Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Thoughts on some questionable film franchises…

O.k. I’m aware that I’ll probably ruffle some feathers with this one, but as summer, i.e., the time of summer blockbusters, comes to a close, I’ve recently found myself contemplating some of the many film franchises that are popular among us nerds/geeks/etc., and, in particular, the ones I think never probably should have become franchises.

The first is Highlander. Now, I should say at the start, I cannot overstate how much I love the first movie. It’s one that could have easily been a cinematic disaster. Seriously, it stars a French guy playing a medieval Scots highlander, while the Scottish guy plays an Egypto-Spaniard. But damn, the movie just works somehow. Lambert is surprisingly confident and engaging as Connor MacLeod/Russell Nash, while Sean Connery as Ramirez and Clancy Brown as Kurgan just chew up the scenery whenever they’re on screen. And Queen’s soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant – it’s just a perfect storm of wonderful weirdness.

I even love the understated quality of the original poster (© 20th Century Fox)

And that’s where I think it should have ended. Highlander should have remained a cult favorite, a lone flash of improbable brilliance, one of those movies successive generations hear about, discover and enjoy, kind of like The Warriors.

But instead of that, there are now a total of five (!) sequel movies, two live-action TV series, an animated series and two animated movies. Most of that I didn’t even bother watching (and I never will). I saw the second movie (The Quickening) when it was released because I liked the first one so much, even though I had misgivings going into it.

And Connery on that poster was a major red flag (© Interstar, Republic Entertainment, Seymour Borde & Associates)

Walking out of the theater, I concealed my disappointment in front of whoever I went to see it with, but I remember thinking, WTF did I just watch? I also watched a fair amount of the first TV series back in the 1990s, and I’ll admit some episodes are watchable – and I realize that it’s really popular in some quarters. But like all of the other follow-up material, I think it’s just conceptually wrong and, to me, pointless. That first sequel already quite clearly demonstrated that the core concept really only worked in the first movie, and it gets ruined if you start fiddling with it. But fiddle with it they did, continuously.

So now, of course, there’s going to be a reboot. I’m definitely one of the contingent who thinks that famous tagline should have been heeded: “There can be only one.”

And that brings me to the one that I think will be even more controversial: Indiana Jones.

(© Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Again, I can’t stress enough that when I first saw it, I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark like few other films at the time. It has, admittedly, lost some of its luster for me over the years, in that I now find myself wincing or cringing at some of the stereotypical portrayals of non-white people, but it’s still a movie I can watch and mostly enjoy as a rollicking adventure even now.

I can’t say the same about any of the sequels, though. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is forgettable tripe (which actually magnifies the casual racism in Raiders). I think the oft-praised Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is similarly overrated – although I’ll admit that when I first saw it in the theater when it was released, I liked it well enough, just because I so wanted to see a good Indiana Jones movie after Temple, and because I really like Sean Connery. But I found that it just didn’t hold up for me after repeated viewings (in fact, Connery, playing Indy’s father, now annoys me more than anything else). And that whole opening sequence, in which we’re introduced to young Indiana, and learn the secret origin of his hat and bullwhip, is basically superfluous. Did anybody really want or need to know any of that? But the idea underlying that sequence was milked for the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series, in which we learned so much more about Indy’s early years that we never knew we wanted to know – and in which he met pretty much everyone who was anyone in early 20th century world history.

And then there’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. *Heavy sigh.* The less said about that, the better – its sole redeeming quality is that it brought back the delightful Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, although even that was bittersweet, because we learn that Indy and Marion did not stay together after the events of Raiders, and that he is in fact an absentee father.

Sorry Ms. Allen. Not even you could save this mess… (© Lucasfilm Ltd.)

