Top 10 Best Fourth Movies in a Franchise

by Eric Melin on May 19, 2009

in Top 10s

We all know Hollywood has a shortage of new ideas, which is why consistently popular franchises (even ones with a fourth movie) become so valuable. It’s not even the end of May yet, and already this year has produced sequels and reboots “The Pink Panther 2,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Crank: High Voltage,” “Angels & Demons,” and “Star Trek.” The sequel opening this weekend is “Terminator Salvation,” and it’s the fourth movie in the Terminator franchise. If history is any indication, don’t expect much from it, because the fourth movie almost always sucks. Already this year, we’ve had such fourth-in-franchise treats like “Madea Goes to Jail,” “Fast & Furious,” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Ugh.

In fact, fourth movies are typically so bad that I can barely recommend any of the films on this list wholeheartedly. In other words, this list—for the most part—sucks. These are the best fourth-in-a-series films I could dig up. The rest are even worse. Why bother with a list of paltry returns, you may ask? Let’s just say it was to prove a point. Two more decent fourth movies came out in 2011–here’s a Top 10 sequel list! Here then, are the Top 10 Best Fourth Movies in a Franchise. If you have your own idea for a Top 10 list, email me at eric@scene-stealers.com.

harry potter goblet of fire10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

With a little hindsight, I may be able to say now that the worst movie of the Harry Potter series suffered more than a little bit from having to follow the best (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”). Even at a long 157 minutes, it still feels incomplete. It’s too episodic and clunky, and the three leads are mired in much teenage angst but without any of the details to make the audience feel it. Whereas “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had the ingenuity to elevate teenage insecurity literally to the end of the world, “Goblet of Fire” throws in a couple sullen faces and lightning-fast character turnarounds that don’t make sense. For the first time, you get the feeling that characters are doing things only because that’s what they did in the book, and that’s a bad sign.

dirty hary make my day sudden impact9. Sudden Impact (1983)

Most people probably assume that Clint Eastwood’s badass detective Harry Callahan uttered his catch phrase “Go ahead, make my day” during his first onscreen appearance in 1971’s “Dirty Harry.” Not true. It was in this fourth franchise pic—the first one in seven years and the highest grossing one ever—that Harry shot three young black men holding up a diner and stopped a fourth from taking a hostage with those famous words. By 1983, the formerly conflicted cop of the first three 70s films had given way to a Reagan-era conservatism that saw the audience rooting for Harry and his one-man fight against crime without any reservations. The phrase was such a hit that T.G. Sheppard recorded a country song called “Make My Day” featuring Eastwood samples and President Reagan used the line in a speech threatening to veto tax-raising legislation. What a cad. This movie makes the list on cultural impact only, even if it was a sad comment on where the country stood at the time.

tilly bride of chucky 19988. Bride of Chucky (1998)

“Bride of Chucky” is here to represent all of the horror series that keep going into production because people keep renting crappy scary movies at video stores and these cheap-o franchises are the first ones they grab. (I know because I worked at one.) Like “Sudden Impact,” this film was the most financially successful of any in the series and it had been many years (eight to be exact) since the last movie in the franchise (“Child’s Play 3”). “Bride of Chucky” was as apt to make fun of itself as Chucky the evil doll was to stab someone repeatedly in the chest. That’s why it’s on the list. That and Jennifer Tilly. “Bride of Chucky” is a winking tribute to tons of other horror films, and a pretty sardonically funny one at that. In that respect alone, it towers over yawner fourth franchise films like “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” “Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering,” “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” “Saw IV,” and “Tremors 4: The Legend Begins.”

muppets christmas carol caine7. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Although it involves puppetry, this is about as far from Chucky as it gets. Muppets creator Jim Henson died unexpectedly in 1990, so it was his son Brian Henson who directed this musical retelling of the classic Charles Dickens novel. The Muppets are their usual charming selves, even if they don’t do anything too different or exciting with this familiar story. Kermit the Frog (no longer voiced by Jim Henson and, dammit, it’s just not the same!) is Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine is Scrooge. Originally it was to be a made-for-TV event in 1991, but the budget and script grew bigger, so the Walt Disney Company released it in theaters the following Christmas holiday to little fanfare. Disney eventually bought The Muppets in 2004, and “I Love You, Man” star Jason Segel (who sang with his own Dracula puppet in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) is currently writing a new Muppet adventure for the studio as you read this. Sweet.

