Film franchises survive on pure patience. Sequels come with success, but when a profitable movie turns itself into a trilogy, it’d better have a good reason for testing our entertainment endurance. Of course, we have unfathomably high tolerance for buying the same thing over and over, so movies with “Three” in their titles are often staggeringly abundant, especially when they’re digging up a popular original movie years after its exploit-by date.
Now we’re plowing through that abundance of “threequels” (how we hate that word) and skimming the sour cream from the…uh, the chaff of something. We’re less concerned with follow-ups to movies that were never big in the first place (sorry, Nemesis) and more with movies based on some success, be it mainstream or cult-level. While we’re sure that many of them seemed like promising ideas at some point, time isn’t always kind to movies about leprechauns and cartoon dinosaurs. Some of these films killed their brand names and others were just the start of long and hideous franchises, but there’s little excuse for any of them.
11) Critters 3
Critters 3 would be just another mediocre hodgepodge of horror, comedy, and lousy special effects if it weren’t also the feature film debut of Leonardo DiCaprio. Well before The Departed or Gangs of New York or his recurring role on Growing Pains, DiCaprio played a preteen repelling an invasion of alien creatures that are more or less Gremlins mixed with Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal.
However, the producers of the film had no hint of Leonardo’s future stardom, so the film and its trailer feature only some middling attempts at humor. Unlike the first two movies, there are no space-faring bounty hunters to be seen, and surprisingly few people fall victim to the Critters. New Line Cinema cared so little about Critters 3 that it was shot at the same time as the fourth Critters, just so people could forget 3 faster.
10) Leprechaun 3
The third Leprechaun film is often overlooked, sitting between the first sequel, which shockingly made it into theaters, and the Oscar-winning Leprechaun 4, which shows a demonic Warwick Davis bursting out of a space marine’s penis. Compared to that, Leprechaun 3 is a routine comedy-horror fumble. It consists of blandly rotten characters stealing the leprechaun’s gold, making wishes, and receiving punishments at the hands of a hellish, rhyming Willow. Case in point: a woman wishes for youth and beauty, so Warwick Davis magically enlarges her lips, breasts, and rear end until she explodes. Then he remarks “What a lovely lass. I had to blow up yer ass!” We’d link to that clip here, but we don’t want to encourage the people who’d find it arousing.
Instead, here’s the poorly voice-synced trailer, in which we’re promised that destroying the leprechaun’s gold will dismiss him and, presumably, his movies forever. We feel genuinely sorry for anyone who believed that.
9) Scanners III: The Takeover
David Cronenberg’s original Scanners is a tale of freakish psychic warfare, interesting well beyond its famous opening scene of someone’s head exploding. It was also a popular film, and the sequels came in droves. We’re still not sure if Scanners III is one of them. At least we assume that this was intended to be a Scanners film.
It’s supposedly about a young woman’s mental powers driving her to murder, but most of the film looks like unused cuts from a music video or a special version of Baywatch filmed in Thailand. Rest assured, however, that there are exploding heads in there somewhere. Oh, and kickboxing, which says “secret war between insane psychics” like nothing else.
8) Alien 3
We’re putting Alien 3 here more out of sympathy than anything. It’s not a terrible movie in its director’s cut, and it would’ve been nearly impossible to follow Alien and Aliens without recycling one or the other. But when you consider the money, the talent, and the creative potential behind the concept, there’s no reason Alien 3 should’ve turned out the way it did.
The first weak link in Alien‘s chain, Alien 3 fell victim to all sorts of studio squabbling: numerous scripts were rejected, including a Hicks-centric treatment by William Gibson, a bleak version by Chronicles of Riddick director David Twohy, and a downright bizarre screenplay that had heroine Ellen Ripley and a xenomorph fighting it out on a wooden planet full of misogynistic monks.
