“Franchise” sounds like a cold, corporate term, but it’s the best one to describe a lucrative series of movies tied to the continuing adventures of a hero or group of heroes, or in other words, a way for studios to bet on a sure thing. Make no mistake, the the ten franchises on this list have achieved blockbuster status, but more than that, they’ve shaped audiences’ notions of ongoing storytelling and myth-making.
As in his Rocky series, with Rambo Sylvester Stallone seems to have no bones about playing a part well past the age where most actors would fear the scorn and laughter of incredulous audiences. Over the years, the Rambo character has evolved from Vietnam vet gone berserk in 1982’s First Blood to cartoonish one-man army in the Reagan era revisionist bloodbath sequel. This year will see the fifth movie from America’s favorite — and seemingly unstoppable, even at the box office — killing machine.
Like The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man is another classic story (albeit ongoing) that seemed to take forever to reach the big screen. Everyone’s favorite web-slinger just needed the right director (Sam Raimi), the right star (Tobey Maguire), and the right time (could any other era have correctly portrayed the Spider’s swinging rides through the canyon of New York’s skyscrapers?) to become the preeminent superhero franchise of the new millennium. While the third movie disappointed fans, two new entries (and a Venom spin-off) are on their way to righting the ship.
8. The Terminator
The Terminator franchise is a curious one since installments are released so far apart — the time between James Cameron’s 1984 original to this year’s upcoming Terminator Salvation marks only four films in twenty-five years. Thus each sequel has seen major changes, the most notable being the jaw-dropping, state of the art special effects that heralded Terminator 2: Judgment Day as a masterpiece in of itself.
With the release of Rocky Balboa
in 2006 the Rocky franchise seems to have come to an end — really,
does Sylvester Stallone expect us to buy the Italian Stallion at 70? —
but that doesn’t mean it’s legacy won’t continue. As the most
successful and well-known sports movie franchise ever, Rocky’s pugilist
drama, starting with the Best Picture winning 1976 original, has influenced virtually every underdog athlete movie that’s come along since.
6. Star Trek
As franchises go, Star Trek
possesses some of the most devoted and intense fans, which is why it’s
been given so many different guises and why even attempting to catalog
them all — in the movies (eleven in total, including a young Kirk and
Spock reboot this Spring) and elsewhere — is a futile, ahem,
enterprise. Suffice it to say that Gene Roddenberry’s original scifi
creation has boldly gone where no franchise had gone before it: To the
galaxy of the ubiquitous, and complex, brand name series.
all the series on this list, none has gone through more radical
incarnations than Batman, first given life on the big screen in the
form of two 1940s serial films and then as a campy continuation of the
’60s television series. Tim Burton brought Batman back more than twenty
years later for a Gothic turn, while Joel Schumacher took over the
character by fitting him in extreme neon kitsch in the ’90s. More
recently Christopher Nolan has invigorated the series by not only
making Batman dark again, but by making his universe more brooding and
realistic, a move that paid dividends with box office juggernaut The Dark Knight.
4. The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings fantasy novels have captured the imagination of readers
since their publication in the ’50s, making it all the more incredible
that it took so long for anyone to adapt them into live action
blockbusters. But when Peter Jackson finally got around to the job in
2001 with The Fellowship of the Ring,
audiences were stunned by an epic adventure and the seamless creation
of an entire universe of hobbits and wizards. And the saga goes on: Jackson and Guillermo del Toro are collaborating on a two-part prequel.
3. Indiana Jones
With last year’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arriving almost two decades after Last Crusade,
the Indiana Jones franchise has left its mark on several generations of moviegoers. In 1981
Raiders of the Lost Ark
revived the globe-hopping, Boy’s Life adventure serials in the form of
Harrison Ford’s whip-cracking archaeologist — rescuer of
supernatural artifacts and master of last-second escapes from gigantic,
rolling boulders. Thanks to the success of Crystal Skull the series might keep on going, with Ford or possible replacement Shia LaBeouf.
2. James Bond
Forty-seven years, twenty-three films (counting non-EON Productions entry Never Say Never Again),
and a total box office take equivalent to a small nation’s GNP: It can
only be the track record of Bond, James Bond, the British spy who
become the linchpin of the most lucrative series in film history.
Through six lead actors, from the heights of trendsetting relevance
(Sean Connery’s ’60s suave) to the lows of self-satiric cheese (Moonraker),
Bond has seen it all. And thanks to the on-going success of Daniel
Craig’s back-to-basics secret agent, it’s clear that for 007, tomorrow
1. Star Wars
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” From its opening title George Lucas’ Star Wars was destined for the epic, but few knew in 1977 that Episode IV: A New Hope
would be just the first step of world domination for the multipart
space fantasy saga. In its initial incarnation as a self-contained
trilogy (1977-1983) and then as a technically advanced prequel triptych
(1999-2005), Star Wars
not only sustained enormous quality and box office success across
decades, but changed cinema history — where would the present day
special effects blockbuster be without it? — and international pop
culture landscape itself.
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