Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is crashing into theaters, and already has its work cut out for it: The last three films in the franchise were profitable, although the third got mixed reviews compared to the first two. But if history is any indication, On Stranger Tides has more to overcome: The fourth film in a sci-fi series has a long tradition of bombing, sometimes so hard that it blows up the entire franchise.
Here are 10 "fourth films" that brought their franchises to a new low.
Batman & Robin
Before Christopher Nolan took Batman to lofty heights with his series reboot, Batman was the star of several successful movies in the late 20th century. Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever were received well both critically and at the box office, so it was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. to commission a fourth film. Joel Schumacher was selected as director for his excellent work in Batman Forever. So everything looked like it was going smoothly. Warner Bros. liked the initial filming so much they signed Schumacher on to do a fifth film.
Which is why they were blindsided when Batman & Robin opened to horrible reviews. It was so bad, it would often make movies in adjacent theaters seem worse, just by osmosis. Particularly bad was Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of Mr. Freeze (which would turn out to be the only bad decision Arnold ever made). Instead of continuing the brooding, methodical thread that Tim Burton had established in the first two Batmans, Batman & Robin was totally campy. The film received 11 nominations at the annual Razzie awards for awful filmmaking.
Not even turning a profit could save the series, as Warner Bros. canceled production for the fifth film. Note that Robin hasn't made an appearance in either of the Christopher Nolan reboots. Hopefully there is an unemployment line for useless sidekicks.
Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Nineteen years after the third Indiana Jones movie, George Lucas decided his boat needed an extra island or two to dock at, so he made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Lucas was not known for brilliant screenwriting at this point in his career, so it's no surprise that this film fell flat.
Hey, it made a lot of money and provided some of the thrills of the original series. So we can't knock it too hard. But it also won the Razzie for worst sequel and had an entire South Park episode devoted to how Steven Spielberg and Lucas mucked up the franchise with this film. The steaming hatred for this film is always an undercurrent to any flow of box-office money, unlike the first three beloved films.
The Ghost of Frankenstein
Frankenstein is one of the most recognizable silver-screen characters. His first three films (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein) were given full feature-film treatment by Universal Studios. Then the fourth film, Ghost of Frankenstein, hit theaters, and it was obvious that things had changed. Universal spent much less money on this film, instead trying to capitalize on the drawing power of the monster to lure fans. To play Frankenstein's monster, Boris Karloff was replaced by perennial Wolfman favorite Lon Chaney Jr.
Looking back, this film has aged quite well. Bela Lugosi reprises his role as Ygor brilliantly. However, it definitely marks the beginning of low tide for Frankenstein. In fact, this is the last film in which Frankie gets sole billing, instead of being bundled with the Wolfman or other monsters. The entire film, though precious, lacks the flair and quality of any of the first three. Some would argue this was inevitable: As a character, Frankenstein's monster is about as deep as a low-flush toilet.
Another fourth film that ended a film series, Alien: Resurrection had issues. Then-screenwriter Joss Whedon said that producers did "everything wrong" with his script. Several producers were concerned that making a fourth Alien film would taint the franchise. Reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet said, "It's time they quit killing the aliens, and just killed the Alien series altogether. " In fact, plans were scrapped for a fifth alien film.
In adamant denial that character development is ever necessary in a horror film, the series was rebooted in the form of Alien vs. Predator. Alien vs. Predator went on to provide an awful fourth film for a different series.
After three successful films with Arnold Schwarzenegger, some company said, "Hey, let's buy the rights and make a fourth film. Even though we can't use Schwarzenegger!" After a long negotiation, rights to the film franchise changed hands and work was started on what was expected to be the first of a second trilogy of films.
Shockingly, removing the iconic Terminator actor from a film called Terminator isn't a great way to start a new trilogy. The film did well enough at the box office, but it was universally panned. As usual, the fourth film proved to be a stopping point, as the film company that made Salvation went bankrupt and won't pursue the trilogy. We keep rewatching Terminator Salvation, convinced that sooner or later Arnold Schwarzenegger will hop into the film and announce he is from the future to save bad films.
