With the impending release of the fourth film in what’s become one of my all-time go-to guilty pleasures, the Final Destination series, I thought it might be fun with this ToM to look at a relatively rare species of film – the quality fourth entry in a franchise. The pickings are slim, but there are some gems out there. I’m sure I’ve missed a few below, or maybe took exception to something you love dearly (there have to be some Witchcraft fans out there – what are they up to, 10, 11 films now?). If so, sound off below.
Land of the Dead - if you consider Dan O’Bannon’s superlative Return to be an official entry, then Day is technically fourth in the Dead series and probably doesn’t make the list. I’m of the opinion that the Return films are their own undead animal and consider Land to be a helluva fourth go-round with Romero’s beloved zoms. Every bit as smart, snarky, and blood-drenched as it predecessors with a great, gonzo cast, Land also signified Romero’s return to form as a filmmaker after several years of middling projects.
Thunderball - again, you could argue that the first screen adaptation of Casino Royale for TV in the ‘50s makes Goldfinger the fourth in the series – a fine film in and of itself, and one of the acknowledged greats in the Bond series. For me though, Thunderball holds a special place in my heart. It was the first Bond pic I saw and at the tender young age of 9, it made quite an impression on both the gadgetry and Bond girl fronts (especially that jetpack and Luciana Paluzzi as nefarious hottie Fiona Volpe). Outstanding underwater photography and a bevy of great action sequences elevate Thunderball above the bulk of its brethren.
Bride of Chucky - outside of the original Child’s Play - a marginally effective horror story buffeted by a strong cast and the great vocal performance of series mainstay Brad Dourif – there’s little love lost between this franchise and yours truly. That said, the inspired choice of then-new-to-Hollywood Ronny Yu as director really pushed Bride to ludicrously entertaining heights not seen in the rest of the series. The pic’s over-the-top tone and presentation can’t help but lend themselves to a good 90 minutes spent and it must be said, I’ve yet to see another film make better use of Jennifer Tilly’s bizarre charms.
Live Free or Die Hard - a collective groan escaped the gullets of action fanboys everywhere when Underworld impresario Len Wiseman was selected to helm the fourth installment in the trails of John McClain, but you know what – Len did right by an action icon whose films have now spanned three decades without any blue filters or black leather. Good on him. Chocked full of great physical stunts and the series’ trademark quick wit, Live Free reps a considerable step up over …with a Vengeance and even managed to touch a nerve or two with its info-terrorism-driven plot.
Rambo - another seminal action franchise that saw a considerable uptick in terms of overall quality with its fourth entry, Stallone really outdid himself on all fronts with this intense, intelligently assembled spectacle. If you remove the two middle films, Rambo coupled with First Blood make for a pretty perfect set of bookends (the same holds true for another Stallone series, Rocky - the first and last entries complement each other so well to the point they threaten to invalidate the films that came between them; no qualms here). Bloody, vicious, and undeniably entertaining.
Honorable mentions go to Rocky IV (I know, I know – I just said you could do without it, and you could but c’mon – Ivan Drago!!!) and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.