5 Movie Franchises That Are Way Better Than You Realize
You know what we probably have too many of these days? Movies. That's why we need movie reviews. They help the average person who may not have time to watch every film that comes out to easily differentiate between what they should and should not watch. However, the critics can't be right all the time, and movies that deserve at least a little bit of acclaim never really get it. Sometimes, this happens over the course of several movies. We talk about a few underrated film series from recent history on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked luminaries Alex Schmidt and Tom Reimann. I'm also talking about a few in this column here today. Let's get to it!
Remember when bro comedies were all the rage? It was a simpler time, when films like American Pie and Road Trip were box office gold and misogyny was still the bedrock of American filmmaking. In other words, like so many other "simpler times" people often yearn for, it was an unquestionably dark period in history. For obvious reasons, public perception of these movies has taken a turn for the negative over the years.
With that in mind, it's perfectly understandable if the 2014 Seth Rogen / Zac Efron vehicle Neighbors didn't make its way to your personal radar. "Seth Rogen and Zac Efron star in a comedy about a frat house" is a premise that seems like it's about 10 years past its expiration date. Which makes it all the more surprising that Neighbors is Rogen's highest-grossing non-animated movie ever. That's not for nothing. It's a shockingly funny movie which manages to not be douchey or gross, even though it's operating within a genre which practically requires both of those traits.
Even if you can't stomach Rogen, the chemistry between Efron and Dave Franco makes it all worth it. There's a reason they took home an MTV Movie Award for Best Onscreen Duo, and it's that they are absolutely adorable from start to finish. Efron also took home the award for Best Shirtless Scene, because the MTV awards are the stupidest and bullshittiest of all the stupid bullshit awards out there.
Popcorn you can't eat is the literal definition of garbage.
Still, acclaim is acclaim, and this movie got more of that than any of us would have expected the first time we saw the trailer. I know I wasn't expecting much, anyway. That was doubly true when I learned a sequel was in the works, and it seemed like my lowered expectations were warranted when Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising grossed less than half of what the first film did on a way larger budget.
I'd actually forgotten the sequel even happened until I saw it on Amazon Prime recently. Solely out of reverence for the first installment, I decided to give it a courtesy rent, and was pleasantly surprised to find that, in a lot of ways, it's an even better movie than the original. The premise isn't radically dissimilar: A house full of rowdy college kids move in next door to Rogen and Rose Byrne, jeopardizing the couple's ability to live in / sell their house. The difference, as the title implies, is that this time, the house is occupied by an upstart sorority.
Radical departure alert!
Early in the movie, we're treated to surprising but true-in-real-life revelation: Sororities aren't allowed to party. By that, I mean they aren't allowed to host events where alcohol is served. To do that, they have to go to a frat house, because holy shit ... why?
From there, the movie unfolds pretty much how you'd imagine, but with a surprisingly positive message that you wouldn't expect from a Seth Rogen movie involving a frat house.
When it comes to Vin Diesel and movie franchises, the first thing that comes to mind are the Fast & Furious movies. That's perfectly respectable and understandable. We probably would've forgotten about Vin Diesel a long time ago without those movies, and oh, the Facebook posts we would've missed out on if that was the case.
Yes, I know it's a YouTube video, but it was posted on his goddamn magical Facebook page first.
Still, there's another franchise which, for my money, constitutes the most fun and entertaining work Diesel has done this side of being the voice of the Iron Giant. I'm speaking, of course, of the Riddick series. If you're unfamiliar, it kicked off with 2000's space horror epic Pitch Black.
Weirdly, he lip syncs a Beyonce song in this, too.
It's by not a groundbreaking movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Vin plays a Richard B. Riddick, a criminal who's been captured by a bounty hunter who's transporting him to some far-off space prison. Unfortunately, their craft crashes and, you guessed it, Riddick and his freaky night vision become the passengers' only hope for survival. It's a role that requires almost no emotion from Diesel. In other words, he's operating firmly within his wheelhouse.
A few years later, we were treated to the batshit insanity that is The Chronicles Of Riddick, a highly enjoyable film that everyone hated, possibly because there's no way to look at the evil army and their stupid helmets ...
... or hear their insane name (Necromongers) said over and over without feeling like a little bit of a dork. However, if you can get past all that (which critics and moviegoers definitely could not), it's the most fun you'll ever have watching Vin Diesel scowl his way through a space set.
Though critics weren't especially kind to either film, Vin obviously felt otherwise. He initially walked away from the Fast & Furious franchise after the first movie, but was coaxed into doing a cameo in the third one in exchange for the rights to the Riddick franchise.
It took another decade for the third installment, simply titled Riddick, to roll around. But when the Deez outwits an angry space dog by appealing to its innate desire to play fetch within the first ten minutes of the film, you know the wait was well worth it.
Foreign horror movies have been all the rage over the past decade or so. Korea and Australia have been especially active on that front, and both countries deserve all the credit they get for the movies they make. You'll get no argument from me on that, unless we're talking about The Snowtown Murders, which was boring outback garbage.
All that said, my favorite band of overseas horror films comes from Spain. REC centers (for the most part) around an apartment building that's either infected with a virus that turns people into zombies or haunted by a malevolent presence that turns people into zombies. Or both. It's never 100 percent clear. What we do know is that the government is hellbent on making sure the people inside that building don't escape.
If that sounds familiar, it's probably because you saw the 2008 American remake, which was called Quarantine. Also a pretty great movie, mostly because it's a shot-for-shot remake of its Spanish predecessor.
