We’re long past the days of the lone sequel, when some movie studio suit would trudge out our beloved characters to see if they could stick for one more hit. Nowadays, with reboots, reimaginings, and endless franchises, movies can go four, five, six movies deep without blinking an eye. With Terminator Genisys, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Vacation, all fifth entries in their series (we don’t count National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure) in theaters, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best — and worst — number fives to ever limp across the finish line. How did they approach the challenge of keeping the franchise afloat, and reboot it for a new generation? Who looked more tired, the franchise or its star? Which were lucky number fives, and which should have quit while they were ahead? (Note: This list contains possible SPOILERS for Vacation, Terminator Genisys and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.)
1. Worst: Vacation
What Was It: Sequel/Reboot/Re-quel
The Good: The idea of putting beleaguered son Rusty center stage, allowing for cameos from some of our favorite Griswolds, was a solid place to start. Having recast the part for every iteration of the Vacation series, Ed Helms seems like a perfect fit to shoulder the suburban ennui that powered the earlier installments.
The Bad: Taking notes from the crass comedies of today left this film with little heart, and too much gross-out humor. With familiar tropes, like Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” and the hot girl in the sports car, this movie makes the same mistakes that a lot of reboot/sequels do in aping the original, instead of creating something new. Unless glory hole and poop jokes are considered something new.
2. Best: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
What Was It: Straight Up Sequel
The Good: The same thing that’s good about every Mission: Impossible movie, which is that Tom Cruise brings it. While his public perception has been on a rollercoaster ride for the last decade, no one can question that this guy gives it his all. The stunts in this film are as good, if not better than ever, and the world’s most famous Scientologist is right at the center of them. While the story here is forgettable, that’s beside the point when you have the world’s biggest movie star actually hanging onto the side of a Airbus A400 as it takes off. This film also continues a trend in the franchise to further flesh out its comedy and heart, so it’s not just a series of mind-blowing stunts.
The Bad: Not much. The plot doesn’t always hold together, and Cruise occasionally struggles to act like a human, but this movie knows what it is — a nonstop thrill ride of practical stunts, with some beautiful people thrown in to look good with their shirts off.
Verdict: These movies keep getting better and better, and this one just might be the best yet.
3. Worst: Terminator Genisys
What Was It: Um…Reboot/Reimaging/Sequel/Clusterf*ck?
The Good: The first five minutes, which nearly recreate the original Terminator shot for shot, before dropping a twist we’d never see coming (unless we watch any of the trailers).
The Bad: For a movie that makes no sense, it seems odd how much energy the filmmakers expend trying to make EVERYTHING make sense. The more they try, the more it slips away. There are too many ideas here, all meant to service and then reboot the original two films. Much like the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, time travel is used as a way to both honor the original films, and establish a new continuity. Unlike that film, Terminator Genisys takes the entire movie to do it, and then fails. Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke is also exposed as a somewhat flat actress, who doesn’t hold a candle to Linda Hamilton. Same goes for the thinking man’s Sam Worthington, Jai Courtney, who turns Kyle Reese into a bland meathead.
Verdict: Good for a hate watch, and not much else.
4. Worst: Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
What Was It: Prequel
The Good: Here’s a movie whose reputation was built on the fact that it wasn’t as bad as its soul crushingly awful predecessor, The Phantom Menace. Sure, we get rid of a wooden child actor and a racist CGI monstrosity, but the film’s still cluttered with green screen effects and dull, political machinations. Oh wait, this is supposed to be what’s good. Hmmmm…the music is top notch. Hey, is that Jimmy Smits?
The Bad: This movie is what happens when the original creator doesn’t understand what people loved about his movies in the first place, and is too rich and powerful for anyone to say no to him. All three of the prequels feel like first drafts of scripts, shot with hundred million dollar budgets. They’re stilted, full of digital effects that have aged poorly, with nary a human emotion to be found.
Verdict: Rumor has it a new sequel is coming out this Christmas, made by a filmmaker who loved the original films, instead of resented them.
5. Worst: Bring It On: Fight To The Finish
What Was It: Straight to Video Sequel
The Good: Christina Milian was sort of famous when she shot this movie, so that’s something for all you Christina Milian fans out there. And the dance routines are coherently shot, if a bit rote at this point.
The Bad: Not wanting to rock the boat, the filmmakers just remake the original for the fifth time, with diminishing returns. When “Lifestyles of the Rich and Annoying” meets East LA, you know playful racism disguised as comedy is going to be a major part of the movie. But when you make a cameo from E!‘s Giuliana Rancic a selling point for your movie, you’re probably in trouble.