Omen IV: The Awakening
Those who have followed the dastardly adventures of the son-of-Satan for three films know that this is an awesomely creepy movie series. Then they went and made a TV movie, and had the gall to call it number four. Not only that, but uber-sinister Damien is dead and not in this film.
Making a TV movie based on an existing film series is pretty much admitting "Okay, people will no longer pay to see this." Also, Omen III ends with Jesus Christ returning to Earth to spread peace. What happened to Jesus Christ, was he unavailable to appear Omen IV due to contractual obligations? Twentieth Century Fox stated that they were trying to make a long series out of The Omen, like Friday the 13th or Saw. Turns out TV viewers would much rather watch shows about Christ, whereas moviegoers want shows about the Antichrist.
Star Wars: Episode One—The Phantom Menace
So, there was like some trilogy called Star Wars or something, and we hear it has a handful of devoted fans. Which is why many were disappointed when the first film of the second trilogy was kind of flat. "Kind of flat" isn't our quote, it's from the film's own star Ewan McGregor. Odd, stilted dialogue and weird characters like Jar Jar Binks put off longtime fans of the film.
Although the film itself wasn't that bad, the disappointment of not filling the huge shoes of previous films resonated through the media. The Phantom Menace received seven Razzie awards. As a fourth film, it definitely took a lot of steam out of this cherished franchise. The Phantom Menace had a hard road to travel: It had to be entertaining and set the foundation for the trilogy prequel to Star Wars. That's kind of like saying, "OK, this Empire State Building is great. Now let's put 120 floors under this current building."
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline
Hellraiser was picking up speed as a new series of horror films as fans bought tickets to see Pinhead and creatures that kinda looked like Borgs. But then the fourth film hit theaters, and Hellraiser films went straight-to-DVD ever after.
First off, this movie opens in space. This is always a fresh and original way to utterly trash a good storyline. But hey, it's space, so people will buy tickets anyway, because everyone is stupid, right? The director bailed on the film in frustration before it could be completed. Hellraiser IV opened to a wide flood of negative reviews and forfeited the series' silver screen status. Which is lame: We always wanted to see the horrible sewing accident that led to Pinhead's creation.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
Predator was a hugely popular film series, and the third series on this list to have Arnold Schwarzenegger in at least one film. Seems like Arnold is always getting way busier than he should be. After the success of Predator and Predator 2, a reboot tie-in series was suggested. Not unlike Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Alien vs. Predator was pretty successful. Then, they made the fourth Predator film, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, and kissed the series goodbye. After Requiem, producers went back to making Predator films.
Requiem opened to abysmal reviews. It still made money based on fans wanting a December action flick, but there aren't plans to make another AvP film. Yet again, the fourth film was the penny on the tracks that derailed the series.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Where to begin with this awful excuse for a movie? For starters, Superman III had turned a lot of fans off from the series. It was wildly successful at the box office, but the comedy slant had Christopher Reeve concerned. With all involved parties reluctant to make a fourth film, a new production company stepped in. To twist Reeve's arm, they promised him they would produce any project he wanted, in exchange for his appearing in Superman IV.
Superman IV was terrible. The budget was too small, forcing the director to cut corners at every possible opportunity. The film did quite poorly at the box office, and critics rightfully hated on its lousy special effects:
What younger generations may not know is that the special effects weren't that bad: A lot of people in the 1980s had really visible auras. Just like how life in the 1950s was so black-and-white.
So, why is it that the fourth film in a sci-fi series is so frequently a stinker? The simple answer is that sequels, by nature, get successively worse. So by the time a franchise is into its fourth film, the series is often practically limping along. However, another reason is because human storytelling is best done in three acts.
We all know what a series of three films is called, but what is a series of four? We don't know, it happens so rarely. So, usually, the fourth film is the first to break out of the pre-planned story for the previous trilogy. Such diversion from the established story is definitely ripe with potential for alienating fans like a kiss from a facehugger.