Movies Go Fourth by Mark Edlitz


Movies Go Fourth by Mark Edlitz – a new book that takes a look at ‘fourth movies’ in film franchises. Talking with those who were a part of the making of a wide range of sequels, Edlitz attempts to learn what those ‘fourth movies’ did right or where they went horribly wrong

What happens when a movie series reaches its fourth film?

Whether it’s a ‘Part 4’, a ‘Chapter 4′, is given an added subtitle’ or a brand new title altogether, the fourth film in a franchise obviously got there from the success of the three films that preceded it. They were profitable and there still appears to be enough interest from audiences to continue the story, get the characters to return and add another sequel to this growing franchise. This particular brand has gained a certain value, has been profitable and it’s worth taking a gamble and rolling the dice on making a fourth film.

However, how do you go about successfully creating ‘a fourth film’.

A popular original solo film could be lightning in a bottle. A sequel followup to it could simply be repackaging the same story and adding some slightly different twists to it (Die Hard 2, Halloween 2, Magnum Force). Having it not stray too far from what audiences responded to so positively from the original film, but maybe changing a few elements in it. A third film could be the finale to the story and creating a trilogy (Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future Part III, The Bourne Ultimatum). Having a balanced set of three films, with a finale to close it off. 

But, how do you go about creating a successful fourth film in a popular film franchise? Will it be an uninspired rehash? Will it have any new ideas? How far can it be different? Will it revolve around new characters? Will it be a reboot? A spin-off? Will it be a passing of the torch story? And what exactly is the definition of ‘the fourth movie’ in a film franchise?

Those are the questions author Mark Edlitz sets out to answer with his new book Movies Go Fourth.

Edlitz previously wrote the well-researched pop culture books, How to Be a Superhero, The Many Lives of James Bond, The Lost Adventures of James Bond. With Movies Go Fourth he talks with directors, actors, writers, producers and the creative crew members who have been part of famed, sometimes obscure, other times infamous, ‘fourth films’ in film franchises. 

Luciana Paluzzi & Sean Connery on the set of Thunderball – the fourth James Bond film

He sets out to learn how those fourth films were conceived, the problems they faced, what they did right or wrong and why they prevailed or failed.

Writing a book focusing solely on ‘fourth films’ might seem like an odd decision at first. What’s so special about the the fourth Highlander or Ernest movies? Fourth films aren’t typically considered to be high points in a franchise. They seldom offer anything fresh on what’s come before, and can often be the final lazy attempt at wringing just a few last dollars from a film title. Even writer Doug Richardson (Live Free or Die Hard) jokingly says about the books unusual focus – “devoting a book to the fourth film in a series…[Edlitz] was writing a book about movies that nobody cares about.”

However, Edlitz brings together some very interesting perspectives and illuminating tales about the making of a very large list of ‘fourth’ films talking with those who were part of the creative process in making them from those behind the camera to the actors who were in front of it.

Movies-Go-Fourth-By-Mark-Edlitz-making-film-sequel-behind-scenesWhen you see the extensive list of ‘fourth films’ that Edlitz covers, you might be taken aback for moment by how many franchises have reached that ‘Number Four Film’. It’s surprising the amount there are when you see them all compiled together. There have been quite a lot of ‘Fourths’!

Movies Go Fourth discusses a variety of genres, from low-budget horror to big-budget blockbusters to low-brow comedies to independent films made on shoestring budgets that were made extremely quickly. Edltiz talks with those that were a part of the creation of ‘fourth films’ and gathers insights into what went into making that third sequel, the challenges of keeping a franchise fresh when its reached its fourth entry and the obstacles of offering some new components to a film series and trying not to repeat the same beats, yet at the same time maintaining the basic elements that made the original film so popular in the first place. 

It can be a difficult dilemma. 

Live-Free-Die-Hard-Bruce-Willis-sequelHow can John McClane find himself again dealing with what was once a random extraordinary action-packed predicament for a fourth time??? 

Ongoing sequels to film franchises have become a significant part of the Hollywood machine. The John Wick films just recently reached its fourth outing with John Wick: Chapter 4 and making it the most successful film in the series.

