From the Archives: 5 Spin-Off Movies That Actually Worked

From the Archives: 5 Spin-Off Movies That Actually Worked

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Sequels, prequels, reboots, reimaginings, extended cuts, ultimate editions – the list goes on and on when it comes to the myriad ways we milk a cinematic property to death, and with this weekend’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I wanted to talk about a less common method of franchise expansion: the spin-off. It’s almost never a good idea, but sometimes it works (the entire Inspector Closeau/Pink Panther series is a good example of this – but since I’ve shamefully never seen any of them, I cannot comment). Here are a few times that the spin-off worked . . . for me.

Sorry, but I have absolutely no desire to ever watch This Is 40 (I get it, Apatow, your kids are cute) and I’d rather cut my legs off than spend any amount of time watching Minions.


Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014 – Dir. Christopher Landon)

Yeah, yeah I know, you’re all over the found footage craze and I’m bonkers to give a spin-off of a dying franchise my endorsement, but here’s the thing: that’s exactly why The Marked Ones works. After the unbearably lackluster Paranormal Activity 4, it felt like there was nowhere else for the series to go. We’ve watched this demon terrorize white suburbia multiple times now, and no amount of jump scares or night vision is going to change the dry state of the well. The Marked Ones follows a Hispanic high-schooler who launches an amateur video investigation when his downstairs neighbor is found dead. When this leads to the discovery of demonic rituals in his town, things start to get dangerous. By supplanting the brand name scares into a different part of town, and focusing on the actions of a handful of teens rather than sticking with the family of the main franchise, The Marked Ones takes on a different attitude and a different image. It’s enough to freshen up the scares even if we’re using the same methods. It also injects the film with a more energetic sense of humor than its forbears. It’s the most basic of spin-offs, which illustrates exactly why many franchises make similar attempts, especially in horror.


Riddick (2013 – Dir. David Twohy)

 Pitch Black was a standalone horror/action film which gave birth to Riddick, an antihero with the ability to see in the dark. It seemed like a one-off kind of thing, with Riddick just one amongst an ensemble of colorful characters, but somehow Twohy (with much financial help from Vin Diesel) attempted to create a franchise on the back of this atypical hero. The first attempt was The Chronicles of Riddick, a flawed, fun movie which goes big on mythology. Perhaps too big, especially in comparison to the sparse and ambiguous original film. This lead to Dark Fury, an animated short which, much like Chronicles, spent way too much time building a world and not nearly enough time blowing it up. Then came Riddick, the perfect mash-up of Pitch Black and the spin-off franchise. A simple throwback action/chase/creature flick with a chip on its shoulder. Aggressively beefy, with a side of Karl Urban, Riddick is the movie that Schwarzenegger would’ve made if green screens and CGI were widely available in the 80s.


Prometheus (2012 – Dir. Ridley Scott)

I’ve talked this one up many times before, so I’ll keep it simple. Prometheus is good. Yes, it’s much dumber than it thinks it is, but there’s still plenty to chew on, strange character motivations be damned. The production design is second to none, and the IMAX 3D remains the best use of either technology I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’ve seen Gravity. This is FAR from the worst Alien movie, and even though some of the humans behave illogically, it doesn’t bother me. Humans behave illogically all the time. We’re good like that.


Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (2013 – Dir. Jeff Tremaine)

The Jackass boys age just like the rest of us. Scratch that. Given their idea of what constitutes “having fun,” they age a little bit faster than the rest of us. As such, another full-blown Jackass movie simply wasn’t going to happen. No matter. While the disastrous stunts were always a ton of fun, the Jackass crew were also clever pranksters, with a very unique sense of humor. Bad Grandpa tapped into the DNA of the brand without requiring Johnny Knoxville undergo any further physical damage. It’s also the only time in movie history that old-age prosthetics looked real. Heck, it even earned an Oscar nomination.


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006 – Dir. Justin Lin)

I know, I know this isn’t a spin-off. It’s a sequel. Except that at the time, it wasn’t a sequel at all – IT WAS A SPIN-OFF! After the first two films (the second of which did not feature Vin Diesel), the Fast producers decided they needed to cater to a younger audience by giving their series a younger cast. They did so by pulling a Halloween III: Season of the Witch on us and fitting their title to a similar but new product. AND IT WORKED. Tokyo Drift is a blast. A shiny, stupid, exciting blast. And when Vin Diesel showed up in a post-credits teaser (which he did in exchange for producer’s credit on future films), the Fast Fambly was born. Without Tokyo Drift, we’d never have gotten Fast Five, and without Fast Five, life wouldn’t be worth living.

It should be noted that, a few thematic inconsistencies aside, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was very good.

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