Hollywood loves nothing more than a major film franchise. It’s almost a license to print money, as they assume audiences will just keep buying tickets to see the next installment, regardless of whether the quality stays consistent. A good example is the Harry Potter series, maximized for profit by the now common practice of splitting the last book into two movies. While the studio did manage to keep a good product going through the 7 original films, the two subsequent Fantastic Beasts were terrible, and yet audiences keep seeing them and there are plans for like five more (???). Other franchises have survived a bad film or two but came back strong. The Daniel Craig Bond series started off strong with Casino Royale, then took a dive with Quantum of Solace, then was back up for Skyfall, then down again for Spectre. (Let’s hope when we finally get to see No Time To Die, it keeps the pattern going). The Mission Impossible series is a another good example, where director du jour John Woo was tapped for the second film, with not-great results, especially when you watch the film now. However, director JJ Abrams came in and rescued the series with the third film, and it has gone on with three more solid installments, with at least two more in production now. Between Impossible and Star Trek, you might be tempted to call Abrams the “franchise fixer” except for…..(see below). Check out the six films we are calling “franchise killers”.
There are a lot of Franchise Killers. I didn’t know where to begin. Also so many connect to Super Hero films. I tried to avoid them but it was impossible. I could have done a retread on Indiana Jones 4 and The Crystal Skull but I was trying to avoid an Anger Management class. Some franchises have rebounded see the Spider-Man ones, others like the Fantastic Four franchise have not. The Roger Corman film is better than the last travesty. My three include my most recent disappointment, the aforementioned Spidey series and one of the worst films I have seen in the last couple years.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
When I heard HBO Max was dropping the sequel to Wonder Woman on Christmas Day I thought that God had delivered his second miracle on December 25th. Instead, something from the bowels of Hell appeared. So maybe that’s too hyperbolic, but this was a major disappointment. I loved Patty Jenkins’ first Wonder Woman film, it had the right mix of elements to make a compelling and fun film. Gal Gadot is great as the Amazonian warrior, despite having model looks, she also just has that “it” factor. Even with those two very talented people, “84” needed to be “86’d”. Wonder Woman and even Shazaam! probably saved the DC Universe and their superhero franchise, but this film could have killed it. So the film starts out as Wonder Woman as a kid back on Themyscira, and this wastes time and adds nothing to the plot. Speaking of the plot – it is silly, even for a superhero film. It’s beyond even movie logic. Pedro Pascal as one of the villains is either miscast or decided he didn’t care. The subplot with his kid, why is there always a kid involved, is derivative? I want my bad guys to just be bad. Kristen Wiig as The Cheetah couldn’t be more clichéd. I like Wiig, but I saw her character before – see Tim Burton’s Batman (Catwoman) or Joel Schumacher’s Batman (Poison Ivy) and I am sure there are other examples. I don’t need a backstory for every villain. Having Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor come back in a most convoluted way was some kind of backwards fan service. Over 80 years Wonder Woman has pined for this guy, no pun intended? Doesn’t make her much of an independent woman. I spent more time with my first crush and can’t remember her name. She had to have had more adventures since WWI, I just don’t buy this premise. I expected a cleaner more sensible film, that could be silly, but also could be grounded in some kind of superhero common sense. I hope if they decide to make a third one they go back to basics and work out a better plot.
MG: I was excited for this film when I first heard about it, although when I saw Kristen Wiig in the trailer, it did give me pause (again I think she’s great at comedy, but as a villain?). Turns out my fears were well founded. This is probably in the top 3-5 worst films I’ve seen in the past 5-6 years.What happened to Jenkins? Did she not realize how bad this was turning out? The part where Trevor takes over the body of some random guy is just messed up (spoiler alert). Funny thing is that I like all the main actors in this: Gadot, Wiig, Pascal and Pine – but all were wasted here.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I pretty much like all the Spider-Man films, he was my favorite Marvel super hero growing up. I even met him at a mall in the 70s and don’t tell me it wasn’t really him. Not only that, but I even liked the Nicholas Hammond TV show and all the Saturday morning cartoon versions. It wasn’t until this film where I was truly disappointed. While the second Andrew Garfield film was meh and Far From Home left me a far from good film, it was the classic Spider-Man 3 that killed the Sam Raimi franchise for me. It almost killed Spider-Man for good. Raimi continued to follow the Tim Burton model of villains, there must be two – like a Sith and his apprentice. In this one we get Sandman, Venom and even a third with James Franco still being a douche. Coming off of the best of all Spider-Man films, Raimi seems like he gave up or someone got in his way. We have the infamous “bad” Spider-Man sequence where Tobey Maguire is dancing like he is John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. It’s abhorrent and single-handily drops this film. Take a hint from another bad superhero film, Superman III. When Superman turns bad he is a real asshole. I prefer that one. Kirsten Dunst mails in her performance. The villains are uninteresting. Somehow they tie in Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church (Wings, Sideways), into Uncle Ben’s killing from the first film. Again, the villain has a child integral to their motivation. I want no sympathy for the villain, only the devil. Church is awful, coming off an Oscar nomination, he was hot – since very cold. Topher Grace plays Eddie Brock, a Peter Parker rival at the Daily Bugle who morphs into the symbiote Venom. Another actor who was hot from his stint on That 70s Show! is completely miscast and has been a blip on the Hollywood landscape since. His new ABC show – about to be cancelled. James Franco gets in on the action too as the New Goblin, but I just didn’t care. It’s a bad film that torpedoed a 4th installment that was supposed to have The Vulture, The Lizard and maybe even The Black Cat. This was really a wasted effort.
