Top 10 Movies That Jumped the Shark

by Eric Melin on November 11, 2008

in Top 10s

The term “jump the shark,” named after the stupefying moment in “Happy Days” when the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis, has evolved to become a catch-all phrase that suggests that a TV show has seriously lost its way, be it against the original characterization of the show or its become just plain desperate for ratings. In fact, “jump the shark” is so often used these days that it doesn’t merely apply to TV shows anymore. That “jump the shark” moment can apply to almost anything.

Well, the new pretender to the throne—being pushed by some as specifically a movie term—is “nuke the fridge,” a term that definitely doesn’t roll off the tongue and simply isn’t needed. Is “nuke the fridge” the new “jump the shark”? No. Movies can jump the shark just like TV shows can. We don’t need a specific movie term, especially when it doesn’t contain an instantly relatable verb like “jump” that gives the physical description of something that has actually veered off track. “Nuke the fridge” refers to the opening scene in this summer’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” where Indy is protected from an atomic blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. So while I’m predicting a quick demise for “nuke the fridge,” I believe that “jump the shark” is here to stay. In the spirit of calling out those desperate moments, I present my list of Top 10 Movies That Jumped the Shark.

ocean's thirteen drill pitt clooney damon10. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Each film in this series from director Steven Soderbergh has been a little less good. Plausability was never a big factor, but by movie number three, George Clooney and company had officially entered fantasyland. The first had a natural breeziness, the second wasn’t quite as much fun, and this one was just completely ludicrous. First off, the daring—nay, impossible—heist is motivated mainly by revenge? Why risk “one last time” if that’s the only reason to meet up again and risk getting caught? Secondly, the heist plan is insanely stupid and unlikely, even for a movie like this. The team uses a huge mega-drill whose purpose it is to simulate an earthquake, therefore forcing evacuation of the hotel. Thirdly, the freshness is gone and the routines are starting to become a little stale. The solution? Bring in Al Pacino as the new bad guy and make the old baddie (Andy Garcia) the good guy. Not so much. The “Ocean’s” series were never meant to be taken seriously, but by the time of “Ocean’s Thirteen,” the series had jumped the shark and was in danger of becoming a parody of itself.

back to the future part ii 9. Back to the Future Part II (1989)

Yes, “Back to the Future Part III” was a Western. And that was not good. But the cracks were showing in Part II well before Part III had Marty McFly wearing a cowboy hat and being known as “Clint Eastwood.” Part II was an error of excess, with Michael J. Fox playing three characters (he’s a regular Klump!), future Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) as the Mr. Potter of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and Crispin Glover (his Dad) being replaced by a stand-in with sunglasses. The hoverboards were cool though; especially when director Bob Zemeckis said jokingly that they were real once in the press and people actually went out looking for flying skateboards at their local toy shops. However, if you thought the whole “changing the time and fabric of the past” idea was complicated, wait till you see Zemeckis try to explain the suspense in this one.

depp dead man's chest8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

After the playfulness of the first unexpected “Pirates” hit in 2003, Disney filmed two overstuffed sequels back to back. “Dead Man’s Chest” expands way too far on its original mythology when its hull simply cannot hold that much water. It treats every minor character like main characters when they deserve scarcely a scene or two. Keeping track of everyone’s motivation is a Herculean task, and offers little reward at the movie’s conclusion. It also gets stuck in second gear in the first half hour, when Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) get separated for no particular reason other than to send them each on their own stalled adventure. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but he plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. None of the relationships feel even remotely real, and the movie jumps the shark when it forces an uncomfortable love triangle on the three main characters that fits like one of Knightley’s tiny corsets. Mostly, “Dead Man’s Chest” is concerned with setting up the relationships for movie number three, which was even worse.

hulk hogan stallone rocky iii7. Rocky III (1982)

