A-List: Top Five Movie Franchises
By J. Don Birnam
May 7, 2015
Furious 7 broke April box office records and Avengers: Age of Ultron had an impressive, if lower-than-expected, weekend. Both have also provided much fodder and inspiration for movie-list making. We have already seen some of the best car chase scenes and some of the best high-opening weekend grossing movies of all time. But Furious 7 and Avengers 2 are, first and foremost, the latest installments in what are now undoubtedly some of the most successful movie franchises in the history of Hollywood (if you consider the Marvel Universe a franchise of its own). Today, then, I will give my own list of the top five movie franchises in film history.
The rules today are rather straightforward. First, to be considered a franchise, the movies must have at least three entries. Sorry, Legally Blond and Scooby-Doo. Moreover, remakes don’t count. Godzilla and King Kong, to give examples, have each been remade countless times. But neither really has sequels to speak of, and are still really standalone movies.
Once a movie has reached the threshold of two sequels, however, then all other movies in the series — including unrelated prequels or remakes — have to be considered together in evaluating the franchise. Thus, Prometheus is part of the Alien franchise, and the two newest Planet of the Apes are part of the old franchise that began in the 1960s.
Importantly, I’m evaluating the movies as a whole. This arguably hurts a lot of franchises that feature superb installments. Halloween, for example, is perhaps the best horror movie of all time, but some of the entries in the middle life of the franchise are so horrid (no pun intended) that they unfortunately knock the franchise from the top five. Indeed, the same can be said for most horror movie franchises, from Friday the 13th to the Final Destination and Saw series. All will have to settle for honorable mentions.
I’ll add one final rule: straight-up trilogies are ineligible. As I was drafting my top five, I found myself drawn to trilogies like Back to the Future, Iron Man, The Matrix, and The Godfather. The reality is that it is a lot easier to not screw up a franchise if the entries are limited to three. It is when the filmmakers venture beyond three that things really tend to go south if they haven’t already. Thus, listing five franchises without counting strict trilogies will be more fun.
Aside from the franchises I have already listed, a couple of others are worthy of honorable mentions. Jaws changed our relationship with the ocean forever, and gave us the culturally omnipresent haunting theme song. But some of the sequels, including Jaws 3-D, set, ridiculously, in Sea World, are so bad that they truly destroy the value of the franchise as a whole.
I’ll also list the Scream franchise (four movies total) as an honorable mention that just missed the cut. The first movie in the series is nothing short of brilliant — it revived the by then dormant slasher genre and it did so by brilliantly referencing beloved horror films from the recent past (most notably, Halloween) in its construction of horror film “rules.” Indeed, the opening sequence in which Drew Barrymore bites it is by now iconic. The sequels were no slouches either, but unfortunately featured many of the same plot twists and surprises as the first, truly original in 1996 when the first movie came out, but not as much by the time the fourth movie rolled around some 15 odd years later.