10 Science Fiction Sequels Nobody Needed
The idea of not messing with a great thing is a simple one: Don't retouch the Mona Lisa – it's fine as it is. There's no reason to go adding new embellishments to the Golden Gate Bridge or the Statue of Liberty. And as tempting as it may be to start throwing fruit flavors into beer, refraining is the best course of action. Most of us understand this principle.
Hollywood, however, struggles with it. The lure of easy money, as Glenn Frey once wrote, has a strong appeal. And so, studios often take something glorious and complete and add another chapter to it – sometimes more than one – for no other purpose than to enrage us.
This problem is particularly endemic to the science fiction genre, in which imaginative concepts and story arcs are often perfectly matched, so that the end of a story signals that the concept has been fully explored — until a studio exec decides that, actually, there's some more money to be made.
It's outrageous. But rather than simply shaking our fists in futile fury, we here at UCR have decided that a little group therapy session might be in order. Here is a list of 10 Sci-Fi Sequels Nobody Needed, for us to remember, mourn and mock.
'The Matrix Reloaded' (2003) and 'The Matrix Revolutions' (2003)
Let's start with a simple, classic story. In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves' character Neo is an office-dwelling schlub with a dull life and no prospects who ends up finding out that he's "The One," a prophesied, almost godlike being who can control the computer code that defines the virtual reality that makes up his world. He's like King Arthur, going from a peasant kid who pulls a sword out of a rock to the baddest man in the whole land. The film delivers a perfectly created world and tells a perfectly shaped story, full of twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion. Then they tacked on two sequels, featuring albino hitmen, weird rave scenes and excruciatingly long fight sequences. All that stuff about Neo being The One who's in control of the world? Turns out that it pales in comparison to the need for more onscreen content.
'The Fly 2' (1989)
For our second trip down memory lane, let's revisit David Cronenberg's body-horror sci-fi masterpiece from 1986, which easily outshone the 1958 film of which it was a remake. Jeff Goldblum plays a mad scientist who invents a teleportation device – and it works! The problem is that when he teleports himself in it, there's a fly in the chamber alongside him. The device mixes their physical compositions, and slowly Goldblum's scientist starts to turn into a fly-creature. First he gains super strength, and then certain body parts start to fall off, and finally he goes full monstrosity before being dispatched with a shotgun by his girlfriend. It's an amazing parable of suffering and disease, and of the way society struggles to deal with differences it labels as monstrous. Is there any reason for a sequel? No. But that didn't stop them from taking an elegant, terrifying concept and reducing it down into a piece of D-movie schlock about a fly-boy trying to avenge his dead father. Leave it alone already.
'Back to the Future Part II' (1989) and 'Part III' (1990)
A teenager named Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) accidentally goes back to 1955 in a time-traveling DeLorean. He prevents his parents from meeting, and his own mother develops a crush on him. He teaches his dad how to stand up to bullies, figures out how to make his parents fall in love (thus ensuring he will actually be born), invents rock 'n' roll and perfectly syncs up with a lightning strike to get back to 1985. It's absurd and wonderful, one of the great pop treats of the '80s. It ends happily, with all its plot lines resolved. And there's a kicker: Marty's mad-scientist mentor shows up at the end and declares that Marty has to go into the future, to prevent an issue with his kids. It's clever, funny and allows us to imagine all kinds of adventures. Here's the thing: We don't actually want to see those adventures, because whatever we imagine is bound to be better than some filmmaker's hokey vision of the future. So what did they do? Shove that hokey vision in our faces. Back to the Future Part II takes us into the future and then back to 1955 for absolutely no reason. Part III takes us to the Old West, apparently because the filmmakers found it entertaining to torture their audience.
'Highlander II: The Quickening' (1991)
What do you do if you have the rights to one of the greatest cult films of the 1980s, a stripped-down sci-fi masterpiece, perfectly structured and chock-full of fantastic ideas, surprising twists and wonderful characters? How about following it up with something that routinely pops up on lists of the worst films ever made? Like The Matrix, the original Highlander tells the story of a man receiving godlike powers. Christopher Lambert plays Connor MacLeod, a guy from Scotland who figures out that he's one of a small group of immortal humans engaged in a centuries-long contest to kill each other for supremacy. One by one he defeats his rivals by chopping off their heads, hollering afterward, "There can be only one!" It's awesome. You know what we didn't need? A sequel giving us a ridiculous backstory starting on the planet Zeist, turning MacLeod into a climate scientist fighting a problem with the Ozone layer, and turning Sean Connery's loveable Spanish character from the first film into a space sorcerer. But they gave it to us anyway.
