Looking at possible top tens for this week with the new Han Solo movie, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, coming out there were a lot of options but it seems everyone is doing countdowns about “Star Wars” characters that deserve their own movies and directors fired from their films to celebrate the release. I wanted to take a different path and since this film is one of many spin-off movies Hollywood has churned out, and a standalone “Transformers” film focusing on Bumblebee is also scheduled for a 2018 release, I decided to focus on that concept. So in celebration of one of the most popular “Star Wars” characters getting his own spin-off movie these are my picks for the Top 10 Character Spin-off Films.
For this list I focused on movies where a character from a previous film or franchise that was not the star of the show before takes center stage. While there are many spin-off movies that don’t focus on an already established character, like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” for example, this list is all about the films that took a side character or a character that wasn’t necessarily the main character in a franchise and told their story in a spin-off giving them their time to shine away from the original story and cast. Since in some cases this led characters to have their own franchises I am limiting this list to one movie per franchise and/or character.
What is your favorite character spinoff movie? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” this weekend.
10. “Bad Grandpa”
Starring Johnny Knoxville in his “old grandpa” persona Irving Zisman, this 2013 comedy is an interesting spin-off that focused on a single character from the several sketches within the three “Jackass” movies. Zisman was featured as part of pranks in the original series of films before Knoxville and others came together to give the grandpa his own character-centric movie. The spin-off strays slightly from the format of the “Jackass” films by stringing everything together in a narrative, similar to Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat”, and giving the character his own personality and quirks that weren’t necessarily present in the “Jackass” films where he was simply meant to be an oddball old person. While considered a fourth installment in the “Jackass” franchise, this film stands on its own as a unique attempt at humor putting Knoxville’s comedic chops and acting skills to the ultimate test.
9. “The Penguins of Madagascar”
Dreamworks can be credited for starting the theme of animated character spin-off films and in 2014 their second such movie continued the legacy of their beloved “Madagascar” franchise. After the original trilogy of animated films concluded in 2012 the studio released a fourth film in the series two years later in 2014 focusing on the comedic relief side characters of the Penguins. Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private had received their own spin-off television show, which was unrelated to this film, and a Christmas special packaged with the first movie’s DVD so the cinematic value of the characters was certainly there. Seeing this quartet of charming and fun flightless birds embark on a mission all their own felt oddly fresh with beautiful animation and a story that delved into the bond of the titular characters. “The Penguins of Madagascar” was a fine addition to a franchise that, by that time, had become quite stale.
8. “U.S. Marshalls”
Back in the 90s spin-offs weren’t unheard of, but they weren’t exactly popular either. In 1993 the massive hit film “The Fugitive” focused on a man on the run played by Harrison Ford who was pursued by Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshal Deputy Samuel Girard. Years later in 1998 Girard got his own standalone spinoff movie in “U.S. Marshals”. The film didn’t involve Ford or his character but instead focused heavily on Jones’ character and several new and old Deputy Marshals, some who were also featured in “The Fugitive”, who hunt down a new escapee played by Wesley Snipes. While not as successful or praised as “The Fugitive”, “U.S. Marshals” is often cited as one of the most notable early spin-off movies and was largely responsible for establishing the trend in the modern day, evident by it being the oldest film on this list. It might not have lived up to its predecessor, but “U.S. Marshals” was still a fun action experience all the same focusing on a character worthy of his own movie.
7. “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith made their oddball characters Jay and Silent Bob famous well before this 2001 spin-off film, but up until this movie they had been relegated to side characters or comic relief in movies throughout Smith’s View Askewniverse including films like “Clerks”, “Dogma” and “Chasing Amy”. This was the first movie to truly make them the central focus of the story as the duo sought royalties from a comic book series called “Bluntman and Chronic” based on their likenesses. Many character from throughout the Askewniverse made appearances as the story served as a direct and indirect sequel to previous projects while putting one of the most prominent duos in the entire franchise front and center for the first time. The film has become a cult classic, like many of Smith’s works in the Askewniverse, and captured the true potential of this dynamic duo after multiple films only mildly explored their comedic genius and personalities.
6. “This is 40”
Did you know that “Knocked Up” had a sequel? No? Well you should because this 2012 spin-off is a hilarious look at parenthood and marriage over the hill. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann returned to their roles as Pete and his wife Debbie originally featured in 2007’s “Knocked Up” as they enter their 40s and deal with the stresses outside forces put on their relationship. Seen by some as a more perceptive film about parenthood than its predecessor while still capturing the humor and charm of its leads, “This is 40” may have been a very different concept than “Knocked Up” but it never felt unnecessary. It simply borrowed from the established world of the first movie and built on it to provide a new look at life with a comedic edge like only writer, director and producer Judd Apatow can. At the same time it doesn’t shy away from the familiar humor of the first movie, which Rudd himself helped fuel, but retains its own identity and focus making it an underrated spin-off gem.
