As the saying in Hollywood goes, three films doth a trilogy make…but it takes four to make a franchise. Before you catch Alien Resurrection this month on IFC, check out some of the best “four-quels” that proved some of your favorite big screen blockbusters still had gas in the tank.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
For a while, we feared poor Max had gotten buried under Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism and Tina Turner’s hair. Then along comes George Miller’s audaciously reimagined hotrod Hell that managed to take home six Oscars and make us all want to forego makeup and smear oil on our foreheads like Charlize Theron’s badass character Furiosa.
2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Say what you will about Tom Cruise — he knows how to keep a franchise going. Part of what has kept the M:I engine running is Cruise’s knack for working with interesting filmmakers. After handpicking auteurs for the initial three M:I movies (De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams), he pairs up with animation director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and ends up with a fourth installment that for once wasn’t on cruise control.
3. Fast & Furious
Leaving the skid marks of Tokyo Drift behind, Fast & Furious is at once a return to form and a reunion. Fan favorites Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster are all back for more heists, car chases and drag races. The film was a hit, though we’re kind of surprised this one wasn’t titled 4 Fast 4 Furious.
4. Live Free or Die Hard
Action pics can benefit from an older leading man who hasn’t lost his rugged charm. Consider Sean Connery, Harrison Ford and, of course, Bruce Willis. As his on-screen alter ego John McClane so aptly puts it here, “Chicks dig scars.” True to that statement, this formulaic fourquel shows its age without shame. None needed — John McClane is ageless. (Catch Die Hard and Die Hard 2 this month on during IFC.)
5. Saw IV
No horror franchise delivers on its promise as consistently as Saw. That explains why it has out-grossed the Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare movies despite fewer entries. This installment is the origin story of Hollywood’s most sadistic moralizer, and it proved to be a huge box office hit.
6. Bride of Chucky
Past a certain age, we’re all creeped out by dolls. But after three fright flicks focused on our fears, the fourth installment in the Child’s Play series injected welcome humor, courtesy of a baby-voiced Jennifer Tilly in the title role. Did Tilly (Bound, Bullets over Broadway) give the performance of her lifetime here? Weirder things have happened. Like killer dolls.
7. Alien: Resurrection
How do you bring Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) back from the dead? Clone her, of course. How do you justify Winona Ryder’s wooden acting? Make her a “synthetic.” Herein lies the genius of Joss Whedon, who wrote the screenplay. After this came the Alien Vs. Predator movies and the less said about those the better.
8. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Not all Star Trek movies are strictly for Trekkies. This fun, ’80s-tastic outing also works for the Green Party with its Save the Whales subplot. Ironically, while the ecological message argues on behalf of animals facing extinction, most of the whales on-screen are played by life-sized robots and motorized mini-mammals. But the punk with the jukebox who annoys Kirk and Spock? He’s totally real.
9. Rocky IV
Arguably as iconic as the original Rocky, this Cold War classic pits American guts against Russian genetics in the boxing ring. 40-plus years later, we might still be routing for Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion but we’re also secretly conceding that the scientific training favored by Dolph Lundgren’s Drago is the wiser strategy.
10. Sudden Impact
This Dirty Harry movie — featuring a vigilante rape survivor — is the first time Inspector Callahan spit out the iconic line “Go ahead, make my day” and the last time we saw Sondra Locke, Clint Eastwood’s onetime real life love interest, in a Clint Eastwood movie. For those two things alone, it deserves its place in the canon of fantastic fourquels.