This weekend, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” invades theaters with all the motor oil, shell casings and testosterone that you’ve come to expect from the franchise. As the series’ first official spin-off (more on this in a minute), “Hobbs & Shaw” becomes the latest in a long line of recent features that try to spin-off from the canonical installments into something that maintains the essence of the franchise while breaking new ground. We’ve chosen to go with more recent films, and only the very, very best. (Sorry, “Conjuring” universe!)
9. ‘The Bourne Legacy’ (2012)
For a while, Jeremy Renner was Hollywood’s best contract negotiation tool. During pre-production of “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” it was suggested that Renner would take over for Tom Cruise at the movie’s conclusion. That didn’t happen. And when he was tapped to lead a Jason Bourne-free spin-off, away from Matt Damon, it didn’t really go anywhere. It was the one and only outing for Renner’s super spy, with Damon returning to the franchise in the next installment (2016’s underrated “Jason Bourne”). “The Bourne Legacy” was co-written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who had assisted with all of the previous Bourne entries, he has an innate understanding of the world and how it could potentially be expanded upon, and Renner makes for a fine Damon stand-in, with a supporting cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac and Edward Norton (as the big bad). There are even some cross-over characters (having to do with this film taking place during the same timeframe as some of the sequels), for some added spin-off-y oomph.
8. ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ (2017)
It was an almost foregone conclusion, following the release of “The Lego Movie,” that Lego Batman (voiced with gravelly intensity by Will Arnett) would get his own movie. Not only was he one of the breakout characters from that first film, but he is a character known for his elasticity, appearing in multiple forms over countless formats. Easily the funniest Batman movie ever, “The Lego Batman Movie” follows an emotionally angsty Bruce Wayne as he battles the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) in an incredibly Lego-y plot. (If you haven’t seen it, and you should, let’s just say that the Joker teams up with other Lego-property bad guys including but not limited to Voldemort and the raptors from “Jurassic Park.”) Featuring breathless animation and remarkable vocal performances, it felt both entirely separate from the main “Lego Movie” thrust and very much a part of it, too. It’s even referenced in this year’s “Lego Movie 2 The Second Part.”
7. ‘The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift’ (2006)
Now, here’s where we wade into some muddy waters. Universal is claiming that “Hobbs & Shaw” is the very first “Fast & Furious” spin-off, but at the time of its release, “Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift” felt very much like a tangential installment in the long-running franchise. (This was also before the series bent over backwards to make this entry part of the canon.) It didn’t feature any of the original cast members (until a pre-credits-sequence cameo from Vin Diesel) and strayed from the cops-and-criminals template to focus on a coming-of-age story in modern day Japan. Full of heart and energy, it’s hard to imagine this but at the time of the film’s release, the franchise was not the juggernaut it is today and, in fact, “Tokyo Drift” helped get the series back on its feet (director Justin Lin has gone on to become the franchise’s chief artistic contributor). Vroom!
6. ‘Get Him to the Greek’ (2010)
Remember when Russell Brand was an international sensation and not just Katy Perry’s weirdo ex-husband? Audiences and executives were so taken by Brand’s portrayal of narcissistic rock star Aldous Snow from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” that a spin-off was quickly devised. “Get Him to the Greek” is a raucous two-hander that stars Jonah Hill (playing a different character from the original film), as a low-level record label employee tasked with getting the rocker to a sold-out show. (The best interlude involves the two of them in Las Vegas. “It’s positively Kubrickian!”) While the film wasn’t a runaway success like the original, it has rightfully developed a cult following in the years since it was released. Like an overlooked album that is now labeled a classic.
