impressive as it was satisfying.
But time travel and studio greed have a way of ruining any good thing. That’s how you end up with movies like Terminator: Salvation and the ludicrously titled Terminator Genisys. Like the bots that inhabit these films, the latter part of the series dipped into the uncanny valley. They were hollow, unthinking and kind of ugly.
Before the release of the brilliant Creed in 2015, the Rocky movies had lost all of their prestige. The original Rocky won Best Picture, but after four more movies that saw Stallone fight Mr. T, Hulk Hogan and Ivan Drago (sadly not all at once), the series had almost become a satire of itself.
Perhaps the series’ most famous moments come at the hands of the giant Ivan Drago, the Russian scourge that Rocky had to beat in Rocky IV. By this point, the series had lost any subtlety it may have once had, replacing an underdog story with blatant Reaganism. Whenever a character utters a line like “I must break you,” you know things have lost a bit of their artistic integrity.
Thankfully, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan righted the series and took Rocky back to its roots. See? There is hope for some of these franchises.