The Alien 3 that eventually emerged isn’t bad so much as it’s just dreary and muddled. Taking one of the lamer ideas from the dead-screenplay pile, the film has Ripley dumped on a planet full of men, but they’re mostly boring prisoners and guards, hard to tell apart with all of their heads shaved. First-time director David Fincher, who’d go on to Se7en and Fight Club, didn’t helm the film so much as he stacked up the demands of various producers, and the results are underwhelming. Two of Aliens‘ more likeable characters die at the start of the movie, and the rest of it runs on the same concpt as the original Alien, only with duller sets and a drab cast. Caught in between the bleak art-house film and the studio crowd-pleaser, Alien 3‘s true crime is sucking the life out of a promising franchise.
7) Aces: Iron Eagle III
A brief history of the first three Iron Eagles: the original movie is a blitheringly un-ironic ’80s fantasy about an air-force brat who steals a jet fighter to rescue his dad from a middle-eastern dictatorship too vague and evil to properly name. He’s helped along by retired Col. Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, played by Louis Gossett, Jr. The sequel ditches the original Iron Eagle‘s hero early on, instead focusing on Chappy’s attempts to lead a joint American-Russian strike force and prove that ex-Commies aren’t so bad. Unsurprisingly, 1992’s Aces: Iron Eagle III brings back Chappy so he and other retired pilots can dismantle a drug cartel. They do this by shooting down planes with grenade launchers and making stereotypical sidekicks say “DAYUM!”
Predictable and inane, Iron Eagle III is of interest only to a certain species of online weirdo. While the cast includes Sonny Chiba and the versatile Paul Freeman, the trailer makes a point of introducing bodybuilder Rachel McLish as a Rambo-like resistance fighter. That trailer’s Total Recall music can’t be coincidence, as some producers evidently thought McLish could spend the 1990s doing what Schwarzenegger did in the 1980s (i.e. punching camels and avoiding emotion-related parts). They thought wrong. McLish’s only subsequent role came as a character named, seriously, Rhyia Shadowfeather in some direct-to-video castaway.
Yet McLish provides Iron Eagle III’s only non-trailer YouTube remnant, in which she flexes her way out of prison while site user post comments like “u know any one would be turned on if they saw rachel mclish a former mss olympia being chained and tickled.” It’s sad when a movie is remembered only by people who beat off to it, but it’s no loss when that movie is Iron Eagle III. The chained-and-tickled-female-bodybuilder fetishists can have it.
6) Jurassic Park III
Beyond the Indiana Jones films, Steven Spielberg hasn’t directed many sequels. He’s produced plenty, but the last one he actually helmed was The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2. Coincidentally, that’s also the worst movie he’s directed: a jittery, ugly mess where velociraptors can take down armed soldiers but get defeated by the gymnastics arsenal of Jeff Goldblum’s teenage daughter.
Spielberg didn’t direct Jurassic Park III, but in a strange way, he did. The third movie is pretty much the first two spliced together. As in the first film, Jurassic Park III finds Sam Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant bamboozled into studying an island full of rogue dinosaurs while helping rescue a kid. As in the second film, Jurassic Park III is mostly an excuse for dinosaurs to chase people, eat people, and kill other dinosaurs.
Operating on the same logic as its toyline, Jurassic Park III is remembered mostly for introducing a dino predator even nastier than the original’s T-Rex. Look, kids! It has a cool fin on its back!
5) The Howling III
Werewolves will never have the semi-literary roots of Dracula or Frankenstein’s creation, but there are indeed a few good werewolf movies. Along with An America Werewolf in Paris and Dog Soldiers, one must note Joe Dante’s in-jokey The Howling. Some people like the horrible The Howling II just for putting Christopher Lee in scenes with Reb Brown (star of Yor: the Hunter from the Future and the MST3K classic Space Mutiny), but most of them draw the line at The Howling III.
Howling III takes the comedic strains of the first two films further, setting itself in Australia and making its werewolves hybrids of humans and the possibly extinct Tasmanian wolf. The whole thing’s a low-budget farce, reminiscent of the movies Peter Jackson made in his early years. A shame it’s pretty much insufferable. A parody of a parody, it swings past slyly referential and lands in cinematic dog crap. Well, wolf crap. Tasmanian wolf crap.
