Third Time’s Not the Charm: The worst threequels in cinema


Sometimes it’s best to quit when you’re ahead. It’s tempting to keep on going with the gravy train and assume that the cash will just flow in based on the name alone, but sometimes that means coming up with paper-thin excuses to make a movie, to tell a tale no one was asking for, and to simply try to skate by on the goodwill of the former films. Some of these duds are nadirs of the series; some of them are just portents of worst things to come. A couple would be the forerunners for better films (“Rambo” is a great return to the brutality and morality of “First Blood,” and many Trekkies hold “Star Trek IV” close to their hearts), but for the most part, these third entries are unabashed attempts to cash in on known quantities without any of the artistic merits of the previous two films.

There are some pretty good threequels as well, but these ten films aren’t anywhere in the neighborhood of being considered good. In conjunction with the upcoming release of “Star Trek Beyond,” the third part in the new Kelvinverse “Star Trek” series, it’s time to reflect on the ten worst threequels in film history.

10. “Superman III”

Woof, where to begin with the missteps of “Superman III?” From the incongruous pairing of Richard Pryor with Superman, to the low-rent Lex Luthor knockoff played by Robert Vaughan, to the horrendous Superman vs. Superman junkyard battle, this movie is really bad. True, it has the creepy robot woman at the end, and that scene of Superman getting drunk is always a good time, but this squalid excuse for a superhero adventure was a giant step down in quality from the two Richard Donner films. It’s dumb, lacks any cohesion, and worst of all, it isn’t any fun.

9. “Jaws 3D”

The number one question coming from this film is: why did Sea World want their name attached to this pile? I mean, there are lots of questions to be asked about “Jaws 3D.” Why were the visual effects worse than the previous two installments? Why is there such a low body count when there were so many possible dead meat candidates? Did anyone think ending on a freeze frame of a cartoon dolphin was a good idea? Did anyone even watch the first two films and try to go for any of the suspense and thrills of those movies? We may never know the answers, because all we’re left with is a horrendous follow-up that besmirches the good name of a killer shark movie.

8. “Child’s Play 3”

The first two “Child’s Play” films aren’t cinematic gold by any standard, but they at least didn’t feature one of the kills being “death by fright-induced heart attack.” This installment makes very little to no sense, from the opening scene to the closing moments (where our hero is carted off by the police). It also marked an attempt to make Chucky his own antihero figure, a la Freddy Krueger, with quips and jokes that all land with a serious thud. What could be a fun setting for lots of deaths by the possessed doll is instead a low-body-count enterprise that feels tired and completely lacks any real thought or imagination. It’s hard to be a stain on a series this lowbrow, yet “Child’s Play 3” found a way to be absolute rock bottom.

7. “Batman Forever

Batman and Robin” is usually seen as the worst of the pre-Nolan Batman films, yet I would suggest that the problems of that film all started here. At least the fourth film is a campy good time, almost harkening back to the 1966 TV series. This one is just an excuse for Jim Carrey to mug a lot to the camera, feature the least interesting Batman (Val Kilmer) ever, and to have some of the most toyetic costumes and vehicles awkwardly shoved into its running time. Overstuffed but undercooked, this film tries to do a lot of things at once – feature two villains, who don’t compliment each other; introduce Robin to the series; plumb Bruce Wayne’s psyche for more bat issues—and basically fails at all of them. While “Batman and Robin” gets the lion’s share of the blame, the cracks started to show in this outing by director Joel Schumacher.

6. “Rambo III”

“First Blood” is modern classic that deals with the psychology of soldiers, the fallout from an unpopular war, and in many ways, presages the oncoming difficulties of adjusting to life after combat. “Rambo: First Blood II” moved away from that for a more action-y film, but it still tied in to John Rambo‘s origins with the Vietnam War, wondering if they get to win this time. “Rambo III” foregoes any sort of morality, psychology or depth to deliver a juiced-up Stallone as a freedom fighter shooting people with arrows and explosives. It abandoned everything that made the previous installments work, and the result was a simplistic and boring action film that seemed to exist just to check off the boxes. Oh, and it has one of the most historically regrettable dedications possibly ever in film history.

