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8 Movies With Extraordinary Cliffhangers That Their Sequels Totally Ignored

 

These days, it’s almost a rarity for a movie to end without leading into some sort of sequel or franchise; in an age of reboots, remakes, re-imaginings, and cinematic universes, movies are almost required to end with a cliffhanger of some sort. It can be a great way to get an audience excited for the sequel, after all — if the audience wants to see how that hanging plot thread is addressed, they’ll have to buy tickets for the next installment. Whether it’s the seemingly vanquished horror movie monster rising from the dead (again) or just the foreshadowing of an upcoming adventure, cliffhangers prime an audience full of expectations.

Unfortunately, a lot can change between movies. Directors leave projects and long-term priorities change, leaving compelling cliffhangers to dangle in the wind. From supervillain origins that were never resolved to apocalyptic endings that were reset by the next film, here are cliffhangers that movie sequels ignored.

Aw, rats

The original Species, released in 1995, follows a group of scientists trying to stop an alien-human hybrid intent on breeding with humanity — but the film’s cast list is more reminiscent of an Oscar winner than a horror movie. Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Madsen all appear, to name a few. Despite those all-star leads, the movie premiered to mixed reviews, but it was popular enough with filmgoers to start a franchise, spawning a theatrical sequel and two direct-to-DVD follow-ups. It makes sense that fans would be interested in more Species; the first movie ends with the striking implication that the plot — which centers on alien Sil’s quest to breed with human males in order to bring about the end of the world — was just the start. At the end of the film, a rat develops mutations after chewing on her dead body.

It’s a pretty savvy twist. The characters in the film were so convinced that the danger was Sil’s sex drive that they missed the problems her genetic code could create in the food chain. Unfortunately, Species II doubles down on the original sexual themes of the first movie, portraying scientists once again trying to stop a sex-obsessed alien-human hybrid — except this time it’s male instead of female. That hungry rat, and the implication that the genetic mutation can be introduced through consumption rather than sexual intercourse, is completely ignored.

That’s just corny

Species isn’t the only horror series to ignore a food-related apocalyptic cliffhanger. The Children of the Corn franchise took a fairly simple Stephen King short story — about a group of kids in a midwestern town who worship a demonic entity that may or may not exist — and managed to create a franchise spanning nearly ten movies and counting. Obviously, that required a bit of an escalation from the original premise. A perfect case in point is Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest, which follows two children (of the corn) who are adopted into foster care in Chicago.

Through a series of violent events, one of the children is able to summon the demonic corn monster to Chicago while also distributing mind-controlling corn all over the world. While the concept has about as much in common with King’s original story as Clifford the Big Red Dog has in common with a chihuahua, it’s a pretty great cliffhanger. A world of corn-controlled children (and adults, presumably) isn’t a bad hook to hang a horror film on. Unfortunately, Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering would return the series to its roots, as it were, taking things back to the midwest with a story much closer to the original “adults in a small town with spooky children” vibe.

A missed call

Strangely enough, Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest isn’t even the only Stephen King adaptation to feature a plot almost completely divorced from the original short story that also ends with apocalyptic implications ignored by the next film. The Lawnmower Man is so far removed from the original story (which concerns a much more literal lawnmower man) that King successfully sued to remove his name from the movie, which follows Jobe, a greenskeeper who becomes a sort of cyberspace god. Surprisingly, the movie might even be more horrifying today than it was when it was released — that early ’90s CGI looks much more ghoulish to modern eyes.

The film ends with the surviving protagonists hearing telephones ring all over the world, implying that Jobe was able to make good on his promise to become a being of pure energy that would control all the machines in the world. Despite the narrative potential of an omnipotent, technology-controlling despot, The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace features a largely new group of characters in a cyberpunk Los Angeles. Jobe makes his return as an antagonist, but his final triumph in the first film is ignored in favor of a retcon that left him crippled by the climactic explosion in The Lawnmower Man.

Two-Face 1.0

The 1989 Tim Burton Batman has some of the best casting in superhero movie history. Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Michael Keaton as Batman, and — although he never really had the chance to shine — Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent. Savvy comics readers knew they could expect the heroic defense attorney to turn into the villainous Two-Face in future movies. Unfortunately, while the character would appear in later Batman films (played memorably by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight), Williams’ version of the character would never be fully realized.

