Third Chapter Disasters: 15 Franchises Tarnished By The Third Movie

It's been said that the third time is the charm. Well, not always. 

While trilogies in film can be grand in scale and execution, more often than not a film franchise will end up in troubled waters by the time the third film entered into the series arrives.  Whether due to pre-production problems, principal cast and crew members dropping out or plain old studio interference, these are films which singlehandedly took great franchises down either by a peg or completely under.  For whatever reasons, these are the third films which managed to destroy a franchise and the fanfare with it. 

Alien 3:

"Perhaps shaving my head
will take attention
away from the movie."
Where Ridley Scott’s Alien took viewers where no one could hear you scream and James Cameron’s Aliens elevated the resourceful heroine to the status of a warrior, David Fincher’s directorial debut (which he’d ultimately disown) Alien 3 performed the unusual feat of completely flushing the series down a dirty toilet.  Picking up where Aliens left off on the Sulaco, Alien 3 finds Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash landing on Fiorina 161, a kind of prison planet full of rapists, murderers and head lice.  Once again, a stowaway alien joins Ripley to terrorize and serial murder while the evil Bio-Weapons Division intends to capture the alien for their own financial interests.  Devoid of firearms, Ripley and inmates are forced to band together to do battle with the creature, and so on.  Initially planned by Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come) as a sort of Pentecostal exercise in design and mood, the film was ultimately doomed by the producers eager to make good on a summer release date without a finished script or director in place.  Midway into production, Fincher came aboard and the script was being written as film production hastily progressed…never a good sign. 

Worse still, as production crawled onward, 20th Century Fox vetoed each and every one of Fincher’s demands before eventually pulling the plug once costs ran over budget.  After Fincher was fired, damage control assembled what they managed to get in the can, not unlike Robert Altman’s experience with Paramount Pictures when he was making Popeye.  Expensive reshoots not involving Fincher including a $10,000 hairpiece worn by Sigourney Weaver drove whatever hopes executives and fans of the saga had for the film further and further into oblivion.  Instead of a terrifying and exciting science fiction thriller, Alien 3 is a depressing and ungainly mess of a movie, an insult to fans of both the series and its leading lady.  Strangely out of character, Ellen Ripley is quick to bed her doctor ally when she’s not uttering some of the clunkiest dialogue in the franchise’s history.  Equally distracting are the prisoners’ thick British accents and cockney dialect.  In the years since its release, a rough extended cut of the film was released in 2003 to little avail or interest from Fincher, who casually told Jean-Pierre Jeunet these wise words when Alien Resurrection came about: “run like Hell!”.

"I am Rambo. I am bigger than this
mountain, bitch."
Rambo III:

John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) is back to wage a one man war once again, only this time the battle being fought is a ridiculous, overblown bore that strays far from the character’s roots of a Vietnam Veteran suffering from PTSD towards a Terminator impervious to bullets and explosions.  Living quietly in Thailand, Rambo is approached by his old mentor Trautman (Richard Crenna) with a proposed mission to fight Russians occupying Afghanistan, which Rambo promptly refuses.  Going in alone, Trautman is captured and tortured for information.  Learning of his mentor’s incarceration, Rambo promptly enlists to take on the whole Russian army by himself and rescue him from captivity.  Very quickly, the film devolves into a mind number bloodbath of explosions and bodies, with reportedly 221 scenes of violence and 108 onscreen deaths within its 101 minute running time.  

Originally helmed by Highlander director Russell Mulcahy before being replaced two weeks in by Peter MacDonald, Rambo III is all pyrotechnics and noise with little in between.  Rambo is reduced to an overgrown avatar with little personality resembling the character from the previous two films, and whatever story and character arc the first two films had is jettisoned in favor of dull conflagration.  Fishier still is the use of Afghanistan occupied by Russian antagonists, who in reality pulled out of the region just before the film was released, outdating it before people could pay to see it.  There’s a curious trend in action movies where the titular hero will be adorned with a prepubescent sidekick.  Although Short-Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was tolerable, this trend seems to be the kiss of death as far as the respectability of a franchise goes.  While some will attest this is the most of the relationship between Rambo and Trautman we’ll ever see (Richard Crenna died not long after the film wrapped), Rambo III is an interminable orgy of fire, machine guns and Sylvester Stallone sleepwalking his way through the legendary character.  At least Stallone had the good sense to redeem himself and the character with a fourth film simply titled Rambo.  Contrary to what critics may say, there’s far more going on upstairs in Rambo than in this uninspired stink bomb.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III:

