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Alive past five: 16 late sequels that are actually quite good

It’s conventional wisdom that most film franchises stay fresh for only a few installments; the well of ideas tends to run dry around the time producers have to decide between slapping a “5” on the end of a title or coming up with a subtitle that doesn’t draw too much attention to how far along the series has gotten. This week, however, the pretty excellent fifth entry in the Mission: Impossible series, Rogue Nation, has come along to remind audiences that not all movie franchises obey the laws of diminishing returns. Some, in fact, manage to hit their stride several chapters in. Below, we’ve singled 16 late sequels (part five or beyond) that actually rock. For the sake of keeping the list manageable, we’ve excluded films with an extensive literary blueprint (like the Harry Potter series), and series that frequently press the reset button (like the James Bond or Muppet films).

1-3. Fast Five (2011), Fast & Furious 6 (2013), and Furious 7 (2015)

As rare as it is for fifth movies in a series to succeed creatively, it’s even stranger for them to ascend all the way to series-best heights. But that’s exactly what happened with Fast Five, which reconfigured a saga of cops, racers, and drug dealers established 10 years earlier via The Fast And The Furious into an all-star heist/chase movie. Even more improbably, the re-energized creative team was able to keep the streak alive, making parts six and seven of the Fast And Furious series nearly as entertaining. It wasn’t enough just to bring back old cast members; the fourth movie did this to only mild effect. As it turns out, those characters needed bigger, better set pieces in which to flourish, and director Justin Lin (and his Furious 7 replacement James Wan) transplanted the ensemble developed over the previous four movies into an even more heightened action-movie world combining elements of Ocean’s 11, Mission: Impossible, and James Bond. The creative resurgence has doubtless given undue hope to played-out franchises all across the land. [Jesse Hassenger]


4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

After the William Shatner-directed omnishambles that was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, there was every reason to think the original Enterprise crew’s already-extended time had finally passed, especially with The Next Generation hitting its stride back in Trek’s natural televised habitat. But The Undiscovered Country rallies spectacularly to offer a rousing, poignantly self-aware conclusion to the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Bones, and company. Wrath Of Khan director Nicholas Meyer returned to co-write and direct a story that combines a topical post-Cold War parable—it’s here we learn “Only Nixon could go to China” is an old Vulcan proverb—with plenty of acknowledgment, both serious and comedic, that this crew probably has hung on a little too long. (To survive the latest Federation-threatening crisis, they may have to reckon with their own obsolescence.) The movie nails its thematic story of passing the torch to, well, the next generation in a way that the subsequent Generations failed to do in more literal fashion. Plus, Christopher Plummer is on hand to devour all scenery in sight as an eyepatch-wearing, Shakespeare-quoting Klingon villain, and James Tiberius Kirk finally fulfills his lifelong ambition. You know the one. [Alasdair Wilkins]

5. Final Destination 5 (2011)

Franchise fatigue silently stalks any long-running horror institution, but the Final Destination series is especially vulnerable. Each film begins with a clean slate, another hapless motley crew whose fortune gives way to fatalism as Death itself stalks them after they escape a bloody disaster unscathed. With few recurring characters and a strict adherence to the template—the characters cheat death only to die later in comically elaborate “mishaps”—Final Destination movies are doomed to repeat themselves. Yet somehow, the fifth and most recent installment is the best of the series. It does nothing to upend the formula, it’s just the best execution of it yet. The films live or die by their requisite disaster set piece, and Final Destination 5’s gruesome suspension bridge collapse is only rivaled by the epic highway wreck in the second film. Final Destination 5 also features an elegant twist ending that does the impossible by bringing a potentially endless horror franchise to what feels like a satisfying conclusion. [Joshua Alston]


6. Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973)

All of the films in the original Planet Of The Apes cycle are well worth seeing, and truthfully, both Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (number three) and Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (number four) are more essential than Battle, the fifth and final entry in the series. But in telling a story alluded to in past sequels, about ape leader Caesar (Roddy McDowall) attempting to keep the peace between apes and humans following a nuclear apocalypse, the film dramatizes a key moment in the complicated, time-jumping history of this Apes universe with characteristic thoughtfulness. Despite a visibly lower budget, the film feels more interested in closing the narrative loop of the series than spinning out potential for further installments. It’s also worth noting that the basic story of Battle is mirrored in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, the much-loved second film in the current incarnation of the series, showing that Battle remains perhaps more durable than it first looked back in ’73. [Jesse Hassenger]


7. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

Bryan Singer’s 2000 take on X-Men deserves the lion’s share of the credit (or blame) for kicking off the current superhero movie craze. But after soaring to new heights in X2, the franchise stumbled with a crappy third installment and a mediocre spin-off. With other superhero series either embracing interconnected worlds or employing frequent reboots, X-Men decided to split the difference: The 2011 prequel First Class refreshed the franchise, while the seventh installment, Days Of Future Past, sent Wolverine back in time to explicitly link the original cast to their younger counterparts. In addition to both building on and erasing past continuities, Days Of Future Past works as its own film as well; it’s a kinetic, cerebral comic book movie that hops between a dystopian future and the groovy 1970s without ever losing sight of its characters. With Apocalypse on the way and a possible Fantastic Four crossover in the works, X-Men is a now an appropriately mutated franchise that—like its clawed star—found a new drive late in life. [Caroline Siede]


8. Rocky Balboa (2006)

Look, Rocky Balboa is ridiculous. It’s a Rocky movie made after 1980, so of course it’s ridiculous. The only question is whether it’s going to be the joyous, larger-than-life ridiculous of a Rocky III or a Rocky IV, or the depressing, misjudged ridiculous of a Rocky V. Rocky Balboa isn’t quite either, as it turns out. The movie’s plot sees a sixtysomething Rocky coming out of retirement to fight a boxer whose actual, honest-to-goodness name is Mason “The Line” Dixon, anticipating the rare gift for naming that Stallone would later show with every single character in The Expendables franchise. And it’s not that the ridiculousness is beside the point: It is the point, except here the staggeringly implausible setup is just another narrative tool Stallone can use to explore the next phase of his most iconic character’s existence. After all, the movie doesn’t exactly shy away from how absurdly dangerous, borderline suicidal it is for the long-retired Balboa to step back into the ring, but Rocky Balboa works carefully to explain just why its title character can never permanently step away from fighting, and why his chosen profession need not necessarily be self-destructive. It’s all just one more reason to be cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Creed. [Alasdair Wilkins]


9. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Though nominally based on the long-running horror game franchise, Resident Evil mostly exists as a way for series writer and producer Paul W.S. Anderson to work out some of his favorite themes and reference points (namely, Through The Looking-Glass) while telling pulpy action stories chock full of video game-inspired cool. All of this converges in the fifth—and best—of the movies, which finds series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) journeying to a top secret testing facility of simulated environments (Tokyo, Moscow, an American suburb) populated by NPC-like clones. The result is a zippy, sometimes bizarre movie that is overtly about video games. Anderson (who also directed) had by this point abandoned any pretense of horror in favor of outrageous 3-D compositions that play with the viewer’s perceptions and preconceptions: a sky rebooting like a computer screen; a new Alice being introduced and then abruptly killed off; cityscapes revealed to be interiors. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


10. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Though purists may argue that it’s not technically part of the Nightmare On Elm Street canon, there’s a good claim to be made that New Nightmare actually the most beholden to the previous films. After a series of diminishing returns (that got deeply silly with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare three years prior), this film actually deserves much of the credit for bringing a meta component to the horror genre, prior to the game-changing release of Scream. The movie depicts a world in which Freddy Krueger is a popular horror character—much like in reality—and involves the production of a new Nightmare On Elm Street film. But unlike the other films, wherein the actual Freddy invades dream worlds, here a fictional dream-world villain bleeds into the movie’s reality. Hunting down original star Heather Langenkamp, actor Robert Englund, and director Wes Craven (who all play themselves), this Freddy Krueger is springing from the dream world within a film world into the real world of a film. (Got that?) Best of all, it reinvigorates a classic villain who had grown cartoonish with overuse and hackneyed catchphrases, restoring some of the nightmarish power that made the original a genre staple. (And doing a much better job of it than 2010’s misbegotten attempt at a reboot.) [Alex McCown]


11. Maciste In Hell (1925)

Has there ever been a popular film series more deranged than the Maciste movies? The character—played by a barrel-chested former dockworker named Bartolomeo Pagano—was first introduced in the Roman epic Cabiria (1914), one of the first commercially successful feature films, and proved to be so popular that Pagano ended up starring in a series of films that ran into the mid-1920s. Blessed with a complete absence of continuity, the movies found the onetime slave popping into different time periods and fantastical settings to fistfight anything and everything; later titles included Maciste The Detective, Maciste Vs. The Sheik, Maciste Vs. Death, Maciste Vs. Maciste, Maciste’s American Nephew, and Maciste On Vacation. The most highly regarded of these remains the 25th entry, Maciste In Hell, in which Maciste—now living in the 19th century—travels into the underworld. A wildly entertaining spectacle of bizarre imagination and silent-era special effects, the movie finds Maciste socking demons and flirting with she-devils in cavernous, smoke-filled sets, all before being rescued by a child’s Christmas wish. In 1992, Federico Fellini named it the best movie ever made. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