'Escape From L.A.' (1996)
John Carpenter's Escape From New York told a fantastic tale. The island of Manhattan has been turned into a prison, the President of the United States has crash-landed there and been taken hostage, and there's only one man who can save him: Kurt Russell's surly bad-man, Snake Plissken. With ingenious set design, high-end filmmaking technique and memorable secondary characters, Carpenter conjured up an enduring tale, brimming with fury at Reagan's America. But anger repeated becomes anger diluted. The sequel feels like a remake in which everything is almost the same except kind of terrible. L.A. instead of New York, and Cuervo Jones instead of Isaac Hayes. It's full of bad special effects and bad choices. (Snake Plissken playing basketball to save his own life, anyone?) No thanks.
'The Chronicles of Riddick' (2004)
There are many people in Hollywood who think that no matter what the context is, bigger is always better, and that if you take a good idea and blow it up to cartoonish proportions with grandiose claptrap and CGI, people will fall for it. Thus The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black, from 2000, is a fine little sci-fi horror film, featuring a great trope and Vin Diesel doing what he does best: not talking very much and kicking ass. A ship crashes on a planet populated by monsters that only come out in the dark, which is perfect because the ragtag band of survivors is led by Diesel's character Richard B. Riddick, who has eye implants that let him see in the dark. Mayhem ensues. It's not the greatest thing, but it's a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Apparently, that was enough for Hollywood to try to turn it into a massive franchise. In Riddick, Diesel's character navigates a silly universe that employs all the tropes of great sci-fi – weird religions, civilization-level battles, bizarro character names – except none of them are good. Why not just make up a new world, instead of tying yourself to a blind ex-con who is great at fighting monsters in the dark? Nobody knows.
'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' (2003), 'Terminator Salvation' (2009), 'Terminator Genisys' (2015), 'Terminator: Dark Fate' (2019)
With Terminator: Salvation, we move into the realm of the destruction of true classics. The first Terminator, from 1984, is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. A man and a cyborg come back from the future to try to kill each other, with the fate of humanity at stake. It's aces from top to bottom, and established James Cameron as one of the best action filmmakers of his generation. And in 1991 he followed it up with something rare and surprising: a sequel that's way bigger and way more complicated than the first, but almost as good. As with the tables in Las Vegas, the key is always getting out while you're ahead. Cameron made the right choice here, stepping out of the franchise after a series of studio bankruptcies and lawsuits over intellectual property rights made creative control impossible. Without his participation, things rapidly descended into a melange of silly storylines, poorly staged fight scenes and artistic folly that's too exhausting and infuriating to summarize. The studio execs bludgeoned a once-beautiful concept to death and deserve to be derided for it.
'Ghostbusters II' (1989)
Unlike many of the movies on this list, Ghostbusters II isn't a terrible film. It has its moments, and it puts its paranormal-eliminating characters from the original 1984 movie through some amusing paces, even if they're almost exactly the same as the first time around. First they were battling the infamous green Slimer, a god of destruction named Gozer, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man; now they're up against a river of pink slime, an ancient magician named Vigo the Carpathian and the Statue of Liberty. It's alright fun, but maybe no film on this list is more deserving of the question: Why? Don't the filmmakers understand that each time you go back, you take a bit more of the shine off of it, until all that's left is bland, interchangeable content? They would've been better off not even starting down that road.
'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' (1997)
As previously noted, one of the cardinal rules of storytelling is that the audience's imagination is often far more effective than what the storyteller can possibly show them. With 1993's Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg created a magical exception to this rule, showing us what might happen if dinosaurs were brought back to life by re-engineering their DNA and hatching them in eggs in a lab. But one of the secrets to the movie is that it takes place in an isolated, vulnerable setting: an island off the coast of Costa Rica. Moving the action out of this setting, and extending it past the this-is-all-new parameters of the first film, opens up a Pandora's box of questions that can't ever be satisfactorily answered. You mean they're going to make the exact same mistakes with the dinosaurs again? And they still haven't figured out how to keep their kids safe? And just like last time, they think they're in control, when everyone in the theater knows they're not, and they're going to take a T-Rex to San Diego, just praying that it doesn’t escape and eat people? Sigh. Should have left well enough alone.
'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace' (1999)
Is there any way to compose a list like this without including The Phantom Menace? To prevent the fans from storming the office and using their lightsabers on us, we will restrict ourselves to only this 1999 prequel, which came close to destroying civilization as we know it. There is arguably no film in the history of Hollywood that had such high expectations and delivered such abysmal fare. From a plot that centers on the fascinations of parliamentary maneuvering, to acting that can be best described as mannequin-esque, to special effects that should have gotten whole departments sacked (remember that this was released within six months of The Matrix), to a racially insensitive character-who-shall-not-be-named that most fans would rather pretend never existed at all, this one is the Sistine Chapel of "Nobody Needed That." Michelangelo lay on his back painting a ceiling that encapsulated the artistic heights of Western Civilization, and George Lucas decided that the Force actually comes from bacteria in your blood. Charlton Heston at the end of the original Planet of the Apes couldn't have said it better: "You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!"