If there’s one thing audiences and movie studios both love, it’s franchises. From James Bond to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to 50 Shades, people line up, snaking around faux velvet ropes as they wait to pay twice the federal minimum wage to get a ticket for the latest chapter in a series. Will 007 beat Blofeld? Will Tony Stark and Steve Rogers make up? Will Dorian Gray find the 50th shade (I’ve never seen the movies, but I imagine they’re about some magical guy looking for new colors or something, right?).
The building of a franchise is an important thing for a studio, and they work hard to make sure that the hundreds of millions of dollars they spend to create a series is recouped. Armies of writers, actors, directors, producers, editors, and executives spend countless months sweating over every detail hoping to make their movie into something that the general audience will love. These men and women put their souls into the work, and while most franchises do take off, even if the studio has to force people to the theater to make it happen (we’re looking at you Universal’s Dark Universe) there are those times where no amount of advertising will bring out the movie lovers.
This is an ode, a eulogy for some of those films. A look at the ones that, for some reason, didn’t work, no matter how hard everyone, from the key grip to the concession stand cashier, tried to get people to see them. Some of these were just plain bad, while others were just overlooked. Which is which all depends on your tastes.
15. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Take a popular series of books about weird kids with powers that are legally different enough from the X-Men that Marvel can’t sue, add in the king of audience-friendly weird movies – Tim Burton – and you should have a pretty big hit on your hands, right?
That was what 20th Century Fox thought when they started production on Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the first of a planned series of movies based on the massively successful young adult novels by Ransom Riggs. With three books already on the shelves and a fourth on the way, Fox was looking at a whole slew of hits – all they had to do was not mess up the first one.
Sadly, they messed up the first one. Burton didn’t bring the good stuff, and while the movie was financially successful, it didn’t get the numbers Fox was hoping for and audiences were rather unimpressed. At this time, no sequel has been announced.
14. John Carter
Before Disney bought Marvel in 2009, the house of mouse was real solid on franchises for the young kids, but they wanted to branch out to pre-teens and teens, more specifically boys. Their first attempt was to bring back Tron which, well it isn’t on this list because I didn’t want to bag on Disney too much, but it was a failed attempt. As bad as Tron went, the second non-Marvel shot was even worse.
Disney announced their plans for a John Carter trilogy in 2008 with Andrew Stanton, director of WALL-E, making his first live-action film and leading the charge. The series, explained as “Indiana Jones on Mars” supposedly cost over $300 million to make – and Stanton admitted to basically shooting the movie twice.
13. Green Hornet
In a bold move, Columbia Pictures decided to build a superhero franchise in the strangest way possible. Sadly, it didn’t work.
They started by taking a largely forgotten pulp hero and handing him over to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writing duo who just had a hit movie about high school kids trying to get laid. They also gave the titular role to Rogen who, while a fine actor, was not someone most would think of when they thought “superhero.”
Script in hand, the studio next hired Michel Gondry, best known for the cult hit Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to direct the film, giving him a budget of $120 million.
Now, maybe I’m crazy, but I personally think this movie is a blast. Critics and audiences didn’t agree with me – the movie was ravaged in reviews and failed to break $100 million in the US.
12. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Based on the book series by Lemony Snicket and starring Jim Carrey, this movie wasn’t just going to be a franchise, it was going to be a Harry Potter sized franchise. Except it wasn’t.
There’s no real answer for what went wrong on this one – Paramount went all out to push the movie (there’s even a video game), and it came out right after Jim Carrey had a box office hit with Bruce Almighty and a critical hit with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Critics were kind – the movie got a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of release – but the audience just didn’t show up.
With a budget of $140 million, the global take of $209 million wasn’t enough to warrant a sequel. Jim Carrey would not get a second chance to play Count Olaf.
A decade after the movie hit theaters, Netflix announced plans for a TV series based on the books. The first season premiered this year, and a second season is on the way. It looks like Lemony Snicket’s characters have finally found a home.
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Based on one of the most beloved book series in the history of books and long in the works, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was supposed to be a surefire franchise ready for audiences. The screenplay was co-written by Douglas Adams – the author of the books – and the movie had a fantastic cast, including Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel. So what went wrong?
