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The 10 best quadrilogies of all time

Sometimes four turns out to be the magic number!

Photo via Universal

Film franchises either go on for ever – think James Bond, Star Wars, the Wizarding World, or the sprawling juggernaut that is the MCU – or come to an end after a poorly-received sequel, maybe even a trilogy. Quadrilogies are somewhere in between, and tend to smack of production companies either looking to make a long-running franchise out of its property, or tagging a final film on the end of good sequels as a cash grab. Every so often, however, and in spite of their deficiencies, four turns out to be the magic number. Here are 10 of the best movie quadrilogies around.

10. Jaws

Jaws – trailer

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws set the trend for the summer blockbuster that is still with us today, and with such good box office returns, plans were soon put in place for a sequel. Naysayers should not be too hasty in dismissing Jaws 2, which was a commercial success on its release in 1978; while not as stylish nor as suspenseful as the original, it benefits from the fact that three of the principals from Spielberg’s film – Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton – all reprised their roles and delivered solid performances. Unfortunately, the franchise nosedived soon afterwards. Jaws 3-D (1983) relied on gimmickry in the shape of the then fashionable old-style special effects to bring in audiences, but was panned by critics, and Jaws: The Revenge (1987) regularly appears on “worst ever” lists due to its nonsensical plot, risible model shark, and poor production – a career low for Michael Caine.

9. The Expendables

The Expendables – trailer

Was 2010’s The Expendables the original geezer teaser? Perhaps not; unlike its innumerable straight-to-video, low-budget successors, it was actually good, with Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Sylvester Stallone giving great value as the linchpins of a grizzled mercenary team. The homages to 1980s and 1990s action films and the untrammeled alpha-maleness continued with The Expendables 2 (2012), this time with Jean-Claude Van Damme, who turned down a role in the original and later regretted it. The movie leaned into comedy a little more than its predecessor, and garnered favorable reviews. But The Expendables 3 (2014) did poorly at the box office and was savaged by critics, and it’s no surprise that the fourth installment, Expend4bles, took so long to get off the drawing board – keep a lookout for the premiere next month.

8. Night at the Museum

Night at the Museum – trailer

The delightful Night at the Museum (2005) features Ben Stiller as the security guard of a museum whose waxworks come to life after dark. Though the plot is thoroughly silly from its unlikely MacGuffin to its broad slapstick routines, the movie’s feelgood credentials has made it a family favorite. But with great performances across the board from the likes of Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt, a pre-Bohemian Rhapsody Rami Malek as an Egyptian pharaoh, as well as Owen Wilson and British comic actor Steve Coogan in an unlikely but hugely enjoyable double act as a Roman soldier and a Wild West gunslinger, there’s something for everyone here. Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) stuck rigidly to the formula, and like the original did great box office, as did Night at the Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb (2014), though a lack of new ideas was by then obvious. However, the animated fourth entry in the series, Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again, premiered last year with a brand new cast to positive reviews.

7. Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon – trailer

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover had chemistry, quips, and looked cool firing guns – what’s not to like about 1987’s Lethal Weapon? Audiences and critics certainly agreed, and the formula worked again in the Academy Award-nominated Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) saw an enlarged role for Joe Pesci, and an altogether broader brand of humor than the first two, but still did good box office despite more uneven reviews. The fourth installment (1998) benefited from the inclusion of Jet Li as the villain, as well as Rene Russo, but both the scenarios and the jokes feel forced. Both Gibson and Glover have repeatedly expressed interest in making another film, and a fifth movie was supposed to begin production in early 2023, but had not done so at the time of writing.

6. Star Trek: The Next Generation

Stra Trek: Generations – trailer

Following the multiple successes of the six original Star Trek films in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was Star Trek: The Next Generation’s turn. After the TV series ended in 1994, the cast plunged headlong into Star Trek: Generations (1994), which saw Captains Kirk (William Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) join forces to defeat Klingon sisters Lursa and B’Etor and foil Malcolm McDowell’s evil Dr. Sorin. First Contact (1996) is even better, and dives deeply into the show’s mythology when the Enterprise-D travels back in time to battle the Borg and pay a visit to the inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), who turns out to be less noble and heroic in real life than he is in the popular imagination. The quality began to tail off, however, with the so-so Insurrection (1998); and the final chapter in the Next Generation series, Nemesis (2002), while competently made, is only really notable for an early appearance from Tom Hardy as Picard’s clone and antagonist.

