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The 8 Ball 6.24.14: The Top 8 Fourquels
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.24.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Fourquels

Hello, one and all, and welcome to the latest 411 Movie Zone 8 Ball! Jeremy Thomas, here as ever and bringing you only the greatest in top 8 lists. (Mileage may vary. Terms and conditions may apply. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.) This Friday we get the latest entry in Michael Bay's incredibly profitable and deeply polarizing Transformers franchise as Transformers: Age of Extinction attempts to see if it can do more with Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz than it did with Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Age of Extinction may seem to some of us like the seventeenth iteration of Bay's live-action destruction-porn franchise, but in fact it is the fourth with two more likely on the way. Fourth films in a series--or "fourquels," if you prefer--are tricky propositions for film franchises. Most films stop once a trilogy is complete and as we discussed last year, even a threequel is a hard thing to get right. By the time you get to the fourth entry of a film series, fatigue has firmly set in and it usually falls to the film to shake things up and inject new life. Many fail to accomplish that but some have succeeded in granting a new lease on life, or at least continue the fun. This week we're going to look at the best of the fourquels in cinematic history.

Caveat: You would think that criteria for qualifying for this list would be easy, and in fact it is pretty straight-forward but I did make a few determinations. The first and most obvious is that the film had to be the actual fourth in a main franchise and not a spin-off. So for example, I did not consider the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a full franchise because it consists of individual film series all bound in the same universe. By the same token, for the X-Men films I didn't consider the X-Men Origins: Wolverine or The Wolverine as a part of the main series. The other caveat is that I counted the films in terms of chronological release. That means that Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope was the first film and thus Episode I - The Phantom Menace was the fourth. (Obviously, this means prequels could be fourth films in franchises.)

Just Missing The Cut

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Rambo (2008)
Scream 4 (2011)
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

#8: Rocky IV (1985)

First up on our list is a film that you almost have to be un-American to dislike. I'm joking a little here, but there are few fourquels more patriotic than the distinctly Cold War-ish fourth Rocky film. Rocky is one of the first franchises I can personally remember where people were starting to make the kinds of jokes that are commonplace today about never-ending cash-in sequels. Sure, it wasn't the first where that had happened, but it was certainly the first in my experience. There was some legitimate concern around the franchise extending itself too long with a fourth film, but Sylvester Stallone had an idea and what a plan it was. Tapping into the Russia vs. USA sentiment that was prevalent in the atmosphere at the time, Stallone crafted a script that played into the West vs. East mindset and improved upon its immediate predecessor by a fair measure. Stallone has always been good when he steps into Rocky Balboa's shoes and Dolph Lundgren of course had a star-making turn as the evil Soviet Ivan Drago. Rocky IV is a stellar example of the cheesier action films of the 1980s that worked incredibly well because they were fun. The franchise would nosedive somewhat with Rocky V, but here things were still going strong.

#7: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

The Harry Potter franchise was generally a consistently good franchise throughout the length of its eight film adaptations. Take a moment and appreciate how rare that is, that a film stays good across eight films with a variety of directors. Sure, the franchise had its definite ups and downs but by and large the fantasy series based on J.K. Rowling's worldwide literary phenomenon stayed engaging and enjoyable. Everyone has their favorites of course, but it is generally agreed that the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, is a high mark for the franchise. And make no mistake: it is and that gave the fourth a hard act to follow, particularly when Alfonso Cuarón was switched out for Mike Newell at the director's chair. Is Goblet of Fire as good as its immediate predecessor? Not quite, but it couldn't really be. This was largely a transitional film that features some big moments but was meant to keep the franchise paced following the big events of the latter entry, while dealing with the difficult moments of Harry growing up. Newell kept the heart and soul of the franchise firmly encased within the film and negotiated the massive story nicely. It's an entry that can stand tall within the impressive franchise.

#6: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

There was a time that if you wanted to see the fourth film in a franchise, horror was just about your best bet. The genre has long been prone to sequelitis, as producers were able to make low-budget films that capitalized on the name value of a well-known monster or killer for profit. This has, of course, led to a wide variety of bad horror fourquels (Hellraiser: Bloodlines, Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master) but some few of them have been quite good. In fact, the Friday the 13th franchise hit its peak with its fourth (and supposed-but-not-really "final") chapter. The film contains a storyline that is more cohesive and engaging than the gimmicky third movie, with characters that are more interesting and fleshed out. Characters have motivations that go being partying and sex and the dialogue is largely better. The acting in this third film is perhaps the best in the first four. Kimberly Beck and Erich Anderson are quite good as the main teens of Trish and Rob, Corey Feldman is very natural for a kid actor, Crispin Glover plays a believable "lovable loser" type and Joan Freeman is good as Mrs. Jarvis. Tom Savini's return to the special effects job was a distinctly welcome one. If this had been the ending, Jason Voorhees would have gone out on a high note.