5. “The Hangover Part III”

To give “The Hangover Part III” some credit, it tries to do a few things differently than the first two entries in the comedy “trilogy.” Unfortunately, it just ends up being an unfunny mess that squanders a lot of comic talent and further tarnishes whatever happy memories viewers had of the first film. By attempting to top the previous installments in crassness and cruelty, the film becomes a slog of over-the-top set pieces while turning likeable characters into hateful caricatures of spite. It’s boring and convoluted, with most of the jokes falling flat on their face. It’s nice that Todd Phillips tried something different with this film, but it would’ve been nicer if that something different was good as well.

4. “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”

Following “The Wrath of Khan” is no easy feat, as that is clearly the best of the series and an instant sci-fi classic in its own right. It’s unfortunate that “Search for Spock” is underneath the shadow of that far superior film, but it does itself no favors with its hokey plot and boring attempts at action. By bringing back Spock, both through the Genesis planet and his mind meld with Bones, it completely undercuts the sacrifice and pathos at the end of the previous film. And this movie’s attempt at a shocking twist, the destruction of the Enterprise, plays out poorly on film as the villains are cardboard cutout Klingons (led by Christopher Lloyd, hamming it up) who are completely interchangeable and utterly unmemorable. It’s a big step down from “Wrath of Khan,” and the movie seems to be well aware of its shoddy tale and boring concept.

3. “Jurassic Park 3”

When most of the body count happens with well over half the movie still left, there may be a problem in the stakes your film. This lifeless sequel does nothing to advance the story, is predicated on a paper thin premise (“Oh wait, there’s another, other island!”), and its only attempt to outdo what came before is in a new dinosaur that somehow has less personality than its CGI predecessors. True, that raptor bad dream is a fun campy moment, but none of the rest of the film lives up to that fevered pitch. Instead, it’s an incredibly boring film with very low stakes that reeks of Universal trying to milk the franchise.

2. “The Karate Kid: Part III”

No one would suggest that the “Karate Kid” films are masterpieces, but they are competently made underdog stories with good characterization, grounded relationships and some fun karate moments. Those highlights are missing from the third film, which barely has any karate in it, one of the lamest romances (that isn’t really a romance because Ralph Macchio didn’t want his wife to be jealous) ever committed to film, and a convoluted plot of revenge that barely makes any sense, let alone requires any sort of emotional investment from the audience. Terry Silver is so over-the-top as the film’s villain that he almost redeems the movie, but mostly he just moves it into the “so bad it’s good” territory with his toxic waste schemes, his desire to brutalize a teenager, and his not-so-casual racism towards Asians. There’s no reason why this film was made, and its desperate attempt at cashing in on its predecessors’ memories are evident throughout.

1. “The Godfather Part III”

So why is “The Godfather Part III” the worst? Well, to put it bluntly, it tarnishes the memory of arguably two of the greatest American films ever made. As if that wasn’t enough, it has a nonsensical plot that plays like highlights from the former films without any of the style, emotion or wit of the previous entries. Oh, and director Francis Ford Coppola has admitted it was just a cash grab, as he needed money at the time. Speaking of terrible romances, there’s the gross relationship between cousins, not to mention the weird interactions between Michael and Kay (remember how they hated each other with fiery passion at the end of Part Two? Meh). The villains aren’t memorable, the lines are mostly forgettable and workmanlike, and the previous cinematic talents that told a lush story with beautiful compositions have been replaced by meaningless shots meant to simply progress a dull story. I do think the last shot is the perfect ending to “The Godfather” story, but the fact that it almost takes three hours to get there with nothing to show for it makes it simply not worth it.

Dishonorable Mentions: “Spider-Man 3,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Critters 3,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Meatballs III”