No comment.
After the success of 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in addition to the weaker but still entertaining sequel Secret of the Ooze, you would think the premise of sending the four wisecracking juvenile reptiles travelling back in time to 1603 feudal Japan to do battle inspired, right?  Well, that turned out to be dead wrong with what many consider to be an intolerable embarrassment to the franchise (even more so than the recent Michael Bay offering, believe it or not).  Due to declining interest in the series after Secret of the Ooze, the studio behind the first two features, Golden Harvest, tightened the belt on the third film’s budget, resulting in a Ninja Turtles film that fell far below the production values of its predecessors.  First of all, the iconic Jim Henson’s Creature Shop had no involvement in the production whatsoever, making for shoddy comparative animatronic effects and a pathetically cheap looking Splinter.  

While the first two films sported impressive visual effects to make the Turtles look and feel alive, what’s used here could well have aired on television as opposed to mainstream theaters.  The plot itself is barely involving, sans any of the characters from the cartoons and comics in favor of random Samurai warriors of no significance whatsoever.  If that’s not enough, April O’Neill is recast for a third time and Elias Koteas’ Casey Jones is hastily shoehorned in to try and keep this sinking ship afloat.  Somehow Casey Jones has an ancestor also played by Koteas who joins O’Neill and the turtles’ side, a ludicrous contrivance which makes no sense whatsoever nor promotes any bearing on the plot itself.  During battle sequences, viewers will notice a litany of Looney Tunes sound effects superimposed over the sounds of kicks and punches, recalling Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch without the comic timing or self-awareness of that film.  The time travel gimmick has little to do with anything, feels tacked on, and is even used twice, rendering everything leading up to its secondary application pointless.  Not unlike Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Ninja Turtles III is a film dogged by cutting corners, a franchise film thrown together that’s far less than a sum of its parts.  While the argument can be made the first two Ninja Turtles films were no masterworks, at least they resembled a 2 hour film.

"Ooooh. This movie smells
like Fat Bastard's
sweaty skin flaps!"
Austin Powers in Goldmember:

The third installment to the spy parody series Austin Powers starring Mike Myers in the titular role arrived three years after the immensely successful The Spy Who Shagged Me.  Things were looking up for Mike Myers with his James Bond parodies almost rivalling the success of the films being satirized.  However, it would all come crashing down with Goldmember, the most financially successful but instantly forgettable (and regrettable?) final chapter to the comedy series.  By and large a precursor to The Cat in the Hat and The Love Guru, Goldmember represents the moment when Myers would peak commercially before his inevitable downfall.  At this point, people tired of seeing the same shtick being repeated by Myers, hiding behind hours of makeup work to rest on his laurels and perform a variation of the obese Scottish guard Fat Bastard again.  When he’s not shoehorning Britney Spears into the opening montage, he hires BeyoncĂ© Knowles as his new sidekick.  

There’s a certain contempt the makers of the film have of their audience with respect to casting Knowles, as if no one should care whether she can act or not.  They already got our money from the ticket sales, so who cares?  One would figure the casting of Michael Caine as the father of Austin Powers would make for a brilliant comic platform for the two to play off of each other as well as take the series to a whole new level of acting caliber.  But even Caine can only do so much to provide viewers with something somewhat interesting.  While no one will deny there are some moments in Goldmember that do manage to inspire old fashioned chuckles, as a whole the film is far below average.  There’s just not a lot left to do with the character other than pour money into production values and cameos.  Goldmember made its money during the initial theatrical run, DVD sales did well, but clearly the studio took notice that this was where it needed to end once and for all.  It isn’t a film with the same replay value as the first two and comes across as lazy and uninspired.  There are those who will tell you you’ll enjoy it if you liked the first two movies, but what gave Austin Powers solidarity was the ability to be funny without overreliance on the almighty dollar to sell the comedy.  Although Mike Myers and crew may think otherwise, money isn’t everything.   

