Whenever a hit film develops into a franchise, it does so with the risk that what made audiences love the first one would ultimately lose its impact with subsequent films. In some cases, that first sequel actually improves upon its predecessor, launching the series and its characters to new heights of pop cultural relevance and box office success (e.g., The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight). However, other film franchises take a little longer to marinate before hitting their respective strides. Here are five examples, presented chronologically by release date:
1. Road to Morocco, 1942
The third of seven Road to… comedy adventures starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Road to Morocco is the one that is remembered best by fans of Hollywood’s golden age. Its two stars’ chemistry has never been stronger, and the film earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay. While Road to Morocco may not seem politically correct nowadays, its impact on the franchise remains indelible. Since its release, the film has received recognition by the American Film Institute as one of the most notable comedies and joined the National Film Registry for preservation by the Library of Congress due to its cultural significance.
2. Goldfinger, 1964
Few characters are as evergreen as James Bond, with more than 20 films (and another set for release this fall). However, despite the series’ 53-year history, Goldfinger is often pinned as the one that made Bond the icon he is today. Marking Sean Connery’s third time in the role, the film introduced 007’s reliance on gadgets and the series’ first extensive pre-credits sequence. So much about Goldfinger — from its Shirley Bassey theme song to Bond girls like Pussy Galore — remains ingrained in fans’ collective memories. No wonder it’s widely considered the gold standard for Bond films.
3. The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007
In more ways than one, Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne marked a precursor of sorts to today’s focus on a more grounded approach to action, pre-dating films like Casino Royale. However, the third film – The Bourne Ultimatum – rounds out the trilogy so strongly that fans are still clamoring for Damon to return to the franchise, following the disappointing The Bourne Legacy. Whether that will happen still remains to be seen, but regardless, The Bourne Ultimatum stands as the series’ best reviewed film and one of the best conclusions in recent years, bringing the character’s journey full-circle.
4. Fast Five, 2011
The Fast and the Furious was undoubtedly a high-speed hit when it arrived in theaters in 2001, but the franchise ran out of fuel by the third installment, leading to a reunion of the series’ original cast. By the time Fast Five came around, the films finally came into its own, injecting a heist element to its street-racing plot and calling past stars like Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges back into the action. Moreover, the addition of Dwayne Johnson as a government agent gunning for Dom (Vin Diesel) and his gang helped usher in new era for the long-running series.
5. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 2011
By the time Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was released, Tom Cruise was no longer the box office draw he once was, and the film marked the live-action debut for director Brad Bird (The Incredibles). All in all, there was little reason to think the fourth film in a 15-year-old franchise would make much of a splash. However, with strong supporting players like Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner as well as a fresh, whimsical take on the material, the film ended up completely revitalizing the series, a trend which continues with this summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
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