#5: Sudden Impact (1983)

Most people know Sudden Impact primarily as the film in which "Dirty" Harry Callahan utters his most famous phrase: "Go ahead...make my day." And that is certainly its primary place in cinematic history. But it doesn't hurt that the fourth film in the Dirty Harry franchise is also a damned good one too. The film wasn't Eastwood's first turn as the director of a film (that would be 1971's Play Misty For Me), but it was the first time he seemed really confident behind the camera for something other than a western. This franchise often comes under criticism for being overly violent, but those complaints deflect the point behind the violence and the moral ambiguity of the franchise. Sudden Impact has the most of that particular theme, with Harry out to chase a woman with vigilantism on her mind as she tries to kill the man who raped her. Sondra Locke gives a great performance and the story is perhaps the best of the franchise, with the possible exception of the very first film. Sudden Impact sometimes seems a bit underrated among films of the era and deserves more respect, particularly as a fourth film in a franchise.

#4: X-Men: First Class (2011)

As I said in the caveat, spin-offs didn't apply and so technically this is the fourth film in the direct X-Men franchise. Matthew Vaughn had a tall order ahead of him with X-Men: First Class; it felt as if the weight of the entire franchise was pressing directly down on his shoulders to see if he would buckle. Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand was a travesty and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a second nail in the coffin. Had First Class failed than the franchise probably would have died off. But Vaughn smartly laid out a script that didn't feel beholden the tinier details of the original franchise and instead set out to tell a good story, which it thoroughly accomplished. Yes, there are some continuity differences but not so many that Days of Future Past couldn't clean them up. Meanwhile you have knockout performances by James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and particularly Michael Fassbender, some fantastic action, great attention to period design and a story that brought the franchise back to its original themes. It isn't often that a fourth film actively saves a franchise but it's hard not to argue that First Class accomplished that very feat.

#3: Thunderball (1965)

The James Bond franchise has perhaps had the widest variety of ups and downs throughout its history, due in part to the length of the franchise. You have the Goldfingers, GoldenEyes and Skyfalls but you also have the Moonrakers, Octopussys and Die Another Days. Back in 1965 the franchise's low points were still years ahead of it though and Thunderball delivered a fantastic action caper. It's not quite at the quality of Goldfinger, Dr. No and From Russia With Love but it stands tall regardless. Sean Connery was in fine form here as Bond, continuing to help push the character firmly within pop culture consciousness while direct Terrence Young put together some thrilling action sequences. The film gets a little silly at times, but never so far out of the realm of reality that it breaks suspension of disbelief. The underwater finale is a thing of beauty and the production design is fantastic. The franchise would continue on for a bit longer before it started to hit its lows (and then rise back up), but this was perhaps the final film in the Bond franchise's flawless era.

#2: Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (2011)

It is somewhat fitting that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was the film that truly brought Tom Cruise back in a big way, considering that its predecessor was the first film hurt by audiences' rejection of him for his public antics. The Mission: Impossible franchise had never been considered a great one, but it had its moments; the first is quite good and while John Woo lost the rudder of part two, Mission Impossible III was an enjoyable effort. It was Brad Bird's fourth entry in the franchise that truly elevated it though. There was a lot of risk with this film; Cruise's box office commodity was still something people were unsure of and Bird, while a great director, had never directed a live-action film and certainly not one of this scope. Trust Bird and producers Cruise and J.J. Abrams to surprise everyone with a film that was easily the best of the franchise to date and delivered the best pure action film of 2011. Cruise found himself back to top form and he has the best supporting cast of any of the MI films thanks to Simon Pegg being upgraded to a field agent role and Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner doing spectacular work. The action scenes are universally thrilling, particularly the two Dubai action sequences, and the continuity in this film is a lot tighter than any of the previous entries. This film doesn't just feel like another disconnected entry; it feels like the next chapter of a story and that makes it better.

#1: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

The #1 fourquel of all-time goes to one of the great science fiction franchises across media. There's the old saying that there are two kinds of geeks: Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. That's a misconception; I've been a Trekker for as long as I've loved Jedi. There has always been the rumor that with the Trek franchise, the good films are the even-numbered ones. That doesn't quite play out with perfect accuracy but it is generally true. After a good-but-not-great first effort, The Wrath of Khan set a high bar that The Search For Spock couldn't quite do. Leonard Nimoy helped come up with the story for this film, which he directed and which takes the franchise in a fantastic direction. On paper this sounds like the ridiculous, preachy sort of film that would be a disaster: the Enterprise goes back in time to save the whales and thereby save Earth. And yet it works because of how fish-out-of-water (no pun intended) it really is. There's a lot of humor in this film and yet it's never quite silly. The cast is good as ever, and the plot is amazingly well-put together. If it doesn't quite hit the level of Wrath of Khan that's no slight; it gets close and remains the second-best film of the pre-Abrams era.

Disguise of the Episode

Current Series/Season: Season One (2001 - 2002)
Episodes Watched: 17
Last Serial Completed: Q&A - Sydney is heavily questioned by the FBI concerning her past and her current activities at SD-6. Fearing that the FBI might detain her longer, Jack and Vaughn must find a way to make her escape before she blows her cover as a CIA agent.
Episodes Remaining: 88

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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