5. “Puss in Boots”
In 2004 “Shrek 2” became the highest earning animated film in history at the time. While the “Shrek” franchise spawned many sequels it was that very film in 2004 film that introduced a character so popular he demanded his own movie. That was Puss in Boots who received his own self-titled spin-off, a prequel to “Shrek 2”, in 2011. The film focused on Puss as he teamed with love interest Kitty Softpaws and his old friend Humpty Dumpty to retrieve magic beans and the goose that lays the golden eggs. Puss was a perfect character for a solo adventure and even outside of the context of the larger franchise this origin tale holds up well even today as a fun modern take on the classic fairytale. While it remains the second lowest grossing film in the “Shrek” franchise, ahead of only the very first movie, “Puss in Boots” was a rare treat that surpassed expectations and proved that the charm of its titular hero wasn’t confined to just the main movies. He could certainly hold a film all his own too.
Let’s face it not everyone wanted a movie based purely on Illuminations mascot Minions from the “Despicable Me” franchise, but we got it in 2015 and it was a massive hit. Earning over $1.1 billion dollars and still today the highest grossing non-Disney animated film ever the “Minions” movie was nothing short of a phenomenon as it took Gru’s goofy yellow minions and gave them a film all their own prior to the events of the rest of the franchise. “Minions” took advantage of the viral hype of the titular pill-like beings who captured the hearts of fans everywhere through the movies, merchandise, theme park rides and an endless supply of memes. In the end “Minions” became the highest grossing film to date, even considering the billion-dollar earning “Despicable Me 3” last year, so it’s not hard to justify a standalone film for these adorable and mildly annoying creatures. Even by the highest expectations though, the success of this film was mind-blowing. In fact it became the highest grossing film on this list by far and a sequel project is on the way in 2020.
Technically both a reboot and a spin-off, “Deadpool” was a passion project for star Ryan Reynolds who has put his heart and soul into literally becoming the character. It became the highest grossing rated R film of all time in 2016 and spawned a sequel released just this past weekend (you can read my review of it here). But, as much as we’d all like to forget it “Deadpool” actually debuted in the “X-Men” movie universe in 2009 through another spin-off movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. There he was also played by Reynolds but his character depiction was panned by fans as it negated many of the character’s most notable traits. After teasing the possibility of a new film Fox green-lit a standalone movie set within the “X-Men” universe to do the character justice and thus the new film franchise was born. Almost like the theme song of the new sequel, “Deadpool” rose from the ashes of disaster to give us the R-rated hero epic we, and the character, deserved as a spin-off from the “Wolverine” and “X-Men” franchises. As a result it also helped inspire another spin-off on this list, but I’ll get to that soon.
2. “Get Him to the Greek”
The second Judd Apatow-led character spin-off on this list, and one of the most famous character-specific spin-off movies ever made, “Get Him to the Greek” might not have been a financial hit but it was a critically praised film that focused primarily on one of the most popular characters from a much-loved 2008 comedy. A spin-off sequel to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, “Get Him to the Greek” put the focus squarely on music star Aldous Snow, played by an in-his-prime Russell Brand, with Jonah Hill portraying a talent scout seeking to get the star to the Greek Theatre for an anniversary show. Hill had also played an obsessed fan in the first film, but took on a new character here while Brand’s Snow is remained a scene stealing comedic force. “Get Him to the Greek” was a rare comedy sequel/spin-off that worked almost as good as its predecessor and built off of the comedy and established character from the previous film while also being a fitting solo comedy. While Brand has fallen into obscurity as an actor nowadays, this movie proved he could hold his own and it’s often remembered as one of the better spin-offs of any genre.
It’s true that “Logan” was far from the first Wolverine-specific film, however it was absolutely the best. One of the greatest mass-released films to come out of 2017, “Logan” was an intense character-driven story of “X-Men’s” Wolverine as he dealt with his own mortality for the first time and the curse of seeing his loved ones suffer around him for all those years. While “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was a train wreck and “The Wolverine” was simply a good film, “Logan” was near perfect as a spin-off solo film from the “X-Men” universe set loosely after the events of both “Days of Future Past” and “The Wolverine”. Hugh Jackman’s final turn in the role that made him a household name is layered with great character moments and an overwhelming sense of depression and frustration in the most grounded “X-Men” movie of them all. Borrowing the R-rated gimmick from “Deadpool”, “Logan” gave us the Wolverine solo movie we all truly wanted and brought out everything worth loving about the character while also giving us an emotionally charged sense of finality that this is not only Hugh Jackman’s final turn with the claws, but also a stage in the character’s life where he finally has a real opportunity to find peace. All these reasons combined make it a spin-off film superior to many of its predecessors and one worthy of the top spot on this list.