jetpack thunderball james bond6. Thunderball (1965)

Did somebody ask for an overly long action film with groan-inducing dialogue? Good, because I’m skipping the anti-Communist propaganda of “Rocky IV” and the fetishized violence of 2008’s fourth “Rambo” movie (both of which fit that bill perfectly) in favor of this silly British import, which found Sean Connery’s James Bond at the height of his popularity. You couldn’t get much bigger than Bond in 1965 (only “The Sound of Music” and “Doctor Zhivago” topped it at the box office that year), and “Thunderball” took the British spy underwater for many protracted fight scenes and one particularly bad standout one-liner, which Connery delivered after shooting a bad guy with a spear gun: “I believe he got the point.” Oh yeah, and did I mention the jet pack?

watto star wars5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

We’re halfway through the list of the BEST fourth movies in a franchise, and we’re merely cracking the tip of movies I’d recommend with reservations. That’s how disappointing fourth films can be. The hype was unbelievable. There was no way George Lucas could approach the greatness of a series beloved by young fans and overgrown boys everywhere. So he didn’t. Lucas’ fourth “Star Wars” film (I don’t care that it’s the first one chronologically in the timeline, it’s still the fourth one to hit theaters, and that’s the whole point of this list!) was a crushing disappointment, featuring everything from pesky midi-chlorians that take all the fun out of the Force to weirdly obvious racial stereotypes in alien characters (Watto the hook-nosed “Jewish” miser, a Stepin Fetchit-like Jar Jar Binks whose Gungun tribe throws spears). Even much-hyped Time magazine coverboy Darth Maul was only in the film for about fifteen minutes! On the other hand, as Kevin Smith’s animated “Clerks” series declared during a Lucas trial for offenses against the “Star Wars” community: “The pod race was pretty cool.”

car smashes helicopter die hard live free4. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

What made the first “Die Hard” such a great action movie is that we rooted for Bruce Willis’ underdog detective John McClane with every fiber of our being. After getting in an unresolved argument with his estranged wife, he spent the next two hours wise-cracking his way through hostage situations, gun fights, explosions, and running on broken glass with bare feet. We liked this guy. Well, he’s more than a bit crotchety 19 years later, and although the suspense isn’t nearly as tightly managed as it is in the original, the story is personal again, coming down to McClane having to save his daughter from a hostage situation. Between the setup and the climax, however, are all manner of ridiculously fun action scenes like McClane sending a police car zooming over a tollbooth to destroy a helicopter, fighting a beautiful female assassin while hanging precariously in an elevator shaft, and dismantling a moving military jet with his bare hands. Just typing that last sentence makes me laugh.

crystal skull indiana jones blanchett3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

I’ll admit it took a little time for the nostalgic sheen to wear off of this one. Even with all it’s flaws, it’s still good enough to place at #3. (Guess there’s not a lot of competition.) The fourth Lucas-Spielberg Indiana Jones collaboration reunites Harrison Ford and Karen Allen but forgets the chemistry. It also puts Indy on another far-out supernatural journey but forgets the suspense. The plot is all over the place, and although the idea of the crystal skull and an ancient alien race was cool in theory, it was handled about as poorly as you can get. Also, any movie that wastes the talents of Cate Blanchett is suspect as well. (I’m looking at you too, “Button”!) Regardless, it’s a more watchable affair than the mostly sedate “Phantom Menace” and some of its set pieces (the atomic testing scene, the library chase) are absolute screams. Isn’t it funny how we’re in the Top 3 now and I still can’t even recommend one of these films without some serious reservations? Yikes.

land of the dead romero2. Land of the Dead (2005)

