Today’s Top 10 list comes from sitegoer Brian Tousey, who teaches a film course in L.A. and writes a film blog called Maximum Tenderness. He also wrote the lists Top 10 Stephen King Movie Adaptations and Top 10 Watered-Down Movie Franchises. Originally, Brian wanted to do this list not knowing that I had already written a similar one in 2009, Top 10 Best Fourth Movies in Franchise. After I pointed out the link to him, he designed his list as a kind of sequel, with only one overlap — because the fourth movie usually sucks. If you’d like to contribute a Top 10 list to Scene-Stealers, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s Brian:
An advantage to all part fours in a movie series is that they are the perpetual underdogs. No one expects much from the fourth movie in a series, as the hallowed trilogy model usually answers all of the audience questions (and then some, most of the time).
The fourth movie is superfluous almost always, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring something to the party. Every entry below represents a fourth entry in a franchise that is better than it has any right to be. Now, that isn’t saying that these are the best entries of the series; they’re absolutely not (except in the case of the #1 spot). But each fourth movie below has at least something of value to offer, and if they don’t always improve the series, they don’t embarrass it, either.
OK, before I “defend” Police Academy 4, let me remind you of the thesis of this list: This is a movie that does not embarrass the existing franchise. In fact, as far as the Police Academys go, this is one of the better ones. At least it has the original cast (Steve Guttenberg bailed after this one, leaving a big Guttenberg-sized hole in Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach and beyond). Additionally, Citizens on Patrol (or COP… get it?) also brought back the original’s antagonist, Lt. Harris (G.W. Bailey) after two movies of Lt. Mauser (Art Metrano) rattling Mahoney’s (Guttenberg) cage. Oh, and future Oscar nominee Sharon Stone is the love interest! In terms of being funny… well, I can honestly say that Bobcat Goldthwait is pretty funny. Michael Winslow makes funny noises. Hooks (Marion Ramsey) says “Don’t move, dirtbag!” OK, this one is a stretch, but I do find this movie strangely compelling.
The fourth in the Jack Ryan franchise, starring the third and admittedly least of the actors to portray the character, Ben Affleck. To be fair, though, Affleck is closer to the age of Ryan as portrayed by Tom Clancy in the novels, but that doesn’t make him better. Sum came after my favorite of the four (Clear and Present Danger), and more importantly, less than a year after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The sensitivity of showing the destruction of the Super Bowl and all those within the stadium so soon after this tragedy can be debated elsewhere; I admired then and appreciate now the audacity to not flinch from the story as written. That scene, in a morbid way, probably benefited long-term from its release date in that the Super Bowl scene gathered weight due to the recent events in our country. It doesn’t make it a better movie, but I will say that the movie is an interesting cultural artifact at the very least.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is important to the franchise for one reason: This is the one where the writers, the director (Renny Harlin), and Robert Englund understood what the audience really wanted from the character of Freddy Krueger, at least in 1988. And what we wanted was a movie that was all Freddy, all the time. No longer were we interested in the victims (who up until now had been the true focus of the series). No, we wanted our Freddy cracking wise and busting heads. Robert Englund really delivered, too — this isn’t the best Elm Street (that would be Dream Warriors) and it certainly isn’t the scariest (the original still takes that prize). Instead, he was firing on all Krueger cylinders and he delivered the best, most iconic Freddy performance of them all. Because of that, we can forgive some of the movie’s downright nonsensical moments, like the Freddy-resurrecting dog urine or the neon claw marks on a locker for no discernible reason.
Okay, to some, like the Police Academy series, the bar may seem pretty low in terms of “embarrassing the franchise” in this case. There are those who would say that the Friday the 13th series is beyond reproach, that each is no better (or shittier) than the one before or after it. In regards to Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (aka Part IV), I say to those people two simple words: Crispin Glover. Yes, in what now seems like a dry run for his for-the-ages performance as George McFly in Back to the Future the next year, Glover brings all his odd acting energy to the role Ted, one of Jason’s victims. His dance scene alone is worth the 89 minutes or so it takes to watch this movie. Glover single-handedly lifts this entry above the rest of the series, which would be a good Friday regardless. Oh yeah, it has Corey Feldman in it as well, if that’s your thing.
