Extra Credit: Five Spinoffs to Stream After ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’
In the weekly column Extra Credit, Charles Bramesco recommends supplemental viewing for moviegoers whose interests have been piqued by a given week’s big new release.
Leia was supposed to end up with Luke. George Lucas didn’t just make the siblings kiss for the softly incestuous thrill of it; they were conceived as the romantic leads, until a scruffy nerf herder played by a young Harrison Ford ran away with America’s hearts. A viewer can watch Lucas react to his own success as he steers Leia from Luke to the dashing bounty hunter Han Solo from Episode IV to V. Han’s popularity crests this weekend, as the character gets his own spinoff film fleshing out his background by returning to the lovable crook’s younger days — a solo Solo, if you will.
That’s only the latest in a long line of franchise projects pivoting out from the main narrative to join a deuteragonist on a quest of his or her own. Read on for a selection of spinoff films available to stream online right now — everyone’s got a story to tell:
1. Machete (2010)
Whoda thunk that one of the most gleefully over-the-top gorefests in recent memory could have sprung forth from the plucky, child-friendly Spy Kids pictures? How about director Robert Rodriguez, who looks on the craggy face of Danny Trejo like it’s an artistic medium unto itself. He plopped his longtime buddy Trejo in the squeaky-clean franchise project as a bad muchacho with a dark past, then revived the character for a faux-trailer in 2007’s Grindhouse double feature, to which Rodriguez contributed Planet Terror. Machete has since commandeered two feature-length films all his own, both of them reverent homages to the scuzzy B-movies that filled run-down theaters during the ’70s and ’80s. If nothing else, know this: Machete don’t text. (Machete is currently available for rent.)
2. The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
The creators of the 2000 sci-fi sleeper Pitch Black made a lot of questionable decisions (menstrual blood turns out to play a surprisingly key role in the mechanics of the plot) but the smartest thing they ever did was hitch their wagon to star-on-the-rise Vin Diesel. Reorienting the saga around Richard Riddick, a gritty antihero with the unique skill to deliver patently absurd lines of dialogue without breaking from his straight face, gave the slowly formulating cult fanbase exactly what they wanted. An overload on silly arcana alienated the mainstream and kept the Riddick franchise from box-office success, but it left the rest of us with the Rosetta Stone that singlehandedly explains the celebrity of its cue-balled leading man. (The Chronicles of Riddick is currently available for rent.)
3. This Is 40 (2012)
Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) played the dual Ghosts of Matrimony Yet to Come for Knocked Up, their state of permanent mutual contempt a grim vision of the possible future for Ben and Alison (Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl). Judd Apatow dug a little deeper into their toxic relationship with this 2012 feature, which finds the unhappy couple facing down the barrel of middle age. As they deal with their own individual crises — most of which pertain to the funny indignities of growing flabby, impotent, and un-hot — they ultimately realize just how much they love (and need) one another. Featuring one of the handful of Megan Fox performances making the daring suggestion that she might be really good at this! (This Is 40 is currently streaming on FXNow.)
4. Creed (2015)
The current King of All Filmmaking Ryan Coogler broke out by tapping Michael B. Jordan to roar his way through a star-making role as the indomitable son of Rocky Balboa’s late rival. Young and hungry, Adonis Creed wants his shot at the greatness, but he’ll need a guide if he wants to hone his skills. He gains one in Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone, returning to his signature role), worse for wear and going ten rounds with a bleak cancer diagnosis, but far from defeated. The two of them give Philadelphia something to cheer about as they scale the boxing ranks with nothing more than hard work, gumption, and the spirit of a fighter. (Creed is currently available for rent.)
5. The Scorpion King (2002)
Anyone with eyeballs could tell that the real star of The Mummy Returns was Dwayne Johnson, then more “The Rock” than the blockbuster machine we know him as today. As the Egyptian conqueror Mathayus, he began the franchise as a formidable villain, but his status as a fan favorite necessitated a face turn for his personal vehicle. This CGI-heavy swords-and-sandals epic explores Mathayus’ origin, from his turbulent family life to the story of how he gained the title of Scorpion King. The writing is middle-school level, the effects have aged like oysters in a hot car (to say nothing of the extremely 2002 soundtrack), but damn if the Rock’s luscious mane of jet-black hair doesn’t conjure memories of a simpler time. (The Scorpion King is currently available for rent.)