Desperate things sequels did to keep fans interested

Sequels tend to make money, for better or for worse. At any point in time, if you look at the list of the highest-grossing movies of all time, there's a good chance most of them are parts of larger franchises. We're not ones to knock sequels, mind you, there are plenty of great ones out there, and oftentimes a story will not only welcome but even necessitate continuation. However, there are plenty of movies that ended up with sequels which were significantly less necessary. Many of these films instituted some pretty desperate measures to keep fans invested in these franchises, but doing so rarely works — as evidenced by most of the films we compiled for this list.

Ernest Goes to Africa (1997) - African adventure

Few would argue that the Ernest movies were by any means some sort of bastion of comedic genius, but they were a pretty big deal for a while. Ernest Goes to Camp hit theaters in 1987, and for 11 years the series would continue, dropping a movie at least every two years. Most comedic franchises would be hard-pressed to keep up their creativity for that long, so maybe it's a victim of circumstance. Nevertheless, by the time Ernest Goes to Africa came out, the franchise was well past its expiration date.

Each film in the franchise stuck Ernest in a different zany situation, though most of them were pretty grounded. He went to camp, jail, or school. He saved Christmas and played basketball. Yeah, the gimmicks were goofy, but they weren't too far-fetched. Unfortunately, after Ernest Rides Again bombed at the box office in 1993 the series began going the direct-to-video route, which is never a good sign. After Slam Dunk Ernest, the filmmakers were clearly desperate for ideas, which resulted in the disaster that is Ernest Goes to Africa. The film features Ernest, well, going to Africa. It takes Ernest on an Indiana Jones-esque journey to Africa centering on stolen jewels and rescuing waitress Rene, with whom he's in love. It all proved a little too out there (and racist), even for an Ernest movie. After its follow-up, Ernest in the Army, the series was over for good.  

Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994) - The gang goes to Russia

The original 1984 Police Academy had so many sequels squeezed out of it you'd think it was a horror movie from the '80s. A critical flop but financial success, it spawned six sequels, each increasing in ridiculousness and decreasing in quality. Seven is a big number for any comedic franchise to take on, so it's no surprise that, by the time that seventh film rolled around, it ended up being so bad it permanently ended the franchise. That being said, if it'd been a little less ridiculous a premise than sending the cast to Moscow, maybe it could have gone over slightly better.

On the plus side, the film features both Ron Perlman and Christopher Lee, who are always a pleasure to see onscreen. On the downside, there's the entire rest of the movie. Police Academy movies were never exactly high art, but Mission to Moscow is a clear move of desperation to keep a once-dependable franchise in the spotlight. Released five years after the previous installment, and desperate to mix things up, it inexplicably sends the squad to Russia. It's boring, trying too hard, and most importantly not particularly funny. It tanked before it even hit theaters — Warner Bros. nixed a full theatrical release and gave it a small limited one before pulling it, making less than a million dollars on a movie that cost $10 million. It's also the last anyone has seen of the franchise since.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) - Superman fights nuclear proliferation

With decades upon decades of comics to draw inspiration from, you'd think a character like Superman would never end up in a movie rife with desperate studio measures. Unfortunately, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace exists regardless. One of the more reviled films of all time, superhero or not, it's a hallmark of poor decisions and studio interference.

When the third film in the series under-performed critically and financially, the Superman rights were sold to Cannon films, a company known for its low-budget action films. Thus, the fourth Superman film experienced significant budget cuts. It didn't help that, rather than looking to the comics for inspiration, the film is centered on an "original" concept in villainous Nuclear Man, a haphazard metaphor for nuclear war with all the nuance and tact of a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band. It's a blatant effort to make a culturally relevant film in the wake of the oddly comedic Superman III

Quest for Peace does not work on any level — the already-slashed budget ran dry before the shoot was finished, leading the studio to release the unfinished film. The result is a movie full of haphazard effect shots, poor editing, and no energy. Christopher Reeve's iconic portrayal of Superman deserved better than this stinker of an ending to its era.

