Hotel Transylvania 3 comes out Friday, which means it’s time to reexamine the place threequels have in pop culture. Right now, they’re largely considered shlocky imitations of the movies that came before them. Now that’s not entirely wrong, but why choose to hate on them when there’s fun to be had instead by relishing in all of the over top hilarity to come? And besides the kick you can get out of seeing a franchise let loose a little as stakes get raised with each new installment, sometimes the preceding movies are actually objectively good in their own right. While it’s not unheard for a sequel to be better than the original, threequels have a lot going for them too and even if they do stray a little from the original premise, isn’t trying new things supposed to be a good thing? That’s what’s so cool about threequels, they can take something familiar, crank it up to eleven, blow things up, and give us something new if maybe a little ridiculous.
The original Scream was filled with tropes and references from the generation of slasher movies that came before it. It makes sense then, that Scream 3 would be set in Hollywood and have the main characters running for their lives on the set of a horror movie based on the killings they lived through in the first two movies. Even though Scream 3’s plot is out there – actors in Scream 3’s fictional movie-within-a-movie start to get killed one by one and it’s up to the survivors of the actual killings to figure out what’s going on – that’s what makes it work, and why it’s a high mark for the franchise. It celebrates its own campiness and manages to be just as fun as it is scary.
Rocky III announces itself as a threequel as soon as it starts by blaring Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” in an opening montage where Rocky wins a string of high profile title-matches, gets heralded as a hero, and films a bunch of commercial spots all before he gets challenged by, and loses to, underdog newcomer Clubber Lang, played by 80s icon Mr. T. In the first two movies, Rocky was a working-class boxer from Philadelphia, but by the third he’s a tanned celebrity living a life of luxury. Even with that change, it’s arguably one of the best movies in the franchise because of its strong sense of identity, it knew exactly what it wanted to be, and that’s what it was. It wasn’t nominated for 10 Oscars like the first movie but Rocky III boils everything we love about Rocky – training sequences, intimidating villains, someone that needs to be avenged – into a 100 minutes of joy.
Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors
As the threequel in a horror franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street III had every reason to be bad, but instead, it was a fun movie that took the premise of the original film and built on it in a fresh way. Instead of in the homes of a small town, the third Nightmare movie takes place in a psych ward for troubled teens who discover they have dream powers, like supersonic screaming and the ability to turn into a punk rocker on command, which opened the door to all kinds of weird. Unlike Nightmare on Elm Street II, which didn’t really add much to the franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street III was a worthy sequel that introduced the concept of dream warriors and did a great job of fleshing out Freddy Krueger’s horrifying backstory.
Max Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is often cited for its disjointedness which was maybe because it had two directors, George Miller and George Ogilvie. The result is that the third in the Mad Max franchise feels like two movies in one. The first half plays like a post-apocalyptic dystopia like the first movie, with colorful barbarians and gladiator matches, and then the second half gives way to kid movie tone with a band of lost children who worship Mel Gibson’s character, Max. But Max pairing up with kids isn’t new. In the second movie, Road Warrior, Max teams up with a Feral Kid to fight gasoline bandits. In this one, both elements are just maxed out. One feral kid turns into a village of lost children, and a smattering of bad guys in a dessert turns into a community of barbarians led by Tina Turner.
Army of Darkness
Director Sam Raimi’s first Evil Dead movie was a straight horror with genuinely scary moments, and his second was a horror comedy that played for laughs as much as it played for scares. Then there was Army of Darkness. The first two took place out in the woods, and the threat of the undead was contained in small cabins. Army of Darkness took the main character, Ash, and threw him into the Middle Ages armed with a shotgun and a chainsaw hand replacement to face off against hordes of skeleton soldiers. The budget was much larger this time around, with elaborate sets and more characters and the end result was an Evil Dead movie that felt more like a movie than the first two. While the first two were really good, they felt more like extended short films without much of a story. And for all of Army of Darkness’ relative craziness, it at least has more to chew on as a tongue-in-cheek adventure movie a unique sense of humor.