Zombie master George Romero took 10 years between 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead,” seven years between that and 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” and a whopping 20 years between that and 2005’s “Land of the Dead.” The timing was right, after zombie successes “28 Days Later,” Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake, and the comedic tribute “Shaun of the Dead,” for the writer/director to return to the genre he pioneered. Romero chose that moment to make his most overtly political film, criticizing the Bush administration’s growing isolationism both abroad and within the our own borders by featuring a hopped-up Dennis Hopper (who doesn’t negotiate with terrorists) in a glass-encased “city of the privileged” called Fiddler’s Green. Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s not Sidney Poitier, ha! Romero also continued the slow evolution of zombies that has been consistent throughout the series, giving them the ability to learn from mistakes and have a little somewhat advanced thought. It’s not a perfect movie, with some stagey moments and corny dialogue, but it’s a hell of a lot better than 2008’s disappointing and desperate-to-be-relevant “Diary of the Dead.” Let’s hope the one he’s making now (currently in postproduction) brings back the biting satire of the first four.

star trek IV san francisco1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Wow, what a coincidence. This series is a bit in the news right now, isn’t it? While “Leprechaun 4: In Space” went spaceward with its characters, director Leonard Nimoy’s “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” brought Spock (Nimoy), Captain Kirk (William Shatner), and the rest of the starship Enterprise from outer space back home to Earth—in 1986 San Francisco. What this movie has in common with its 2009 reboot is a seriously funny sense of humor. After the dreary “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” Nimoy took the franchise in a different direction completely, fitting in an environmentally friendly message (the crew is trying to save the humpback whales!) and using the longtime actors and their beloved characters to their fullest fish-out-of-water (no pun intended) capacity. As silly as it is, it’s well-intentioned, efficiently plotted, and—did I mention?—pretty damn funny. That’s more than I can say for the unfortunate fourth Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) film, 1997’s “Vegas Vacation.”

Well, that’s it—that’s as good as fourth movies get. What a fine legacy “Terminator Salvation” has to live up to. What do you think? Coming up with 10 good ones was rough. Did I miss any?

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JGEISER May 19, 2009 at 9:06 am

No Rocky 4? Come on. Way better than half those on this list.

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2 Alan Rapp May 19, 2009 at 9:10 am

I will never understand your appreciation (even if it is a bit diminished from your original review) with Indy 4. A film so bad it spawned it’s own phrase to compete with “jump the shark.” The movie was so much more disappointing than The Phantom Menace.

And you lay off Thunderball! Any movie where James Bond battles sharks (in an enclosed pool no less) is inherently awesome!

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3 Eric Melin May 19, 2009 at 9:14 am

Just as any movie with Indiana Jones escaping atomic annihilation in a fridge is inherently awesome?

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4 Alan Rapp May 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

Um, no.

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5 Clark May 19, 2009 at 9:30 am

I’m with Alan Rapp… The fridge was NOT cool.

I hated Land of the Dead. So boring! But Live Free or Die Hard is very cool. I really liked that movie (I think it’s the best #4 yet).

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6 Reed May 19, 2009 at 9:47 am

What a masochistic list! Wasn’t Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter the one with Corey Feldman? And a pair of hot twins? I remember liking it when I was about Corey’s age…

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7 Sean May 19, 2009 at 11:03 am

What about these 4th installments- Pink Panther Strikes Again, Lethal Weapon 4, Battle of the Planet of the Apes, Cheech & Chong’s Things Are Tough All Over & Dogma (Jay & Silent Bob). Surely one of these 5 could have been worthy.

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8 Hai May 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Agreed Rocky 4 deserves respect. “If he dies, he dies.”

