- Some movie series ended on a good note, but others concluded their run with a disappointing final film.
- Film series like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” have received high marks from critics from beginning to end.
- The “Fifty Shades” and “Divergent” movie series ended on a sour note, with critics ripping apart each series’ final film.
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Here are eight movie series that ended on a high note, and 10 that left critics shaking their heads, according to critic scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
Note: Film franchises that ended on high note included ones with finales that yielded a better critical score than the first instalment, as well as movie series that were critically acclaimed from beginning to end without losing more than 5% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The “Harry Potter” franchise started on a high note, and ended on an even higher one.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001):81%
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” (2011): 96%
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” introduced Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends to the magical world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” saw them returning to school one last time to wage war against Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his band of Death Eaters.
The final instalment in the “Harry Potter” film franchise holds the highest critical rating for the series across the board, with critics praising director David Yates for skillfully wrapping up the spellbinding story with a satisfying conclusion.
From the top-notch special effects to the powerful acting performances from the expansive cast, the 2011 film is widely viewed as an excellent end to a much-beloved series.
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was critically acclaimed from start to finish.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001): 91%
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003): 93%
Based on the series by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” sees a young hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) off on a dangerous journey across Middle Earth to destroy a ring connected to the villainous Sauron.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” finds Frodo and his friends vanquishing Sauron’s hold on the realm for good.
All three films were well-reviewed by critics, though “The Return of the King” earned the highest praise for bringing the fantasy trilogy to a triumphant end.
With enormous set pieces, high-stakes storytelling, and a game cast, “The Return of the King” received numerous reviews that praised the execution of director Peter Jackson’s ambitious vision.
Overall, the “High School Musical” series left off on a slightly higher note than where it started.
“High School Musical” (2006): 63%
“High School Musical 3: Senior Year” (2008):64%
In “High School Musical,” basketball star Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and top student Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) surprise their friends and themselves when they audition for the spring musical.
“High School Musical 3: Senior Year” finds Troy and Gabriella questioning where they will end up as graduation approaches.
Although the first two “High School Musical” movies aired on Disney Channel, “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” premiered to a wide theatrical release, which points to the large following of fans that the series gained across three years.
The final film was received marginally better than the first (though not better than the second), with critics highlighting its skillful choreography, upbeat energy, and the talent of the leads.
“The Dark Knight” trilogy ended on a high note, with a strong middle entry in between.
“Batman Begins” (2005): 84%
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012): 87%
In “Batman Begins,” billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) reinvents himself as the crime-fighting vigilante Batman, and the “The Dark Knight Rises” sees him facing off against Bane (Tom Hardy) as he defends the people of Gotham city.
Though the final film didn’t reach the same dizzying heights of the second instalment – “The Dark Knight” (2008), which boasted a critical rating of 94% – “The Dark Knight Rises” ushered Christopher Nolan’s trilogy towards a fitting conclusion.
Critics across the broad called it a sprawling epic that had a surprisingly emotional heart at its centre.
Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy was beloved from beginning to end.
“Before Sunrise” (1995):
“Before Midnight” (2013):
In “Before Sunrise,” two strangers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), spontaneously decide to spend the night together in Vienna.
In “Before Midnight,” Jesse and Celine look back on their years-long relationship as they vacation in Greece.
“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight,” were all praised by critics for depicting a realistic romantic relationship through natural, off-the-cuff dialogue and touching performances from Hawke and Delpy.
In particular, “Before Midnight” was applauded for maintaining the same charm and sincerity critics had come to expect from director Richard Linklater, nearly two decades after the original was released.
“Toy Story” set an impossibly high bar, but the series still ended on a high note.
“Toy Story” (1995): 100%
“Toy Story 4” (2019): 97%
In “Toy Story,” pull-string cowboy toy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) feels like his status as favourite toy is threatened when his owner gets new action figure, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), for his birthday.
In “Toy Story 4,” Woody, Buzz, and their friends help out a new toy named Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) when their new owner brings him home from kindergarten.
“Toy Story” and its subsequent sequels were praised across the board, with Pixar finding fresh, unique storylines for its beloved characters through the years.
“Toy Story 4” was met with yet another wave of critical acclaim for its dazzling animation design and emotional resonance.
The “Man With No Name” trilogy set a new bar for Westerns.
“A Fistful of Dollars” (1964):
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966):
Said to be a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961), the spaghetti Western “A Fistful of Dollars” follows a gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) as he blows through a small town and double-crosses a pair of rival gangs.
In “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” the mysterious cowboy returns to face off against a bounty hunter and a bandit.
Director Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy was praised as peak entertainment in the Western genre. Critics received “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” as a triumphant climax to an iconic trilogy, with memorable acting performances and thrilling action sequences.
The “Wolverine” trilogy within the larger X-Men franchise left off miles above where it started.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009): 37%
“Logan” (2017): 93%
The first instalment, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” explores the bitter history of clawed mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) over the course of countless decades.
In “Logan,” Wolverine protects a young girl (Dafne Keen) in a future where mutants are almost extinct.
Set amidst the larger narrative of the “X-Men” universe, the “Wolverine” trilogy shined light on Jackman’s character and put him front and centre. Critics met “Logan” with an overwhelming amount of positive reviews, praising the film for its bold narrative strokes and magnetic acting performances.
On the other hand, “The Hunger Games” had a promising start but left off on a slightly lower note.
“The Hunger Games” (2012): 84%
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” (2015):70%
Set in a dystopian future, “The Hunger Games” dropped young tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in the middle of a bloody free-for-all, where the only winner is the last person left alive.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” found Katniss facing off against the tyrannical Capitol in the series’ final chapter.
