When I first began thinking about the worst sequel ever made, my mind actually instantly jumped to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That movie was bad from head to toe for a litany of reasons that I was going to expand upon, but it’s not a bad sequel in the way Phantom Menace is a bad sequel. Origins might be a bad movie, but it takes something more to be a bad sequel. A bad sequel destroys and reframes the entire series, it isn’t just a bad movie, it makes the previous films less. No other film in history has done this as well as The Phantom Menace, and it’ll be hard for any movie in the future to pull off that much nostalgic destruction ever again.
What is a sequel, though? It’s not just a movie that comes chronologically after another film. A sequel is a movie that may have the same numbering, themes, and possibly cast from a preestablished movie, but doesn’t always include all of these things. It can’t be a reboot, but it could be a prequel. The key to a sequel being a sequel is that it is canonically or thematically connected without starting the storyline or cinematic universe over unless that reset is within the canon of the series (e.g. Star Trek‘s reboot could also be considered a sequel). Mad Max: Fury Road is a sequel, but Batman Begins is not.
That’s all to say that sequels always reflect on their predecessors, and no film reflects more poorly on its predecessors than The Phantom Menace. Is it the worst sequel from a quality standpoint ever released? No, but it is easily the worst sequel to land ever. After decades of demand for more Star Wars movies, Lucas finally relented, spending millions of dollars and hyping up the entire world for the prequel films only to release a giant turd. It is objectively a terrible movie on its own. The film is poorly structured, woodenly acted, edited with no eye for anything but special effects, racist, obsessed with minutia, and boring for almost every section that doesn’t involve Darth Maul or a pod race. When you add in the hype and the hope to this, The Phantom Menace becomes insulting to everyone.
As a Star Wars fan, I remember leaving the theater and trying to pretend I had fun at the movie. Pulling out the few enjoyable moments as the realist in me screamed from deep inside that the movie sucked. It wasn’t just the fact that it was a bad film, but the fact that it seemed to tarnish the original trilogy in a number of upsetting ways. Midichlorians almost entirely destroyed the mythic nature of the force while young Anakin’s bumbling antics turned Darth Vader into an idiot. The timelines seemed all out of sort, and CGI worlds felt a far cry from the rugged realism of the original trilogy. Even worse, the movie made me look back at the original films and see their faults all the more clearly. It took the idealized awesomeness of the first three films and exposed it to the cold hard light of reality. By stripping the excitement away Phantom Menace laid bare issues the series had always had, but we ignored because of how epic it was. It literally worsened the earlier films simply by existing.
For that, the film must not be forgiven. There’s a lot of rose-tinted glasses action going on for the prequels these days for some reason, and I can see that for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as there are aspects of those films that work, but not for The Phantom Menace. It redefined Star Wars in the worst way possible and did it with no style or reason. After decades of hope and loyalty, Lucas came in and delivered a turd of a film that to this day feels like a movie made by a man who had somehow lost all understanding of what made the original trilogy so good. There’s no other sequel out there that taints the films that came before it as much as Phantom Menace, and for that, it deserves to be known as the worst sequel of all time.
Highlander II: The Quickening – Jesse Lab
It’s not a secret that I love the original Highlander. It has a great premise of several immortals fighting to the death for some ubiquitous reason, there was a solid villain played perfectly by Clancey Brown, fantastic action scenes, and one of my all-time favorite movie soundtracks brought to us by Queen. When Highlander ended, it seemed like there was nowhere else for the franchise to go, and I was okay with that. But it was a hit, so a sequel had to be made, and what an abysmal sequel it was. Not only was it bad, but it invalidated the original movie and pissed on the original premise in spectacular ways.
So get this; all of the immortals that were fighting to the death for some unknown reason are all aliens. They come from the planet Zeist, and they’re immortals because they can’t die on Earth. The immortals were exiled to Earth as a punishment for their crimes, but why the hell would that be considered a punishment? Sean Connery’s Ramirez was resurrected, more immortals from Zeist came to Earth because we need some kind of a plot, and Highlander II decided to rip off Blade Runner and set it in a cyberpunk world that has nothing to do with the original setting. Highlander II was so bad that the alien crap was edited out of future cuts because it was that bad. Hell, Highlander II was one of the first movies I remember seeing a fan cut of that actively removed all of the Zeist nonsense, but the damage was done. Zeist still happened and everyone was an alien. The worst crime? No soundtrack by Queen. For shame.