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9 Eric Melin May 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Saying “Dogma” is the fourth J&SB movie is a bit of a stretch considering they were in #1 and #3 for about 10 minutes total. Lethal Weapon 4? Ugh.
“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” from 1972 was the fourth one, and even though Alan Arkin took over for #3, “The Return of the Pink Panther” is actually #4. I considered both, but hadn’t seen them recently enough to write about! And I’ve never liked Cheech & Chong very much, sorry.
Surprised at the outpouring of love for Feldman, Crispin Glover, and “Friday the 13th IV” here and on facebook…weird.
Someone else pointed out that I missed the opportunity to talk about how awesome the late John Ritter was in “Chucky,” so here it is: Ritter ruled.

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10 Eric Melin May 19, 2009 at 12:55 pm

what’s the deal with “Rocky IV,” though? I don’t get it. I saw it when I was a kid, and I don’t even have a nostalgic pull for it at all…except for James Brown’s “Living in America”!

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11 Sean May 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I meant Conquest, sorry. Battle of the Planet of the Apes is the awful one with John Huston as the Lawgiver. That might be the worst movie ever made, but Conquest was ok, a decent 4th movie.
As for Alan Arkin I completly forgot about his portrayl of Insp. Jacques Clouseau. I actually never saw it, so maybe thats why I blocked it out.

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12 Kenny May 19, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Terminator should bring some good things to the table, but it’s easy to be skeptical. There’s obviously rumours of a fourth Spider-Man and the Hobbit. I suspect the latter may be our best hope for now.

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13 Eric Melin May 19, 2009 at 8:50 pm

Sean- No problem. I haven’t seen any of them in forever and I’ve never seen the Arkin one!
Kenny- Skeptical, yes. Good policy when preparing for disappointment.

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14 Tom E. May 20, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Allow me to take this opportunity to express my unending hatred for Rocky and all the grabasstic sequels it spawned. Rocky is without doubt the most overrated movie of all time. Rocky’s being awarded the 1977 best picture award over Network and Taxi Driver is like Charles Woodson being awarded the 1997 Heisman Trophy over Peyton Manning except with Charles Woodson being Rudy or a girl who didn’t even play football. However, I must admit that the James Brown number in R4 was one bright peanut in a pile of melodramatic crap.

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15 Eric Melin May 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Tom – As Billy Bob once said, “I like the way you talk.”

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16 Andie May 21, 2009 at 12:19 am

i agree with tom about rocky, i couldn’t even sit through any of the ones i’ve been forced to see.

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17 daniel solon May 22, 2009 at 1:01 pm

where are the marx brothers

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18 Eric Melin May 22, 2009 at 1:14 pm

You know, I considered the Marx Brothers, but they always play different characters, so I wouldn’t call it a franchise.

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19 hellohawk May 26, 2009 at 10:35 am

Rocky IV.

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20 Colin May 26, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I just saw T4, and I would put it up there in place of that lame excuse for an Indiana Jones movie.

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21 Reed May 27, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Agreed about Rocky, Tom E, but not about Peyton Manning since he was the one who was overrated.

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22 yakubpatel May 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

how can join u r community

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23 cleavy May 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Rocky IV. Seriously, Rocky IV! I love all of the Rocky movies passionately, and IV was my favorite as kid – probably because it was most contemporary for me at that age. I’d have to admit, I was horribly disappointed by Rocky V when it first came out, but on repeat viewings, I’ve actually come to appreciate it. Okay, enough about Rocky, sorry, but if there’s a Rocky marathon on TNT I’ll be watching. “I must break you.”

Oh, and speaking of Stallone, the new Rambo was so great! Everything a Rambo movie should be, and more (more blood and guts, that is). And, Sly had the cortesy to leave the shirt on his 60 yr old body – through the entire movie.

Also, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is awesome – possibly my favorite of the franchise. Feldman is so incredibly creepy in the end when he shaves his head and goes apeshit on Jason. And, Jason’s face is super-awesome-gross when his mask comes off!

Great calls on The Muppet Christmas Carol (probably my favorite, but it’s a close call), Die Hard, Land of the Dead, and Star Trek IV!

Sadly, Indiana Jones (I love the franchise, but couldn’t keep my eyes open in the theater – which I deny had anything to do with my raging hangover), and Star Wars I (IV) were both so incredibly terrible. Honestly, when you get to number four in a series, it has to at least be able to be consistent and true to the original feel, because all it’s really got going for it is our sentimental attachment to the original.