The original “Rocky” won Best Picture in 1976 (beating “Taxi Driver”—shame, shame), and 1979’s “Rocky II” mostly stuck to what made the first one so successful. It also gave the audience a chance to see Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) actually win the big match this time. So when 1982’s “Rocky III”—like the second picture, directed by Stallone—featured our scrappy underdog champion boxer fighting Hulk Hogan (as Thunderlips) in a wrestling ring, it was obvious something had gone clearly wrong. That fight, where Hogan attacks Rocky with his Atomic Leg Drop move, is the precise moment that the “Rocky” series turned into something else entirely. Enter Mr. T as Clubber Lang (who pushes Rocky’s beloved trainer out of the way, causing a fatal heart attack) and Dolph Lundgren as the Red Menace (who villainizes the USSR during the mid-80s Cold War in “Rocky IV”), and nothing would ever be the same. A nefarious yet probably unintended side effect of Hogan’s appearance in “Rocky III”: It might actually have convinced several million people that wrestling was real.

jason x friday the 13th in space6. Jason X (2002)

No, this is not a sequel to Spike Lee’s biopic of a certain civil rights leader, but rather the 10th installment of a series that was way past its prime. Which brings up an interesting question: Can a movie series be accused of jumping the shark if its already been on a steep decline for years? The answer is yes. After the required 3D part three (see also “Jaws 3-D”), the “Friday the 13th” series—starring hulking hockey-masked slasher Jason Vorhees—had produced six more sequels where the killer chases and butchers teenagers in a variety of situations. (One sent Jason to Hell and another was even subtitled “Jason Takes Manhattan.”) “Jason X” sees Vorhees frozen in 2010 and then thawed out in the year 2455, after the Earth has become too polluted to support life and humanity has moved to a new planet, Earth Two. He’s let loose on a spaceship, and the teens use future technology to simulate Crystal Lake and trick poor, abused Jason, who is left only to his devices (a machete). “Friday the 13th” may have been off track for a while there, but when a cryogenically frozen killer is on the loose in space, you know the series has officially jumped the shark.

shark jaws 3-d 3d5. Jaws 3-D (1983)

OK, I’m not defending “Jaws 2” here. It was a crappy movie, made only to capitalize on the fact that there were still plenty of people in the world scared shitless of sharks after Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” But at least “Jaws 2” had Roy Scheider. “Jaws 3-D” was such an obvious gimmick that the entire film qualifies as a “jump the shark” moment. Dennis Quaid (in his first starring role) and Louis Gossett Jr. would prefer to forget this movie, which featured an angry man-eating shark stalking the underwater tunnel at SeaWorld. The shark is mean, but is thwarted more than once by friendly dolphins (I’m not kidding) before it smashes through the control room glass and sends everything flying forward in a flurry of fakey 3-D imagery. The shark had officially jumped the shark.

superman ii 2 non zod ursula4. Superman II (1980)

It is rare that the best film in a series also contains the defining moment where the character lost its way, but that’s exactly the case with Richard Lester’s otherwise witty and darkly funny “Superman II.” Three Kryptonian criminals wreak havoc on the U.S. just at the time when Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) decides to give up his powers as Superman. Bad timing. It all leads to a showdown in Supes’ Fortress of Solitude, where the Man of Steel tricks the villains in a clever turnaround, stripping them of their powers instead. But all the best banter between Lois (Margot Kidder) and Clark can’t hide the fact that the popular series jumped the shark during this movie. Lester showed little respect for Superman’s mythology anyway, but he really threw it all out the window when Superman hurled a giant “S” logo at one of the flying baddies to repel them. Super speed? Check. Super strength? Check. The ability to fly? Check. But a big piece of fabric in the famous “S” logo that traps and confuses opponents for a second or two? Hmm … don’t remember that one. From then on out, the series showed no love for the character’s key traits and went downhill fast, with Lester’s pathetically off-track “Superman III” and Reeve’s pet-project-turned-bad “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”

ewoks return of the jedi3. Return of the Jedi (1983)

Many “Star Wars” fans maintain that the introduction of Jar Jar Binks was the first time they realized that their beloved sci-fi series was in jeopardy of becoming truly ridiculous. I contend that George Lucas’ movies first jumped the shark way back in the original trilogy. What is Jar Jar Binks but a lame stab at comic relief; a pathetic ploy to garner a younger audience of action-figure fans? Wait, you mean C-3PO and R2D2? Yes, it’s true, folks. Lucas was trying to appeal to young kids with the infantile yet charming arguing of those two famous droids. And it worked: The pair became massively popular, with 3PO even getting a delicious breakfast cereal named after him. But it was the Ewoks that took Lucas’ kiddie pandering too far. Not only were they overly cute little balls of fur, but there was way too much silly slapstick Endor fun going on while the universe was in jeopardy. Then, as if the presence of Jar Jar—I mean, the Ewoks—wasn’t bad enough, Lucas ended his grand space opera trilogy with—what else?—a dumbass Ewok song. In the original version, it’s an annoying “yub nub” ditty. In the Special Edition, the scene is extended to show all kinds of planets celebrating to a slightly-less-awful but twice-as-long Ewok song. The next time you complain about Jar Jar, just remember how old you were when you first saw the Ewoks. They paved the way for Jar Jar and midichlorians.