Verdict: Good for watching during hour ten of a shame spiral. Otherwise, watch the original.
6. Best: Death Wish V: The Face of Death
What Was It: Sequel
The Good AND the Bad: Good and bad are difficult notions here, because what’s good is bad, and what’s bad is good. This movie, made on a shoestring budget with a decrepit star, is laughably bad, and that’s what makes it great. It takes place in the world of high fashion, if high fashion was whatever the costume department could afford during a quick trip to the local JC Penny. The idea of a brutal mob moving in on the local high fashion world is suitably ridiculous. And the violence is both poorly executed and outrageously over the top. This is not a good movie, and that’s what makes it a great movie.
Verdict: The perfect movie to share with that drug dealer who thinks you’re friends.
7. Worst: Battle for the Planet of the Apes
What Was It: “The Final Chapter” of the original series
The Good: Roping legendary director John Huston into a rubber mask to narrate the film’s mythology was a masterstroke. It gave gravitas to a film that looks like it had trouble affording craft services. For sheer camp, this movie can be a bit of fun.
The Bad: What this movie really is is the death pangs of a once great series. Here are a group of producers that still own a warehouse full of rubber monkey masks, and found a way to make a few more bucks off of them. The story is unnecessary, the execution downright shoddy. This film is about as close to a home movie as you can get, while still having a war between apes and man.
Verdict: For completists only.
8. Worst: A Good Day to Die Hard
What Was It: Sequel to the long delayed fourth film
The Good: If you’re looking for a competent movie, with some over-the-top action scenes, and just enough quips to get you through the running time, this one might be for you. While no one seems to be on their A game here, this movie isn’t a disaster.
The Bad: The worst part is that it’s just not a Die Hard movie. The original film, and to a lesser extent the sequels, were about an everyman, forced to rise to the occasion when he finds himself in the middle of all hell breaking loose. Here, the movie’s pristine look and over the top action create a bland blockbuster. Still, the real problem is John McClane himself, who’s aged into the type of action movie superhuman who can leap out of flying cars and still make the kill shot. That’s not our John. And Bruce Willis seems to know it, virtually sleepwalking through the movie. Oh, and Jai Courtney pops up again, determined to ruin every beloved ’80s franchise through sheer force of his blandness.
Verdict: For action movie fans, but not Die Hard diehards.
9. Best: Fast Five
What Was It: Sequel
The Good: While the return of the original cast for the series’ previous entry, Fast and Furious, proved to be an unexpected hit, this film turned the franchise into juggernaut status. That may be because the film reinvented its formula, embracing heist elements over drag racing. It may be because the stunts got bigger, and more over-the-top. Or it might be due to the addition of The Rock, who earned his nickname as “Franchise Viagra” for turning this aging series into something new and exciting.
The Bad: There isn’t much here that doesn’t work, as long as you’re looking for some well executed fluff, full of fast cars and hot bodies. Here’s another franchise that makes its bones on practical effects over CGI spectacle, the most astounding being The Rock’s neck muscles. If you like edge-of-your-seat car chases and leading men who have trouble enunciating, you will like this movie.
Verdict: Watch it. Watch five minutes of it while getting ready for the night. Watch the entire franchise in one sitting. Good, dumb fun.
10. Worst: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
What Was It: Sequel that followed the one with the whales
The Good: Considering the film was both conceived of and directed by William Shatner, the franchise’s aging, famously egotistical star, it could have been a lot worse. There are some fun moments, in particular the opening scene, where the cornerstones of the franchise — Kirk, Spock and McCoy — harness the silliness and heart we loved in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The Bad: With that said, the film’s reception was so disappointing, it nearly killed the then two-decade-old franchise. While letting cast member Leonard Nimoy direct the previous two films seemed to have worked, handing the keys over to beloved ham Shatner led to a boatload of problems. Ignoring the fact that half the cast hated their novice director, the concept, thought up by Shatner himself, was intriguing but ultimately made little sense. A search for God seems like a good idea, until you’re actually doing it. The characters often didn’t act like themselves; the climax came across as cheap and forced. This film did little to discredit the idea that odd numbered Star Trek films are just plain lousy.
Verdict: Just skip ahead to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. We won’t tell.
11. Worst: Superman Returns
What Was It: Sequel/Reboot
The Good: After two decades in the movie wilderness, our greatest comic book hero is finally back! The iconic score! That red cape! This is the Superman we grew up on…which was also the problem.