Some of the most popular franchises today rolling across movie screens have long passed their third sequels. Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Star Wars, Terminator, Transformers. It’s sometimes difficult to remember just how many entries make up a film franchise. Some franchises like The Friday the 13th and The Fast Furious series are into double digits with their numbers! They’ve zipped past their momentary status of being humble tetralogies.  

While franchise films and its sequels are big money makers for Hollywood, how do the creatives avoid that ‘fourth film’ from just becoming a ‘product’. Some of the most engaging discussions are Edlitz talking with screenwriters about the task they faced of having to please studio heads, executives, producers and movie stars who all had their own stipulations of what would go into a number four script.

Heavyweight movie stars, like Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis all had significant influence and opinions in what they felt would be the appropriate stories for the fourth adventures of their iconic characters. They all had specific visions and ideas of what they wanted to do with their characters if they were to play them for a fourth time. In particular it’s interesting to read how involved Eastwood was in so many aspects of his films

Clint-Eastwood-Sudden-Impact-1983-Dirty-Harry-sequel-Clint Eastwood in the fourth Dirty Harry film 1983’s Sudden Impact 

So, how can a writer satisfy both the star and the studio with a single script and ultimately move that third sequel into production? Let’s just say, it’s a very tall order.

The fourth film doesn’t always end up pleasing everyone though, including fans. 

A list of notorious fourth films like Jaws: The Revenge, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman and Robin are covered and given a fair assessment of how they began with idealized visions and earnest attempts of making a quality sequel. Despite very talented people involved with making them, issues with budget, last minute script changes and missteps of tone set them on a track of derailment and resulted in them being regular entries on ‘All Time Worst Sequel’ lists. 

Batman-and-Robin-1997-sequel-Alicia-Silverstone-George-Clooney-Chris-ODonnell-Joel-SchumacherDirector of Batman and Robin, the late Joel Schumacher owned up to his responsibility with disappointing fans. Admitting that he felt the 1997 fourth Batman film was “over-the-top”, got too big and loud and talks why his once planned fifth Bat Film that would have starred Nicholas Cage as the Scarecrow never happened.

Writer Mark Rosenthal worked closely with Christopher Reeve on the script for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. He explains how Reeve was very optimistic about the film with a story of Superman using his powers to stop the threat of nuclear war while also dealing with relationship dilemmas. The fourth Superman film was envisioned to harken back to the magic of the first film. Alas, the production was marred by a tremendous amount of problems. Rather than being a glorious fourth Superman film, Superman IV ended up being a huge disappointment in all respects and the final time Reeve would play the character.

As you read the stories behind all these fourth movies there doesn’t seem to any kind of consistent pattern to emerge. They’ve come in all different varieties and levels of success.

One of the most interesting portions of Movies Go Fourth for me personally was learning about some of the, let’s say, less glossy and big-budget fourth films that have been made. The films that some might instinctively turn their noses up. The fourth entries that might be considered insignificant footnotes in movie franchises and some you might not have realized even existed!

Movies-Go-Fourth-Mark-Edlitz-making-of-movie-sequelsInitially, you might say, “How difficult could it have been to write Ernest Goes To Jail?” “Are there really any stories that interesting about Meatballs 4?” “Why were the Police Academy movies so popular anyway?” “Is there really anything worthwhile to learn about the making of any of these fourth films?”

Actually, yes! It’s often been said, “No one sets out to make a bad movie”. While the final results for some Number Fours might not have made a notable mark in the history of cinema – and some of the titles have become fodder to be used as a punchline – the filmmakers’ attitudes when making them were generally optimistic and they were genuinely striving to make the best film they could with whatever limitations they had to work around. Some of the behind the scenes stories and learning of the compromises that were forced between the creative and business demands become a fascinating peek behind the curtain of sequel making. 

I also forgot just how popular Jim Varney’s Ernest P. Worrell character was! He headlined nine films! That’s rivaling Fast and the Furious territory!

