10 Movie Sequel Retcons That Were Deeply Controversial


  • Retcons in films can alter character motivations and change iconic creatures’ backstories.
  • Some retcons add new layers to the story, while others cause criticism and confusion.
  • Retcons can have a significant impact on franchises, both positively and negatively.

In the modern age of movies in which franchises are the hottest way to keep audiences engaged, many sequels and prequels have put forth some incredibly controversial retcons. A “retcon” refers to any continuous story that goes back on a certain detail, essentially undoing a change in the narrative with some far-out explanation. These can be anything from character deaths that turn out to be fake to changes in the chronology of a film series.

Retcons become controversial when they change the fundamental aspects of a story. Whether they’re diluting the complete story in order to indulge in bringing back a seemingly deceased character or fundamentally altering the universe of their series with strange lore choices, even the best movie sequels can succumb to uneven retcons. From the many changes of the Star Wars films to countless other franchises that completely overhaul their stories, many cinematic retcons haven’t been entirely well-received.

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10 Somehow, Palpatine Has Returned

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

With just four words, the Star Wars franchise managed to utterly annihilate any good will the sequel series had accrued. After the mixed responses of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Disney decided to heavily course-correct by returning to wade in elements from the original trilogy. Most painfully, the return of the infamous Sith Villain Palpatine, a.k.a. Darth Sidious, despite his very clear and triumphant death by the hands of his apprentice in Return of the Jedi.

If these changes weren’t bad enough, it’s also revealed that Rey is actually a backup clone of Palpatine.

This retcon completely undermines Luke and Vader’s victory at the end of the original trilogy, though it could be argued that the entire sequel series does this with the return of the Empire in the form of the First Order. If these changes weren’t bad enough, it’s also revealed that Rey is actually a backup clone of Palpatine, doubling back on her “nobody” backstory established in the previous film to haphazardly connect her to the surprise return of the villain. It’s no wonder that The Rise of Skywalker has such an infamous spot in Star Wars canon.

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker Poster Star Wars: Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker PG-13 ScreenRant logo

Director J.J. Abrams Release Date December 20, 2019 Cast Carrie Fisher , Oscar Isaac , Anthony Daniels , Joonas Suotamo , Mark Hamill , Adam Driver , Ian McDiarmid , Kelly Marie Tran , Billie Lourd , Keri Russell , Richard E. Grant , Daisy Ridley , Lupita Nyong’o , Dominic Monaghan , John Boyega , Domhnall Gleeson , Billy Dee Williams , Naomi Ackie Runtime 142 minutes Expand

9 Blofeld Was Behind Every Villain In Daniel Craig’s Bond Movies


The Daniel Craig tenure of the 007 series was initially known for its more grounded approach, with films like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace making it clear that this version of James Bond existed in a gritty, tough-as-nails spy industry similar to the real world. However, films like Skyfall also made the series more personal to Bond than ever before, with villains that hit close to home and explorations into the agent’s personal history rather than a simple series of missions. Spectre took things a little too far in this direction, jumping the shark once and for all.

It turns out that supervillain mastermind behind the titular evil organization, Blofeld, was actually James Bond’s long-lost foster brother, Franz Oberhauser. Not only that, but every villain in the Daniel Craig Bond series could be traced back to Spectre’s influence, essentially undermining the franchise’s previous threats in order to make Blofeld seem more sinister. For many fans, a twist this big so late into the series simply didn’t work, and retroactively called into question the narratives of the previous films.

Spectre 007 Movie Poster Spectre PG-13 ScreenRant logo

Director Sam Mendes Cast Ben Whishaw , Lea Seydoux , Ralph Fiennes , Monica Bellucci , Christoph Waltz , Daniel Craig , Andrew Scott , Dave Bautista Runtime 158 Minutes

8 Harry Is Brought Back From The Dead

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle

Speaking of spy franchises, the first Kingsman film offered a promising start to what could be a gripping new take on the espionage genre, goofier than the Daniel Craig Bond films but still pulpy and unafraid of violence or gore. Colin Firth’s Harry was an excellent mentor to the first film’s protagonist and something of a fan favorite, making his death an incredibly impactful moment. Unfortunately, this becomes utterly diluted in the widely panned sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Despite being shot in the literal head, Harry is back in the sequel thanks to an experimental “alpha gel” combined with a generous dosage of nanomachines. At the same time, this retcon cheapens death in the Kingsman universe, throws the series too far in the direction of science fiction, and makes the sequel’s killings of characters like Roxy and Merlin seem all the more unnecessary. Few franchises have shot themselves in the foot quite like Kingsman by refusing to allow a popular character to die.