Critics were unimpressed by the movie and fans of the novels felt that it failed to capture the true comedy and beauty of the books. General audiences, on the other hand, didn’t really know what the movie was. While the trailers for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were widely praised for their originality, they didn’t really tell the uninitiated what the movie was about.
While it grossed twice what it cost, the $100 worldwide box office wasn’t enough to green-light the next film, which is a real shame, if only because we were all denied seeing more of Sam Rockwell and Mos Def play off each other.
It can be hard to remember now, but from 2001 to 2007, Hollywood was all about making fantasy films. Well, they were all about trying to make them. The super successes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings made every exec scream at their assistant until their studio had its own fantasy franchise based on a book series. Heck, even the Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide got a movie.
Eragon was one of the many failed attempts at studios starting fantasy franchises. Based on the first book in Christopher Paolini’s hugely successful Inheritance Cycle series, the movie ended up being one of the worst reviewed films of 2006, though critics did praise the special effects with special attention paid to the dragon Saphira. While Eragon made its money back, the audience wasn’t big enough to get a sequel into production.
9. The Golden Compass
That rush to get fantasy franchises wasn’t just for studios that didn’t have one – in 2002, with the Lord of the Rings bringing in big bucks for them, New Line got to work on their next shot at the franchise gold.
The studio brought in Chris Weitz, known for his work on American Pie and About a Boy, to write and direct the film based on Philip Pullman’s first book in his Dark Materials trilogy. The cast included Nicole Kidman, Eva Green, Ian McKellen, and Daniel Craig, who had just finished his first 007 film, Casino Royale. Everything looked good on paper, so what happened?
Reviews were mixed, and fans of the books were furious over the changes made in the film. While the books have an anti-religion theme to them, the movie all but cut that aspect out and in doing so, upset not just the fans, but anti-censorship groups as well. Because of the anti-religion message in the books, the Catholic League called for a boycott of the film as well, making The Golden Compass a rare instance where religious and anti-religion groups both hated something.
8. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension
It is heartbreaking to put Buckaroo Banzai on this list. The 80s cult classic should have had a dozen sequels, but the oddity of the movie made it impossible for the general audiences of the time to get into it.
The movie, about a top notch neurosurgeon, particle physicist, race car driver, rock star, and comic book hero who, with the help of his pals the Hong Kong Cavaliers, have to save the world from an invasion from the eighth dimension.
Starring Peter Weller as the titular hero, with Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow
Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd adding their own talents to the film, Buckaroo Banzai is unlike any other movie out there. It captures everything you may think of when you think 80s movies but cuts a path all its own. That path, sadly, leads to the movie grossing just half of its budget.
Five years before Marvel started their cinematic universe with Iron Man, acclaimed director Ang Lee was brought in to kickstart a Hulk franchise. The movie, starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Nick Nolte, was released a year after Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man and fans were psyched. The trailers, which showed an amazing looking CGI Hulk – at least, amazing looking for the year it was released – battling tanks and doing crazy Hulk stuff had everyone ready to buy a ticket.
When the movie came out, things changed. Lee’s editing style, where he tried to recreate the feel of reading a comic, was enjoyed by some, but annoyed most movie goers. The climatic finale of the movie, where Hulk fought a cloud, left pretty much everyone bummed out. While the movie did well at the box office, there was no sequel.
Marvel tried to do Hulk a second time with The Incredible Hulk. This one acted as the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it did about as well as Ang Lee’s film and is pretty much ignored by the company now.
6. Fantastic Four
When you have a comic book property called Fantastic Four, you may think that turning the story into a Cronenberg-esque body horror movie may be a terrible idea, and you would be right.
After two middling Fantastic Four movies, 20th Century Fox decided to reboot the series, moving it away from family friendly and going for a darker tone. Starring Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, and Kate Mara, and directed by Josh Trank, the 2015 Fantastic Four film was a heap of problems from the start.
Before cameras started rolling, some “fans” complained about Michael B. Jordan getting the role of Johnny Storm not because of Jordan’s acting chops – he’s a great actor – but because of his skin color.