A return to form in the sense that… well, it was the return of Michael Myers. After the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch, my guess is that the bean-counters decided that by letting Myers remain dead, they were jettisoning a surefire money-maker for no good reason. After all, if Jason Voorhees doesn’t have to obey the laws of nature, why should Michael Myers? Halloween 4 opens with some actual mood-evoking landscape shots that should feel like an actual Midwestern autumn for anyone who has ever lived there. Yes, this is the Halloween movie that began a terrible run in the series that continues to go unabated. But #4? Not bad; actually better than the slooooowww Halloween II. Most importantly, this movie saved Michael Myers from the junk heap, and hopefully he will one day again be cinematically treated like the serial-killer royalty he is.
Sylvester Stallone revived both Rocky Balboa and Rambo in the same year, and was mostly successful with both. But where he decided to create a PG adventure for the Italian Stallion, he went the opposite direction with John J. Rambo and delivered an astonishingly violent entry in the franchise. To justify this, he did make the Burmese military the bad guys, and if this is even close to reality… well, I guess there is some god-awful shit happening in Burma right now. In any case, once Rambo decides to enter the fray, the carnage and viscera reaches operatic levels. Seriously, this movie is gorier than most horror movies; intestines, bone fragments, and plasma galore literally rain down upon the actors through the majority of the second half. It gets to the point where it becomes ridiculous, and then it becomes sublime. All in all, despite the lack of Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna), I thought this Rambo movie was better than Part III.
I’d be willing to bet that Rocky IV is most people’s favorite Rocky movie, or at least the one that they’ve seen the most. I know, the “right” answer is the original, but the majority of the people I know love love love Rocky IV. It is just an insanely popular entry in the series. I don’t know; it is a pretty dumb movie when you dig in and really look at it — I mean, a robot plays a fairly significant role. However… it can’t be denied that writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone knew how to deliver the goods with this one, creating a bad guy for the ages in Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), front loading the soundtrack with Survivor music, and crushing the crucial training montage, this time set in Russia. The fact that Rocky is able to win over a hostile Russian crowd during the height of the Cold War by delivering a “Why Can’t We All Get Along?” speech is both cheesy and effective (at least in the Rocky universe). Yeah, not a great movie, but one that is almost impossible to dislike.
X-Men: First Class did what the best of the X-Men movies (X2, by the way) did: It told a story that was superficially an action movie about mutants but was really about pressing matters in good ol’ America. X2 was really about the gay community and the what it means to come out, and X-Men: First Class is about the Civil Rights Movement in America. The subtext adds an extra bit of substance to the proceedings and makes the action portion that much more exciting. X-Men: First Class was a nice reset on the story, the masterstroke being Magneto’s promotion to main character. I thought Michael Fassbender was as good if not better than Ian McKellan — no small words. I was done with the X-Men after the Wolverine spin-off but now, I’m ready for another trilogy.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is as loose and funny a Star Trek as Wrath of Khan was intense and epic. Watching it now, it feels like the antidote to the shit-storm that the Enterprise crew had been enduring since Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban) arrived on the scene in the first sequel. Think about it- in Star Trek II and III, Kirk (William Shatner) discovers he has a son only to lose him to a Klingon shiv, his best friend commits suicide in front of him, his other friend goes insane, and he is forced into blowing up his intergalactic ride. That is a lot of dark pudding — it was a relief to finally watch the “classic” cast get to have some fun and lighten up. Sure, technically the world was still in danger, but the idea of transporting humpback whales across the time continuum is so ludicrous that it is hard to take seriously. Nor should we. This is a fun Star Trek movie, directed by no less than Leonard Nimoy himself. this is the only film to overlap on the two “fourth movie” lists.
How did Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol do it? I mean, Tom Cruise was washed up, coming off several underwhelming recent movies. All the M:I films had their pleasures, but no one was really demanding a new entry. The director had never done anything but animated films. And it was subtitled Ghost Protocol, which made it sound like a Playstation 3 game. The secret to this movie’s success? None of the team’s gizmos worked. The same tactic was used in The Empire Strikes Back, in which the Millenium Falcon malfunctioned at every turn, making Han, Chewie and the gang rely more on their wits. The fact that Ethan Hunt (Cruise) had magnetic gloves for scaling buildings is pretty cool. That the gloves began to malfunction as he was scaling the tallest building in the world? Even better. Ghost Protocol is paced like the animated movies that director Brad Bird had previously directed, which is to say, like lightning. It is not only the best of the Mission: Impossible movies, but probably about as efficient an action movie as there’s been in recent years.