Kingsman the golden circle movie poster Kingsman: The Golden Circle R ScreenRant logo

Director Matthew Vaughn Release Date September 22, 2017 Cast Jeff Bridges , Colin Firth , Channing Tatum , Halle Berry , Pedro Pascal , Mark Strong , Julianne Moore , Taron Egerton Runtime 2h 21m

7 John Connor Is A Terminator

Terminator: Genysis

Split image showing Kyle saying goodbye to John in Terminator Genisys

Few series have gone through the ringer quite like the Terminator franchise. With multiple Terminator timelines to keep track of that all pick and choose which previous films to ignore, the series has never been able to recapture the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day in over 30 years. One of the most egregious mistakes in a follow-up film was Terminator: Genysis‘ treatment of John Connor.

There’s a reason that
Terminator: Genysis
creates its own stubby branch of continuity sprouting off the original film that isn’t acknowledged by any sequel since.

Previously considered to be the key to human survival after the robot apocalypse, John Connor is essentially the living MacGuffin of the Terminator universe. However, Terminator: Genysis has him morph into an advanced new species of Terminator android, completely making the importance of his survival in past films a moot point. There’s a reason that Terminator: Genysis creates its own stubby branch of continuity sprouting off of the original film that isn’t acknowledged by any sequel since.

Terminator Genisys PG-13

Director Alan Taylor Cast Emilia Clarke , Jai Courtney , Arnold Schwarzenegger , Jason Clarke Runtime 2h 6m

6 The Midichlorians Were Behind The Force All Along

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

The poor Star Wars franchise might be one of the most abused by continuity changes compared to any other major cinema series. One of the most puzzling decisions to the lore came from Geroge Lucas’ own prequel trilogy, which went on to live in infamy as divisive movies. The controversial change affected the Force itself, the mystical energy surrounding all living things in the Star Wars universe that can be tapped into by both Jedi and Sith alike to give them dangerous telekinetic powers.

Tragically, the Force is totally de-mystified in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, explained to be the byproduct of microscopic creatures known as midichlorians. The higher one’s midichlorian count, the more powerful of a Force-user they’ll be. Changing the mysterious life energy into the byproduct of invisible space germs was one of the most baffling retcons George Lucas ever made to the beloved series, and was so controversial that midichlorians have yet to be mentioned by any of the sequel films or series.

Star_Wars_Episode_I_The_Phantom_menace movie poster Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace PG ScreenRant logo

Director George Lucas Release Date May 19, 1999 Cast Ewan McGregor , Liam Neeson , Natalie Portman , Jake Lloyd , Ahmed Best , Ian McDiarmid , Anthony Daniels , Kenny Baker , Pernilla August , Frank Oz , Ray Park , Samuel L. Jackson Runtime 133 minutes

5 Sandman Was Uncle Ben’s Killer

Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man confronts Thomas Haden Church as Sandman in a truck in Spider-Man 3

Like the Star Wars prequels, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy has something of an infamous spot in early 2000s pop culture, being looked back on with equal parts ironic fondness and cringeworthy distaste. While their place among the many live-action Spider-Man films is up for debate, Spider-Man 3 in particular is widely agreed to be one of the worst. This is thanks in no small part to a controversial story change made by one of the film’s many villains.

Flint Marko is introduced as a down-on-his-luck petty criminal struggling to find enough money to pay for his daughter’s hospital bills, going to any means necessary to do so before being caught up in a dangerous particle experiment that turns him into the Sandman. The film drops the bombshell that it was actually Flint, not the man from the first Spider-Man, who killed Uncle Ben. This completely diminishes Peter’s involvement in the incident, undercutting his lesson on power and responsibility just to give the film yet another villain that somehow personally ties into Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 3 PG-13 ScreenRant logo

Director Sam Raimi Release Date May 4, 2007 Cast Tobey Maguire , James Franco , Topher Grace , Bryce Dallas Howard , Kirsten Dunst , Rosemary Harris , J. K. Simmons , Thomas Haden Church , James Cromwell Runtime 139 minutes

4 The Highlander Is Actually An Alien

Highlander II: The Quickening

Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert as Ramirez and Connor looking around in Highlander II.

