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When the First Film is the Best

This will be the beginning of a series of articles covering the best movies in their place as either the first, second, third films or anything beyond that. Kicking off with films that had a solid first installment and unfortunately could not recapture that magic with the films that came after it. You know when you see that first film and it is so good you just can’t wait to see another one? Then the sequel comes out and it’s just… fine. It’s not all that bad, but it’s not as good the first. And then they just continue to release mediocre or even worse films. That’s what we are covering with this first list, the movies that had amazing first films but continued to see a decline in quality. Films that just couldn’t recapture that spark.

Also Read: 10 Bad Movies You Wanted to be Good

The Karate Kid (1984)

What was considered a small scale film that wouldn’t be much more than a one shot, turned into an entire franchise. Daniel LaRusso moves from New Jersey to California after his mom gets a job opportunity, starts out as not the best change. Daniel is caught up by bullies and continues to get beaten up at school or while he attempts to make a social life for himself. Luckily, he meets Mr. Miyagi who teaches him Karate. Daniel manages to not only learn how to defend himself, but how to apply it to his daily life. When a tournament is announced, he joins the competition to confront the boys that have bullied him and defend himself. This film was one of the defining movies of the 80’s and still to this day is beloved by so many, to the point where a remake was created staring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan in 2010. A sequel series called Cobra Kai was also released in 2018 that saw the return of the original cast and continued the story from the first film, but instead made the antagonist Johnny Lawrence as the main character. After the first film though, there were two unsuccessful sequels named The Karate Kid Part II in 1986 and The Karate Kid Part III in 1989. After the bomb of the sequels, they attempted to give the series a soft reboot with The Next Karate Kid in 1994 and brought back Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, but introduced Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce. While there hasn’t been a film in this franchise as good as the first, we are grateful for the new series that has since breathed fresh air into the franchise.

 

Die Hard (1988)

Say what you will about this action packed him, it’s still Christmas movie. The premise is fairly simple when we are introduced to NYPD cop John McClane. McClane is visiting Los Angeles to rekindle his relationship with his wife Holly. When he arrives at a Christmas party to meet his wife, he ends up being locked in a hostage situation ran by Hans Gruber played by Alan Rickman. Now secured in a building with terrorists, McClane must stop Hans and his men while also saving his wife. Die Hard is one of the most influential films in the action genre, so many movies since then have used this as its inspiration. Since then though, 20th Century Fox has attempted to blow this up into a franchise. And while the sequels that came from it were fine, they just couldn’t live up to the original. Die Hard 2 in 1990 and Die Hard with a Vengeance in 1995 were both solid film that made fans and critics happy. 11 years after the third installment, a fourth film was made with Live Free or Die Hard which toned down with language and violence to give it a PG-13 rating. Many were skeptical about the idea of a PG-13 Die Hard movie, but it ended up still being a fun and watchable film that silenced many fans. Unfortunately in 2013 we were given the disappointing A Good Day to Die Hard that too place in Russia and introduced Jai Courtney as Jack McClane, the son of John McClane. While the next three films after the original were entertaining movies, they just could never live up to the original.

 

Superman (1978)

You’ll believe a man can fly. Who doesn’t already know the story of Superman? An alien planet is on the brink of destruction, a scientist decides to place his only son in a rocket to send away in hopes of saving their species from extinction. Crashing in Smallville to be found by Johnathan and Martha Kent to be raised as one of their own, to learn the potential of his powers and become the hero we all know as Superman. However, it’s not the story that makes this all work. Solidifying Christopher Reeves as the Man of Steel, he makes you believe he is actually Superman as a nerdy Clark Kent but a compelling hero. John Williams also adds another amazing score among his incredible resume of theme songs. Superman the Movie was one of the starting off points for what are superhero movies today. What came after it though, not so much? In 1980, Superman II made its ways to cinemas and turned out to be just ok. The movie suffered from a lot of interference when the director Richard Donner was fired from the set and replaced by Richard Lester to finish the movie. Luckily 16 years later in 2006, Warner Brothers gave creative rights back to Richard Donner to complete his version of the film that was named “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut”. However, at the time we were only given Lesters version of Superman II who went on to also make Superman III which turned out to be even worse than the second movie. But it was 1987 that put the nail in the coffin for Christopher Reeves run on Superman with the massive failure, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Then in 2006, X-Men director Bryan Singer took over to continue the story for the Man of Steel. Superman Returns has been a debate among fans for years, while it was a fun and entertaining look at the Man of Tomorrow, it just couldn’t capture the same heart and appreciation that we have for the original 1978 Superman.