4) The Land Before Time III
The best moments of Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time were perhaps yanked at the last minute for being too scary, leaving the film inoffensive fluff as far as scientifically inaccurate animated dinosaur movies go. Yet there’s no charitable description for what followed The Land Before Time: no less than twelve more movies about a seemingly extinction-proof flock of cloying dino-kids. Perhaps a single sequel was understandable; Disney makes one for every successful animated film, and Don Bluth’s catalog is a slightly edgier and considerably less coherent version of the Disney vaults.
There’s nothing edgy about The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving, in which our heroes await their species’ doom while some larger dinosaurs bully them. The film provides every low standard of direct-to-video kids’ cartoons: blunt moralizing, absolutely nothing to entertain older audiences, and, of course, insipid songs. We challenge you to keep this video going once the musical number kicks in.
Still, there are worse animated movies to turn into franchises. Don Bluth also made Rock-A-Doodle, after all.
3) The Karate Kid, Part III
The Karate Kid Part III was inevitable. The first one was a success just when a martial-arts craze was brewing in 1980s America, and the second was perhaps even more popular, (though its longest-lasting contribution to pop culture was ensuring that Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” will never stop playing at your dentist’s office). The Karate Kid Part III, however, made everyone forget about the franchise until Hilary Swank starred in The Next Karate Kid.
Thinking that the villains of the first movie were important enough for a sequel, Part III brings back bullying martial-arts instructor John Kreese. Still stung over his comedic humiliation in the first two The Karate Kids, Kreese seeks revenge with the help of a wealthy friend who, like most villains in late-1980s films, is polluting the environment. Meanwhile, series hero Daniel Larusso acquires yet another girlfriend and ends up in a tournament against yet another larger, angrier teenager.
And the whole thing plays out much like The Karate Kid did: a single blow in a karate tournament solves everything, and Pat Morita gets to stretch his likeable Mr. Miyagi character over many stale lines. Oh, and he also beats up grown men who act like Power Rangers villains.
2) Jaws 3-D
One can judge the Jaws films by how well the semi-titular shark dies in each. The original kills its apex predator with an awesome explosion and a line now judged a classic. The sequel improbably electrocutes the shark, signifying that film’s general creative laziness. The fourth Jaws rams the shark with a boat’s pointy bow while said shark is leaping out of the water and roaring, thus becoming the best possible Jaws.
Amid these, there’s Jaws 3, or Jaws 3-D, as it was promoted in theaters. It aims for relevance by introducing adult versions of the two brothers traumatized in the previous films, and it stages its shark-wrought carnage at an underwater amusement park. And then it sends its unconvincingly superimposed shark crashing into the park’s control room.
The shark’s demise is both bizarre and derivative of the first film: having swallowed a diver with an unexploded grenade in his grip, the shark bursts into hilarious 3-D body parts when the film’s hero (Dennis Quaid in his first starring role!) pokes into its mouth and yanks the grenade’s pin. Oddly enough, the two most obvious pieces of the shark are chunks of its teeth and gums, which would’ve been the first things destroyed in the explosion. But that’s the sort of movie Jaws 3-D is.
1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fad died a long, painful, and often awkward death. By 1993, cracks were showing: the cartoon was growing dull, the toy line was desperately throwing in mutant camels and Halloween-themed Turtles, and the live-action movies were bottoming out. Kids flocked to the first major Turtles film. They even sat through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlers II: The Secret of the Ooze and its Vanilla Ice anthem. But with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: No Subtitle, the franchise wore out its welcome.
Evidently salvaged from a trashed Turtles cartoon script, the film whisks reporter/victim April O’Neil back in time to feudal Japan. Her sewer-dwelling ninja mutant friends set off to rescue her, fighting off samurai and spouting god-awful jokes the whole way. Here the movie misses an essential truth of the Turtles: kids liked the whole ancient-Japanese-warriors angle, but that was just one part of the bizarre pop-culture mosaic that made the characters a hit. Sending the Turtles back to some Hollywood version of Old Japan just means that there are no robotic Foot Soldiers, mutant boars, or motorized, slime-spewing rocket skateboards.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III has value only as a lexicon of overused pop-culture references from 1993. The most disturbing one arrives at 1:32 in the trailer, when a Wayne’s World catchphrase introduces the civilized world to the concept of Ninja Turtle erections. And on that note, we’re done with this list.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.