Almost any film that's a box office and critical success gets a sequel (or two, or three), and it's pretty rare for a sequel to be better than the original. What's not all that rare is for a sequel to undo all the good things about the much-loved original. Here are 5 films (if you count the Matrix sequels separately) that (almost) ruined their franchises.
1. The Matrix Reloaded & The Matrix Revolutions
If you weren't there when it came out, it might be hard to imagine how much of a big deal The Matrix was when it came out back in 1999. It's been parodied and copied so much that you probably feel like you've seen it if even if you haven't, and "bullet time" has become overused in Hollywood and even videogames to the point of cliche. But back in the halcyon days of '99, The Matrix was a revelation. It was a tightly-edited mix of stunning visuals, great action and enough surface level philosophy to be classified as "deep" if you were a teenager.
The Matrix was originally intended as a standalone film, but after its success, writer/director siblings the Wachowskis saw the dollar signs and announced not one but two sequels (this was unusual, back before every successful film was a trilogy-in-waiting) to be shot simultaneously. The hype machine went into overdrive for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
The end results left everyone wishing they had just left The Matrix alone. Where the original was fast paced and fun, the sequels were plodding and dull. Reloaded and Revolutions took the original's cod-philosophy to the extreme, and we were treated to what felt like hours of boring side characters on gunmetal grey ships pontificating on the nature of reality and blah blah blah.
The sequels pushed The Matrix universe to its limit, flooding the films with mono-named characters who teased importance but, as it turned out, were easily forgotten. Remember Keymayker? Merovingian? Link? Ghost? Kid? I'm guessing not. Had The Matrix been left alone, it would be remembered as a great modern sci-fi film. Instead, it's recalled as the first installment of a bloated trilogy that long outstayed its welcome.
2. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Arguably Superman III was the nadir of the original Superman franchise, but that film had its moments, despite aiming for comedy and casting stand-up Richard Prior alongside Reeve. That film's follow-up would prove that the bar could be set even lower.
Christopher Reeve wasn't too keen to even make a fourth film, stung by the poor critical reception of the third installment. Reeve was persuaded to continue by being told he could have a hand in the film's plot, and as such the film saw Superman take a stand against nuclear weapons (the same moral stance taken by Reeve). He soon regretted his decision to don the famous suit and cape again.
After Superman III, the producers of the previous films sold the rights to Superman to Cannon Films, a production company beset by financial problems. In his autobiography, Reeve stated that Superman IV, despite being by a distance the biggest named film on Cannon's roster, received no "special consideration" in terms of budget, and so corners needed to be cut.
The most famous example of its failure is of Milton Keynes as a stand-in for New York. You can put in all the red fire hydrants you want, but a dreary industrial estate in rainy England is never going to look like the United Nations building.
Alongside Reeve, Gene Hackman returned for the fourth installment, though looked suitably embarrassed in all of his scenes, and had to act alongside future Two & A Half Men star Jon Cryer, in full-on "wacky" mode, playing his nephew. Superman's nemesis in the film, Nuclear Man, was played by then-unknown (and still unknown) Mark Pillow, who imbues Nuclear Man with exactly as much menace as his surname implies.
The gaps in logic and terrible lines in the script are too many to mention here, though of particular note is Lois getting flown into space by Nuclear Man, where she can very clearly breathe and survive (likewise, she fails to burn up on re-entry when Superman saves her and flies her back to Earth). This low-budget sequel was so bad it made Superman III look like a classic, and it was hardly a fitting end for the roles that Reeve and Margo Kidder will always be best known for, and it would take almost another two decades before Superman was seen on screen again.
3. Batman & Robin
The first Batman franchise had started well, Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns were well received gothic takes on the caped crusader and, while Batman Forever (Joel Schumacher's first effort as director, having taken over from Burton) had mixed reviews, it was by no means terrible, and was a box office success.
The fourth installment, Batman & Robin, has gone down in history -- not only one of the worst comic book films ever made, not only one of the worst sequels, but simply one of the worst films ever made, full stop.
Batman Forever had already moved away from the more serious tone of the Burton/Keaton films, but Batman & Robin didn't just move away, it went to an entirely different continent. It had more in common with the campy, tongue-in-cheek 1960s TV series than the previous films. These days it's remembered mostly for the infamous "bat nipples" on Batman's suit and a litany of tortuous "ice" puns read stiffly by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But to remember it just for those things is to forget the garish color scheme, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl (back from studying at "Oxbridge University") and batskates.
The film flopped at the box office in comparison to previous Batman films and was savaged by critics. It scared Warner Bros. off from greenlighting a planned follow up, and as a result the Batman franchise lay dormant until 2005 when it was rebooted with great success by Christopher Nolan.
4. Alien 3
The first two Alien films were very different beasts, but great successes on their terms. The first installment, directed by Ridley Scott, combined sci-fi and horror and gave us essentially a haunted house movie in space. The follow-up, Aliens, was helmed by James Cameron and jettisoned much of the horror aspect in favor of making it into a Vietnam War allegory. Despite the very different tones, the two films worked and were successful, so the same was expected of the third film.
In keeping with tradition, Alien 3 had another different director, this time first-timer David Fincher. But, unlike the first two films, it was plagued with problems. The script went through rewrites and revisions from numerous writers and would-be directors -- at one stage the film was set on a planet made of wood inhabited by monks -- before the story ended up being about Ripley -- unknowingly with an alien facehugger in tow -- crash landing on a planet used as an all-male prison.
The film's setting was potentially interesting, but the film itself was not. It started off with a bum note (killing Hicks and Newt early on was unforgivable for many fans) and tried to walk the line between the suspense of Alien and the action of Aliens, and was not as good as either. It didn't kill the franchise entirely; the Joss Wheadon written Alien: Resurrection appeared in 1997 but, like Alien 3, it failed to hit the heights of the first two classics.
However, Alien films have had something of a renaissance in recent years; Ridley Scott returned to the well for sort-of prequel Prometheus and its sequel (presequel?), titled Alien: Paradise Lost is scheduled for 2017, while there are plans for an as-yet-untitled Alien 5 to be released around the same time, and it remains to be seen before any of them can match the first two, or whether they will continue the series' decline in quality.
Which of these sequels did the most damage? What are the worst sequels in history? Join in the discussion and leave a comment! You can also follow me on Twitter - @davefox990