5. ‘Deadpool’ (2016)
Ryan Reynolds first played Deadpool in another spin-off, the lukewarm “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a movie that totally misunderstood what made the Merc with a Mouth so compelling. (For one, they sewed his mouth shut.) So you can understand why Reynolds and director Tim Miller wanted to right the wrongs of the past with this freewheeling stand-alone movie (one that became a surprise sensation when it was released, thanks in large part to a unique marketing campaign that emphasized the character’s wise-ass attitude). This relatively low budget superhero affair is raunchy, violent, and surprisingly emotional (all things that would be amplified for the Miller-less sequel). “Deadpool” is a bright, shining example of how to do a superhero spin-off properly, mostly by ignoring everything about the franchise from which it came and following the beat of its own F-bomb-laced drummer.
4. ‘Bumblebee’ (2018)
“Transformers” is one of those big, lumbering franchises where new installments are periodically released even if there doesn’t seem to be much of a demand for more. So when a spin-off was announced, after the most commercially and creatively indifferent installment in the series (“Transformers: The Last Knight”), it was hard not to roll your eyes. So imagine the genuine surprise of “Bumblebee,” a sweet, Amblin-y, ‘80s-set buddy movie about a young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) who befriends the titular robot as he hides out on earth away from a pair of psychotic baddies (Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux). Everything is charming and comparatively low stakes, which felt like a breath of fresh air when compared to the calamitous earlier installments. Most of this has to do with the wise decisions director Travis Knight, an animation veteran, made when it comes to the robots and the movie’s general vibe. Breezy and light, it’s easily the very best movie in the entire “Transformers” canon.
3. ‘Logan’ (2017)
We admit to not being nearly as infatuated with the gritty, hard-R send-off of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character as most critics and audiences, but still, as far as spin-offs go, especially ones that began as shakily as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Logan” can be seen as nothing if not a triumph. Jackman, in his final performance as the adamantium-clawed hero, finds himself in the position of transporting a young girl, with very similar powers, across the border. Its classically western set-up is perfect for Jackman’s aged and dusty portrayal of the character, who is one of the last remaining mutants on the planet, forced into crusty middle age with a minimum wage job and a whole lot of regret. While the script occasionally falters (his younger clone is dumb and so are the little mutant kids), Jackman’s commitment to the character and to giving that character a proper ending is commendable.
2. ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ (2016)
“Star Wars” isn’t exactly a franchise known for taking chances (its firing of genuine visionaries Phil Lord and Chris Miller from another spin-off, “Solo,” is a clear indication of this), but “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the very first spin-off the franchise had mounted since Disney bought Lucasfilm, feels borderline experimental. (We’re choosing to forgo the Ewok spin-off movies because, well, they’re Ewok spin-off movies.) Just think about it: this was a mega-budget Christmas movie where every major character dies! And it made over $1 billion worldwide! Morally complex and visually stunning, this was a film that proved the viability of big-budget “Star Wars” spin-offs, even if the production and post-production was, by all accounts, an absolute disaster. (Much of the marketing material, featuring unused footage, advertised a very different movie.) The final product, while undeniably wobbly, is still a highlight of this new era of “Star Wars” and a clear indication of just how vast and fascinating this universe is.
1. ‘Creed’ (2015)
“Creed” is, unquestionably, the greatest spin-off of all time. Part of that has to do with what a surprise it was. This was a pseudo-sequel in the “Rocky” franchise, which had been on ice for nearly a decade (since “Rocky Balboa” in 2006), and one without Sylvester Stallone writing or directing (he instead took on a producer credit and essayed his beloved character, in perhaps his most tender turn). It was a dicey proposition, for sure, pumping new blood into a franchise that had faded into the background. But with a creative team led by the brilliant co-writer/director Ryan Coogler and a stunning cast featuring Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, they pulled off the impossible – the best film in the series since the original “Rocky” (back in 1976). Instead of just investing in tired archetypes, in telling the story of Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, the filmmakers found a way of updating the story, injecting modern culture and politics, while maintaining what everyone loves about the franchise. And the boxing matches, orchestrated breathlessly by Coogler, are among the greatest in cinema history. This is how you revamp a film franchise.