dance sequence techno matrix reloaded2. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

It’s a bad sign when you’ve committed to more than one sequel but you only have enough good ideas for one, tops. It means there are all kinds of scenes in the movie that either meander for too long or simply shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. Take “The Matrix Reloaded,” for example. Once the audience learned what the Matrix was in the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 movie, there was nothing left to do but spend some time in the film’s fictional “real” world, a place where musclebound, half-naked men and women grind themselves into a slo-mo frenzy to bad techno music. This out-of-place music video “celebration” was a real “WTF?” moment. It was hard at first to tell whether the scene was intended as a joke or not. When it kept going and going, it was obvious that something was rotten in the state of Zion. From then on, “The Matrix” movies were full of too much quasi-religious hot air and not enough danger or suspense. The final nail in the coffin was the tedious “The Matrix Revolutions” and all its Christ imagery, but the out-of-place jungle boogie in “Reloaded” was the first warning.

mr. freeze batman and robin1. Batman & Robin (1997)

The Batman series from 1989 that started with Tim Burton was never perfect, but even by the time Joel Schumacher took over with Val Kilmer on “Batman Forever,” it was still sometimes interesting. Schumacher got way too big a head after the success of “Forever,” however, and threw everything sacred about the character out the window for this universally hated sequel starring George Clooney as the Caped Crusader. “Batman & Robin” co-starred Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and put the franchise to rest for eight whole years. Exhibit #1: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, whose lame, punny, cold-weather putdowns mirror those of the action star’s other movies. Exhibit #2: Batman on Ice, where he and Robin battle Freeze’s henchmen on ice skates. Exhibit #3: Glow-in-the-dark body paint. Exhibit #4: The Batman credit card. Exhibit #5: Bat nipples. “Batman & Robin” didn’t just jump the shark, it shoved a giant gas tank in its mouth and blew it to shreds!

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TonySams November 11, 2008 at 1:54 pm

I’d have gone with Friday the 13th 5 (it’s not even Jason, it’s some copy cat killer) or Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (is this a Muppet movie), however it’s all like saying “Ernest Goes to Africa” wasn’t as good as “Ernest Saves Christmas.”

“Diary of the Dead”
“The Next Karate Kid”
“Terminator 3″


2 rutkowskilives November 11, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Good call about Ocean’s 13. I was entertained, but it could have been so much better.

A better movie would have involved the Night Fox going after Benedict with the Ocean’s crew running a series of counter cons to foil the Fox. The idea of Ocean now being forced to protect Benedict in order to protect himself and his friends is way better than the entirely forgettable conflicts in Ocean’s 13. It would have also given more insight into the Fox, since they could have explored his past tendencies and used those as a base for their counter efforts. Throw in the snappy dialogue and typical close calls and you’ve got a far superior movie.

Sadly, nobody asked me.


3 Eric Melin November 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm

I agree. I think that’s the website I want to build. Scene-Stealers Mark 3 will address that very idea: Hollywood should ask us first.

The new Scene-Stealers site will be a place where movie fans can talk about whatever they want wherever they want and Hollywood will look to us as the tastemakers! We will tell them that they don’t have to insult us with obvious cliches and lame plot developments. We can gripe about trailers giving away the movie and they’ll listen! Because the Internet is completely democratic and all the marketing data in the world can’t ba as valuable as open, honest, informed opinions from the very people that buy all their tickets in the first place!
Who’s with me?


4 David Bruce Murray November 11, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt to dream.

Some music artists are already doing this and getting good results in terms of the final marketable product.

Why shouldn’t Hollyweird listen to us as well?


