Credit: Everett Collection

When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens this weekend, it will continue one of the most fascinating cinematic trends of the last few years: the Rise of the Big-Budget Fourquel. Third sequels didn't use to exist outside of low-budget horror cash-cows and Z-grade monster franchises. Trilogies simply felt more dignified, whether you were designing an action-adventure saga (Back to the Future, Star Wars) or a soul-searing work of cinematic artistry (The Godfather, the Apu series.) But we live in undignified times. As Roger Ebert recently pointed out in Newsweek, 2011 features the highest number of fourquels ever: Besides Pirates, there are new volumes of Mission: Impossible, Spy Kids, and Twilight, not to mention the already-released, already-disappointing Scream 4. As part of PopWatch's ongoing effort to look on the bright side of life, here's a rundown of the best fourquels in film history. Hooray for the process of elimination!

10. Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

In the unfortunately-expanding subgenre of Barely-Awaited Sequels to Once-Beloved '80s Action Franchises, we'll give a slight edge to Bruce Willis over Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Sylvester Stallone (Rambo), and Sigourney Weaver (Alien Resurrection). Live Free or Die Hard has the advantage of featuring lots of flashy Parkour fight scenes. Also, we seem to recall that Maggie Q was pretty cool. The important thing is, this movie didn't completely dishonor its predecessors by turning everyman John McClane into a superhuman capable of surviving a fall from an exploding fighter plane onto a destroyed freeway. Wait, that's exactly what happened. Fourquels!

9. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Give the fourth Apes movie points for trying to actually be about something: Conquest's portrayal of an underclass uprising has plenty of Civil Rights themes, and Roddy McDowall's charismatic Caesar makes for an exciting rebel hero. Hey, at least it's better than Terminator Salvation, another fourth film which is technically a simultaneous prequel-sequel thanks to the terrible wonders of movie time travel. Fun fact: This summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a pseudo-remake of Conquest, thus creating the first ever reboot-remake of a prequel-sequel fourquel. That's weird, my nose is bleeding.

8. Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Admittedly not as good as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster but nevertheless a significant improvement over Godzilla vs. King Kong.

7. Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)

Admittedly not as good as Leprechaun: In the Hood, but nevertheless a significant improvement over Leprechaun 3.

6. Fast & Furious (2009)

Admittedly not as good as Fast Five, but nevertheless a significant improvement over The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Technically, Fast & Furious is a prequel to Tokyo Drift, but it's also the first direct sequel to The Fast and the Furious, thus making it a double-reverse sequel threeboot. Ow, my brain!

5. Thunderball (1965)

The fourth film to feature Sean Connery as the iconic superspy James Bond is best remembered today for extensive underwater action sequences that must have looked awesome four decades ago. It also has a great, utterly nonsensical theme song by Tom Jones. Fun fact: Thunderball was later remade into Never Say Never Again, starring an older Sean Connery, thus creating the world's first reshot-rebooted fourquel-remake.

4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Mostly remembered now as the film that came after The One That Everyone Loves and before The One Where Things Got Serious, Goblet of Fire is actually an enjoyable shambling mess, with a few great sequences like the Wizard Prom and the resurrection of Voldemort. It's a fun Christmas movie, by which I mean it's fun to have it playing on television on mute while you open presents and ignore the television. And speaking of enjoyably shambling messes…

3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Basically an extended fish-out-of-water sketch, The Voyage Home sends the original Enterprise crew to '80s-era San Francisco. They have to save the whales or something. The important thing is that Chekhov says the phrase "nuclear wessels." And speaking of wacky Russians…

2. Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV is an insane film in which a man who lives with a sentient robot must find the strength to rescue America from communism by defeating a Soviet superman in a boxing match. All the Russians are played by Germans. The boxing looks nothing at all like real boxing. James Brown cameos as himself. Sylvester Stallone climbs a mountain. And so, so, so much more — read all about it here. Arguably the single most important film ever made about the Cold War, and we can't stress the word "arguably" enough.

1. Bed & Board (1970)

The only actual good film on this list is a bittersweet tale about the perils of domesticity, starring Francois Truffaut's onscreen alter ego Antoine Doinel. It features no action sequences, no time travel, and no Mothra. And it's still not even that great. In conclusion: Good luck, Pirates 4, you may already be one of the ten best fourquels ever!

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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