Based on the young-adult book series by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” found success as a film series but petered off in critical reception toward the end of its run.
Dissenting reviews noted the exhausting pace of the final film and some felt like the franchise would be better served by combining “Mockingjay – Part 1” and “Mockingjay – Part 2” in a single, complete story.
The first “Spider-Man” wowed critics and “Spider-Man 3” divided them.
“Spider-Man” (2002): 90%
“Spider-Man 3” (2007): 63%
“Spider-Man” traced Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) journey from overlooked geek to web-slinging superhero, and “Spider-Man 3” saw Peter’s struggle to balance his two identities while facing off against Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), and the new Green Goblin (James Franco).
Director Sam Raimi’s first two “Spider-Man” films were met with excitement and praise, but critical reception noticeably dropped off for “Spider-Man 3.”
Disappointed reviews largely blamed the film’s shortcomings on dramatic moments that fell flat and an ambling, overstuffed plot.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” started on a high note and went downhill from there.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003): 79%
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (2017): 30%
“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” introduced heiress Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and blacksmith apprentice Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) as they joined the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) on the high seas.
The fifth and final instalment “Dead Men Tell No Tales” followed Jack on the run from the devilish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” series had a downward tilt in critical ratings across its years-long run, with the final film yielding its lowest critical score to date. Unhappy critics said the movie’s biggest flaws lie in its plodding script, overblown violence, and weak attempts at humour.
The “Twilight” saga started with low marks, and ended up in the same spot.
“Twilight” (2008): 49%
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” (2012): 49%
In “Twilight,” high-school student Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is inexplicably drawn to ethereal Edward (Robert Pattinson), who reveals that he is a vampire.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” follows Bella as she transforms into a vampire herself and defends her new family from an ancient threat.
Although the “Twilight” saga accrued an impressive fan following, the series divided critics from the beginning and failed to win many converts across its five-film span. Disappointed critics found fault with the final movie’s disjointed narrative and lacklustre ending.
In general, critics felt like “The Hobbit” trilogy failed to live up to expectations.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012):64%
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014): 59%
Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” sent hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) off on a great adventure to aid a band of 13 dwarves.
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” saw Bilbo and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) warring against a perilous dragon as dark forces gathered.
After the massive success of “The Lord of the Rings,” director Peter Jackson tried to replicate the same outcome with his “Hobbit” trilogy, splitting the fantasy novel into three parts.
Overall, critics felt like the source material was spread too thin across three movies, culminating in a finale that felt more tiresome than gratifying.
“The Maze Runner” series took a downward dip in ratings and ended on its lowest note.
“The Maze Runner” (2014): 65%
“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” (2018): 43%
In the dystopian thriller “The Maze Runner,” Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in the middle of a maze with a group of boys and a single girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and does whatever it takes to escape.
In the finale, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” Thomas and his friends break into the Last City to free their friends from one last maze.
Adapted from the novels by James Dashner, “The Maze Runner” series yielded mixed reception and some critics felt “The Death Cure” was a middling, half-hearted effort.
Critics felt the “Men in Black” series lost its momentum by the fourth instalment.
“Men in Black” (1997): 92%
“Men in Black International” (2019): 23%
“Men in Black” pairs rookie Agent J (Will Smith) up with veteran Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) as they solve galactic mysteries and hide evidence of extraterrestrial life from civilians.
“Men in Black International” returned to the same world, this time sending Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) and Agent M (Tessa Thompson) off on a mission that could determine the fate of the universe.
“Men in Black” was a fun science-fiction romp that benefited from a strong script and the charming chemistry of leads Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. By the time the fourth sequel hit theatres, critics were wary of the series, feeling like “Men in Black International” had lost sight of what made the original so much fun.
Critics felt like the final “Hangover” movie wasted the talents of its funny cast.
“The Hangover” (2009): 78%
“The Hangover Part III” (2013): 20%
After a crazy bender in Las Vegas, three groomsmen – Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) – wake up and realise that the groom Doug (Justin Bartha) is missing.
In “The Hangover Part III,” the same group of friends return to Las Vegas while trying to find Alan, who has been kidnapped.
Critics had grown tired of these characters’ antics by the third movie. Negative reviews pointed to an overabundance of mindless violence and a plot that rehashed too many elements from its predecessors.
By the time the last “Divergent” film came out, critics felt like the series had overstayed its welcome.
“Divergent” (2014): 42%
“The Divergent Series: Allegiant” (2016):11%
In “Divergent,” Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) navigates a dystopian future where people are split into different factions based on their virtues, aware that she doesn’t fit any one group.
In “The Divergent Series: Allegiant,” Tris and her partner Four (Theo James) venture beyond the walls of Chicago and discover new truths about their world.
Although there was originally another sequel planned for the series, “Allegiant” had such a low box-office performance that it incidentally became the official last film of the franchise.
Critics felt that the last theatrical instalment suffered from a weak script, unintentional humour, and poor translation from page to screen.
“The Fifty Shades” trilogy started on a low note, and ended on an even lower one.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015): 25%
“Fifty Shades Freed” (2018): 12%
In “Fifty Shades of Grey,” university student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets high-powered businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and forms an intimate connection.
In “Fifty Shades Freed,” Ana and Christian take on new roles as newlyweds and confront threats from their past.
Based on the book series by author E.L. James, critics were unimpressed with the trilogy from start to finish. In their reviews for “Fifty Shades Freed,” critics agreed that the last film failed to provide an engaging narrative or even retain the steamy fun of the novels.