Now that Disney owns George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise, we already know that Episode VII is a done deal and that VIII and IX are coming unless something unexpected happens. It’s also quite likely that before long the series will see its tenth entry go into production, not counting the rumored spinoffs.
Even if I agreed with some hardcore purists that Star Wars should have ended after Return of the Jedi (I don’t), I certainly see why double digits are now a real possibility. The Star Wars universe is a rich one, and the potential for very cool stories that don’t involve tax disputes or a teenage Darth Vader is still great.
On the other hand, some franchises just don’t know when to quit. Obviously there is money to be made in bleeding dry what might have been fun or worthy concepts at one time, otherwise this article wouldn’t exist. But when a series reaches the point where even fans are asking “really?”, it’s probably time to close up shop. Here are seven such franchises.
The first Leprechaun movie was released in 1993, and is now more known for the fact that it was Jennifer Aniston’s first feature movie role than for anything else. But it did pull in $8.5 million on a modest budget of $900,000, so a sequel was inevitable. By the time the third installment rolled out in 1995, the franchise had moved to the mystical land of direct-to-video release, which meant the filmmakers clearly understood that the ceiling of audience interest had been reached.
Armed with the freedom of only having to appeal to their limited fan base, Leprechaun producers were free to explore strange new settings. That led to masterpieces like Leprechaun 4: In Space and Leprechaun: In the Hood, the latter of which holds a franchise-high 33% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Six Leprechaun movies have been released to date, and there are reported discussions to reboot the franchise with a seventh.
#2. Air Bud
You might think that one movie is enough to explore the world of a golden retriever that can play basketball, but you’d be wrong. Disney scored a relative success with the 1997 original ($23 million U.S. box office) and has pumped out four sequels since. And that doesn’t even include the direct-to-video Air Buddies spinoff series, which saw its sixth installment released in 2012. But to be fair, Disney did mix things up in the sequels by showcasing Bud’s uncanny ability to play soccer, baseball, and even volleyball. Woof.
Here is the first sentence of Wikipedia’s plot summary for the 1989 Roger Corman martial arts film Bloodfist, starring American kickboxing legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson: “The film opens with a man getting beaten by his opponent, then after the guy finds out the fight was rigged, decides to fight back. The opponent is dead on the floor, and the first guy is announced as the winner. On his way back to his home, he is killed by another man.”
Man, I’m already lost. Luckily I have eight — count ‘em, eight — sequels to get my bearings in this face-smashing world of kicking, boxing, and (apparently) bloody fists. I’m already looking forward to watching the final installment, Bloodfist 2050, starring martial arts champion Matt Mullins. It takes place in a bleak, futuristic version of Los Angeles that bears a striking resemblance to the bleak, current version of Los Angeles.
Here’s some bonus Bloodfist 2050 trivia for you: the audience members from all the fight scenes is made up of every single person who saw Bloodfist VIII: Trained to Kill.
#4. Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th is the machete-wielding poster child for mainstream horror franchises that offer frighteningly diminishing returns. Some might argue that A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween are at least equally guilty, but they actually managed to sneak in a few decent sequels here and there. I was a huge horror fan back in the day, and even I was done with Jason Voorhees by the time the ’80s were over.
The producers of Friday the 13th trotted out just about every horror plot cliché imaginable over the course of twelve movies, all built upon the firm foundation of a masked mass murderer slaughtering naked teenagers. Jason killed camp counselors. Jason killed people in 3-D. Jason killed people “for the last time” (a promotional stunt first pulled with movie number four). Jason sat out for a movie and let someone else do the killing. Jason came back (again). Jason transformed from a run-of-the-mill psychopath into a supernatural force. Jason killed people in New York City. Jason killed people in space, and in the future. The only person Jason hasn’t killed is Kenny.
Finally, horror fan boys got their wish in 2003, when Jason squared off against Freddy Krueger in Freddy vs. Jason, which actually was fun. And then, of course, Jason killed people in a reboot.
#5. Puppet Master
I remember seeing the first Puppet Master film a long time ago and thinking it seemed like a sort-of clever take on Child’s Play. Except instead of a killer talking doll, it involved killer puppets. The idea that these tiny creatures could wreak such big havoc was neat. I enjoyed the movie and quickly forgot about it.
Well it turns out that not everyone forgot, because there are now ten of these things. I’m not even going to lie and pretend I’ve seen any of the sequels, but I might have to remedy that. After all, how can you go wrong with deadly puppets, sorcery, Egyptian mummies, demons, and Nazis? Oh, and you know who stars in the supposedly non-canon ninth film (Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys)? Corey fucking Feldman, that’s who.
Here’s the trailer for the most recent entry, Puppet Master X: Axis Rising. Screw Captain America, when the chips are down and the Nazis are threatening our American way of life, I want the puppet with the tiny head and giant hands fighting by my side.
#6. Police Academy
All you need to know about the Police Academy series is that even Steve Guttenberg disappeared after the fourth movie, and Bobcat Goldthwait has publicly stated he wants nothing to do with the reported reboot. It’s a shame too, since the first movie was one of the better screwball comedies of the ’80s and the first few sequels have their moments. If I’m feeling really charitable I’ll say that they should have stopped with the fourth installment, Citizens on Patrol. Because once you cut a soundtrack with a rap number featuring the movie’s name, it’s time to stop. Seriously.
But no, we had to find out what happened when a metropolitan police force traveled to Miami Beach and Russia in the span of a few years. The box office returns kept dwindling but the films kept coming. However, not even the most masochistic producer would tackle an eighth movie after 1994’s Police Academy: Mission to Moscow made a whopping $126,247. No, I didn’t leave any numbers out. That’s about $11 million less than Cops & Robbersons made the same year.
The basic plot of any Police Academy sequel goes like this: Hacky exposition – Michael Winslow makes sound effects with his mouth – Tackleberry likes to shoot stuff – the blonde officer has really big boobs – hacky middle part – Cmdt. Lassard bumbles around – Capt. Harris screams at someone – Hooks talks quietly then yells – more mouth sound effects – the end.
#7. Universal Soldier
The Universal Soldier series started behind the artistic eight ball, given that it featured B-list action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Nevertheless, the first film performed respectably enough at the box office with a $36 million haul, making it the 40th highest-grossing movie of 1993. From there it gets confusing and a little sad. I’ll try to unpack it for you.
There are six Universal Soldier films in total. The first one was produced by Carolco Pictures, which went bankrupt in 1995. In the late ’90s two sequels followed — Brothers in Arms and Unfinished Business — which were released direct-to-video and meant as the precursor to a potential TV series. Neither starred Van Damme or Lundgren, and they’ve basically been ignored from a canonical standpoint.
The first “official” theatrical sequel — 1999’s The Return – featured Van Damme and assorted other muscly men, but was a colossal flop. It had a production budget of $45 million but earned just short of $11 million domestically. So powerful was the stench from The Return that it was also ignored by the next sequel, 2009’s direct-to-video Regeneration. In late 2012, Day of Reckoning was given a limited theatrical release but mostly screened through Video on Demand.
So if you’re keeping score, that’s three official Universal Soldier movies, three unofficial Universal Soldier movies, and six Universal Soldier movies that we all probably could’ve done without.