MG: I can’t disagree with anything you wrote, but I’ve never had the same level of hate that most have for this film. Having said that, Church as Sandman was one of the worst villains in the past two decades of comic book films. KIrsten Dunst was terrible in the whole trilogy, but in this one she was particularly bland and wooden. I’ll give a lot of credit to Sam Raimi for helping to define the modern comic book film, but he just went too far with this one.
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
Die Hard is one of my favorite movies of all-time, it’s just got everything in an action movie, we have covered that one before. The second one is just ok for me, it has an interesting villain but is trying way too hard to match the first film. Like they had to get it out fast to capitalize on the surprise success of the first. I’m not a huge fan of the third, again it’s ok, Samuel L. Jackson is good. In this one I hate the villain, Jeremy Irons as Hans Gruber’s brother – lazy. Surprisingly I enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard. It had enough space from the first three to be somewhat entertaining. At this point Detective John McClane is some kind of unkillable superhero, like his character from Unbreakable. I went in with low expectations for the fifth one, and they were not low enough. The tagline “Yippee Ki-Yay Mother Russia” should about sum it up. Can we stop trying to make Jai Courtney a star, he is a poor man’s Sam Worthington? He has zero charisma. I hate the father/son dynamic, and of course the son is estranged, and they are forced to work together. I want my John McClane working alone or at least with Officer Powell. The script was ridiculous. The plot is nonsensible. It’s in Russia, his son is trying to infiltrate some Russian organization, a lot of arguing, model spy sells them out, bad guy ends up being shredded on a helicopter propeller. The production values make it look like it came out of the old action studio Cannon Films, where Charles Bronson made those bad 80s films. It’s evident that Bruce Willis takes whatever role he is offered these days but man this a slap in the face to every Die Hard fan out there. Don’t make anymore. Go make a Blind Date 2 or something, leave this franchise in its coffin 12 feet under. “Body bag it, big time, this Die Hard franchise is toast!”
MG: A good friend of ours warned us this was unwatchable, but like you I enjoy the Die Hard films (I could actually watch any of the four previous and enjoy them), so I did give this a shot. It was one of the rare films I had to shut off, though, about a half hour in. Like you said, the production was garbage – bad CGI and just poorly constructed action sequences. If I remember there was a moronic chase sequence with tanks in Russia, and I had to tap out. Aren’t they supposed to be doing one more Die Hard? I hope they turn that idea into swiss cheese.
People, especially film critics, love to rip on sequels, but I’ve never had a problem with them. As a kid there were a number of films I liked as much, if not more, than the original: Superman 2, Temple of Doom, Aliens, and of course the ultimate better sequel of all time: The Empire Strikes Back. On the flip side, the 80s were the high point of the throw-away, just-for-money sequels. When it comes to franchises, not too many are able to get past three films without dropping off in quality or going off the rails entirely. Here are three films that torpedoed a good thing.
Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
The original Beverly Hills Cop (1984) is one of my all-time favorite comedies. Not only is a great blend of action and comedy, with some drama & mystery mixed in, Eddie Murphy created an iconic character in Axel Foley, complete with his own radio-hit theme music. Even though the second film in 1987 was a bit darker in tone under Tony Scott’s direction, it’s still a solid film and one that I still enjoy watching. With seven years passing, it seemed like it might be the end of the road for Axel Foley, but along came the third film, and it went over like a lead balloon. I thought I had seen this, but when I watched it recently on HBO, none of it was familiar. (I also think I would have remembered the corny cameo by George Lucas as a random guy waiting to get on a ride). Everything about this film is awful, from the weak story that takes place in a cut-rate Disneyland, to the generic, bland villain, terrible supporting characters – both the returning ones and new – and especially Eddie Murphy’s joyless performance. Supposedly he claimed afterward that he purposely tried not to be funny, but I don’t buy it. I think he just assumed people would buy tickets because of his name, and it was fine to mail it in. There’s a particularly cringe-worth scene where “Serge” (Bronson Pinchot) is now an exotic arms dealer, and he has this ridiculous gun that fires grenades and also plays music, among other gadgets. The dumb gimmick of course features in the final embarrassing shoot out. I assumed some hack must have directed the film, so I was shocked that it was made by John Landis, who previously worked with Murphy on the classics Trading Places and Coming to America. So what went wrong? The script went through a lot of iterations and ended up terrible, Murphy wasn’t much up for doing the film and the studio supposedly cut the budget and did other meddling. It’s unfortunate, because Foley was a great character like John McClane and easily could have had a Die Hard-like run. There’s been talk for years of doing a fourth one, and now that Murphy seems to want to make money off his old films, maybe it will finally happen. I’m not sure that’s something we really want, though.
