'Die Hard' Doesn't Have to End This Way: Five Sequels That Saved Dying Franchises

'Die Hard' Doesn't Have to End This Way: Five Sequels That Saved Dying Franchises

Feb 18, 2013

The fifth Die Hard sequel is a modest box office hit (an estimated $25 million opening over a holiday weekend), but a critical failure. With 159 reviews filed on Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently stands with a 16% Fresh grade… putting it on par with such films as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (15%), Parental Guidance (19%) and the Red Dawn remake (11%). Not good company.  
It doesn’t have to end this way, though, Die Hard. You can still go out on top, and not conclude your beloved franchise with a critically panned, financially underperforming installment. 
Over the years, we have seen a number of film series rebound from what appears to be rock bottom. And just like John McClane, we believe that Die Hard can get up from the beating administered by critics, and triumph in the end. 
Here are five sequels that single-handedly pulled a franchise back from the abyss. These films give us hope that a potential sixth Die Hard can stick the landing, erasing the awful A Good Day to Die Hard from our memories in the process.
Rocky V was supposed to conclude the series, but original director John G. Avildsen failed to deliver an emotional conclusion as we watched a now-destitute former champion (Sylvester Stallone) tutor a raw boxer named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). Critics and fans panned the fifth Rocky – perhaps because Rocky IV was such a patriotic hit – prompting Stallone to try on the gloves one last time for the sentimental, stirring and stripped-down Rocky Balboa in 2006. Directing from his own screenplay, Stallone controlled Rocky’s final bout in the ring, and gave him a tender sendoff that finally put the long-running series to rest.  
J.J. Abrams already started turning Tom Cruise’s franchise around with the entertaining but superficial Mission: Impossible III, which was far more streamlined than John Woo’s bloated M:I sequel yet still felt like a made-for-television offering. Brad Bird, however, fully removed the training wheels and took the franchise around a race track for a handful of mind-blowing action set pieces that took full advantage of the IMAX screen. Ghost Protocol injected life into a series that was in danger of petering out. Thanks to Bird and Cruise’s collaboration, we’re now dying to see where special agent Hunt goes next. 
Very few people who actually sat through the clunky Fast & Furious – the fourth chapter in this high-octane series – could have been excited for Fast Five. The series had delivered back-to-back misses in Tokyo Drift and Furious. Fast Five felt like another lame excuse at extending the shelf life of a marketable series that was past its prime. Then Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson brought his own brand of machismo to the series, and it played beautifully off of Furious star Vin Diesel. Now, the respite might be short-lived. Fast Six, in theaters this summer, could be terrible. But for the moment, the adrenalized and stylish Fast Five put this series back on the right track, and we’ll be interested to see if it stays there.  
To be fair, James Bond has been reinvented multiple times over the years. Often, when a Bond actor has run his course, the series reboots itself by bringing in fresh blood. But Daniel Craig’s second stint in 007’s iconic tuxedo – Quantum of Solace – was such a disaster that some feared his run was over before it actually had begun. Couple that with financial problems at Bond’s home studio, MGM, and the long-running series appeared to be in jeopardy. Then came Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, currently the highest-grossing James Bond film that has earned multiple Oscar nominations and returned the series to a place of glory (after Quantum almost burned the series down to the ground). It’s a remarkable 180-degree turn, and if it can be done for Bond, it can be done for Bruce Willis’ John McClane.  
Horror franchises rarely die. Jason gets launched into space. Freddy gets recast and reinserted into teenagers’ dreams. At least with Halloween H20, the driving forces behind the series tried to reconnect with their roots and wipe away years of atrocious sequels that watered down the brand. Jamie Lee Curtis comes back for a sequel that’s directly connected to the first two Halloween movies, leading an all-star cast of Hollywood talents: Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J and Janet Leigh. Largely considered the best of the Halloween sequels, H20 almost had original director John Carpenter back in the fold, which would have been more special. But it was a fine farewell to a series that now belongs to Rob Zombie… for better or worse.

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