I do so love a good franchise. Oh sure, most of them are shit, and nearly all of them spiral out of control into incoherent messes. That said, when a film saga manages to get it right it is a thing of beauty.
For this list of my top ten personal favorite franchises, we must first look at what counts as a franchise. Two films does not a franchise make, hence no Ghostbusters. Also, the series has to have more than two great movies in the series. Sorry Alien and Terminator. Finally, the series has to have made a truly indelible impression on me, and while I respect the quality of the films, the Harry Potter franchise simply doesnâ€™t stay with me.
Before we get started, a few honorable mentions: Nightmare on Elm Street, Rambo, Naked Gun, The Godfather, and the Universal Horror films almost made the cut. However, these are the ten that I just couldnâ€™t leave off.
Number of films: 5
Pros: The original Die Hard is arguably the greatest action movie of all time. While most feel the second is a let down I happen to think itâ€™s only a notch below the original in quality. Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard, while not as good as the first two, are still quality action films that are bolstered by the iconic presence of Bruce Willis as John McClane.
Cons: And then A Good Day to Die Hard happened. The fifth film in the franchise is perhaps the laziest action movie Iâ€™ve ever seen. Torpedoed on all sides by a convoluted script, inept direction, and a near comatose Willis, A Good Day to Die Hard casts a shadow over the possibility of a sixth film, tentatively titled Die Hardest.
Number of films: 6
Pros: Rocky is an unlikely franchise. The brainchild of Sylvester Stallone, the first film is one of the most iconic in cinema history. There was no need for sequels, but sequels we got, and plenty of them. And you know what: Not a bad one in the bunch. While some hate the fifth film, I find it underrated. Most miraculous of all is the quality of the belated sixth film, which is my personal favorite of the whole franchise.
Cons: Most of the sequels are predictable and formulaic. Rocky is on top of the world, gets knocked down, trains hard, and wins the big fight at the end. The third and fourth film venture into ludicrous territory, practically becoming action movies and losing sight of what made the original so memorable.
Planet of the Apes
Number of films: 8
Pros: The original 1968 film is a classic, but itâ€™s sequels all hold a certain charm. While none of the sequels in the original series managed to reach the original’s brilliance, the recent reboot franchise, in my opinion, exceeds it. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, especially, is a masterpiece, the best film Iâ€™ve seen this year.
Cons: The original series, while never dumbed down, did suffer from producers slashing the budget of each successive movie, leaving us with cheaper and cheaper looking films. Then thereâ€™s Tim Burtonâ€™s unwatchable 2001 remake. The less said about that pile of shit the better.
Number of films: 4
Pros: Raiders of the Lost Ark is a certifiable masterpiece, one of the finest films in Steven Spielbergâ€™s iconic filmography. Temple of Doom, while a giant step down from the original, still manages to deliver top notch action set pieces. Last Crusade was a major return to form, in many ways topping the original and delivering one of the most satisfying trilogy conclusions in film history.
Cons: And then they had to go and ruin it with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With an overabundance of CGI, a bafflingly bad script, and a too old Harrison Ford in the lead, Kingdom puts a damper on what is otherwise a stellar franchise.
Number of films: 7
Pros: Batman is the only comic book character Iâ€™m aware of to have not one but two iconic film series. First there is Tim Burtonâ€™s gothic fairy tale take on the character, as interpreted by Michael Keaton. Then, nearly two decades later Christopher Nolan gave us his Dark Knight trilogy, arguably the most well respected series of films based on a comic book and the only one to garner major critical awards.
Cons: You know goddamn well what the cons are: Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. So terrible was Joel Schmaucherâ€™s take on the Caped Crusader that he tainted the franchise and made it toxic for the better part of a decade.
Number of films: 24
Pros: Arguably the most successful and enduring franchise in cinema history, the James Bond series will reach an astonishing 24 films in 2015. Astonishingly, the series has managed to keep itâ€™s standards high throughout, giving us six actors in the lead role, each one bringing his own charm to 007.
Cons: You canâ€™t make 24 films without occasionally missing the mark. The saga has fallen into parody several times, requiring continuous reinvention. Coupled with rights issues that saddled the saga with competing films like Never Say Never Again, Bond has had his share of missteps over five plus decades.
Back to the Future
Number of films: 3
Pros: Rare is the franchise that knows when to stop. BTTF delivered three satisfying films, ends with the words â€œThe Endâ€ on the screen, and in the three decades since has never given us a belated fourth film or reboot. Each film manages to progress the wacky, time traveling tale, even reexamining events from different perspectives. All three manage to be classics.
Cons: Each film also fails to reach the same level of story telling as the previous one. While none are bad, there is a noticeably drop in quality each time. Also, by the time we get to BTTF 2 and 3, Michael J. Fox is the oldest teenager in the history of film.
Number of films: 6
Pros: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a milestone in moviemaking. All filmed at the same time, the films create a whole other world like no movie saga ever has before. With stellar performances from every performer, groundbreaking special effects, and a timeless story about courage and friendship, this is as good as moviemaking gets.
Cons: The Hobbit has proven to be a disappointment. What could have been a good companion film to the original saga was stretch out and padded to create another nine hour trilogy. While not bad movies, they drag terribly and never manage to feel as satisfying as the original trilogy.
Number of films: 8
Pros: The original Star Wars trilogy can only be described as groundbreaking. Giving us a giant leap forward in special effects, these were the movies that set the stage for everything from Harry Potter to Avatar. Thrilling, funny, and epic in scope, the original trilogy is as fun a time at the movies as youâ€™re likely to have. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams looks to be carrying on that tradition.
Cons: The prequels, while not as bad as some say, are also not very good. Crippled by terrible dialogue, boring characters, and a distracting over reliance on CGI, these three films fail to live up to the Star Wars name. And lets not forget about the theatrical Clone Wars movie…on the other hand, maybe we should.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Number of films: 12
Pros: Never before has a franchise been so bold, taken so many risks, and been so patient in itâ€™s execution. With 10 movies released so far, two coming out next year, and nine in the works, the MCU isnâ€™t just a franchise, itâ€™s several franchises existing alongside one another, overlapping, blending, and in The Avengers movies crashing together to give us a whole universe teaming with characters and history.
Cons: While none of the movies are bad, few manage to be great. With the exception of Loki none of the films have delivered a satisfying villain, and the refusal to kill off any of itâ€™s characters has robbed the movies of any sense of a real threat. Marvel also doesnâ€™t seem to be the greatest studio to work for: Edward Norton, Terrance Howard, Natalie Portman, and Jon Favreau have all left under less than harmonious circumstances.