"You mean to tell me that
I'm not even funny in this
crap. Yeah, great."
The Hangover III:

The first Hangover was a comedic powerhouse.  It created a novel formula and deftly blended physical humor with some very clever dialogue.  It had an excellent box office showing for an R-rated comedy, and a sequel was inevitable.  Enter The Hangover 2, perhaps the clearest embodiment of the “If it ain’t broke” mentality in a film, the second Hangover followed its predecessor’s formula to an almost embarrassing degree; black-out night of debauchery, a missing friend in the morning, a day spent piecing together the mayhem from the night before, even Ken Jeong’s absurd character “Chang” (and his penis) make another appearance. 

 Even with the sheer laziness of the writing, The Hangover 2 still worked, and was somehow still a charming, if at times disturbing, comedy.  The third attempts to deviate from the formula, thankfully, but somehow manages to lose all of the magic that was in the first two.  It ends up being a confused caper still utilizing much of the same shtick as its predecessors, and yet ends up being completely forgettable.  Perhaps President Obama put it best – “If I ran a third time, it’d be like doing a third Hangover movie.”

The Matrix Revolutions:

"I didn't say whoa."
Making fun of the Matrix sequels is perhaps the critical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel – with birdshot.  The franchise is such a tragedy, as the first film was one of the freshest action films in decades; borrowing from some very diverse inspirations, including Hong Kong action movies, Cyberpunk novels and universes, Japanese animation, and even video games.  The results were fairly staggering, a single film created one of the most interesting and potentially incredible universes – one not bound by the laws of our reality.  So naturally, the filmmakers spent the next two films completely divorcing themselves from that world they created!  

Why create an action movie within a world without limits when you can have a post-apocalyptic grimy dance orgy?  The second film got lost in its own mythos, weaving to and fro with prophecy and destiny, and had massive set piece action scenes that seemed to have little interest in the rest of the universe.  But the final chapter, Revolutions, completed what Reloaded began – the total destruction of a franchise with insane potential.  Its narrative became increasingly opaque and inconsistent, and again, spent very little time in its trademark Matrix world, instead opting for the generic “real world,” but still managed to somehow to remain inconsistent within this mythology as well.  Perhaps ambition hamstrung this series, but Revolutions undeniably placed the final nail in the coffin of potential.

"Garble. Garble.
Marble. Marble.
The Dark Knight Rises:

Any rational person whether you somehow enjoyed Dark Knight Rises or not, must admit to its staggering ridiculousness. Nolan inexplicably managed to let two of today's finest actors get away with the most ludicrous conflict of laughable voices ever heard in a film meant to be taken seriously. DKR is a failure in just about every possible regard.

Screenwriter David S. Goyer couldn't have any less of an idea of who Bane is, employing an origin story pulled 95% from his ass and the remaining 5% being as loosely faithful as possible. At least the character was intelligent, white, and evil. He got those three things right at least. Tom Hardy's immense talents are not just wasted, but intentionally broken with Nolan shoving just one more marble in Hardy's mouth with every take in the recording booth.

The film wouldn't be too bad if it weren't for Goyer's monumental travesty of a script which is at constant odds with attempting to make sense of itself. It's like three rough drafts from three different gorillas were turned into Goyer who then stapled them together and handed it over to Nolan who was too bothered to read it until the camera started rolling. Rises is bursting with a record breaking avalanche of conveniences and plot holes such as Bruce Wayne's global teleportation magic, and conveniently getting all 3,000 of Gotham City's police officers stuck underground because that's the only way we can get the nonsense to move forward and not have the audience question anything.

I'm still not convinced that Dark Knight Rises isn't just a big joke to see how inane a film can get before an audience collectively realizes their intelligence is being insulted. Apparently, this hilarious experiment worked.