 

The Mummy (1999)

So good they started the second film the day after this one’s release. Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) sets out to discover the ancient city of Hamunaptra with the help of Rick O’Connell (Brenden Fraser), but instead ends up unleashing a curse that has risen a dead Egyptian High Priest Imhotep. Imhotep seeks to resurrect his eternal lover, Anck-Su-Namun so they may be together and control Egypt. This film was a massive success at the time of its release, and even to this day still holds up as a thrilling action adventure film. While audiences saw a fun movie, Universal saw dollar signs. In 2001, the sequel The Mummy Returns was released which saw the return of the original cast and included new characters such as Dwayne Johnson as the Scorpion King. Aside from the terrible CGI Dwayne Johnson in the second film, his character was liked by many and thus a spin off movie was made titled The Scorpion King. While it did fine at the box office, it ended up spawning three other sequels of its own that seemed to get worse and worse with each installment. Then in 2008 a third entry was made with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and while it seemed ambitious at the time to introduce a new mummy and tell any entirely different story, it just still couldn’t hit the same beats the first one did. And just as you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Universal Pictures decided to reboot the series in 2017 in a film that was expected to be the beginning of an entire cinematic world of the original Universal monsters called the Dark Universe. But technically if you count all of the Scorpion King movies, there are a total of seven films in The Mummy franchise.

 

Iron Man (2008)

The one that started it all. Weapons dealer Tony Stark is caught up in an attack and kidnapped by a terrorist organization, forced to create missiles for the terrorist he decides he has plans of his own. Creating an armored suit in the prison he is staying in, he manages to escape and make his way back to civilization. One back home he realizes the harm his weapons are inflicting on the world, instead of being used to save people they are often stolen by enemies with other agendas. He makes the choice to shut down his weapons company and focus on other things that can help the world, thus Ironman is born. Building a more advanced version of the original suit that saved his life, Tony Stark begins his process of being a hero that people can rally behind and trust once again. Iron Man was the turning point for Marvel, betting all their chips on Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Faverau (Director) into making this movie turned out the be biggest and best gamble anyone has ever seen. Although RDJ has made other appearances as Tony Stark in other movies like The Avengers and Spider-Man: Homecoming, we will be focusing on the films that are direct sequels to the first entry. Before the Avengers Assembled for the first time, we were given the sequel Iron Man 2 in 2010 that introduced the villains Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Whiplash (Mikey Rourke), as well as our first look at Scarlett Johannson as Black Widow. Iron Man 3 came out in 2013, this time directed by Shane Black and took place after the events of The Avengers. Tony Stark struggles with PTSD since the battle of New York and is now faced by a new threat, the Mandarin. While the appearance of the Mandarin was so hyped, what they did with the villain was a disappointment. Although RDJ’s other appearances have made up for these two average sequels, they still don’t live up to the first.

 

The Matrix (1999)

Another game changing film that came out in 1999. Following Keanu Reeves as a man who lives between two worlds, one as a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson and the other as the supposed savior Neo. While in reality he is on a ship that is constantly on the run from machines, when he enters a virtual reality known as the Matrix he is a superhuman being with unimaginable abilities. The Matrix broke new ground for special effects during its time and has since been regarded as “one of the greatest science fiction films” everything that came from it just didn’t match up with what the first film did. Warner Brothers and The Wachowski Brothers wanted to do something ambitious by producing both sequels back to back and not keep fans waiting for the final film, oh how we wish they did. The Matrix Reloaded was released May 2003 and at the beginning was pandered as a terrible sequel to the original. Then later that year in November, The Matrix Revolution was released and ended up being so disappointing it made the first one look great. Further from that a series of animated shorts were put together for a movie called The Animatrix in the same year as the sequels, safe to say 2003 was a big year for The Matrix. It has been announced that a fourth film is in production and will see the return as Keanu Reeves as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity with Lana Wachowski coming back to direct, you might be worried this could be as bad as the sequels but really… could it be worse?