The thing is, unlike in the case of Highlander, I think the whole Indiana Jones concept is tailor-made for a series of adventure stories. I just think that the franchise should have gone in a different direction. For the longest time, whenever I happened to re-watch any of the post-Raiders material, I realized that it always seemed like something was missing, and it finally hit me a few years ago (basically, after I saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on TV): Marion Ravenwood. She’s awesome! To me, Marion, as portrayed by Allen, was absolutely crucial to what made Raiders such a good movie. She is a character who is as likeable, distinctive and memorable as Indy. I see Raiders as the set-up for an ongoing adventuring partnership between the two – as indicated by Marion’s final line in the movie, “Well, I know what I’ve got here…” before taking Indy out for a drink (it’s kind of like that “beginning of a beautiful friendship” moment at the end of Casablanca). That should have been the point of departure for every sequel.

But alas, nobody saw the value in that, so for me Raiders of the Lost Ark will probably be the only Indiana Jones story I ever enjoy – well, that and a few of the comic books published by Marvel in the early 1980s…


  1. M-Wolverine

    Well, as you say with the most famous line, Highlander was kind of made to be a one off, it’s the point of the movie. The TV show was ok, but not completely necessary.

    But I’d think you could come up with tons of franchises more than Indiana Jones. Which is pretty much designed for sequels. The whole Karen Allen take is a bit perplexing. She was good in Raiders, but it’s not like the rest of her career showed we were missing something. Crystal Skull, while not a good film, in her case wasn’t a surprise because we have Crusade set after Raiders and we know they’re not together there. And Skull pretty much shows that just having Marian doesn’t save a film. She was in the best one and the worst one. (And she’s good in it, but how much of Raiders is Indy without Marian? Probably the majority; she wasn’t a tandem in it).

    Different strokes I guess. But I’m not sure whether this should be about movies that should have just been only 1 movie, or movies that one didn’t like the sequels or the sequels went off the rails. Seems like two, or three, completely different things.

    1. “She was good in Raiders, but it’s not like the rest of her career showed we were missing something.”

      Like a lot of performers, Karen Allen decided early on that she did not wish to subject herself to the Hollywood Machine and be turned into something else, so she avoided studio pictures on purpose. The rest of her career was devoted to playing roles she wanted to play in movies she wanted to make, and none of them broke through to become an “indie darling” crossover hit. But I read many a review praising her stellar work in otherwise unimpressive films.

      As always, there is a difference between quality and popularity.

  2. Eric van Schaik

    Tomfitz, you forgot a few 😉
    In no specific order: Matrix, Robocop, Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park/World, Lethal Weapon, Back to the Future, X-Men, Batman………

    Mr. Bodnar what are your thoughts on those movies?
    You opened a can of worms 🙂

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Well, it’s mainly just these two, and the latter in particular, that have sent me into long reveries when I certainly have more important things to worry about.
      But since you guys are asking about others, here’s my thumbnail responses:
      Alien: probably should have ended with the first, although I like Aliens well enough.
      Saw: Never watched any of these
      Star Wars: not as big a fan as I used to be, but overall like it, with the exception of the prequels
      James Bond: again, not as big a fan as I used to be, some I’ve liked, some not, completely indifferent if they decide to stop making them or they continue into the next century
      Matrix: didn’t like any of them
      Robocop: only ever watched the first one, which I liked
      Mission Impossible: watched the first one and part of one of the sequels; not really a fan
      Jurassic Park: probably should have ended with the first one (I only watched the first sequel, haven’t seen the latest ones)
      Lethal Weapon: used to love them, now I can’t watch even a few minutes of any of them
      Back to the Future: silly fun
      X-men: only liked First Class and Days of Future Past, but don’t think any of them hold a candle to the sheer fun of the MCU movies
      Batman: liked the first Keaton one, that’s about it.

      And that’s all I’ll say about those for the time being; but hey, you guys feel free to deliberate on these in the comments. Eric, maybe this Mr. Bodnar will even chime in… 😛

      1. Eric van Schaik

        Well Edo. Here are my thoughts about the franchises:

        Highlander: it should be only one
        Indi : 1 and 3 are good movies the other ones not
        Alien: it should have stopped after Aliens. The beginning of Alien3 made no sense to me.
        Saw: I haven’t seen any of them. Some called it torture porn.
        Star Wars: the first 3 and rogue one are my favorites.
        James Bond: I like the Pierce Brosnan ones. Graig destroyed it for me.
        Matrix: see Highlander
        Robocop: see Highlander
        Mission Impossible: I recently saw the last one in cinema. Nice action. The 2nd is the worst.
        jurassic Parc/World: The first for both of them.
        Lethal Weapon: A product of it’s time. Danny Glover using a carphone the size of a large box 🙂 which make it hard to watch without laughing all the time.
        Back to the Future: Still a great watchable serie
        X-Men: I still have to see Days and Apocalypse. The others: Meh
        Batman: The first Keaton and the Nolan ones.