5 RCM November 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm

It’s an awesome idea in theory. Then again, the people who log on to sites like this tend to have a slightly elitist persona when it come to the things they watch, read, and listen to. And they can’t even agree on everything (check last weeks Top 10 discussion). Several of the above movies did very well at the box office. Do Scene-Stealers site goers as well as other online forums that discuss movies make up the primary demographic of viewers? I have to assume that part of the marketing research done by a studio involves online research.

Still, I’m completely game with creation of Scene-Stealers Mark 3!


6 Ace November 11, 2008 at 8:53 pm

I’ve never seen Jaws 3-D but your description made me die laughing at how bad it sounds lol. I also find it funny that a shark movie made the jump the shark list.


7 Kenny November 11, 2008 at 11:03 pm

It reminds me of that phony dance sequence in the middle of Spiderman 3 and when they virtually killed off everyone in X-Men 3. It’s interesting to see them fall apart when Spiderman 2 was a very good movie and X-Men 2 was another good one as well. Obviously, a lot of the movies listed above are from series franchises. Long running movie series are usually time bombs waiting to go off. One of the few series that never lost its path, was the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Though I am a bigger Star Wars fan, I can argue that the LOTR series is much better.


8 Clark November 12, 2008 at 5:50 am

Quantum of Solace jumps the shark in the most outrageous way too.
All the elements of a James Bond movie are gone, Quantum is just a Jason Bourne movie with even MORE action and LESS plot. I guess the producers are trying to get Oscars, just like the Bourne movies got.
By the way… Why hasn’t it opened in the States yet? It’s opened everywhere else!!


9 Reed November 12, 2008 at 9:34 am

I must disagree with #1, but not the series you chose. Batman Forever, while imminently tolerable, was the moment that it was clear that the franchise was in trouble. You knew they weren’t going to be able continue down that path without getting even more cartoony and ridiculous. Batman & Robin was simply the evidence of it.

I still contend that Matrix Reloaded is unfairly maligned, but you already knew that…

Other than that, excellent list! When I was a kid, I loved all the Jaws movies (note – Jaws: The Revenge did not exist yet), but I can’t even go all nostalgic on Jaws 3-D. It’s abysmal.


10 alphamonkey November 12, 2008 at 11:40 am

Allow me to be slightly heretical here and pinpoint ‘Batman Returns’ was the Jump the Shark moment in the Batman franchise.

More villains than plot? Check. Alfred gets more lines than Bruce Wayne/Batman? Check. Batman showing off sick DJ skillz on a CD player? Check.

Don’t get me wrong..there’s a lot to love in the film, but Tim Burton was hacking away at the foundation of the series before Schumacher got his turn with the axe.


11 RCM November 12, 2008 at 12:19 pm

That’s disappointing news about SOLACE. To answer your question, it opens this Friday here in the States.


12 Eric Melin November 12, 2008 at 12:26 pm

I’ve seen “Quantum of Solace” too Clark, and in no way does it jump the shark. It’s a solid but not superior follow-up to the new “less talk, more inner turmoil” version of James Bond. My on-camera review will be up here Friday, and (unless its edited out) I too mention the “Bourne”-like action sequences which were a little disappointing. But there is plenty of character development and plot to keep people guessing and i love the question of loyalty that has been brought into the mix. I also loved that it directly continued the plot of the “Casino.” We may have to move this discussion to that on-camera review page, but I can’t post it until Friday!


13 Eric Melin November 12, 2008 at 12:29 pm

As for “Batman,” those are both seriously bad moments. “Batman and Robin” contained so many, though, that I just couldn’t resist. As for “Spider-Man 3,” I think I’m one of the only people who liked the angry dance scene. Yes, it was over the top, but I enjoyed seeing Peter Parker’s cocky dark side, kind of like when Angel gets turned in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series. “X-Men 3″ wasn’t completely awful, but I agree that killing off characters nonchalantly was way uncalled for. Singer should have finished the trilogy because X2 was insanely good.


14 Kevin November 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm

Back to the future part 2 and Ocean’s 13 were actually my favorite of the series….. but I agree with all the rest.


15 Kenny November 12, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy the dance sequence, because when I saw it in the theaters, I kind of realized not many people knew what was going on, but I thought it was “kind of” cool in a bizarre way. It just seems like the idea came out of nowhere, and somehow they managed to keep it in the film.


