Because for every long-running film series that has continued to deliver the goods in its fifth instalment, there’s one that falls victim to the law of diminishing returns.
So as Harrison Ford gets in some bullwhip practice for his latest, much-anticipated collaboration with Stephen Spielberg, we take a look at the best and worst fifth entries in movie franchises…
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Marshalling the 257,045 words in JK Rowling’s sprawling fantasy doorstop (at 766 pages, it’s the longest book in the Harry Potter series) into a single film was always going to be a tall order, but director David Yates makes a decent fist of it in his first contribution to the franchise. (So good, in fact, they’d ask him back to direct the rest of the series.)
Time magazine hailed the film as “not just a ripping yarn but a powerful, poignant coming-of-age story”, while Rolling Stone declared it “the most filmic” Potter of the lot, praising it for being “suspenseful and action-packed”. We declared it “engrossing and spellbinding.” And it actually turned out to be the shortest in the franchise so far!
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
For people of a certain age, this will always be Star Wars 2. But it’s technically Episode V – check out the big V on the DVD if you don’t believe us – which makes it hands-down winner of the best fifth film in cinema. Darker and more moody than A New Hope, yet retaining the wit, charm and sense of boys’ own adventure so sadly absent from the prequels, it’s widely considered the high watermark of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe. From the electrifying AT-AT attack on the ice plains of Hoth to THAT jaw-dropping revelation about Luke’s parentage, it’s all the wonder of cinema condensed into two hours and seven minutes of perfect popcorn-friendly entertainment.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
With a script by Roald Dahl (yes, really), the fifth Bond movie saw Sean Connery’s 007 faking his own death and travelling to Tokyo to unmask a bunch of international hijackers. Despite some truly of-its-time racial stereotyping – including the unfortunate sight of Connery made up in full “yellowface” – the film boasts satisfying spins on all the classic Bond tropes, including ninja armies, henchmen being eaten by piranhas, the daddy of all villain’s lairs (inside a volcano!) and the introduction of Donald Pleasence’s bald, scarred SPECTRE boss Ernst Blofeld. Throw in Nancy Sinatra’s silky title song, and it’s a strong contender for the ultimate Bond film.
Superman Returns (2006)
A controversial choice, perhaps, as Bryan Singer’s 2006 attempt to restart the ultimate comic book franchise was considered a bit of a flop, with Brandon Routh destined to remain a one-shot Man of Steel. Some felt the film was too much of a love letter to Richard Donner’s late 70s Superman films to stand on its own feet, but that’s also the reason we love it: very much a continuation of the Donner franchise (as opposed to a reboot), for audiences of a certain age, this was a direct hit to the nostalgia neurons, from John Williams’ triumphant theme to the familiar crystalline temple of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It’s true that Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor isn’t nearly as much fun as Singer seems to think he is but, overall, this has bags more charm than 2012’s gloomy, portentous Man of Steel. RT’s verdict? “Sheer charm.”
X-Men: First Class (2011)
The ailing X-Men franchise got a much-needed shot in the arm from this 2011 reboot, which went back in time to tell the origin story of how Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr became mortal mutant enemies Professor X and Magneto. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are so good in these central roles, you don’t miss knights of the realm Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen one bit, while shape-shifting blue-skinned beauty Mystique helped propel Jennifer Lawrence to A-list superstardom. Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, director Matthew Vaughn captures the 60s vibe perfectly, plus there’s Kevin Bacon giving great villain as an ex-mutant Nazi scientist. RT hailed Vaughn’s “fresh superhero vision”.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
“Why are they putting seatbelts in theatres this summer?” asked the teaser poster for Star Trek V. It was supposed to suggest audiences were in for a thrill-packed rollercoaster ride, but wags were quick to suggest it was to stop people walking out of a movie so bad, it nearly sunk the Star Trek franchise for good. Following Leonard Nimoy’s success behind the camera on the previous two films, William Shatner took the director’s as well as the captain’s chair for a disastrous tale about a renegade Vulcan’s search for God (or something). Without doubt the most extreme example of the famous Star Trek Odd-Even Law (even-numbered films good, odd-numbered films bad).
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
You can call it Episode II all you like, George, but no way is this stinker escaping any list of the worst fifth films in history. From the clunking dialogue and tedious obsession with Jedi protocol to the overload of eye-crossing CGI that somehow succeeds in making even the real actors look fake, the only thing you could possibly say in Attack of the Clones’ favour is that it’s preferable to The Phantom Menace. But then so is dysentery. Worst of all, much of the film is given over to the toe-curling “romance” between Hayden Christensen’s sopping wet Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman’s stiff-as-a-loo-brush Padme Amidala. “I don’t like sand,” “Annie” complains at one point. “It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere”. Aw, they’re lovely at that age, aren’t they?
Friday 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
This slasher franchise was never likely to trouble the Oscars shortlist, but at least fans knew what they were getting – namely, hockey-masked psycho killer Jason Vorhees carving up his victims with a machete. For the fifth film in the series, though, Jason was replaced by a crazed paramedic called Roy (Roy!) while the film was also saddled with a “comedy” hick mother-and-son duo, to the amusement of precisely no-one. The director, Danny Steinmann, had started his career making hardcore porn films, and ended it with… well, this.
Terminator: Genisys (2015)
On paper, this should have been great: with Arnie back on board after wisely sitting out the disastrous Terminator: Salvation, a new Sarah Connor in the promising form of Game of Thrones’ Emelia Clarke, and a time-twisting return to the franchise’s 80s roots, the omens for rebooting the stalled franchise looked good. But the convoluted plot left many baffled, with critics slamming the film as a “karaoke rehash” of James Cameron’s original. Matt Smith fans were also disappointed after the ex-Time Lord barely got a look-in. And the less said about the ridyculous… sorry, ridiculous title, the better. RT’s verdict? “Lacklustre.”
Rocky V (1990)
The fifth Rocky movie was designed to serve as a heroic last stand for cinema’s favourite pugilist, with Sylvester Stallone’s prizefighter destined to die right up until an eleventh-hour rewrite. With that knockout blow removed, the film fails to connect on any level, while its central plot of Rocky mentoring a hungry young fighter would eventually be done with considerably more style in 2016’s Creed. A box office flop, Rocky V was nominated for a total of seven Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Screenplay, Worst Director and Worst Original Song (for Measure of a Man, by Elton John – it’s no Eye of the Tiger, that’s for sure).
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