Rocky IV (1985) - Rocky fights the Cold War

A desperation move on a franchise's part rarely pans out well. Ernest going to Africa and Superman fighting an embodiment of nuclear war are pretty off-the-rails story decisions that effectively tanked their respective franchises. Moves like these are often telltale signs that there's not much story left to tell through the franchise characters. However, ever so rarely, a completely ludicrous premise made out of desperation manages to come a little bit closer to sticking its landing. Look no further than the movie in which an underdog boxer from Philadelphia single-handedly fights — and wins — a metaphoric version of the Cold War as evidence.

Rocky IV makes the second and third films in the Rocky saga almost forgettable by comparison, solely on the merit of how bonkers it is. Gone is the grounded, human underdog story of the first film. In its place stands Rocky Balboa as a shining bastion of American values facing down the cold, unyielding Soviet monster known as Ivan Drago, who kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match. It's admittedly cartoonish and try-hard beyond belief. Against all odds, the film works, albeit in a different way than its predecessors. The original is a timeless piece of character-driven cinema. Rocky IV is a campy, if not effective, slice of '80s pop culture. Its genesis may have come from something of a Hail Mary, but there's no denying that it's a fun watch.

Weekend at Bernie's II (1993) - The voodoo queen

If you think about it, most great comedies work because they're based in simple premises. A bachelor party goes wrong. A man keeps reliving the same day over and over. A news station hires its first female anchor. Simplicity is key in comedy. As such, the first Weekend at Bernie's film worked beautifully. It's rooted in a hilarious but concise premise: Two guys discover their boss' dead body and have to convince everyone he's still alive. That simplicity was lost entirely in its ill-fated sequel.

Weekend at Bernie's II is bizarre. It elaborates on the events of the first film, which is to be expected, but some of the turns it takes are remarkably strange. The plot heavily incorporates a voodoo priestess hired to bring Bernie back from the dead. Her voodoo succeeds, and pretty soon the hilarious situational comedy of the first film is replaced with insanely weird shenanigans involving people being turned into goats and a reanimated corpse. So much for simplicity.

The film is now recognized as one of the most notorious sequels of all time. The lengths it goes through to get more out of its story are obscenely out there.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) - Bye bye, Freddy

It's a foregone conclusion these days that a horror film that makes decent money at the box office will be milked by a studio for all it's worth. This manifests itself in the form of sequel upon sequel, driving the film count in any given horror series far higher than it has any right or reason to be. This can kickstart fatigue in fans, who will only sit through lousy follow-ups for so long before they get bored. Long-running franchise A Nightmare on Elm Street ran into this problem toward the end of its initial run, resulting in the desperation move that is 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

You've got to be pretty bold to make the very title of your movie a spoiler, but bold moves were necessary after the series' fifth film, The Dream Child, which was critically lambasted by both fans and critics alike. The solution? Kill Freddy. In an effort to end the franchise on a big note, Freddy's Dead advertises its big move in its title. Unfortunately the journey toward that grand finale is lackluster. It's not a stretch to say that they could have found a way to continue the narrative after this one if there'd been any interest. There just wasn't. The next Elm Street film ended up being Wes Craven's New Nightmare, a metatextual tale taking place outside of the series' canon. Freddy's Dead didn't just kill its villain. It killed the first generation of an iconic franchise. 

Jaws 3-D (1983) - Terror in three dimensions

Jaws is lucky. It's legendary enough a movie to have mostly obscured the bizarre sequels from our collective memory. Spielberg's masterpiece of blockbuster cinema is so good that we seem to have collectively agreed to not bring up the ill-advised Jaws 2 or the outright-horrendous Jaws: The Revenge. Not that Spielberg had anything to do with these sequels, mind you. None are produced with his involvement behind the camera. It would seem that even a film as monumentally influential as Jaws wasn't immune to the perpetual studio habit of milking franchises out of scary movies. One of these even came with a gimmick to sell to audiences, and while it may have worked at the time, Jaws 3-D's legacy is hardly enviable these days.