Terminator Salvation and Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House

Granted, not all the fourth movies covered are treasure troves of stories. Terminator Salvation is a notable fourth movie as it attempted to break away from the previous three Terminator films and tried to be something very different. Whether you liked the film or not, you have to give it credit for attempting to freshen up the series by being set in the future post-apocalyptic Terminator world. By doing that it created the challenge of writing a new story while also being constricted by the predetermined series timeline that was established. That became hurdle for the writers to overcome.

Compare that to the writing of the television movie Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House, which was basically a rehash of the same basic Home Alone story. It was a much less complicated film to make.

Meatballs-4-1992-sequel-Corey-Feldman-Deborah-Tucker-Movies-Go-Fourth-book-Mark-EdlitzOne of the most compelling people Edlitz talks with is writer/director Bob Logan, who is very eager for people to understand that the film he believed he was making when he got hired WAS NOT what turned out to be 1992’s Meatballs 4.

He and star Corey Feldman went into the production with the intention they were making an original comedy set at a summer camp called Happy Campers. They had a very short time to film it and the filmmakers were already under intense pressure to complete it.

It was only in the middle of filming that the crew received word that the production company had gotten the rights to use the title Meatballs and the film would no longer be called Happy Campers – they were now making a movie called Meatballs 4.

It’s once again proof of the value of having a recognized title the public would be familiar with and by using it the belief was it would give the film more exposure and in the make more profit. Needless to say the reaction to the news they were now making Meatballs 4 was less than enthusiastic from the cast and crew – and they still had to finish filming the movie!

The 1984 ABC television film The Ewok Adventure – “the fourth Star Wars film”

Edlitz also poses the question – should 1984’s The Ewok Adventure be considered the fourth Star Wars film? Technically, the television film was released on ABC a year after Return of the Jedi (it would also be released theatrically overseas). It may not be held in high regard by fans and being a children’s film might be quickly disregarded, but George Lucas was very hands on with the making of it. Writer Bab Carrau describes what it was like working with Lucas and what he had hoped to do with a more simple story about Ewoks and children.

Movies Go Fourth also offers a compelling ‘Unmade Fourths’ section, where Edlitz dives into famed ‘unfulfilled’ fourth films. There was the fleeting proposed fourth The Godfather film and Sam Raimi’s fourth Spider-Man, which came incredibly close to production.

Sam-Raimi-Tobey-Maguire-unmade-Spider-Man-4-sequel-Storyboard artist Jeffrey Henderson describes what Raimi’s fourth Spider-Man movie would have looked like and where he had planned on taking Peter Parker. After the stress and difficult concessions he was forced to make with Sony during the making of Spider-Man 3, it appeared Raimi had renewed excitement for ‘Spider-Man 4’. The story was to be taken in new areas, Peter Parker would face new conflicts and it would be an exciting and emotional conclusion to his Spidey saga.

As I read what Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 story might have been and imagining the pre-visualized action set pieces of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man fighting against Raimi’s interpretation of The Vulture, I had an increasing sense of disappointment that the sequel never would happen. Sony would pull the plug on it and decide on rebooting the series, even after millions of dollars were spent on preproduction. Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 would never be made.

Going back to the strange idea of doing a book exclusively about fourth films and the attitude of it being a book that no one would care about – that turns out to be untrue. Edlitz uncovers some very engaging tales of what went into making some of these fourth films and movie fans should enjoy learning about these behind-the-scenes stories ranging from the high profile Number Fours to the more offbeat and obscure Fourths.

Sometimes fourth movies can be lazy cash grabs. While other times filmmakers have real ambition to overcome franchise fatigue and attempt to revitalize the series with a Chapter 4. Fourths can turn out successful, frustrating, be a rejuvenation to a film series or just plain old disappointing. There’s really no strict rule that all fourths fall under.

You might not have imagined you ever wanted a crash course on ‘fourth movies’, but with Movies Go Fourth you’ll be glad you got one. It offers up entertaining and insightful information from ‘fourth movies’ that kept franchises alive and moving ahead – or in some cases those ‘fourths’ were the last gasps of creative breath they would get.


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