Trailers left fans cold, and a week before the film’s release, Trank took to the Internet to complain about studio interference. Upon release, critics bashed the movie and audiences agreed. With a budget of $125 million, it couldn’t even reach $60 million in the US, reaching a worldwide gross of $168 million. Plans for a sequel – which had been scheduled to be released this year – were scrapped.
5. Green Lantern
Marvel’s characters aren’t the only ones who have had failed franchise starters! With Iron Man being a huge hit, Warner Brothers wanted to get in on the shared universe idea as quickly as they could, and Green Lantern was supposed to be the start of it all. With director Martin Campbell, who had proven his action movie chops with films like Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro, and actor Ryan Reynolds taking the heroic role, success should have been in the bag.
Sadly, Warner Brothers managed to make a movie about a space cop with a ring controlled by his own will power into a real snooze fest, keeping the majority of the movie on Earth and making the same mistake as Ang Lee’s Hulk by having Green Lantern fight a big CGI cloud for the final battle.
4. Master And Commander: Far Side Of The World
A movie about a British sea captain and his crew hunting down a French privateer during the Napoleonic Wars may not seem like the kind of movie that would lead to a series of films, but that was what 20th Century Fox and director Peter Weir were hoping for. Based on the best-selling twenty-one book series by Patrick O’Brian, the studio was looking at a wealth of material to pull from, possibly having their own James Bond style evergreen franchise, and they worked to get everything right to make this franchise hit big.
With Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey of HMS Surprise, Master and Commander garnered solid reviews from critics and won two Academy Awards, but the movie didn’t catch on with audiences. Still, the movie has a gained a cult following in the fifteen years since its theatrical run.
3. The Lone Ranger
With Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney learned a valuable lesson – if they have Johnny Depp play a wacky character who helps the hero, the studio will make more money than they ever dreamed of. The last two Pirates movies and Alice in Wonderland had each made a billion dollars worldwide, and the execs believed there was more of those Depp dollars out there.
They followed the same plan that had worked in the past – Depp would be the guy who helps the hero. To add to the chances of success, they brought in the director of the first three Pirates movies, Gore Verbinski, as well as Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of the Pirates films. Depp would play a wacky Native American Tonto and in time the money would roll in.
2. Sum of All Fears
Jack Ryan had already been played by two great actors – Alec Baldwin in Hunt for Red October and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger – but after eight years of silence, the decision was made to bring Tom Clancy’s CIA action hero back to theaters.
The choice was made to start the new take on Jack Ryan at the beginning of his career, showing audiences a hero who wasn’t all that heroic yet. Ben Affleck was brought in to play Ryan, with Morgan Freeman as the head of the CIA and Liev Schreiber as the very awesome John Clark.
The movie received mixed reviews but almost tripled its impressively low $68 million dollar budget. Still, the worldwide gross of $193 million wasn’t enough to move forward with a sequel. Twelve years later, Paramount would try again, this time with Chris Pine taking on the character. While Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit made money at the worldwide box office, once again it wasn’t enough to get a sequel.
1. Superman Returns
It had been nearly twenty years since Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Warner Brothers was itching to get the most famous superhero of all back on movie screens. In those two decades, five different attempts were made, but each one fell apart – the closest one to making it to theaters was Tim Burton’s take, with Nicolas Cage as the Kryptonian hero. Sadly, it never made it out of pre-production.
With the success of the first two X-Men movies, Warner Brothers put a whole lot of money in front of Bryan Singer and convinced him to take on the challenge of bringing the man of steel back. Singer chose to have his Superman pick up from the previous movies, but ignored the third and fourth films.
Perhaps making Superman Returns a sequel to a twenty-six-year-old movie was a bad idea. Or maybe it was having Superman moping around and being kinda emo that turned off audiences. Chances are, audiences were just bored by the movie which, coming after two amazing and action packed Spider-Man movies, didn’t really offer much in the way of super-heroics.
Whatever it was, Superman Returns struggled at the box office, and while it made nearly $400 million worldwide, the movie’s $200 million dollar budget made it hard for Warner Brothers to justify a sequel.
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