Pitch Perfect 3 – Bradley Sexton
The original Pitch Perfect was a cultural phenomenon for my high school marching band. Every marginally funny line was repeated ad nauseam and Fat Amy (actually Patricia) served as our Queen. Band camp obsession aside, it’s a genuinely enjoyable film with unique wit, inventive songs and the Bellas, a great female-centered acapella group led by Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. The first sequel didn’t have the same charm as the original, but still hit the right balance (what, did you think I was gonna say notes?) between singing and comedy. The final film in the trilogy not only sucks but like all truly awful sequels, dumps on everything the original film established.
Pitch Perfect 3 opens with the Bellas out of college and miserable. After a depressing reunion party, they decide to go on a USO tour to try and recapture their former glory. The irony is giving me an ulcer. Many jokes aren’t even jokes. The story is an incoherent mess. Even the Acappella arrangements fall flat (there’s the pun!). But what really elevates the suckiness of Pitch Perfect 3 is the ending. Spoilers for anyone that cares about the plot of this trainwreck. After the climax of the film where I shit you not, Fat Amy becomes a secret agent and blows up her Mafia Boss Father’s yacht to save the Bellas, every single conflict in the film gets resolved in rapid succession. The Bellas literally sit in a room while they list off how all of their problems were magically solved offscreen. It’s efficient, but it certainly isn’t a good way to end a once exciting, creative franchise.
Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House – Sian Francis-Cox
Don’t get me wrong – I like Home Alone. The first two were brilliant, with fantastic slapstick gags, Oscar-worthy quotes from Angels with Dirty Faces and a saccharine Christmas message about family that just doesn’t get old (even though Macaulay Culkin now seems to be haunted forever by his meteoric rise to child stardom. Oh well. We enjoy holiday fun at his expense.) But things really went downhill after that. While we were unanimous in resenting Alex “I look nothing like the real Kevin” Pruitt of number three, I don’t even know why they bothered to make a fourth. They even had the shamelessness to make a fifth back in 2012, but we don’t talk about that.
I’ve tried to erase Taking Back The House from memory, but somehow it always resurfaces as just The Worst. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to the first two in that the actors are completely different: Marv, Harry and, well, the entire cast have been quite literally body-snatched and replaced with very, very mediocre counterparts. Nobody’s sure what happened to the rights, but somehow the filmmakers wanted to keep the IP of the original franchise without the faces we grew up with. It’s pretty much a rehash of the first, with lower production values, sloppier writing and an evil stepmother who replaces the Christmas tree with a professionally-decorated one (honestly, it looks better). Where once there were siblings, now there are…fewer? And why some unspecified royalty has to come to the (quite obviously not original) house, why Marv has to marry some gal named Vera and why the divorced parents must come together in an attempt to resolve the plot’s many flaws, is beyond me. It’s no wonder it was a straight-to-TV release, and frankly, I’m surprised it made it to DVD either. Childhood ruined, the McCallister name disgraced.
Spider-Man 3 – Chris Compendio
Man, fuck this goddamn movie. Maybe it holds up now when compared to the Marc Webb-Andrew Garfield travesties, and perhaps I view the first two films in the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy with rose-tinted lenses—but man, this movie gives me a fucking headache every time I attempt to watch it, no exaggeration. It’s difficult to follow up Spider-Man 2, which for all its cheese, heavy-handedness and characters overtly stating their feelings out loud, was an emotional tour de force, but man this movie sucks. It’s like trying to balance way too many spinning plates, and once your ambitious attempt to balance one on your nose fails, every single one of those plates falls and shatters, with this visual spectacle turning into a cacophonous, obnoxious farce. Worst of all, you’re all barefoot, so trying to get out of this is physically painful.
It’s a shame because the poster for that plate spinning stunt was so visually appealing—and I’m of course talking about those excellent trailers for Spider-Man 3. There were a lot of story elements with potential, some powerful tools provided by its superior predecessor: the potential marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn’s revenge, etc. The trailers had some intriguing imagery, like Peter reaching for his engagement ring, punching through the Sandman, or in one instance physically struggling to remove his symbiote suit. Instead, what we got was a slackstick-ridden, buffoonish, middling and overstuffed pile of feces. How many musical numbers and sequences of characters dancing do we need? Why retcon the circumstances of Uncle Ben’s death in an incomprehensible fashion? Why have three incompatible villains? Why is Topher Grace playing Venom? And holy hell, what was Sam Raimi trying to do with Emo Peter Parker? Are we, the audience, supposed to find him funny and pathetic when he’s meant to be menacing, powerful and dangerous? Yeah, maybe Spider-Man 3 isn’t the worst movie anywhere, but boy is it a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad sequel.
