Nothing good ever lasts forever. And some bad things last way, way too long.
As we celebrate (?) the release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, it’s high time we look back at some movie franchises that started out big and slowly but surely fizzled over time. Look, it happens! Not all movie series stay good from the first to last film. Some undergo casting or directorial changes. Some can’t keep up the strong story or momentum. And sometimes the general public just loses interest by the third of fourth film. It’s rare to see a movie series that stays good from beginning to end. Sometimes they crawl pitifully and slowly across the finish line.
So let’s examine some movie series that started strong and wilted like a rose. In the words of T.S. Eliot, these are the ones ended not with a bang but a whimper.
The first Hangover is still considered a comedy classic. It’s perfectly-cast, supremely funny and actually quite original, even all these years later. It contained a concept that made audiences say “Why haven’t we seen this before? This is just so clever. Are we sure someone hasn’t thought of this before?”
Nope! It was brand new! And good. Some of the comedy has NOT aged well but the chemistry between the three leads is undeniable. It’s just a damn shame that it should have ended after the first film. I can’t blame Todd Phillips and the cast for returning, the first movie was such a runaway success. But a movie about ONE wild night of forgotten debauchery just can’t be duplicated. That was made so evident by The Hangover Part 2 but became painfully obvious by the time the third film rolled around. Audiences didn’t care anymore, the movies had gotten so dark and so mean and so different from how it all started. The series was originally about three friends looking out for one another but it later transformed into some sort of crime drama that lacked any of the magic of the first movie. No wonder almost everyone involved has more or less disavowed themselves from the latter two films. This series started strong but just puttered into nothingness. Like the saying goes: what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Audiences were chomping at the bit (hehehe) when Fifty Shades of Grey debuted in theaters. The book series was immensely popular and readers were ready for the sexy antics of Christian Grey and his lady friend Anastasia to be played out on the big screen. And, boy, the first film was a hit. We may be a conservative country but America was all about Mr. Grey’s whips, toys and dominant ways. The movie was sexy spelled with a capital $.
But then there was the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker and the reception was far less orgasmic. It seems as though the only people returning to watch the sequel were fans of the books, and even they didn’t show up like they once had. By the time the third film, Fifty Shades Freed, arrived it seemed like everyone had moved on. The final movie received the worst reviews and worst box office returns too. No one even seemed to notice when it premiered, a far cry from the feverish demand the first movie received. The series started with a bang (sorry) but then got boring and limp (sorry again). In the end, no one was coming (okay, I’m done) to theaters.
Here’s how unenthusiastic we became to The Hobbit series: I had to look up how many movies it consisted of. Three? Four? Four and a half? I honestly couldn’t remember. And I am someone who was actually excited when the first film, An Unexpected Journey, came out. A lot of movie fans were all about a return to Middle-earth, as directed by the brilliant Peter Jackson.
But our joy about seeing Tolkien’s vision again was quickly snuffed out. It’s not that the Hobbit films were bad — and they definitely made money all the way through — it’s just that it felt forced, half-baked and half-alive. Fans were willing themselves to like these pictures, the love never seemed genuine and it definitely paled in comparison to how people felt about Lord of the Rings. This was a perfect example of good will only going so far. Even die-hard fanatics of the original LOTR trilogy could admit that the Hobbit movies didn’t have the magic of the trilogy that came before. The budgets were huge, the cast was wonderful, the direction was unsurprisingly terrific. But by the time the third film (Aha! There WERE three!) rolled around, everyone was left wondering who these were for. It was almost as if everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the final film hit theaters. It was finally done!
It’s hard because the enthusiasm for LOTR was so high, nothing could ever reach those heights. In many ways, this franchise was doomed to fail from the start. Maybe if there was more time between those films and the Hobbit series, maybe if we had a different visionary take them on, maybe if it was one film — maybe then Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien series would be as highly regarded as the first. For now, it just feels like a sequel series that no one really wants or remembers fondly.
THE DIVERGENT SERIES
This might be the biggest example of a movie series that overstayed its welcome. The first Divergent film hit theaters in 2014 as the books it was based on still remained on the best sellers list. It starred a hot, young cast battling a dystopian government hellbent on control. It was a story we had seen before but audiences still ate it up and Divergent proved to be a box office hit, especially with the teen set.
Then came the sequel in 2015, The Divergent Series: Insurgent. It made a bit less than Divergent and got worse reviews but it still did pretty well. Maybe it was released too soon after its predecessor, maybe people just got burned out too fast. Because when the third film, Allegiant, came around, no one seemed to care. The movie was a bomb with both critics and audiences. The worst part was that before the third film opened, Lionsgate decided that it would split the final book into two films, the first being Allegiant and the second being a film titled Ascendant. However, after the failure of Allegiant, Lionsgate didn’t even film Ascendant. In fact they decided they would instead convert the fourth film into a TV series, something that literally no one asked for. And, sure enough, Allegiant was such a bomb that the promised TV series never happened, meaning the series never had a proper ending. It started strong and promised to be the next Hunger Games but in the end the Divergent series ending up being so bad and so tired that it couldn’t even get a season on ABC Family.
THE MATRIX TRILOGY
I mean…come on. You know I had to include this one here.
There is no doubt that The Matrix is one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. Point blank. Period. No ifs, ands or buts. It’s fantastic. It was such a surprising smash hit that it feels that not even the Wachowskis knew what to do next. Some have argued that The Matrix was such a perfect, contained story that it didn’t need a sequel. Those people would be right. But that didn’t stop The Wachowskis from trying to hit the jackpot a couple more times. But as everyone knows both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were sad excuses for sequels. They became muddled, pseudo-philosophical garbage. Reloaded had some redeeming factors but Revolutions is universally seen as a mess. When the final film crept into theaters, people were checked out and had already written off Neo, Morpheus and the rest of the robot-fighting crew. It was a shocking turn of events because the first film is perhaps one of the most revolutionary sci-fi films since Star Wars.
The Matrix will forever be seen as a classic but let’s not talk about its two follow-ups.