DJ: Wow this sounds awful. I love the original too but this one does not sound good – I guess I was lucky enough to avoid it completely. I thought there was a prequel in the works or a TV series. Ugh.
The Rise Of Skywalker (2019)
JJ Abrams recently said in an interview that maybe there should have been more planning put into the latest Star Wars trilogy. Yeah, you think??? When The Force Awakens came out, it felt like a rebirth of the SW franchise, and held out this promise of a good trilogy. Then The Last Jedi came along and threw everything into a tailspin, but we held out hope the planned third film could tie everything together, especially when Abrams was brought back in to direct. We all know that didn’t happen, and instead the third film exposed the lack of any compelling storyline in the three films, and took down the whole trilogy in a fiery mess. The Rise of Skywalker is the only Star Wars film I’ve seen only once – I tried to watch it again, but couldn’t get through it. I never would have thought it possible, but this last trilogy actually made me look more favorably on George Lucas’ prequels. As hokey a CGI mess as those films are, at least they have a cohesive story and they feel like Star Wars. The newest trilogy is so joyless and the characters so poorly crafted, it simply doesn’t feel like Star Wars to me. Jar Jar Binks may be annoying, but he’s certainly memorable and iconic, as are other characters like Darth Maul, and General Greivous. I can’t think of one thing iconic in the new films – maybe BB8 comes closest, but he never really does anything crucial to the story. As a diehard SW fan, I could go on for hours with all my specific gripes, but I won’t bore you with all that. Of course, the death of the Star Wars franchise is far, far away, and The Mandalorian turned out to be the true savior for Disney. So far, Disney has done well with their Marvel streaming shows, so maybe via more live action shows is how Disney will truly get the Star Wars franchise back on solid ground. What happens with the movies remains to be seen.
DJ: Yeah I think this was a train wreck. they tried to give fan service and say screw what happened before. A course-correct for The Last Jedi. I could poke holes in this film all day. It’s too bad – there was promise but what a cluster. You are correct on lack of iconic characters or scenes. Kylo Ren may be the best thing about these films but is that Adam Driver or the character?
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Like the titular cyborg in the six-film series, this franchise repeatedly looks dead, but just keeps on coming. James Cameron crafted a surprise hit out of his relatively low-budget sci-fi action film in 1984, one that built its popularity via home video rentals, and gave us one of the most iconic screen villains (and launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action film career). Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a big-budget and highly successful sequel, although taking seven years to come out was probably the first crack in the franchise. Once James Cameron stepped away, the real trouble started, with the mediocre third film coming after an even longer gap, this time 12 years, when Arnold was physically showing some age and his action career was on the decline. So it seemed like a wise move to take the franchise in a different direction with Terminator: Salvation (2009), casting then-hot lead actors Christian Bale and Sam Worthington in a virtually Arnold-less storyline set in the future. I actually kind of liked the film and thought they could have made a decent trilogy out of this set-up, but audiences were lukewarm to the film and the studio pulled the plug on the concept. So it was back to casting Arnold as an aging Terminator in the god-awful reboot attempt Terminator: Genisys (2015), which was so embarrassingly bad it finally seemed like the franchise was killed. (By the way, no coincidence that Jai Courtney features prominently in two of the films in this post). Going back to the drawing board, the studio must have figured James Cameron was the secret ingredient for a good film, and he came back as producer and co-writer for Terminator: Dark Fate (2019). I foolishly had hope this film might right the ship, with bringing back both Cameron and Linda Hamilton, along with Arnold again, but no dice. It wasn’t as bad as Genisys, but it wasn’t all that good either. The story felt like a re-tread of Terminator 2, and despite the likability of Mackenzie Davis as a protector Terminator, the film just wasn’t that compelling or entertaining. Oddly enough, one of the more interesting iterations of the “Terminator world” was the short-lived 2008-2009 Fox series The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a creative storyline that had potential. Perhaps the best way to resurrect the franchise at this point is through a well-made streaming series on Netflix, Amazon or HBO. If done right, and without going back to the well to use Arnold or any CGI likeness of him, it might be the last chance to flush out the remaining potential for this concept.
DJ: I don’t have much to say here – you told me not to watch it. Genisys was an awful, disgusting mess. I would say that was the franchise killer but I guess they had to try again. Like Indiana Jones, this series needs to die. It just seems like they don’t know what to do with it.