The Dark Knight Rises – Anthony Marzano
What makes a bad sequel? What makes a good sequel? This is actually something I’ve been wanting to explore a bit with a friend of mine who had wildly different opinions about Blade Runner 2049 than I did, but to me the merit of a sequel should be based on how well it relates to the previous movie while also exploring new avenues for storytelling that don’t feel too jarring from the original. The Dark Knight Rises failed to rise to these expectations and ended what could have been the best achievement in comic book film history with an unsatisfying splat on the ground.
It’s not that Rises is a bad movie on its own, it’s the fact that it has to stand in the shadow of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight which in my mind are two of the best comic book movies ever made because they told a compelling crime drama first then glossed over that drama with characters that just happened to be based in comics. Wherein the drama and action of Nolan’s first two Dark Knight movies would have felt appropriate in our world, the world of Rises felt like a seismic shift to being more comic and less real. Which again, taken on its own is fine but when you take into account the shift from the previous movies hurts Rises in an acute way. Then when you throw in some badly directed action sequences, an all too obvious secondary villain, and Nolan’s patented aspect ratio shifting between scenes it just created a wildly disappointing ending to the trilogy. It didn’t undo the greatness that was the first two movies but it definitely made me think long and hard about how good of a filmmaker Nolan really was.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Hubert Vigilla
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is such an earnest train wreck, and yet I have a bizarre fondness for this crummy little misfire. I watched it way too much as a young lad without taste or judgement. Sure, Superman taking on the threat of nuclear war is a great idea in theory, but the execution is so lacking. You can blame Cannon Films—purveyors of cheap and enjoyable trash—for slashing the budget mid-production, resulting in a cobbled-together movie with slapdash special effects, multiple re-used shots, and a nonsensical understanding of how the vacuum of space works. At least we get to see the Man of Steel hammer-toss a giant ball of nukes into the sun. Hey, I’m just trying to accentuate the positive, gang.
“But what about Superman III?” you may be asking. (This may be the only time you will ask that question in your life.) While Superman III is an oddball mash-up of a mediocre Richard Pryor film and a slapstick Superman movie, it has four thrilling action sequences, with the chemical plant and junkyard fight as standouts. It also has three great comedy scenes, including a budget-model Jacques-Tati-esque opening credits sequence. Superman III is the Silver Age Superman movie you didn’t know you wanted; a goofy, unintentional pastiche of the Mort Weisinger aesthetic. What does Superman IV have besides the multiple megaton hammer toss? Just some toothsome guy with magical nails, Gene Hackman phoning it in, and Superman fixing the Great Wall of China with his eyes. Advantage Superman III.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel – Drew Stuart
Lookie here, we’ve seen a lot of crappy movies here at Flixist. Most films flounder in the spotlight and fade from our memories. These films are mediocre; they’re lame, forgettable, downright samey, but never become offensive. They just exist. But, while most movies are unremarkable and dull, a small percentage stand out. Within the fragile matrix of our existence, there are only a handful of movies that reach the acclaimed highs and deprecating lows that we critics love so thoroughly. Schindler’s List, The Room, Heat and Sharknado all have that eternal quality.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has this quality as well.
I honestly don’t even know where to start with this movie. The animation, for a movie that heavily incorporates it, is grotesque and decidedly clay-like. These chipmunks we’re supposed to adore are just plain ugly and no minimum-effort jokes from them are going to change that. Oh yeah, the humor? Whack. The cinematography? Whack. The ear bleeding chipmunk voices? Whack. The introduction of a competing group of female chipmunks that effectively doubles the amount of ear bleeding chipmunk voices? Whack.
But the reason this is the worst sequel of-all-time-forever-infinity-plus-one is the fucking title. Why on gods green earth did they have to call it the Squeakquel? The title evokes feelings of disgust immediately upon hearing it. It says everything that needs to be said, with a wink and a nod. It tells the viewer that these stupid movies are here to stay because they’re usually produced for well under $100 million and can usually gross at least four times that figure. It’s a glance into the future that illuminates the iterative, revolting underbelly of Hollywood that tells us “Yes, we will keep making sequels to something until it collapses under the weight of its own budget.”