As fitting as it would be for Harvey Dent to transform into his two-faced alter ego in the second Burton Batman movie, it never happened. Instead, Batman Returns brought in Catwoman and the Penguin. Fortunately, this story has something of a happy ending: in 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie, Williams lent his voice to the LEGO Two-Face character as an acknowledgement of the decades-long wait fans had endured.

Bourne again

As one might guess given its title, the Bourne franchise is focused on the adventures of its titular leading man, amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). The formula worked so well that even when Damon took a hiatus from the series, it moved on without him for 2012’s The Bourne Legacy. Following Jeremy Renner as Bourne’s fellow spy Aaron Cross, the film tried to capitalize on the world-building of prior Bourne films with a character similar to Jason Bourne and a story that wouldn’t actually require Damon to carry the franchise.

Unfortunately for them, the movie premiered to mixed reviews and an ambivalent audience. Fans didn’t seem interested in the world of Jason Bourne as much as they were interested in Bourne himself. The filmmakers heard that message loud and clear when they completely ignored the ending of The Bourne Legacy, which featured Cross’ life in danger after a shootout and a close escape on a boat. The next sequel, Jason Bourne, completely ignores any boat-related cliffhangers, putting the focus squarely back on Damon character. In fact, when asked about whether Renner’s Aaron Cross would get a shout-out in Jason Bourne, producer Frank Marshall responded, “They’re… two different projects, two different films.” In other words, we might never find out if Aaron got off that boat.

He’ll be back, sort of

While the Terminator movies have never had the cleanest of timelines (time travel tends to complicate things like that), there’s a surprisingly simple throughline for each installment. Terminator follows Sarah Connor and the conception of John Connor, the messianic hero of the future human resistance against our computer overlords. Terminator 2: Judgement Day follows John learning about his destiny, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ends with him preparing to lead the resistance.

Terminator: Salvation serves as both prequel and sequel, showing the events in the future that led to Terminator as well as what happens immediately after (again, time travel is confusing), and ends with John getting a newly mechanical heart transplant from a friendly Terminator-human hybrid. Terminator: Genisys completely ignored the narrative potential of the post-apocalyptic war setting by doing even more time travel, recasting everyone, and adding yet another friendly Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (this time protecting a young Sarah Connor instead of a young John Connor).

Dino dos and don’ts

As one might expect for a movie franchise built on the appeal of seeing giant prehistoric dinosaurs, each movie in the Jurassic Park franchise tends to get bigger. Jurassic Park set the scene with one of the best blockbuster movies ever made, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park upped the ante by starting the film with the dinosaurs fully out of captivity. Even once a status quo is reached by Jurassic Park III with the escaped dinosaurs settling on an island that’s declared a nature preserve, the film ends with Pteranodons seeking out new nesting grounds. Just like Dr. Grant always said, “Life finds a way,” and that way seems to lie with the dinosaurs migrating out of their island exile.

Unfortunately, as cool as it would be to see dinosaurs out in the world, 2012’s Jurassic World returned to the park, as it were. Despite rumors that the fourth film would involve dinosaurs terrorizing the mainland, the fourth film hewed much closer to the original Jurassic Park instead of going bigger. Still, while the immediate sequel abandoned its predecessor’s cliffhanger, there’s a possibility that 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will finally make due on the promise of its title.

Loss Leader

It’s been somewhat forgotten in the intervening years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but 2008’s The Incredible Hulk is still an important building block for modern-day Marvel films. While Edward Norton’s version of Bruce Banner wouldn’t make the jump to later films, William Hurt’s “Thunderbolt” Ross first appeared in The Incredible Hulk before later returning for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. More importantly, the post-credits sequence actually features Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark mention the possibility of putting a superhero team together. The scene established to incredulous audiences at the time that this whole MCU thing was really happening.

In short, the movie is most definitely canonical in the massive series of Marvel superhero movies. Despite all that, there’s still at least one cliffhanger that has never been resolved: Tim Blake Nelson’s irradiated transformation into his big-headed comic book counterpart, the Leader. The supervillain is one of the Hulk’s most famous foes, so it makes sense that the filmmakers would want to tease his possible appearance in the sequel. Unfortunately, in the intervening years, a slew of different Marvel movies have come out, and Hulk’s nemesis hasn’t even been mentioned in an offhand line of dialogue.

 

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