 

Taken (2008)

Liam Neeson plays as Bryan Mills a retired CIA agent. His sixteen year old daughter Kim is given tickets to follow a band with her friend through Paris, but Bryan refuses to let her go. His ex-wife and her wealthy husband convince Bryan to change his mind and he gives his daughter permission to go. However, upon arrival they are tailed by strange men who end up breaking into their home and kidnapping both of them. During the encounter Kim calls her father during the attack who manages to get one of the kidnappers on the phone, Bryan warns the man to let his daughters go or he would come for them and kill them, the man simply replies “Good Luck” and thus ensues an action-packed thrill ride as Bryan Mills tears through Paris in search of his daughter. Taken has never been one of the popular for its action moments, what made the first film so great and memorable were its characters and the content. The story of a teen daughter being kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking is one of the most terrifying ideas, basically turning this movie into more horror than action. That is what made the first installment so successful and since it made so much money and was widely appreciated, so was the opportunity to make it into a franchise. Liam Neeson returned in 2012 and 2014 for Taken 2 and Taken 3 that strayed away from being an action film with a message and more of jumbled plots with quick-cut camera work. Don’t even get me started on the television series.

 

Batman (1989)

Rather than kicking things off with an origin story, Tim Burtons take on Batman was more of focused on Bruce Wayne already dawning the cape and cowl and facing his archrival The Joker. As Jack Napier tries to make himself relevant in the crime world, he is sent to Ace Chemicals for an errand run. When he arrives, he is met by the GCPD and Batman. He tumbles off a ledge above a tank of acid, Batman tries to pull him up but Napier slips and plunges into the tank. Later he washes up in Gotham harbor and goes to an underground surgeon to fix the damage that has been done to him. He travels back to his boss who set him up at Ace Chemicals and reveals his white skin, green hair and permanent grin. Napier now claims himself to be The Joker and sets to start his trail of chaos on Gotham. Batman 89’ was such a monumental success at the time, there was no way they couldn’t do more entries. Batman Returns came out in 1992 and is considered much darker than the first, is still a worthy sequel to the first. However, Warner Brothers wanted to lighten things up and brought on Joel Schumacher to take the mantel but the choice turned out to be a critical blow to Batmans reputation. Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman in 1995’s Batman Forever, while the film had amtitious ideas by exploring more of Bruce Waynes past and introducing characters like The Riddler and Robin, it just wasn’t the Batman film we wanted. But things didn’t change when the title character was once again re-casted with George Clooney as the Dark Knight in 1997’s Batman & Robin and well… everything that needed to be said about that movie, has been said.

 

Predator (1987)

Another masterpiece by John McTiernan (Die Hard) that helped solidify another 80’s action star. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Major “Dutch” Schaefer, the leader of a Special Forces op who have been sent to a South American jungle on a rescue mission. But things are as all they seem when the team that is hunting, becomes hunted. A killer alien who specializes in the hunt has now made Dutch and his team his primary target. Another action film that set the standard for modern action movies, Predator is not much more than a good time with cinema and just like the Predators persistence Hollywood will stop at nothing to get more of these films made. A sequel was made in 1990 titled Predator 2 that started Danny Glover and brought the alien to the concrete playground of Los Angeles, but the film didn’t live up to the success of its predecessor. It wasn’t until 14 years later in 2004 that we saw the title character again in Alien vs. Predator, which received a follow up sequel Alien vs. Predator: Requiem in 2007. The killer alien has then been attempted to be given two soft reboots with 2010 Predators and 2018 The Predator, both turned out to also be failures. They have yet to make a worthy follow up to the original 1987 film and to be honest, it’s been 33 years since the first movie… probably won’t happen again.

 

The Hangover (2009)

Its films like this, why lists like this exists. Three guys take their friend to Las Vegas for a bachelor party before he gets married, but things go terribly when the three guys wake up in their hotel completely hungover and cannot find their friend. Now they must locate their missing buddy and get him back home before the wedding. Simple story right? That is one of the best things about this movie, it’s a simple story that blows up and becomes one of the most outrageous comedies ever made. When it was released, it was one of the biggest and most talked about comedies in years. Sky rocketing Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis into stardom. The Hangover was just one of those movies that was fine on its own and never needed a sequel, but Warner Brothers thought differently. The Hangover Part II came out in 2011 and was basically the exact same story except they are in Bangkok, trying to use old jokes from the first movie and doing nothing to progress the characters. Then in 2013, The Hangover Part III came out. Trying to wrap up some kind of continuity from the first two movies, it ended up not even being a movie about people who are hungover and trying to deal with the situation at hand. While the first installment will always be widely regarded among some of the best comedies of all time, we are glad it is over now.

 

Some films just don’t need sequels, sometimes a movie is so good that it holds its own for years and years. Titanic, Joker, The Goonies, Inception, movies that will continue to hold their own. Regardless of the abundance of sequels the films on this list got, they will still be remembered as some of the best.

Stay Tuned for the next entry, When The Second Film is the Best.

Written by David Moya

A lot of appreciation for Marvel. Big love for DC Comics!

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