16 ChrisKnudsen November 12, 2008 at 10:59 pm

I liked the angry dance sequence too Eric. I actually didn’t think Spider-Man 3 fell apart until Venom came about. I wish you would review Happy Go Lucky, I would like to see your opinion on that. Same with Let the Right One In. I am betting that one might make your top 10 for the year.


17 K.G. November 15, 2008 at 1:28 am

Call me crazy, but I think Star Wars jumped the shark about 20 minutes into the first film when Han is approached by a flamboyant bounty hunter wearing a tight leather vest and a green turtleneck in a bar whose patrons include a 20th century United States astronaut. Suddenly the galaxy is not so long ago and none too far away. Star Wars is a pile of pointless donkey vomit that treads lightly and haplessly into the realm of religion and philosophy that at least the Matrix films had the decency to understand. Neo would have ripped Luke’s soul out before Luke would have even had the chance to whine about wanting to get some power converters.


18 ChrisKnudsen November 15, 2008 at 1:43 am

Also, you should make Scene-Stealers have a forum for then I would be on here more often probably. Who is with me on that one? Wait, is that what you were talking about? I drank too much tonight.


19 blackpage November 17, 2008 at 3:12 pm

I like how Back to the Future jumps the shark on the second movie, but it took til JasonX for Friday the 13th to lose its stride lol. Back to the Future 2 was great, the THIRD one was terrible :P . And I think Friday the Thirteenth jumped the shark on the first movie, an unprecedented accomplishment.


20 +++++ November 18, 2008 at 4:18 pm

this site “jumped the……..” , I can’t even type that bullshit expression of fan-boy douchery.


21 Tito December 23, 2008 at 5:33 pm

The Godfather 3


22 Jon January 2, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I will also have to disagree with back to the future. I thought part II had a way of making you feel like it’s ridiculous plot somehow was nessecary to the franchise, whereas the third one was just pointless. I would have put The Lost World in place of BTTF 2. The horrible thing about that movie was that it wouldn’t have been that bad had they axed the ending. The story was passable, the production was decent and the acting was pretty good. It would have been an acceptable sequel but they totally jumped the shark when the T-Rex stormed through San Diego. Okay… I take it back. They jumped the shark when we were introduced to Malcom’s randomly black daughter whose passion for gymnastics ends up saving everyone in what should have been the movie’s final scene.


23 Matt February 2, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I think you’d have shorter and more interesting list if you went for movie sequals that DIDN’T jump the shark. Other than maybe Godfather Part II, I can’t think of any!


24 stepper February 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

“Nuke the Fridge.” That’s classic. I hope it does stay in the lexicon. Love the list. The only major offender ommitted was ‘Moonraker.’ When the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square did a double take at Bond’s amphibious gondola, I was lost to 007 forever. Minor quibble with Back to the Future 2 and Superman 2. The worst you can say about Supe 2 is he throws an “S?” And you fault BTTF 2 for NOT having Crispin Glover? Respect should be shown to a sequel that aims higher than its original and exceeds our expectations. A series can veer from its original characterization and be better for it. BTTF2 and Supe 2 belong on the ‘improved sequels’ honor role, along with movies like Star Trek 2 and Road Warrior.


25 lee July 29, 2009 at 6:14 am

Back to the futre 2 is the business, fuckin nerds, fuck off


26 Glass November 5, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Burton’s films were nowhere close to perfect.


27 Tom December 31, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Interesting. You say that movies can jump the shark. But a movie cannot jump on its own. All of your examples are episodes of bigger story arcs Just like TV shows.


28 Deuce January 3, 2010 at 12:02 am

To the first poster: Jason wasn’t the killer in the FIRST Friday the 13th. Not that any of them were good, but Jason NOT being the killer couldn’t really screw it up if he wasn’t in the first one, i guess. Dunno, I’m kinda drunk.


29 ramseyman February 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I think it would be an interesting situation to subject Indiana Jones to this process. The gross-out gags in Temple of Doom clearly jumped all kinds of sharks. But then, they set that aside and made that nice Holy Grail movie. So it appears if you have a studio that’s willing to spend 55 million dollars on the next sequel, then it’s possible to un-jump your own shark. They even subsequently got an engaging kids’ TV series out of the franchise.


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