It’s hard for any long-running franchises to stay consistent.
Good sequels? Rare, but possible.
Threequels? Even rarer, but still possible.
But the fourth movie in a franchise? Most don’t make it that far, and many that do are unrecognizable from the original.
With the fourth Thor (Thourth?) movie now out in theaters (read our review), what better time to go over some of the rare instances of successful fourth entries in a franchise? From late reboots to early franchises to long-running genre series, here are our picks for the best ones you can watch at home.
Mad Max: Fury Road
It’s incredible that Mad Max: Fury Road exists at all, period. The third sequel to a franchise that had all but evaporated from public consciousness, filmed across 138 days under the grueling heat of the Namibian desert and premiering in theaters nearly three decades after the last installment, Mad Max: Fury Road defied the odds in every way, securing its place as not only one of the best films in George Miller’s oeuvre, but as one of the most celebrated action movies of the 2010s. Tom Hardy does a remarkable service assuming the role of the laconic road warrior Max Rockatansky, but the real star of the film is the brutally capable Imperator Furiosa played by Charlize Theron. The sheer spectacle of the film alone, even apart from the massive vehicular chase scenes and explosive set-pieces, is absolutely mind-boggling. Steven Soderbergh put it best: “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.” —Toussaint Egan
Mad Max: Fury Road is available to stream on HBO Max.
Land of the Dead
George A. Romero’s earlier zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are what the horror master is known best for, but 2005’s Land of the Dead is an underrated entry to the franchise. Set in a post-zombie apocalypse feudal Pittsburgh (ruled by a deliciously cold-blooded Dennis Hopper), the zombies are now organizing and setting up for an assault on the city. The wealthy residents of Pittsburgh live in a luxury apartment building, with everyone else lucky enough to be within the city walls relegated to a life of poverty on the streets. Like many other Romero films, Land of the Dead effectively wrestles with complicated themes, reflecting the problems of our current world through the distance of a fictional one. —Pete Volk
Land of the Dead is available to watch for free with ads on Tubi.
Mothra vs. Godzilla
The fourth movie in the Godzilla franchise (and the second of the Mothra franchise), this is one of the best of the original Showa-era movies, and the last of that era to have Godzilla in the role of the villain. Directed by Godzilla and Mothra director Ishiro Honda, this is a standout entry from a terrific run of kaiju movies, with a terrific score, strong thematic elements that play on corporate greed and nuclear testing, and of course iconic battles between two of the greatest movie monsters to ever do it. The 88-minute run time is well worth the investment for anyone even slightly kaiju-curious. —PV
Mothra vs. Godzilla is available to watch on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, and FuboTV, or for free with ads on Tubi, Pluto TV, Plex, Crackle, and The Roku Channel.
The Scream series has a ridiculously high batting average, so it’s no surprise that its fourth entry is great. It brings the meta-slash series into the modern era, with a plot centered on social media and the rise of online video as a means for young people gaining fame, which makes it one of the most prescient movies of 2011. Of course, along with its surprisingly accurate predictions about what growing up online can do to a person, it’s also a funny murder mystery and slasher, complete with a cast that includes Scream regulars like Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox, alongside newcomers like Emma Roberts, Alison Brie, and Hayden Panettiere. —Austen Goslin
Scream 4 is available to watch on Paramount Plus or on Starz through Prime Video.
Bride of Chucky
Two dolls go on a murderous road trip with two unwitting teenagers, who blame each other when the bodies start dropping.
The first three movies of the Child’s Play series follow a young boy named Andy. No matter where he goes — be it to a foster home, a military school, whatever — he is followed by the murderous Chucky doll, which is possessed by the soul of the dead serial killer Charles Lee Ray.
The first movie, Child’s Play, is a terrific black comedy, and the fourth, Bride of Chucky, takes the series in a completely different direction. Andy is completely gone — he doesn’t make an appearance and is not mentioned once. Instead, the focus is on the dolls: Chucky and Tiffany. Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly, in a scene-stealing performance) has revived Chucky from the dead, and after a deadly argument, Chucky turns her into a doll as well.