Spider-man 3:

"I'm feeling so very
emo right now. Someone
get me some eye makeup
and a dance routine."
Sam Raimi arguably started this whole Marvel movie revolution with Spider-man, which surprised more people than just me. Its huge success jumpstarted Marvel's now seemingly endless stranglehold on the comic book movie market. Its sequel, still considered one of the best super hero flicks of all time, continued the momentum. Spider-man 3 nearly ruined all of that. Venom was a whiny, irritating Topher Grace doing his worst to make the best of an afterthought of a villain shoehorned in by rich idiots who think they know how to make movies.

The one and only redeemable factor in this tumbling boulder of randomly collected debris rolling down a hill of crap was Thomas Haden Church's Sandman. Removing the unnecessary Gwen Stacy, Venom, and black-suit emo Peter might have saved this mess. Focusing on Church's fairly strong Sandman story and giving it more room to breathe probably would have made for a great conflict for Peter Parker ala Alfred Molina's Doc Ock in Spider-man 2. But, no. Let's turn Peter Parker into a douche bag doing his best white guy dance number, and have Topher Grace spend more time crying about his broken camera and jealous teen rage than actually being Venom. In hindsight, it's probably a good thing that we didn't get to see much actual bad Venom than have an actual good version of him constantly shoved aside by Grace's poorly directed, half-assed performance.

They even managed to make James Franco bad.

"I am Juggernaut?!!!
Who writes
this crap?"
X-Men - The Last Stand:

Brian Singer’s first two X-Men films were pretty good adaptations of the beloved comic book franchise. They came out at a time when superhero movies were just coming into the mainstream and stood out because of the high production values and (somewhat) faithful depictions of the characters. Both films made a boatload of money and the studio couldn’t crank out the third film fast enough. Unfortunately, Singer was busy with Superman Returns and they replaced him with effin’ Brett Ratner, who’s claim to fame were the Rush Hour films. Why in the hell would they do that?!  Money, that’s why.

So now that they have the mediocre director choice out of the way, they could work on the screenplay. Instead of picking one great story from the bazillion that have been written since the 1960’s, they decide to combine (and I use this term loosely) two together into one giant mess. Chris Claremont’s The Dark Phoenix Saga, which is widely regarded as one of the finest X-Men story arcs ever written and is so epic in scope that it could be made into a film trilogy and Joss Whedon’s amazing Gifted which he wrote for his Astonishing X-Men run. 

Let’s just ignore the fact that these two stories were written 15 years apart and have nothing to do with each other and are both super complex and nuanced. We can just smash them together into an incomprehensible mess that does neither of them justice and simultaneously confuse the casual movie goer and enrage the comic book fans! They literally had to have the fourth movie X-Men: Days of Future Past undo all of the jacked up continuity in the previous film; that’s how bad it was. The sad part is, X-Men: The Last Stand still made a whole bunch of money at the box office even though it had a terrible script and mediocre acting.

Robocop 3:

"Teacher says every
time a bell rings, a
Robocop gets its wings.
Wait. Where's Peter Weller?"
When your franchise star bails on your franchise around the time the third film is getting ready to go in to production, you know you have a major problem. Lacking the dynamic skill set of Peter Weller combined with Frank Miller's god awful screenplay, the Robocop franchise jumped from a terrible third entry to a bunch of bad tv shows and cartoons. The once promising futuristic tale of a cop done wrong is totally destroyed by terrible writing and a Weller-less Robocop that can fly. You see, this trend of turning great action franchises into PG-13 tripe for kiddies is nothing new. In fact, Robocop 3 was one of the first series of films that made the transition from hard R to PG-13 over the course of a couple movies. And boy, did it suck.

The hard nosed and brutal violence of the first two films is lost here on a wasted budget, an uninspired performance from Nancy Allen, and corny action sequence after corny action sequence in which Robert John Burke struggles to do his best Peter Weller impersonation. This Robocop entry took all the good qualities of the first movies and flushed them down the toilet and killed the franchise for twenty years. And the soulless remake didn't do much to reinvigorate interest either. 

"Is this the bullet
that ends my
acting career?"
The Godfather III:

While The Godfather 3 is nowhere near as bad as a lot of movies on this list, it is hailed as one of the worst sequels ever made. Lacking the heart of The Godfather 1 and 2, audiences got an older Michael Corleone that is doing his best to go legit. It shares almost no qualities with Coppola's first two epic masterpieces. 