The Bad: The issues here are twofold. One, director Bryan Singer seems determined to honor the original Richard Donner/Richard Lester Superman films. The score, style, even recorded dialogue from Marlon Brando, are meant to tie this into the Christopher Reeves films of yore. The problem is that Singer never gets to find his own voice, instead aping a film series that was famous for its diminishing returns. But even that could have worked, if the movie had a better story and made better use of its iconic lead character. Here, Superman spends most of the film killing time and creepily spying on Lois who has remarried and had a kid since Supes took off. There is really only one memorable action sequence, and that involves Superman rescuing a plane, not fighting a supervillain. He also spends parts of the movie in a coma, which doesn’t exactly scream excitement. (“You will believe a man can sleep!”) All in all, there are nice moments, and Brandon Routh equips himself well as the Man of Steel (he’s certainly more fun in the role than Henry Cavill), but the movie is too drab and boring.
Verdict: We can watch Superman II anytime. This one is a cover band remake of the original.
12. Best: Batman Begins
What Was It: Reboot
The Good: There’s a lot of good here to dig through. For one, it saved us another entry from Joel Schumacher, who was moving full speed ahead on Batman Triumphant, until people actually saw Batman and Robin. Indie filmmaker Christopher Nolan was then hired to reimagine the franchise, and bring it down to earth. While Tim Burton played around with the darkness of the character, Nolan fully realized it, showing us a Batman who made sense in the real world. Combine that with vivid set pieces and a foundational mythology that could be built on for years to come, and this movie was an out-and-out success at reintroducing us to a character we all thought we knew.
The Bad: Katie Holmes’ one note performance as Rachel Dawes never really jelled with her iconic costars, and she would be replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal by the time the sequel rolled around. Outside of that, this is one of the most successful superhero movies ever, building a brand that DC and filmmaker Zack Snyder seem determined to ape for the foreseeable future.
Verdict: A must watch, despite the presence of the former Mrs. Cruise.
13. Worst: Highlander: The Source
What Was It: Sequel (to the movies and TV show)
The Good: The first of the film series not to be released in American theaters, it was instead shown on the Sci-Fi Channel. After a mythology merging fourth film brought the movie and TV MacLeods together, this entry left original star Christopher Lambert behind, focusing instead on Adrian Paul’s character from the Highlander TV series. For fans of the show, this was their chance to take over the franchise for good. But, while the film series was all over the place in terms of quality and coherency, this film failed to live up to any of the previous entries.
The Bad: Cheap effects, wooden acting, and an incoherent plot hamper this C-rate effort that fails to mirror the excitement of the first film, or the low-rent charm of the TV series it was based on. While this movie was meant as the first part of a new trilogy, critics and audiences hated it. In fact, it was so despised, the rights to the Highlander franchise were quickly sold off, and a reboot is in the development stages.
Verdict: If you’ve watched the hundreds of hours of previous films and TV episodes, and still hunger for more, this is the movie for you. If not, acknowledge there can be only one, and watch the original.
14. Pretty Good: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
What Was It: Reboot of a Reboot
The Good: If you like competent action, and handsome leading men phoning it in, this is the movie for you. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series has always been a bit of a head scratcher. It was never the biggest, or the best, but it got the job done. And this movie is no different, although it lacks the gravitas and detail (and Harrison Ford) that some of the earlier entries excelled at.
The Bad: Frankly, in the era of the franchise, famous characters sometimes get rebooted time and time again, hoping that a familiar name will be enough to draw in nostalgic moviegoers, and be the ship that launched a thousand sequels. Poor Jack Ryan is the perfect example of this. When Ben Affleck’s similar effort to rebrand the character as a young action hero failed, the studio just sat on the property for a few years, and tried again. And again, they missed the mark. Making a bland, forgettable movie is almost worse than making a bad one. Movies like this are the stuff of late August releases and airplane-viewings. There’s nothing wrong with that, but nothing right either.
Verdict: It’s not terrible, but best to just pretend this one never happened. We’ll probably just see a new entry staring Jai Courtney in three years anyway.
15. Worst: Rocky V
What Was It: Sequel
The Good: The first in a long line of movies meant to say goodbye to our favorite galoot from Philly, this movie tries to bring the franchise back to its roots. This is a smaller movie than the previous entries, with no talking robots or Mr. Ts. For fans of the original, that may have been enticing enough to get them into theaters.
The Bad: The problem is, the movie just isn’t very good. Unlike the similar, more nuanced Rocky Balboa that would come out sixteen years later, this movie still has the slick sheen of Rocky 4, but without the thrills. The villain, played by bland, real life boxer Tommy Morrison, doesn’t provide much to root against. The whole movie just feels like a way to tack on another sequel.