The films that inspired a million "woman gets dragged away by evil force" scenes.
Unfortunately, the two go on vastly different journeys in their respective sequels. Aside from a weird, Halloween-esque turn in the third film that constitutes a huge departure from the original premise, the Spanish movies mostly stay focused on that one building and trying to ascertain exactly what the hell is going on.
Yes, the plot is unbelievable and borders on being downright corny at times. Sure, you're tired of found footage movies with shaky camerawork. I understand all that, but still, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The found footage genre as a whole may have taken a turn for the terrible like a year after it got off the ground, but there are exceptions, and the REC movies fall into that category.
Meanwhile, the American version breaks from the original premise starting with the second movie, which takes place on a cross-country flight. It's also a pretty decent film, but abandoning the original spirit of the franchise was a mistake, and you realize that the at the end of the second movie when the plane lands and we see a dramatic shot of Las Vegas in the final scene. Somehow, even though it's precisely the kind of franchise-destroying nonsense Hollywood loves to partake in, Quarantine: Vegas Vacation has yet to make its way to theaters.
The Maze Runner
Let's get one thing clear right away: Not a single goddamn one of you reading this would survive a day in the Scorch. I still barely know what that means; I just know it was my favorite thing to tell people for most of 2015. If you're unsure, that's a reference to the second installment of the YA film franchise Maze Runner. Listen, I know this doesn't seem like high praise, since we're talking about such a maligned genre, but if you ask me, the Maze Runner movies are my favorite of all the YA series out there.
Again, I get it. No one gives a shit about these movies anymore, not even young adults. That doesn't change the fact that the first Maze Runner is a goddamn blast to watch. What's it about? Motherfuckers trying to survive a maze, that's what. It's got monsters in it and shit. That sounds boring to you? There's no way that sounds boring to you. Do they survive the maze? I'll never te-- fine, yeah, there's a second movie. Obviously, they survive the maze. Not everyone, though! If you're the type who tunes in to movies like this just to see sassy teens die horrible deaths, you won't be disappointed.
It's also insanely well-acted for a YA movie. There's not a grating or annoying performance to be found. It's also almost exclusively action. For a premise that actually needs a lot more explanation than I'm pretending here, they manage to spell it all out without too many distractingly long monologues or otherwise excessive forms of exposition.
If I have any criticism, it's that they maybe give us a little too much information, which takes some of the mystery out of the second film.
Not a single ... damn ... day. None of you.
However, what the second film lacks in unanswered questions, it makes up for with a whole bunch of genuinely satisfying action sequences and a frantic pace that makes the boring parts feel more like much-needed rest stops. It's also worth noting that they're at least marginally less preachy than a lot of the works the franchise counts as competition.
And finally, as mentioned earlier, telling people they wouldn't survive a day in the Scorch never gets old. Seriously, turn to the person next to you and try it right now. They'll love it.
If you thought we'd get out of here without talking about The Purge, you've clearly never read this column before. I will never not talk about this franchise when underrated movies are the topic of discussion. It's one of those rare series which just keep getting better.
At first, I chalked this up to what I perceived as a bit of a misstep. In the first movie, they took an interesting premise involving the entire country erupting into controlled chaos and set it entirely within the home of one person. Don't get me wrong, it was still a good movie, but it didn't really deliver on the insanity that the elevator pitch implies. That probably explains why it killed at the box office but was generally not cared about at all by critics or consumers.
The reviews were much more favorable for the second installment, The Purge: Anarchy. This time around, viewers got what they wanted in the first place: a movie filled with rampant violence and not a whole lot else. It centers around a group of people who, for various reasons, find themselves stuck outdoors when the Purge starts, making them easy targets for legal murder. But there's also another plotline involving Omar from The Wire which fills in a lot of the backstory that the first movie didn't.
Everyone who was on The Wire will always be "that person from The Wire" to me.
Seems backwards, right? You give the details and make the big action movie first, then spin it into some arthouse shit from there if you want. That's what I thought, until I realized the first movie was made on a budget of $3 million, which makes its $89 million worldwide gross all the more impressive. There's no way the second movie could've been pulled off with that budget.
Even then, the filmmakers weren't working with a whole lot more the second time around -- just under $11 million. The worldwide take was $119 million. If you've ever wondered why these movies keep getting made, there's your answer.
The seemingly weird order of the movies wasn't just smart from a financial standpoint. What it's done is give the unbridled chaos which people wanted when they first heard the premise plenty of room to grow in interesting ways. The second movie was chaos. The third movie, The Purge: Election Year, was chaos with a whole lot of politics thrown in, but in a way that still involves human sacrifices being wheeled out on furniture carts to be killed in front of a frenzied group of onlookers.
Watch it with the entire family!
The end of that movie seems to spell the end of the franchise, but something that happens right before the credits roll implies that not only will there be another movie, but also that next time, the violence won't be the kind the government gets to control, but rather the kind they have to protect themselves against, and not just for 12 hours. So as crazy as these movies have been so far, all indications are that the next one will be significantly crazier.
That's the magic of this franchise: It's based around a premise that seems like it should work exactly one time before all the sequels just start looking like desperate cash grabs, yet they keep finding ways to make it fresh and compelling.
Not to mention the fact that the Purge is literally happening for real in the Philippines right now, which makes the events depicted in the movie seem way more believable.
Adam is telling jokes in a town possibly near you next week, especially if "near you" means Chicago, Iowa City, Omaha, Kansas City, or Denver. For details and tickets, go here.