 As he says in the film, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!". It's true. But, they pull him back in to a mediocre third act that struggles to live up to its predecessors while allowing Sofia Coppola to ruin what's left with one of the most wooden and emotionally vacant performances ever put to screen. Her bad acting here is what legends are made of. 

The Godfather III also features an annoying and bratty Andy Garcia over acting and making himself look like a total buffoon. That's not to mention the uncomfortable incestuous undertones and a Francis Ford Coppola that is quite obviously losing his magic touch. He's only made 6 movies since the release of this swan song, two of which have been smaller features that no one has seen. Not only did this tarnish the Godfather legacy but it's also one of the last movies from a legendary director. 

Halloween III: Season of the Witch: 

"Stupid pumpkin mask. Won't....come If Michael Meyers were here
he'd cut it off."
This film has its defenders who will insist that no one can dislike it without focusing their entire critique on the fact that it doesn’t feature Michael Myers. Challenge accepted. This is one of the most nonsensical horror films ever made, featuring yet another villainous performance by Dan O’Herlihy, playing the same character he plays in every film (see Robocop 2). He plays a mask-maker with the intent of bringing Halloween back to its sacrificial roots by stealing an entire block from Stonehenge, transporting it over an ocean and two continents undetected (just go with it), and using small specks of it in his merchandise. These pebbles are somehow supposed to react with a special television signal and cause a prepubescent Halloween-ocaust. A scheme this remarkably stupid makes Ulric Goldfinger look like Hannibal Lector. Not only did this almost kill the Halloween franchise as a whole, but its film canisters served as the coffin for an anthology that Season of the Witch was supposed to begin. The final product was so bad that the original screenwriter successfully petitioned to have his name removed from the credits. We don’t blame him in the slightest.

"Flippin' crackhead ruining my
movie. This is where you get off."
Superman 3:

Never has such a funny man seemed so unfunny. Richard Pryor appears to be in physical pain trying to deliver some of the most hackneyed dialogue ever concocted for a comic sidekick in the history of movies. Whereas the first two films in the first superhero franchise began with credits flying through space, set to one of the most majestic film scores ever, Superman 3 face-plants immediately with a Rube Goldberg setup of slapstick comedy that makes us wonder just how much of Superman 2 was Richard Lester’s doing. 

To explain, Superman Richard Donner was fired for going over budget, and was replaced during Superman 2 with Richard Lester. With that being said, we can all agree that Superman 2 is just as good as the original. This film, however, was solely under the supervision of Lester, and feels low-rent from frame one. Alas, this was not as low as the series would sink; Superman 4: The Quest for Peace became the high watermark of suck for comic book films of the era, nearly erasing the pain of this abominable failure from our memory… but not quite.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines:

"Beware the boobies
of doom."
Far from being the worst film on this list, taken on its own merits, Terminator 3 is kind of a blast. Arnold Schwarzenegger brings a poignancy and terrific comic timing to the role that made him a household name, the action sequences are loud, energetic and fun, and despite being as intimidating as an onion, Kristanna Loken is very easy on the eyes. Sigh. Now with that on the table, the script for Terminator 3 is an abysmal piece of slap-chop laziness that makes no sense when taken in context of the first two game-changers. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a candidate for the best sequel of all time in the action-sci-fi genre, and its ending felt as complete as any film can be. So how do you make a sequel to it? 

Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris decided the only way to proceed was to perform the ultimate kick-to-the-spine, spit-in-your-face betrayal of the singular theme that permeated James Cameron’s original vision: There is no fate but what we make. Just throw that out, make it all meaningless, and you have a sequel in which Judgment Day is inevitable. It’s actually insulting, which is one of the worst offenses you can commit as a filmmaker. So while the last 11 years have given us all some space to remove ourselves from the first visceral reaction we had to this threequel, its disregard for the series’ core principles remains high on our list of screenwriting douchebaggery. But hey, at least George Lucas didn’t direct it.

-Andrew Kotwicki
-JG Barnes
-Patrick McDonald
-Michelle Kisner
-Blake O. Kleiner
-Chris George