Every now and then, an indie film made with a budget of next to nothing makes it to the big leagues, raking in millions unexpectedly. However, for the most part, when it comes to Hollywood films, they cost a lot of money to make. So, if a movie debuts at the box office and starts bringing in crazy amounts of cash, what happens? The studio executives try to capitalize on that by churning out sequel after sequel, trying to turn the successful film into a money-making film franchise. You can’t blame them, really.
The problem is, no matter how good the initial movie is, very few films are meant to be turned into franchises. There are a few exceptions, and there are even fewer exceptions where the sequel or a later film in the franchise ends up better than the original. However, for the most part, the studios basically lose everything that was good about the original film and end up subjecting audiences to mindless, uninspired sequels that are torture to watch.
Once upon a time, franchises generally capped at three films at the most. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see the number 4, 5, 6 or 7 attached to a once popular film. After all, for the studios, it’s all about the money. Unfortunately for audiences, it usually ends up being a waste of their money and time.
The original Transformers film, which came out in 2007, wasn’t ever going to win an Academy Award. The film’s emerging stars, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox aren’t really the first actors that come to mind when you think of a serious drama. However, at the end of the day, the first film in the franchise was just good, action-packed fun. There were chase scenes, there were explosions, there were robots – what’s not to love if you’re looking for a mindless, entertaining couple hours of cinematic excitement? It did so well, unfortunately, that they decided to make another one… and another one… and soon we had Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and an untitled fifth one coming up. Fans were pretty much universally disgusted, but the franchise shows no signs of slowing down.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean
When Johnny Depp swaggered onto the screen as the lovable, ridiculous Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, movie goers around the world fell in love with the rum-obsessed pirate. It was fun, it had plenty of action, it had a good dose of humor, and was just a great film. However, they followed it up three years later with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Less impressive, but still alright. Then, not content, the studios produced Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Even if it’s successful, not every film has the power to fuel an entire franchise –a lesson that the forces behind the Pirates franchise haven’t yet seemed to grasp.
While there are a large amount of films lately that get turned into franchises at the first whisper of box office success, it’s definitely not just a modern phenomenon – Alien became a franchise decades ago. In 1979, Ridley Scott came out with the sci fi and horror classic Alien. With James Cameron at the helm, the franchise produced another incredible film, Aliens. And then, in 1992, came the underwhelming Aliens 3. And then, a few years later, Alien Resurrection and the two Alien vs. Predator films. The lesson here is that yes, a successful film might be able to be stretched to include a second in the franchise, but you’ll get into trouble when you start adding a third, fourth, fifth, and beyond.
7. The Expendables
The Expendables franchise has a few big action stars behind it, including Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many, many more. The original film was meant to pay homage to the action stars of the 80s and 90s, and they definitely got some star power to show up on set. However, it’s a concept that could easily have been handled in one film – yet they came out with a second, third, and now a fourth upcoming. There have been some cool elements, such as Ronda Rousey appearing in The Expendables 3, but let’s be serious – this franchise never needed to become a franchise.
6. Paranormal Activity
Admittedly, it’s a bit tough to come out with something ground-breaking in the horror genre. A lot of ideas have already been done ad nauseum, and innovation is difficult. When the first Paranormal Activity came out in 2009, everyone loved the found footage-style film – it definitely contributed to the spook factor to have something seemingly intimate yet terrifying. However, since then, nearly every year a new part of the franchise (or a new spin-off film) emerges, including Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. The sad part is, though many in the franchise have been slammed by critics, they keep earning money – so the studio will likely keep going until we’re watching Paranormal Activity 37.
5. Alvin and the Chipmunks
Films aimed at younger audiences are perhaps the easiest to successfully franchise, because many kids enjoy tuning in to see their favorite characters’ adventures, regardless of how repetitive it may be. It can be done very, very well – just take a look at Pixar’s ultra popular Toy Story franchise, a series that has captured the hearts of children and adults alike. However, the live action film just didn’t capture the same spirit of the cartoon chipmunks many loved watching as children. It was fine as one movie, granted, but when they started coming up with endless “squeakquels” it just went off the rails.
4. Step Up
Every rom com lover has a soft spot in their heart for Step Up, the film that brought together Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan (now Dewan-Tatum). They were adorable, their chemistry was crazy, and they had great dance scenes. So, obviously, two years after the release of the 2006 film they came out with Step Up 2: The Streets. Different, but still playing with the same dynamics of star-crossed lovers with a performing arts school as the backdrop, and Tatum even reprised his role. However, the third, fourth, and fifth films had absolutely no connection to the original except the name, begging the question – why not just come up with an original dance movie and not tie it to the Step Up franchise?
While most franchises take a few years between films, the horror film Saw became a massive success when it was released in 2004 and the studios saw a chance to make a lot of money. Every year, like clockwork, another installment came out… for seven years. That’s right – the very originally titled Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, and Saw 3D. At least the films in the franchise have some continuity, as they unpack some larger character stories amidst the isolated tests and torture scenes, but the rapid-fire way the studios released the films just overwhelmed audiences.
2. Resident Evil
While there are definitely a ton of Resident Evil fans in the world, let’s be honest – the films are basically about 5% plot. They rely on style over substance, tossing in tons of special effects, action scenes, and just went on far too long. After the original, the studios produced Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Extinction, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Resident Evil: Retribution, and the upcoming Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. We’re hoping that number six truly is the final chapter, as the title advertises, but who knows – this franchise could easily end up in the double digits.
1. The Twilight Saga
There’s no denying that the Twilight book series was a tremendous success. Though critics may not have cared for it, fans around the world gobbled up all of Stephenie Meyer’s words. So, when the movie studios came knocking and decided to make a film franchise out of the books, audiences came out in swarms. Twilight definitely launched several of its stars into superstardom, including Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner. However, there were different writers and directors at the helm throughout, things that were only passable in the text became absolutely ludicrous blown up on the big screen, and it was all just a bit too much.