When you're making sequels to a movie about a giant shark, the only real progression you can count on is that the subsequent sharks have to get bigger. When this didn't cut it in Jaws 2, a new selling point was necessary for the third film in the series. Filmmakers decided to resort to filming the movie in 3-D, forcing the audience to don polarized glasses in order to experience some cheap visual gags and scares. While the film was a financial success (albeit not nearly as much as its predecessors) its legacy is far worse off. It was nominated for several Razzie awards and is rarely spoken of in the same breath as the original today.

The Next Karate Kid (1994) - A new student

There's no real reason The Karate Kid needed any sequels to begin with. It's a great story that leaves no unresolved plot points at its close. Its finale is, in fact, famously satisfying. Despite being unnecessary, its first sequel expanded on the origins of Mister Miyagi in a way that was emotionally potent and compelling. It's pretty good as far as sequels go. By the third film, the filmmakers jumped the shark quite a bit. That probably should have been the moment they threw in the towel, but they gave it one more shot with The Next Karate Kid, a film that reads today as even less necessary than its predecessor.

The film features Miyagi traveling to Boston and taking on a new student named Julie (Hilary Swank in her first starring role). Through Miyagi's karate lessons and a hefty dose of Buddhism, she learns to manage her anger and stand up to some bad dudes. On paper, it's not the worst idea. The problem comes in the fact that what made the original films so great to begin with was the dynamic between Daniel and Miyagi. Miyagi would work great as a character who helps a new kid in every movie, but after spending three films with Daniel, switching the focus to a new kid comes off as alienating. Critics agreed, trashing the film as it bombed at the box office. We'll see if the series can regain its shine in the upcoming YouTube series Cobra Kai

Jason X (2001) - Jason goes to space

Horror franchises are full of ill-advised desperation plays late in their runs in order to keep viewers interested. Whether it be announcing the death of the series villain in the title or pushing the series into a weird new direction (Leprechaun in the Hood, anyone?), horror is the premiere genre for desperation moves. There is perhaps no movie more famous for this than the legendary Jason X.

By the time Jason X hit theaters, the titular Jason Vorhees had slashed his way through every scenario possible. He'd been to summer camp. He'd been to New York. He'd even been to Hell itself. What worlds were left for he of the hockey mask to conquer? Space. He could still go to space. 

Jason X isn't a good movie by conventional means, but it's the perfect example of a movie series going as outside of the box as possible to keep its pulse running and getting a weirdly wonderful result in the process. To that, Jason X succeeds. With the goal of the movie effectively being to tide viewers over until Freddy vs. Jason could get sorted out, it propels Jason into as bonkers an environment as possible, the future and outer space, and lets him wreak havoc on an ill-fortuned group of astronauts with the help of a cybernetic upgrade. It's the kind of insanity you have to see to believe, a movie that isn't good by any means, but one you won't regret watching.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) - Clone Ripley

Alien 3 is a grim installment to the Alien franchise and provides as definitive an end to the story of series protagonist Ellen Ripley as possible. She dies a hero, sacrificing herself to prevent the rise of the new Xenomorph queen. It's a hugely depressing note to end the franchise on, which might explain the polarizing reviews the film received and its lack of a strong performance at the box office. You'd think that'd be enough for the studio to take a hint and let sleeping dogs lie. Unfortunately, they tried to squeeze one more film out of the franchise's original run. That film, Alien: Resurrection, pulls perhaps the single most desperate move in the genre fiction handbook — clones.

There's something particularly frustrating about a good and finite ending to a story getting retconned by way of a trope that even superhero comics are pretty exhausted with at this point. That Ripley, one of the all-time great onscreen heroes, got dragged back into cinemas for a lousy movie that not even a Joss Whedon script could save is honestly criminal. It reeks of desperation and tarnishes the legacy of one of the great film franchises of all time.