When it comes to Hollywood, the first question that gets asked when a movie does well is how to turn it into a franchise. Sometimes, the material justifies its sequels (we're looking at you, John Wick). However, there are just as many franchises with only one good movie in the whole series, and it's often the first.
There are a lot of reasons a great film will often be followed by a slew of lackluster follow-ups. Often, it's because the sequels are just baseless cash grabs with no heart. Other times, it's because the premise of the original is so unique and high-concept that it simply doesn't leave room for sequels - and yet the producers don't let that stop them for a second.
While some over-stretched franchises have amassed legions of devoted fans and others are somewhat universally considered to be cinematic failures, the fact is some film series would have done themselves a favor if they'd quit after their first installment.
This Steven Spielberg monster movie classic defined the concept of the Hollywood blockbuster and is considered to still be one of the greatest accomplishments in film history. It's a story about mild-mannered police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), egotistical oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and grizzled old shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), who have to reluctantly team up to track and eliminate a giant great white shark who has been eating people off the coast of a small New England tourist town. It's the ultimate tale of human vs. beast, with some of the best performances ever captured on film.
Given the film's massive success, it wasn't long before Jaws 2 came out and almost single-handedly wiped out all the goodwill generated by the first movie. The simple truth is, there are only so many times can one small town be plagued by a giant shark. In fact, as the series progressed, the plot became downright ludicrous. Jaws 3-D featured Brody's kids being hunted by a massive shark at a water park in Florida, and Jaws 4: The Revenge gives up on reason and logic altogether as Brody's wife becomes convinced a giant shark is stalking and eating her family intentionally - and she turns out to be right! The Jaws franchise is one of those rare instances in which nearly everyone can agree it should never have continued beyond the Oscar-winning original.
Actors: Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, John Searle, + more
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
How many times can one man's family get taken before people realize they should stop taking his family? In the original Taken, former CIA operative Bryan Mills finds out his daughter has been abducted by shady people seconds after landing in Paris, so he makes the world's scariest phone call before kicking and shooting his way through Eastern Europe and an army of Albanian human traffickers to get her back. It's a simple premise that serves as an action showcase for Neeson. The film was a massive hit, earning $226 million worldwide off a surprisingly small $25 million budget.
So, four years later, Taken 2 hit theaters, and this time, it's Bryan who gets taken, by the father of a man he offed in the original. This was followed by a third installment (where Bryan is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, whom he spent the entirety of the second movie trying to save) and a prequel TV show that really raised questions about continuity. Ultimately, the whole franchise rested on the goodwill generated by the first sleeper hit and never really added anything more.
Actors: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Katie Cassidy, Holly Valance, + more
Directed by: Pierre Morel
When the first film in your franchise is directed by Alfred Hitchcock and goes down as one of the greatest horror thrillers of all time, what's the point of even trying to follow it up? Psycho's story of a boy who loved his mom (way too much) features one of the most chilling performances you could ever hope for from the incomparable Anthony Perkins as the good-natured yet psychotic Norman Bates and a chilling twist ending that has cemented itself in popular culture.
It's perhaps because of Psycho's indelible legacy that it took 23 years for a sequel to hit theaters, with Perkins reprising his role as Bates, who in Psycho II gets released from a long stint in a mental hospital. While the movie has its fans among horror aficionados, it has largely stayed under the radar, and for good reason - it will always live in the shadow of the original. The same goes for the even more poorly reviewed Psycho III, Psycho IV: The Beginning, Gus Van Sant's 1998 Psycho remake, and the TV series prequel Bates Motel - which tried to tell Norman's origin story and ended up removing all the frightening mystique that made him such a disturbing character.
Actors: Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, + more
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
When director Paul Verhoeven brought RoboCop to life, he told a subversive story stuffed with social critique and anti-capitalist sentiment hidden beneath a facade of a blood-soaked sci-fi action thriller. It was a Frankenstein-esque fable about a cop (Peter Weller) who is turned into a cyborg crime-fighter and has to learn to regain his humanity while discovering that the true culprits are the corporate execs running the multinational corporation that made him. It's a classic for a reason, with levels of commentary that are often lost on those who write it off as a mindless '80s action flick.
RoboCop 2, on the other hand, was much closer to that sort of mindless action thriller, though it still featured some incredible fight sequences and a dark, gritty edge. Then, over the course of the next sequel, four separate TV shows, multiple video games, and a 2014 remake, not one installment in the franchise managed to understand what made the original so enduring. RoboCop is about so much more than fighting or the concept of good vs. evil. RoboCop works because it lives in the gray spaces between right and wrong, and everything else feels like a copy of a copy of a copy, with diminishing results.
Actors: Alex Van Halen, Peter Weller, Leeza Gibbons, Nancy Allen, Paul Verhoeven, + more
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven