Sometimes, when a movie is great or it's a smashing box office success, it simply demands a sequel. If the sequel works out, another sequel is inevitable, and suddenly you've got a bona fide franchise on your hands. However, in line with the law of diminishing returns, you'll find a lot of movie franchises that should have ended way sooner than they actually did.
Sometimes, the franchise starts to falter because the main character becomes a ridiculous parody of themselves or because the premise the franchise is based on wasn't strong enough to support multiple installments. Often, it's because the producers win the conflict between commerce and art and start churning out cheaper and cheaper entries, banking on the popularity of earlier movies in the series.
Whatever the reason, some of the best most beloved franchises in cinema history have become diluted by shoddy installments and hacky cash-grabs that make fans wish the story had come to an end much sooner. Not everything has the staying power of James Bond or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, some franchises should have stopped at three instead of pumping out sequel after sequel... after sequel... after sequel...
Vote up the franchises that simply lasted way too long.
- Photo: Toy Story 3 / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Why The Franchise Is Great: The release of Toy Story in 1995 marked the start of the Pixar-led animation renaissance and led to millions of kids having existential breakdowns when it came time to get rid of their old toys. The first three films in the series were a skillful blend of timeless comedy and deeply touching drama, filled with moments so powerful they affected adults every bit as much as they did kids. Touching on themes of friendship, existence, self-worth, and the meaning of devotion, the Toy Story franchise remains unrivaled in its ability to veer between laughs and tears.
Where It Should Have Ended: Toy Story 3.
The third film in the series was arguably its darkest and most profound, culminating with a scene in which all the living toys hold hands and stoically accept that they are about to perish in an incinerator (before being saved at the last minute). There was no way to top that moment. So, with Toy Story 4 coming out nearly a decade later, the focus of the story moved away from Woody and Buzz grappling with the nature of their purpose and focused on an anthropomorphic fork toy with dark self-destructive urges. The premise of the story broadened the rules of the universe far wider than ever before, but in a way that destabilized the franchise's purpose. Toy Story as a trilogy is nearly flawless, but the fourth film - while entertaining - only serves to stretch the premise beyond its breaking point.374Too much of a good thing?
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures
Why The Franchise Is Great: A pre-controversy Johnny Depp led this high-seas adventure series that revitalized the pirate genre, which had been essentially written off as cursed. The Pirates of the Caribbean series blended fantasy, adventure, and horror to create a fun, high-octane thrill ride of a franchise that perfectly embodied that magic of the Disneyland ride it was based on. Also, its lasting impact on pop culture will forever be Jack Sparrow, Depp's charming, roguish marauder that became a fan-favorite character and perpetual Halloween costume for years to come.
Where It Should Have Ended: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
The first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, introduced us to the world's heroes - Jack Sparrow, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) - as well as the villainous Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). The world was expanded in the second film, Dead Man's Chest, which introduced the sinister, squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), and all the main stories were wrapped up in the third movie, At World’s End. All three were helmed by Gore Verbinski. However, there was too much money to be made to just stop there, so Disney continued the series with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which basically introduced an entirely new cast of heroes and villains and focused entirely on Jack Sparrow, who slowly became a caricature of himself. A fifth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, brought on more new characters, and was further evidence that Sparrow just isn't as credible a protagonist when the story falls solely on his shoulders.357Too much of a good thing?
- Photo: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade / Paramount Pictures
Why The Franchise Is Great: When Raiders of the Lost Ark first hit theaters in 1981, it captured the imagination of a generation with its retro aesthetic that harkened back to the pulp adventure flicks of the 1930s and '40s. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) was ruggedly charming and handsome but also relatable, vulnerable, and had a healthy hatred of Nazis. Over the course of the first three films, Jones matched wits with evil mystics and fascists and magic of rituals of every kind, and he always did it with magnetic charisma that gave audiences a chance to imagine themselves in his shoes.
Where It Should Have Ended: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Indy's third adventure, released in 1989, reunited the adventurer with his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery) as they went on a hunt for the Holy Grail. It was a perfect final installment - at least, it was for almost 20 years, until Ford returned to reprise the character in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The fourth film sees a much older Indiana (who hasn't changed as a character, just aged), matching wits with evil Soviets amid the Cold War - as opposed to Nazis - and searching alien artifacts, instead of magical relics. Everything about it was just off, relying heavily on shaky CGI while constantly trying, and failing, to recapture the magic of the original films. From Indiana surviving a nuclear blast inside a refrigerator to Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) swinging through the jungle on vines like a cartoon monkey, the film's action setpieces were so over-the-top, it was impossible to feel invested, muddying the memories of the entire series.288Too much of a good thing?
- Photo: Aliens / 20th Century Fox
Why The Franchise Is Great: Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien is unrivaled and remains a pulse-pounding classic to this day because it knows how to build tension and release it in an explosion of shock, blood, and phallic extraterrestrial monsters. The chestburster scene, the airlock climax, the facehuggers - all will forever be seared into our brains. Then, James Cameron came along to make a sequel, Aliens, that managed to change the genre, shifting it from sci-fi horror to sci-fi action thriller without skipping a beat or losing any of the tension. Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is still regarded as possibly the greatest female action protagonist ever, and the grotesque xenomorphs are as frightening today as they were when they first appeared on screen in 1979.
Where It Should Have Ended: Aliens.
Scott and Cameron managed to craft two perfect films - and that really should have been enough. But, as has been proven time and again, if there's money to be made, it doesn't matter how much a legacy gets desecrated. Thus, Alien 3, the movie that managed to wipe out all the side characters audiences cared about from Aliens in the first five minutes of screen time and then show us Ripley battling a mutated xenomorph puppy in long, tension-free sequences that managed to make the monsters somehow less scary retroactively. Alien Resurrection made a valiant effort to re-establish the creepiness of the premise but couldn't recapture Scott's claustrophobic dread or Cameron's perfect pacing and blockbuster sensibilities. Later efforts at expanding the mythology with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant have left fans well and truly done hoping that someone can once again catch lightning in the franchise's bottle.225Too much of a good thing?