The two dolls go on a sadistic road trip with two clueless teenagers (including a young Katherine Heigl) in a hilarious, murderous romp. Tilly and Brad Dourif (returning as the voice of Chucky, of course) are a delightfully twisted duo and make this a joyously fun time. —PV
Bride of Chucky is available to watch with ads on Tubi.
The Bourne Legacy
Jeremy Renner’s Bourne movie always gets unfairly overlooked in discussions of the series, but it’s actually a worthy follow-up to the initial trilogy. Renner plays a man named Aaron Cross, a U.S. government agent who watches from inside as Jason Bourne’s amnesiac rampage brings to light an entire government conspiracy. The first three Bourne movies are action movies with a shady government conspiracy on the side, but Bourne Legacy puts that latter element front and center and turns out to be one of the best spy thrillers released in the last decade. —AG
The Bourne Legacy is available to watch on Peacock.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The fourth of the Muppet movies, Christmas Carol excels because it is as close as we get to the “replace all actors but one with Muppets” Twitter prompt that goes around once a year. That actor, of course, is Michael Caine, playing Ebenezer Scrooge with sincerity and intensity befitting a Shakespearean production. It’s the deft balance of his heartfelt, serious performance with the usual raucous Muppet shenanigans that makes this one of the best Muppet movies (or Christmas Carol movies) ever made. —PV
The Muppet Christmas Carol is available to watch on Disney Plus.
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace gets better every day. Star Wars’ fourth movie is singularly ambitious and a landmark of movie world-building. After Return of the Jedi, it would have been easy to return to that movie’s sickly sweet sentimentality, safe action, tiny, insular world, and bland characters time and time again, just like Disney has for almost a decade now. Instead, Lucas built the space opera of his dreams, blew out Star Wars to a truly galactic scale, and created the blueprint for modern blockbuster action and excitement, all without the ability to write a single good line of dialogue. Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie, but all the things that Star Wars fans in 2022 want to love most about the series was done best and biggest in The Phantom Menace. —AG
Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace is available to watch on Disney Plus.
The Undisputed series is one of the most consistent action movie franchises of all time, but gets largely ignored because of how many of the movies went direct to video. The franchise started with Walter Hill’s 2002 prison boxing drama Undisputed, starring Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes. In 2006, direct-to-video master Isaac Florentine took over the franchise and moved the focus to the burgeoning world of mixed martial arts. Michael Jai White was tapped as the protagonist, to square off against antagonist Yuri Boyka (played by Scott Adkins), but something funny happened: Boyka took over the franchise.
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing and Undisputed III: Redemption are both legitimately great action movies, but we’re here to talk about Boyka: Undisputed. Released in 2017 and directed by Florentine, the movie deals with the fallout of an underground fight where Boyka accidentally kills his opponent. After discovering the opponent’s wife owes money to a crime lord, Boyka decides to fight for the gangster’s club in order to repay her debt. With terrific fight sequences choreographed by the excellent Tim Man and another excellent performance by Adkins, Boyka is 86 minutes of great action cinema. —PV
Boyka: Undisputed is available to watch on Netflix.
I’ve talked about this movie a lot on this website — it’s on our list of the best thrillers to watch at home, and more recently the best movies added to streaming this July — so I’ll stop short of repeating myself and merely say Day of Reckoning is a hypnotic, bloody genre mashup that takes the long-running sci-fi series into surprising new directions, with a strong action-horror bend. —PV
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is available to watch on HBO Max, or for free with ads on Crackle.
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy
I spent quite a bit of time deciding whether the fourth movie in the excellent Ip Man series is 2019’s Ip Man 4: The Finale (self-explanatory) or 2018’s Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (a spinoff from Ip Man 3). I’ve decided to go with Master Z for two reasons: It is literally the fourth movie in the franchise, and as much as I love Scott Adkins (and I really do), I did not want to end this list with three consecutive movies of his.
This movie follows Max Zhang’s character from Ip Man 3, a father trying to raise his young son and recover from his defeat at the hands of Ip Man in the previous movie. Directed by legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping and co-starring Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Jaa, Master Z is a worthy addition to the Ip Man canon and a star-studded martial arts crime thriller. —PV
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy is available to watch on Peacock, FuboTV, and Hi-Yah, or for free with a library card on Kanopy or Hoopla, or for free with ads on Tubi, Crackle, Pluto TV, or Plex.