5. Men in Black

Men in Black – trailer

This sci-fi comedy brought the comic series of the same name to the big screen, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones playing the eponymous agents tasked with the job of keeping order among the many thousands of aliens living on Earth. With fabulous chemistry and a tight script, the 1997 original was a cast-iron hit, but in a sense it worked too well, giving Jones’ razor-sharp but melancholic agent K a satisfying sendoff by erasing his memory. When the sequel premiered five years later, audiences were nonplussed to find K’s happy-ever-after ending walked back in the first act for trumped-up reasons. But the film was also a hit, as was Men in Black 3 (2012). It was only when Men in Black: International (2019) sought to dive into an expanded MiB universe that audiences became disillusioned: stripped of its two stars, and with a run-of-the-mill plot, viewers struggled to engage.

4. Alien

Alien – trailer

At the center of this quadrilogy are the committed, rounded performances by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley – indeed, the actor carries the final film, Alien Insurrection (1997), more or less single-handedly. But a slew of excellent performances from the likes of Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, and John Hurt in the original Alien (1979), and from Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn in Aliens (1986) make the series more than a vehicle for Weaver’s substantial acting chops. It’s become a cliché to claim James Cameron’s Aliens as the pick of the bunch, but for sustained suspense, interplay between characters, and sheer naked terror, Ridley Scott’s original is hard to beat. Sci-fi horror fans could do worse than giving Alien 3 (1992) a chance, too; despite director David Fincher’s low opinion of it, some excellent work from a distinguished cast including Steven Spielberg favorite Pete Postlethwaite, Doctor Who’s Paul McGann, and Charles Dance make it worth a watch.

3. The Matrix

The Matrix Resurrections – trailer

The Wachowskis’ 1999 techno-thriller The Matrix is as extraordinary a viewing experience now as it was then. Keanu Reeves’ Neo discovers that the world as he knows it is in fact a simulation, and that in the real world, AI has taken over and is harvesting human beings for their body heat. With Morpheus and Trinity (Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss) by his side, Neo must learn the ropes and stay one step ahead of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). The Matrix Reloaded (2003) explores the real world and the resistance to the machines’ regime in more detail, and despite some awkward dialog and a bloated runtime, retains its watchability. The Matrix Revolutions (2003), however, throws some poorly-judged military sci-fi into the mix, and fails to cohere, with The Matrix Resurrections (2021) offering a far more satisfying end to Neo’s story.

2. The Burton/Schumacher Batman era

Batman Forever – trailer

There was monumental hype around Tim Burton’s 1989 imagining of Gotham’s caped superhero, and it was not misplaced. With knockout performances from Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger, and a wonderfully over-the-top turn by Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Batman filled theaters and became a cultural phenomenon. Batman Returns (1992) is just as good, and enters bona fide Burton territory with its fairytale tropes of belonging, grotesquery, and loss. Michelle Pfeiffer is in the form of her life as Catwoman; Christopher Walken does his corporate villainy shtick with glee as Max Schreck; and Danny DeVito turns in a definitive performance as the Penguin. Don’t believe those who say Joel Schumacher’s continuation was disastrous – Batman Forever (1995) is tonally awkward but still a joy to watch, particularly for the hyperbolic work done by Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Val Kilmer is surprisingly effective as Batman. It’s only with the arrival of the execrable Batman & Robin (1997) that the series ran out of steam.

1. Hannibal Lecter quadrilogy

Red Dragon – trailer

After an early attempt to transfer novelist Richard Harris’ notorious serial killer’s exploits to the big screen – 1986’s Manhunter – bombed at the box office, Jonathan Demme was hired to take a second bite at the cherry. Bringing on board a cast including Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Jodie Foster as new FBI recruit Clarice Starling, and Ted Levine as killer Buffalo Bill, The Silence of the Lambs cleaned up at the 1991 Academy Awards, bagging five Oscars. Hannibal (2001) switches the action to Florence, and offers a tight, well-plotted story, with a slew of murders that would make even the most seasoned horror film queasy; Hopkins impresses, but so does Julianne Moore in the role of Starling, and Ray Liotta as the corrupt official Krendler who meets a dreadful but unforgettable end. 2002’s Red Dragon was an eminently watchable prequel, with Edward Norton playing the FBI agent who captured Lecter, and Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson providing able support. But Hannibal Rising (2007) floundered, proving that a Hannibal Lecter film without Hopkins made about as much sense as hot dogs without mustard – or, for that matter, liver without Chianti.

About the author

Craig Jones