As we all know, movies make big bucks for everyone involved in the picture. Needless to say, when a movie can be expanded into one of more sequels, well that’s even better. Movie franchises equate big money for Hollywood, but not all of them become billion-dollar spectaculars like Harry Potter and Star Wars. According to Box Office Mojo, 151 franchises have been theatrically released. That’s certainly a whole lot more than we’re familiar with. A franchise usually consists of at least two films in a series about similar characters. Sequels have a tendency to be profitable, and in some cases, net more than the first film. But in the following list, some of the films ended up making a profit, but others failed to even match the production budgets. If you add in inflation, worldwide grosses, video-on-demand and DVD sales, then some of the franchises suddenly become very successful. For all intents and purposes, here are the domestic figures without inflation and worldwide box office receipts included.
10. Mad Max – $68.6 million
When Mad Max was released in Australia in 1979 (1980 in the U.S.), the Mel Gibson movie became the highest-grossing Australian film at the time. In the U.S., it grossed $8.7 million. That was good enough for two more sequels starring Gibson and directed by George Miller. With a domestic gross of $23 million, the 1982 sequel, The Road Warrior, aka Mad Max 2, made more than the first one. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, starring Tina Turner and Gibson, had a $36 million domestic gross on a $12 million budget but only made $4 million at the Australian box office. It’s taken 30 years for the next installment, but May’s long-awaited fourth film, Mad Max: Fury Road, will surely become the highest grossing in the series. It stars Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and is directed by Miller. With a whooping $150 million budget, it has big shoes to fill.
9. Meatballs – $50.6 million
The first Meatballs had a budget of $1.6 million and grossed $43 million, in 1979 (with inflation it’d be $142 million). The summer camp comedy stars Bill Murray in his first leading role. Ghostbusters cohorts Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman wrote and directed the film, respectively. But the three other movies in the franchise don’t have much to do with the original. 1984’s Meatballs Part II uses the Meatballs name but doesn’t have any of the same characters, actors, writers or director. Meatballs III: Summer Job at least follows a character from the first one, but this one stars a then-unknown Patrick Dempsey in the main role. Unfortunately, a fourth one was made in 1992 with Corey Feldman, but it went straight to video.
8. Universal Soldier – $47 million
At first it seemed Jean-Claude Van Damme’s action series was making money. The first one, in 1992, grossed $36 million domestically on a reported $23 million budget. In 1998, two sequels came out without Van Damme starring, and went straight to video (these really aren’t counted as part of the franchise). Universal‘s official sequel, 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return, only made $10 million domestically on a $45 million budget. Ten years later, Van Damme starred in Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which only grossed $844,447. The final installment, 2012’s Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, made $5,460 domestically but grossed $992,507 worldwide.
7. Highlander – $46.6 million
Starring Scotsman Sean Connery and Frenchman Christopher Lambert as immortal warriors, the first Highlander (1986) grossed only $5.9 million on a $19 million budget, but it performed better overseas. Highlander 2: The Quickening fared better when it grossed $12.8 million domestically, in 1991. The third film is considered a bomb, because it had a $26 million budget and only made $12.3 million. But, the film was successful enough for a fourth film in 2000 and a Sci-fi movie in 2007. The Highlander series also thrived as a TV show, an animated series, in novels and supposedly a reboot film is in the works.
6. The NeverEnding Story – $37.5 million
A foreign-made film (Germany), the fantasy franchise was more successful overseas than in the States. In 1984, the first one of three was released. It grossed $20 million in the U.S. but ended up grossing $100 million worldwide on a $27 million budget. The sequel, 1991’s NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, made about $17 million domestically and performed better internationally. But 1996’s third one did so bad that domestic receipts aren’t even available. Internationally, though, it made over a $1 million on a $17 million budget.
5. Return of the Living Dead – $23.5 million
John Russo, who co-wrote the 1968 George Romero zombie flick Night of the Living Dead, co-wrote this with Alien writer Dan O’Bannon, who also directed it. Instead of taking the zombies seriously like Romero did, the franchise turns the brain-eaters into comedy. The first one, Return of the Living Dead, grossed a healthy $14 million, but its sequel, 1988’s Return of the Living Dead 2, only grossed $9 million. Note: Russo and O’Bannon were only involved in the first one. In 1993, the last one was released into theaters, and on a $2 million budget, it only made $54,000. Two more films were made but were released on the Syfy Channel.
4. Before Sunrise – $19 million
The Oscar-nominated film series from soon-to-be Oscar winning director Richard Linklater, follows a romantic couple over the course of 20 years and three countries. The first film, 1995’s Before Sunrise, was the most successful of the trilogy, in that it grossed $5 million domestically on a budget of $2.5 million. Nine years later Before Sunset arrived, and it grossed $5.8 million domestically and $10 million internationally, which equals almost $16 million. Finally, Before Midnight, with a similar budget of its predecessors, came out in 2013 and grossed $11 million worldwide.
3. The Work and the Glory – $6.6 million
Based on a series of nine novels called The Work and the Glory, only three films were made and released into theaters. The first one was released in 2004, and with a budget of $7.5 million, only grossed $3.3 million domestically. The movie stayed in theaters for five months. The second film, The Work and the Glory II: American Zion, was released the following year with a similar budget and grossed even less with $2 million. The third film, A House Divided, had a similar budget and return. Despite the total franchise gross barely matching the budget of one film, The Work and the Glory is Mormon cinema’s second biggest box office hit.
2. Ong-Bak – $4.7 million
Another foreign-made series, the three Ong-Bak films are actually Thai films that did well internationally, but domestically, they bombed despite having a big indie distributor behind the releases. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior came out in the U.S. in 2005 but was released in Thailand in 2003. Domestically, it grossed $4.5 million; worldwide it made over $20 million. The sequel Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning, made even less with $102,000, and 2009’s Ong-Bak 3 grossed $14,890. Domestic figures only come out to $4.7 million for the entire franchise but worldwide the series topped $31 million.
1. V/H/S – $125,000
Horror films are typically cheap to make, thus, are an easy genre to turn a profit. But throughout three films, this horror anthology didn’t fare so well. V/H/S was released into 19 theaters domestically in 2012, and made at total of $100,000. If you add in foreign receipts, then it jumps to $1.9 million. The sequel, 2013’s aptly named V/H/S 2, grossed $21,000 domestically and less than a million internationally. The third and final installment, last year’s V/H/S: Viral, grossed the least amount of the series: $2,700 domestically and $125,000 internationally. One thing to consider is the film only received a limited theatrical release and was made available on video-on-demand. Considering the North American rights for the franchise were purchased for over a $1 million, its performance at the box office was a bit disappointing.