Movie series you didn't know kept releasing low-budget sequels

In today's franchise-hungry Hollywood, every successful movie has a sequel waiting to happen. But not all franchises are created equal: sometimes, studios just can't leave well enough alone, and they'll flog a film series for every last dollar it can produce in the lower-budget direct-to-video (or DTV) market. Sometimes actors from the first films stick around for the entire ride, though they're rarely the original leads—you're not seeing, say, Kevin Bacon popping up in Tremors 4. What you might see, on the other hand, are some surprising gems—among many, many more unbearable cash grabs. Let's run down some of the stranger series that have been out there under your nose, churning out sequels that you've never seen.

Tremors

Released in 1990, Tremors is a classic creature feature of the sort you tend to find flipping channels across basic cable. Starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as a couple of handymen in the down-and-out town of Perfection, Nevada, it's an engaging and charming us vs. them buddy comedy, where the "them" is a race of subterranean worm monsters that respond to vibrations in the ground and swallow people whole. With such a fun premise—it's basically "The Floor is Lava: the Movie"—it's no wonder it spawned a whole direct-to-video series, and even a short-lived television show.

Though actor Ward returned 1996's not-bad Tremors 2: Aftershocks, succeeding entries saw diminishing returns, from the introduction of flying raptor variations on the series' "Ass Blasters" monsters in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, to a forgettable western prequel set in 1889. In 2015, a fifth sequel was released co-starring Jamie Kennedy, which isn't all that terrible. And though the quality of the films may be uneven, you have to admire that through all these installments, including the TV show, actor Michael Gross has shown up to clock in as absurdly well-prepared survivalist Burt Gummer. He's so clearly having fun with it that it's infectious. In short, producers, please do not remake these movies! If Michael Gross is still on board, just bring on Tremors 6.

Hellraiser

A divisive crucible of horror, Clive Barker's directorial debut Hellraiser has been called both "incredible, and incredibly disturbing" and a half-star earning "bankruptcy of imagination." Is it possible for both to be true? Regardless of the movie's quality (it's mostly fine), it's undeniably visually striking, debuting Pinhead and the Cenobites against a gnarly tableau of industrial hell. But if there's any debate about the quality of the original, there's little-to-none about the following eight (soon to be nine) sequels. They're awful in many ways. Want an anthology film that was edited into an incoherent mess? Try the fourth one, Hellraiser: Bloodline. An unrelated script that was grafted onto the series with little relation to what came before? Try Hellraiser: Deader. (Yes, "Deader.") The series didn't go direct-to-DVD and truly off the rails until the fifth installment, 2002's Hellraiser: Hellseeker, yet the sequels continue, with Hellraiser: Judgment set for release this year.

American Pie

For one reason or another, the American Pie franchise has taken a Marvel Studios sort of approach to their sprawling media machine, with a cinematic universe comprised of American Pie 1 & 2, American Wedding, and American Reunion, all of which you might have seen or heard of. But they've also got a television universe with lower budgets and lower star wattage that gets a lot less love. The DTV entries—Band Camp, The Naked Mile, Beta House, and The Book of Loveare side stories loosely tied to the mothership by having the main characters be brothers or cousins of Stifler. The Nick Fury figure tying the whole universe together? That would be Eugene Levy, who has appeared in every installment, as can be confirmed by a look at one of our all-time favorite Wikipedia charts.

Leprechaun

All you really need to know about the original Leprechaun, released in 1993, is that a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston is in it (a fact the marketing people got a lot of mileage out of on the film's eventual DVD release.) These movies have always been schlock amongst schlock, puzzling at best—have we ever found leprechauns to be scary?—but they at least deserve credit for hitting every single horror movie trope setting along the way. The Leprechaun goes to Vegas. The Leprechaun goes to space. The Leprechaun went to "the hood," and actually, it was pretty good. (The Leprechaun then went "back 2 tha hood," and it was not.) A seventh installment, the only one yet to arrive without original star Warwick Davis, crawled out of the DTV gutter for a brief theatrical release and universal critical rejection in 2014. But bad reviews have never stopped this inexplicable series before; with a track record of such bad reviews, it's basically right on track.

Air Bud

Oh boy. Air Bud, Air Bud, what did you do? From an inauspicious start in 1997 as a feel-good family movie about a dog that plays basketball and the boy who befriends him (versus a truly discomfiting, uh, alcoholic clown), Air Bud's journey into money-printing franchise history proceeded slowly at first. First there was the traditional sequel, released in theaters, in which the dog plays football. In the new millennium, he learned how to play soccer, baseball, and finally volleyball, which, okay. This could have easily gone on forever, until someone had the brilliant idea to leave the sports behind, as well as anything resembling reality, with the release in 2006 of Air Buddies, where there were lots of dogs. Talking dogs.