Verdict: Watch Rocky 4 for camp, Rocky Balboa for a return to the franchise’s roots, and skip this muddled entry.
16. Worst: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Good: The more serious tone was a nice change of pace from the previous Spider-Man franchise and it didn’t lead to any scenes of emo Peter Parker awkwardly swing dancing. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone did the best with what they were given, and Paul Giamatti’s brief turn as Rhino was pretty fun.
The Bad: Everything else. Jamie Foxx’s Electro was a forgettable villain, and his CGI-tastic battles with Spidey looked like a bad video game. Add the convoluted story of Peter’s parents, yet another Green Goblin, and (spoiler alert!) Gwen Stacy’s death, and you have the definition of an overstuffed turkey.
Verdict: A movie so mediocre it killed the restarted franchise and led to yet another restart. At least this time Spidey will finally be in the Marvel movie universe.
17. Worst: Kickboxer V
What Was It: Straight to Video Reboot
The Good: People get kicked in the face. A lot. Mid ’90s, low-rent tough guy actors with ponytails get some speaking parts for once.
The Bad: When a movie starts making you long for Sasha Mitchell, the Step By Step star who churned out a series of forgettable sequels to the original Jean-Claude Van Damme hit, you know you’re in trouble. How this fifth entry got made is a mystery, but we imagine it involved losing a bet or trying to launder mob money. Cheap doesn’t begin to describe whatever is happening here, but at least it presumably put some people to work for a month or two. That’s something.
Verdict: If you can travel back in time to the dollar movie bin at your local Blockbuster, feel free to watch it.
18. Worst: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
What Was It: Sequel/Reboot
The Good: It took five films to leave Camp Crystal Lake behind, which at the very least, provided a different feel to this tired sequel. And the murders and nudity were ramped up, from previous editions. So that’s something.
The Bad: The plan here was to kill off Jason for good, and start producing films under the Friday The 13th banner with a different villain each movie. Late in the film, it’s revealed that it isn’t even Jason under the mask, which is a bit of a copout, considering it makes almost no difference to the film. But when the movie bombed, the producers went right back to their hockey mask wearing star, who has fronted every entry since.
Verdict: Not the best. Not the worst. This was never a series with great artistry, so give it a watch for some boobs and gore, and call it a day.
19. Best: Resident Evil: Retribution
What Was It: Sequel
The Good: This movie is fun. It’s dumb fun to be sure, but no dumber than any of the series’ previous entries have been.
The Bad: As with all the Resident Evil movies, the issues here are one of originality and execution. The Milla Jovovich franchise has always felt like B movies, aping what works in other films, adding some cheap CGI, and hoping no one notices. This entry is no different, with a central concept plundered from the likes of Total Recall and The Matrix. With its arcane mythology growing more and more bloated, this is a movie for Resident Evil fans, by Resident Evil fans.
Verdict: If you enjoy this series, there’s no reason you’ll be let down by this entry.
20. Worst: The Gods Must Be Funny In China
What Was It: Unofficial Sequel
The Good: The Gods Must Be Crazy seems an unlikely movie to get one sequel, much less five. The story of an African tribesman who strikes out into the larger world to help explain where a mysterious bottle of Coca-Cola came from, it was a fairly straightforward, self-contained story. Still, money does funny things, and a sequel was made to the surprising hit. And when the original producers were done with the title, that didn’t mean the fun had to stop. A Hong Kong filmmaker hired the original star, Nǃxau ǂToma, to take part in a series of unofficial sequels, including one with a vampire, because why not? The fifth entry, sadly, lacked monsters, but did see our hero help fight off panda poachers. The good here seems to be that it gave work to N!xau, a former Namibian bush farmer who struggled for acting parts outside the series.
The Bad: The movie, which is hard to find, is nearly indecipherable to an American audience. Little setup is given to why our lead, Xi, is in China. He simply walks into frame carrying a Coke bottle, and we’re off. People seem to wander in and out of the movie. At one point characters sing “Jingle Bells” with different lyrics, for no reason. Xi is called “Mr. Black” at one point, which hints at the unfortunate level of racism this movie mistakes for comedy. This is an incomprehensible film, but fascinating if you’re a fan of the first. It would be like a Ghostbusters knockoff made in Russia, with no plot, and no connection to the original, expect it stars Dan Aykroyd. Which, come to think of it, could actually happen.
Verdict: If you can find it, good luck getting through it.