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.
10. 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.
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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
5. 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.
4. 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.”
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. 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!