At this point, all bets were off, and over the next seven years, the buddies faced snow, space, did Halloween, made a lateral career move into archaeology, gained superpowers, and met Santa. Santa Buddies then split into its own universe, with a prequel called The Search for Santa Paws, and a sequel which features "a sad subplot about a widower and his two motherless kids who are having a hard time dealing with Christmas." Look, we saw Air Bud—we didn't watch any of these. We present them without comment; the Air Bud universe, more convoluted in its continuity than 83 years' worth of DC Comics, just makes us feel numb.

Universe of the Living Dead

The influence of George Romero's black-and-white 1968 Night of the Living Dead simply cannot be overstated. It spawned direct sequels and imitators, spinoff series and foreign adaptations, and that's just in its own franchise. As a larger piece of cultural art, it's gargantuan, informing almost every trope we still adhere to in the ever-vibrant zombie genre that continues with shows like The Walking Dead (and its own spinoff) up to this day.

As to the shape of the series? It's a mess, but this being the internet, it's a mess that people picked through until it made sense. John D'Amico with Smugfilm and Alex Carter with Den of Geek have both produced slightly-different, equally exhaustive flowcharts of the sequels, remakes, and re-edits that make up the Living Dead series all around the world. That's right, flowcharts: not lists. These are wheels within wheels we speak of now, ladies and gentlemen. Not these straight lines and trilogies you've grown accustomed to. Because this is zombies. baby! This is chaos. We don't need a logical throughline. We don't need a budget. And the best part is? Lots of these movies are actually pretty damn good.

Bring It On

Ask a friend, if they can remember it, how many sequels they think 2000's delightfully bitchy cheerleader showdown Bring it On produced, if they can remember the movie at all. One? We remembered one. Oh, how blind we were. First to video release was 2004's Bring it On Again, a copycat non-sequel that carried over none of the cast or crew from the original. After that, it starts to get really fun, with each succeeding entry featuring a new starlet on the rise in an unprestigious role. For Bring it On: All or Nothing there's Hayden Panettiere, for In It to Win It there's Ashley Benson, and for the most recent entry, Fight to the Finish, there's Christina Milian. And while there's no new installment on the horizon, this roughly 20-year-old picture seems ripe for some kind of a reboot… perhaps as a musical, with music and lyrics co-written by the more-popular-than-ever Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes… perhaps indeed. (No joke, we would totally watch this.)

Dr. Dolittle

So, talking about this franchise thing. It's all marketing, right? It's all about name recognition, branding, business school 101. And Dr. Dolittle as a property is a pretty good example. It sprung from a series of children's books written beginning in the 1920s, all the way up to 1952. While many TV shows and radio plays were produced about the story, a simple thing about a human doctor who prefers to speak to animals, the franchise went modern when was adapted for a 1967 musical film, which was later remade in its most currently well-known iteration, Eddie Murphy's 1998 version. That one did well enough to produce a theatrical sequel, still with Eddie Murphy, in 2001. But after that, the wheels came off and the cart kept rolling, with original cast member Kyla Pratt continuing on as the titular Doctor in a third and fourth and… fifth DTV sequel in 2009. After eight years on the shelf, this franchise seems ready for an Ace Ventura, Jr. reimagining. Do it, you guys. Do it.

Jarhead

This one feels dirty. The original Jarhead, released during the interminable height of the Iraq War, was a gritty, realistic, personal movie about the private hells of armed conflict—not marked by big explosions and combat, but more about the existential angst and terror that comes during the moments in between, and all set in a surreal sandy landscape that would be beautiful if it didn't invite so much dread. Directed by Sam Mendes with legendarily talented cinematographer Roger Deakins, the movie is gorgeous, stark, and unlike any war film you've seen this side of Apocalypse Now. It's great.

So, the sequels, nine years later. From the director of Lake Placid: The Final Chapter and Taken: The Search for Sophie Parker (no relation to Liam Neeson's saga of Takens) comes Jarhead 2: Field of Fire, which goes balls to the wall in all the ways its candy-ass sequel couldn't even dream of. Check out this trailer, and join us in a hearty direct-to-video Semper Fi. HOO RAH. And then there's Jarhead 3: The Siege, which… okay, that one just sucked.

The Scorpion King

If the Brendan Fraser Mummy trilogy was like the hit TV comedy ensemble Friends, then the spinoff mythology series it gave birth to, The Scorpion King, is like the Joey of Egyptian-flavored early-2000s action-horror. Introduced in 2001's The Mummy Returns, the Scorpion King was a hulking silent heel played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the early stages of his acting career, back when people still weren't sure what he was capable of. Though the movie wasn't reviewed well, the Rock earned positive notices as a "Conan with charisma" figure, and has built a career in Hollywood off that underestimated reputation ever since. Surprisingly, the franchise he kicked off is still chugging along as well, with artwork that seems to get more busy, more golden, and more like a Mortal Kombat knockoff with every successive go.

What with franchise flagship The Mummy coming back in remake form this year, could we also see a reinvigoration of the Scorpion King franchise? And wouldn't it be just a little bit better for the world… if we didn't?