Due to the overwhelming response we received for our “Movies That Failed to Launch Franchises” list, we’ve decided to do this follow-up list…with a sequel!
Think about that for a moment: the list about movies without sequels is getting a sequel. There’s irony there.
Fortunately, Hollywood, especially in her latter days, has no shortage of misfires of would-be blockbuster Star Wars or Marvel Studios-style movie series that never quite take flight. Once again, of the entries on this list, some are admirable, even entertaining films. Others…well, there’s a reason they ended up in the annals of movies that, as studios like to say, “didn’t find their audience.” What the studios don’t like to mention is that there is a reason these titles didn’t make bank, at least enough to greenlight a follow up.
Before we begin, remember: these movies aren’t necessarily bad. Some, in fact, are very good. Either way, they didn’t find an audience enough to continue.
10. Green Lantern
Oh, Warner Bros! So eager to capitalize on all those DC Comics properties (besides Batman, which continues to take in healthy income), but so clueless as to how to accomplish their goal. Case in point: Green Lantern, an all-over-the-place act of desperation to jump start the integrated DCU. Ryan Reynolds, fresh from the non-starter of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the unrealized The Flash stepped into the role of Hal Jordan, while future wife Blake Lively landed the plum role of Carol Ferris, the future Star Sapphire. The movie also featured Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller, with the intent of using the character to launch other films based on the DC roster.
Rumors of production problems dogged the movie before release, which opened to mixed reviews. Director Martin Campbell may not have had the right sensibility for a Green Lantern film, and Lively’s dead-eyed performance robbed the movie of a romantic foil and an interesting female character. The box office failure doomed any sequels, and Reynolds career wouldn’t recover until Deadpool years later.
Fox tried to fill the franchise vacuum left by Lord of the Rings with this 2006 misfire. Based on Christopher Paolini’s best-selling novel, which he wrote as a teenager, Eragon follows a teenage boy (go figure) destined to ride dragons into battle. Boasting an attractive and talented cast, a healthy budget and lush production value, the film bombed, garnering some of the worst reviews of the year. Worse, fans of the original novel derided the movie for its departures from the source material, which made any hope of developing a cult following slim. Needless to say, no sequels ever arrived, and newcomer Edward Speleers, who played the title role, didn’t work in film again for five years.
8. Interview with the Vampire
Since its first publication in 1976, Anne Rice’s bestseller about a secret vampire subculture seemed poised for a cinematic adaptation. In 1994, it finally arrived, and proved a critical and box-office hit, even winning some Academy Awards. Given that Rice’s novel series spawned a number of bestselling sequels, Interview with the Vampire should have started a franchise. Apart from a lackluster semi-sequel almost ten years later, it didn’t.
Ironically, the reason sequels never materialized came from the very same force that pulled Interview out of a 20-year Development Hell and set it before the cameras: Tom Cruise. Cruise recognized Lestat, the series’ man character, as a plumb role and used his box-office clout to get the film made. Spats with Rice and director Neil Jordan might have made him hesitant to return, as did the homoerotic overtones of the story. As such, Rice’s series landed back in Development Hell.
7. Superman Returns
Following the departure of Christopher Reeve from his signature role, Warner Bros. made numerous attempts to relaunch the Man of Steel on film. After 20 years in Development Hell, the studio succeeded with the help of director Bryan Singer. Singer had captained the X-Men films to great success, even abandoning work on the third installment for his dream job (a choice that resulted in the near-doom of the X-Men, and for which Singer still faces criticism).
Conceived as a semi-sequel to the original Superman movies, Singer adopted a nostalgic approach to the character. While visually magnificent, the film offered little else. Newcomer Brandon Routh faced negative comparisons to Reeve, and his lack of charisma, coupled with the miscasting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane and lack of action, made Superman fans balk. Planned sequels never materialized, and Warners rebooted the series again with Man of Steel.
6. Lost In Space
New Line Cinema tried to get in on the sci-fi game with this cinematic adaptation of the notorious camp TV series. It didn’t work. Despite a strong cast, lush visuals and plenty of throwback references to the original show, Lost in Space never found a following. Critics complained of the incoherent script by known franchise killer Akiva Goldsman, and rumors of studio interference, budget and effects problems, as well as hasty recutting of the movie, dogged the film’s reception. Planned sequels ended up on the scrap heap, and nobody has successfully touched the franchise since.
Fox studios made a desperate bid to hold on to the rights to the Fantastic Four comic series in 2014, rushing a reboot of their flaccid 2005 outing into production. Turning to Josh Trank, director of the acclaimed Chronicle, they set out to make a “gritty, realistic” take on the four family heroes. As anyone following film for the past two years will tell you, it didn’t work out that way.
F4ntastic, despite hype of the new, hip cast and rumors of a possible X-Men crossover film, bombed hard. It amassed more negative reviews than Batman & Robin, generally considered the nadir of the superhero genre, and rumors of Trank’s erratic behavior on set may well have ended his career.
4. Cowboys & Aliens
Universal tried to get in on the comic book gold with Cowboys & Aliens, a movie based on a comic book few had actually read. With the involvement of Iron Man director Jon Favreau, a script written by noted hacks Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and starring then-current James Bond Daniel Craig, the studio lavished a massive $160 million budget on the production, assured of a hit. It didn’t pan out well.
The bizarre premise turned off viewers, and despite a huge promotional push at Comic-Con, the movie flopped. The film failed to recoup its budget, critics balked and a copyright lawsuit killed any hope for sequels.
3. Van Helsing
Speaking of Universal, the studio recognized their own dearth of superhero and comic book properties in the early 2000s. Returning to the cash cows that had originally catapulted the studio to profitability, they decided to give their famed monster series a comic book twist.
Van Helsing starred genre favorites Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, and directorial duties fell to Stephen Sommers, who had made The Mummy franchise a big moneymaker for the studio. The finished product didn’t quite have the following Universal had hoped for. Critics found the movie noisy & incomprehensible, and an astronomical budget all but assured the production would not break even. The studio tried to move ahead with sequels, but after years in Development Hell, they returned Van Helsing to the shelf.
2. Battlefield Earth
Remember when John Travolta was cool?
Believe it or not, it’s actually happened several times in human history, though the release of Battlefield Earth might have forever blocked him from ever again achieving that status. Based on the pulp novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the story follows a group of rebel humans as they try to drive out an invading army of aliens known as the Psychlos.
Despite a goofy premise, Travolta had tried to get the film made for years, in part, because of his own ties to Hubbard’s religion, Scientology. Hyped as a Star Wars style adventure, Battlefield Earth crashed and burned on release. The film got some of the worst reviews in movie history, and also became one of the biggest bombs to ever hit screens. Despite assurances from Travolta that sequels, also based on Hubbard novels, would follow, they never appeared, and Battlefield Earth has remained a punchline ever since.
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams’ seminal sci-fi humor novel had long labored in Development Hell before Disney jump started production in the early 2000s. Featuring a winning cast–Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Mos Def and Stephen Fry–the movie tried to remain true to the original novel…possibly to a fault. Wildly uneven, with as many jokes falling flat as getting laughs, the film met with mixed critical and audience reception. Critics singled out Sam Rockwell’s performance as irritating rather than funny, and leading lady Zooey Deschanel for a lack of charisma. Lukewarm box office receipts and demand for the cast to move on to other projects doomed any follow ups and, to date, nobody in Hollywood has touched the rest of the Hitchhiker series.