Thanks for the fun list, Eric!

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24 cleavy May 28, 2009 at 6:19 pm

P.S. – I saw Terminator Salvation on Memorial Day. Such a letdown. I can’t even talk about it. However, I still maintain that Rise of the Machines was worse, though it may be that my expectations were higher for that one. Sadly, I learned my lesson.

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25 eb June 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

Completely disagree about Harry Potter IV.

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26 Emily August 13, 2009 at 3:07 am

I just finished watching Crystal Skull, and I mostly agree with your assesment. The ending scene, as expected, leaves room for sequels. I don’t want to give spoilers though. Anyone know if there is a way to put things under spoiler tags in the comments?

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27 Bob May 17, 2010 at 7:07 am

I’ve only seen about half of the movies on this list, but I can say that of those, they all sucked, except for Star Trek IV. Especially Harry Potter: We must obey the cup, and Star Wars: It was just midiclorians all along. Are you trying to say that there are only 1 or 2 good 4th movies, and so even 3rd place has to suck?

I found this page to see if there were any good 4th movies. You listed one I hadn’t thought of, Star Trek IV. I also thought of another, T.M.N.T. It isn’t really good, but it doesn’t suck.

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28 Eric Melin May 17, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Yes, Bob, I think the best thing that can be said about this list (and I’m the one that wrote it) is that there is almost never, ever any good reason to make a fourth movie!

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29 Nick Clohessy May 21, 2010 at 7:04 am

Indiana Jones and the CUrse of the Crystal Skull is an absolute abortion of a movie. It is terrible. Aliens have NO PLACE in Indiana Jones. Indy is about religious mythology, not bloody Aliens. The film was just a money spinning pile of crap for Lucas and Spielberg and it is a complete insult to the original movies.

Heck, Alien Resurrection deserves to be on this list above Indy 4. Or Rocky 4. Or Police Acadamy 4. They are all crap, but nowhere near as insulting to the original films as Indy 4 was.

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30 Eric Melin May 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I was not as offended by Indy 4 a lot of people were. Aliens, religious mythology, it’s all the same to me–fiction!

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31 Michael Bird June 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Eh, I’m with Eric. Indy4 is good.

It is no more ridiculous than the previous three. You’re just not twelve anymore and have finally accepted that you’re not going to grow up to be Harrison Ford. Your response to the other three would have been the same if they didn’t have the glow of newness attached to them.

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32 Eric Melin June 29, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Michael said that very well. I think people have an inflated idea of how ‘realistic’ the old Indy movies are. It’s always been over the top, serial adventure fun. I think the CGI of the new Indy is probably what set off the bullshit alarm in fans more than anything else. Its the most obvious formal difference…

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33 wayne swab June 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I can’t believe there is a bitchtreal going on about INDY 4. That movie was so bad I fell asleep in the theatre. And yes I did see it again. It was one bad scene after another. The CGI was horrible, but even the real-life stunts were obviously catered to a 65 year old, wannabee action star. The fact that I just wrote 65 year old, wannabee action star, should end this conversation.

RAMBO was badass! The last 40 minutes played out like The Wild Bunch. RAMBO should have made the top 3. Sylvestor Stallone is the second coming of Sam Peckinpaw.

I recently watched all 4 Rocky’s and part of part 5 in a week’s time. The first one was great, but the rest went from bad, to kind of gay, to really horrible, and finally unwatchable. All that being said, it was still better than the Phantom Menace.

LAND OF THE DEAD was awesome, and Sudden Impact probably should be number 1 on this list.

TOM E. I went to UT when Manning was there. Just as Manning led his team to a bowl game, Woodson led Michigan to theirs. Both players equally as important to their respective teams. However, Manning lost his bowl game; while Woodson played over his head and almost single-handedly won his. I know they voted before the bowl games, and Manning should have won the trophy, after the bowl games it seemed that the voters made the correct choice.

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