12. Lone Wolf And Cub: White Heaven In Hell (1974)

Like James Bond movies or the Shaw brothers, Lone Wolf And Cub is best when it’s either completely serious or completely over the top. The sixth and ultimately final installment in the series, Lone Wolf And Cub: White Heaven In Hell, belongs in the latter camp. Playing up the series’ manga origins, White Heaven In Hell brings a comic-book sensibility to the further adventures of Ogami Ittō (Tomisaburô Wakayama), the shogun’s curmudgeonly, extremely lethal former executioner, his son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), and their Bond-worthy baby cart equipped with knives, machine guns, and various pointy instruments of death. Speaking of Bond, White Heaven In Hell culminates with a beautifully shot, excellently choreographed snowbound battle scene that could have come from one of 007’s Alpine adventures, were it not for the army of ski ninjas. White Heaven In Hell was not intended as a final installment and fails to wrap up the series’ overarching storyline, but watching Ittō slaughtering hundreds of supernatural warriors with a flick of the wrist is quite satisfying in itself. [Katie Rife]


13. Halloween H20 (1998)

By 1998, Michael Myers, the unstoppable force of malevolence introduced in John Carpenter’s original Halloween, had been reduced to just another marquee bogeyman, his fearsome power zapped by two decades of inferior sequels. Halloween H20, the seventh entry in the long-running series, didn’t exactly undo the damage done to Myers’ fear factor. But it did offer a reasonably successful throwback to the slow-burn atmosphere of his first rampage, even without Carpenter behind the camera. Pitting a grown Laurie Strode against the unholy terror that stalked her 20 years earlier, H20 lowers the body count, lengthens the period of escalating suspense, and retcons every installment after the second film. Its smartest move is devoting most of its back half to a cat-and-mouse game between Michael and Laurie (the latter played again by Jamie Lee Curtis, gamely reprising her breakout role). Probably the best of the Halloween sequels, H20 works it way to a perfect punctuation, for the film and the franchise. And then Busta Rhymes comes to Haddonfield… [A.A. Dowd]


14. Seed Of Chucky (2004)

The first two sequels to the possessed-doll horror picture Child’s Play are progressively sillier iterations of a movie that’s already a little silly. But skipping those and proceeding directly to Bride Of Chucky (1998) speeds the series’ progression, and by the time franchise-long screenwriter Don Mancini finally takes the director’s chair with fifth installment Seed Of Chucky, the transition from horror movie with darkly funny moments to self-referential horror comedy is complete. This direct sequel to Bride co-stars Jennifer Tilly as herself, caught up in the family drama between murderous dolls Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif), Tiffany (voiced by Tilly), and their son Glen (Billy Boyd), also known, via some gender identity confusion, as Glenda. The reference to the work of director Ed Wood joins homages to horror movies by Hitchcock and Kubrick, and a wonderfully self-kidding turn from Tilly. Seed Of Chucky is far campier (and less scary) than the original Child’s Play, but its tonal differences give it something few horror sequels have: a reason to exist. [Jesse Hassenger]


15-16. Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) and Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning (2012)

Before 2009, action buffs didn’t much care for the Universal Soldier series, which had up to that point amounted to one lesser Roland Emmerich movie, a couple of garbage-bin direct-to-video sequels, and a forgotten box-office flop called Universal Soldier: The Return. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which reunited the original’s stars, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, in a death-haunted sci-fi mood piece that also happened to have fantastic action sequences. Ignoring the earlier sequels, Hyams’ movie—which sometimes feels like the world’s most artful and accomplished fan film—reimagined unkillable super-soldiers Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Lundgren) as tragic figures stuck in a loop of perpetual conflict. Though never released theatrically in the U.S., Regeneration acquired a sizable following among action aficionados and critics, paving the way for the even stranger Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning. With Deveraux and Scott relegated to the nightmarish background—where they seem like Lovecraftian elder gods—Hyams shifts the focus to John (Scott Adkins), who awakens from a coma to begin an investigation into his own identity that is one part Lost Highway, one part early Cronenberg. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


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