        As a bonus:
        Men in Black: skip the second one
        Pirates of the Caribean: see Highlander
        Predator: see Highlander althought the second one has it’s moments
        Spider-Man: meh for Maguire, have seen the Garfield ones
        Terminator: the first 2 or course
        Superman: only the first one with Reeves

        Let’s see how the others think about it 😉

        1. Edo Bosnar

          Pirates of the Caribbean – that’s a franchise I don’t mind; for me, it’s in the same ‘silly fun’ category as Back to the Future. I found the last one in particular – based on a novel by Tim Powers – pretty solid.

  3. I never cared for the Highlander films but I really enjoyed the series. It started stiff, but then they began playing with the idea of a fellowship of immortals and it got interesting. And occasionally funny, like the episode involving the theft of the Stone of Scone.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    I totally agree on Highlander; it only worked in the one film. The rest were either confusing and bland or just rehashed the same kinds of scenes. The tv series had its ups and downs; but, for a time, found its footing and was decent, entertaining television.

    Indy I would argue, to a point. Temple of Doom spends too much time trying to be Gunga Din, which was a racist movie to start with; but, had the excuse of being done in a less enlightened time. Temple doesn’t have that excuse. I do like a lot of it, though; just wish it could have been a bit more intelligent. Last Crusade holds up perfectly fine to me, except Julian Glover’s bad American accent. Kingdom was just a bad idea all around. I do think Karen Allen added a spark missing from the others and her reappearance in Kingdom is the only saving grace. I think if Spielberg and Lucas had spent more time crafting adventures than concentrating on homaging old movies and serials, the other films would have had more of the flavor of Raiders. I sampled the Young Indy show and was bored to tears by the pilot and what little I saw.

  5. Le Messor

    Queen’s soundtrack is nothing short of brilliant
    Who Wants To Live Forever? is my favourite song.

    I never liked Temple Of Doom as much as Raiders, but I love Last Crusade and don’t even mind Crystal Skull (at least, I don’t hate it as much as everyone else seems to).
    But as M-Wolverine pointed out, there’s a difference between a movie with bad sequels and a movie that never should have had sequels. “There can be only one” indeed!

    (I’d put several of Eric’s choices on the former list… but not even all of them.)

  6. Andrew Collins

    As much as I want to see the continuing adventures of my favorite characters, I have found that I often regret what I asked for.

    Of all the big franchises, I can can say that truly good, enjoyable sequels are few and far between. Discounting “planned” series like the Harry Potter films or the Tolkein trilogies:
    -“Mad Max” deserved 2 out of its 3 sequels (“Road Warrior” and “Fury Road” of course)
    – I enjoyed Die Hard 2 almost as much as the original
    – “Aliens”, though much different in tone, was a worthy sequel to Aliens
    – The “Original” Star Wars trilogy has childhood nostalgia going for it, but I really enjoy revisiting those movies every few years. “Empire” has become my fave but my wife loves “Jedi.”
    – MOST of the James Bond movies have been good too, though I honestly haven’t cared for any of the Daniel Craig ones after Casino Royale…
    – I thought Hellboy II was better than the first one.
    – Likewise, the second Dirty Harry movie, Magnum Force, is my favorite in that series.

    But the sequels to Robo Cop, Highlander, The Crow, Matrix, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Predator, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Austin Powers, Conan The Barbarian, Men In Black, First Blood (Rambo), Rocky, and John Wick have all left me cold.

    And I know Terminator 2 is considered better than the first in many ways, but special effects aside, the story makes no sense in context of the original film and I think the original story is better left alone…

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