The premise of the original Highlander makes for a very open-and-shut story. The film’s tagline makes it crystal clear that “There can be only one” among the titular race of immortal beings, and by the end of the first movie, that is the case. Yet a sequel was inevitable for the mildly popular Sean Connery star vehicle, and the only way to justify it would be through some heavy retcons of the very premise.

HIghlander II: The Quickening evaporates all the established lore of the previous film with a heavy hand, explaining that the immortals are actually aliens from another planet known as Zestians. The prize they fight so viciously over is also changed from being simple mortality to a choice between swift execution and a slow death, making for an even harder to understand motivation for battle. Few films have utterly annihilated the prospect of their franchise like Highlander II: The Quickening through retcons alone.

Highlander II: The Quickening Highlander II: The Quickening

3 The Xenomorphs Are Artificial Weapons


The ferocious Xenomorphs are some of the most iconic movie monsters ever created, and the sense of mystery as to their evolutionary origins and home planet kept the Aliens franchise intriguing for a long time. However, famed filmmaker Ridley Scott decided to pull back the curtain on his ideas for the creatures’ backstory in Prometheus, in which it’s revealed that a precursor civilization of humanoid aliens are capable of creating life. This includes humanity itself, as well as, possibly, the Xenomorphs.

Follow-up prequel Alien: Covenant also implicates the android David as having a hand in the beasts’ creation, fashioning his own prototype Xenomorphs through his twisted experiments. The franchise can’t seem to agree on whether the Engineers or David is to blame for the outbreak of deadly fauna, with the novelization of the film suggesting the former and Ridley Scott himself claiming the latter in the director’s commentary. Either way, revealing that the Xenomorphs were simply created takes away some of the deadly monsters’ allure and appeal.

Prometheus Poster Prometheus R ScreenRant logo

Director Ridley Scott Release Date June 8, 2012 Runtime 124 Minutes

2 Greedo Shoots First

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

George Lucas’ many enacted changes to subsequent re-releases of his first legendary entry in the world’s biggest science fiction film have been the subject of controversy for some time. From adding in jarringly out-of-place CGI effects to the original films to changing key details of the story and character-building, it’s hard to find a copy of A New Hope that isn’t tainted by after-the-fact meddling. One of the worst retcons these post-release patches have made is the sequence of events in Han Solo’s introduction.

Famously, in his introductory scene, Han shoots the alien Greedo first, demonstrating his cutthroat survival instincts and general scumminness, training his blaster at him from under the table. While this may have been a pre-emptive strike, later editions of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope alter the scene so that Greedo shoots first, with Han only returning fire once he’s threatened. This completely invalidates Han Solo’s arc from a selfish survivalist to a dedicated rebel willing to fight for a greater cause.

Star Wars Movie Poster Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope PG

Director George Lucas Release Date May 25, 1977 Cast Mark Hamill , Harrison Ford , Carrie Fisher , Alec Guinness , David Prowse , James Earl Jones , Frank Oz , Anthony Daniels , Kenny Baker , Peter Mayhew , Peter Cushing Runtime 121 Minutes

1 The Fast And Furious Timeline Is Shifted Entirely To Avoid Han’s Death

Fast & Furious

From one Han to another, one of the fan-favorites of the Fast and Furious franchise was so popular, that the chronological order of Fast and Furious movies was utterly rearranged to prevent his death. In The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the franchise introduced Han, the effortlessly cool Japanese street racer who meets his end in a race at the end of his debut film. Han was so popular that the next entry in the series was revealed to take place before Tokyo Drift just so that Han could still be alive for it.

This trend continued in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, with continued to put off Han’s trip to Tokyo to keep him in the series’ core roster. Finally, Han is revealed to be alive in F9, officially surviving Tokyo so that he can return yet again. Few movies have been as willing to completely rearrange their canon just so that a single retcon can take place.

Fast & Furious (2009) - Poster - Vin Diesel & Paul Walker & Michelle Rodriguez Fast & Furious (2009) PG-13 ScreenRant logo

Director Justin Lin Release Date April 2, 2009 Cast Vin Diesel , Paul Walker , Michelle Rodriguez , Jordana Brewster , John Ortiz Runtime 107 Minutes

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