9 Of The Longest Running Film Franchises

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 1:44 PM
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This past weekend saw the return of the Saw franchise, as the sixth installment opened second at the box office. This is no surprise, since it is well-known by this point that filmmakers love to milk a winning formula dry. Hence the concept of a sequel, in which a cash cow is rehashed time and time again, often with increasingly diminishing returns. More often than not, sequels are tired exercises for filmmakers who are greedy and unimaginative. Did the world really need seven ‘Police Academy’ films? But every once in a while a franchise comes along and doesn’t lose steam.

Here is a list of some of the longest running franchises in movie history.

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Police Academy (1984) – 7 Films

The slapstick flick Police Academy first appeared in 1984, mocking the intelligence and capability of cops, something pretty much anyone who isn’t a cop, can get behind. If 1984’s moviegoers knew that six crappy sequels would follow (five released pretty much back to back), and a live action and an animated TV series, they probably wouldn’t have helped the movie pull in $81 million. The name “Tackleberry” became as endemic as gonorrhea on Frat Row.

While the original film is an ‘80s guilty pleasure, that doesn’t mean it was good. Nor should the sequels exist. I have a vague childhood memory of seeing Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol in a theater and afterward feeling as if some stranger had felt me up. That is just not natural. Luckily, Rotten Tomatoes agrees: the film that started it all has a mixed showing of 47% at Rotten Tomatoes, whereas the fourth and sixth one rank a perfectly understandable 0%.


Halloween (1978) – 10 Films

As the Halloween franchise proves, those masked killers just will not die, probably because they tend to make a crap ton of money. They’re like a Hollywood pot o’ gold, except that pot’s filled with blood and co-ed body parts, sitting at the end of a rainbow made of razors, axes and Skittles. There are now 10 Halloween films spawning from the original, in which psychopath Michael Meyers escapes from a sanitarium and makes a bloody teenage-girl smorgasbord on Halloween night. The original, independent film is a horror classic, one that ranks at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also one of the most successful films ever, returning $55 million on a budget of $320,000. You know what that meant, kids: it wasn’t long before Universal Pictures spewed out various sequels with about the same quality of Shauna Sands’ boob job.

Whereas Halloween II actually continued the night where the previous film left off, Halloween III: Season of the Witch omitted Meyers entirely. To turn Halloween into an anthology, someone thought it was brilliant to have kids wearing Halloween masks with slivers of Stonehenge in them, set to remote-explode while the little tykes work the neighborhood for candy. Wait, what? Just as bizarre is the decision to kill of Jaimie Lee Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, in Halloween: Resurrection and allow Rob Zombie to reboot the series. Maybe if I change my last name to “Insipid” I’ll have enough Hollywood street cred to direct Jennifer Aniston movies.


Friday The 13th (1980) – 12 Films

“Friday the 13th†was the first major film success that was influenced by Halloween. Thanks to the iconic hockey mask and axe, Jason Voorhees became fodder for constant film spoofs, easy Halloween costumes, and hockey-playing boyfriends scaring girlfriends everywhere. The film was a definite success, earning $600 million around the world on a budget of about half a million dollars. Critical reception at the time was negative, and the film now has a mixed showing of 61% on Rotten Tomatoes.

As for the 12 (yes, 12) sequels, the first few stuck to Camp Crystal Lake, where Jason always found a new group of teens having sex to hack up. But it degraded from there: Jason took Manhattan, Jason fought Freddie, Jason went to space, and Jason probably also went to med school and became an OB/GYN. The 2009 remake of the original was just as bad as all those sequels, holding a 26% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.


A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)- 9 Films

By the time Freddy Krueger first appeared in 1984, Jason had already made four rounds at the box office. Nonetheless, A Nightmare On Elm Street solidified itself as Jason’s main competitor at the box office, though this franchise only has seven sequels (with a new remake slated for release next year to total eight). The original film had domestic returns of $25 million, following a budget of about $1 million. It also enjoyed critical success, with a 94% score at Rotten Tomatoes.

The series is known for it’s tricky blending of dreams and reality, where burn victim Freddy terrorizes and kills naughty teens in their sleep. However, if one of those bimbo girls spent some quality time with Freddy, say a beauty day at the nail salon, things might have been very different for Elm Street, and the rest of us. A string of terrible sequels followed, starting with the bizarre second film, subtitled Freddy’s Revenge. I mean, wasn’t the first one about revenge? Probably the only good thing about this franchise is that some people in 80s Hollywood had a few months of secure work to pay for their coke habit. As for the 90s and 2000s, I got nothing.


Star Trek (1979) – 11 Films

Following the successful television show in the ’60s, Star Trek: The Motion Picture appeared in 1979. The film made an impressive $139 million worldwide. However, the budget was $46 million, and critics were disappointed with the film’s focus on special effects over action (sound familiar, Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay?). So what’s a beloved franchise to do? Follow it up with Khan, bitches. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan made $97 million and the critics loved it, as did the fans. And Star Trek III? We don’t talk about it. But Star Trek IV? Hell yeah! Time-traveling whales = epic win.

So far, the franchise has ten sequels, with a super sexy and young reboot released this year to commercial and critical success, earning about $385 million around the world and a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A sequel is being planned for a possible release in 2011, in which Kirk better get shirtless and sweaty at least four times.


Star Wars (1977) – 6 Films

Star Wars is the third-highest grossing film series of all time. George Lucas’ original film was a monolithic success, earning $775 million following a budget of $11 million and setting an industry standard for state-of-the-art special effects. The Empire Strikes Back followed and, like Star Trek II, remains one of the few sequels considered better than the original. The film, which ranks at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, earned $538 million and was made on a budget of $33 million. It’s possible that Ewoks caused The Return of the Jedi‘s lower box office returns, but filmmakers pandering to kids will never cease (thanks, Transformers 2, you big pile of crap).

In 1999, Lucas unleashed the first of three prequels, but it was more like he unleashed velociraptors on good childhood memories. While Episodes I, II and III were incredibly successful, they were painful to watch. Jar Jar, terrible acting and a complete lack of a Natalie Portman nude scene made them nearly unbearable. Only the final film came close to ranking with the original series on Rotten Tomatoes, having a 79% approval rating.


Batman (1989) – 6 Films

Since Tim Burton’s Batman debuted in 1989, there have been three sequels and two re-envisioned films. This does not include any of the animated movies or the laughable Catwoman spin off. As box office returns will show you, audiences just can’t get enough of the Dark Knight.

However, even Batman fans have their limits. When Hollywood tried to milk the series dry with Batman and Robin (1997), which currently holds a 12% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, it almost killed the franchise. Luckily, director Christopher Nolan was given the reigns, and returned the iconic character to his former glory. His most recent Batman film, the Dark Knight (2008), is one of the most acclaimed comic-book adaptations in history, and currently holds a R.T. rating of 94%. It has grossed over $1 billion dollars worldwide.


James Bond (1962) – 22 Films

Based on the character by novelist Ian Fleming, the world’s most well-known spy holds the title for being the most financially successful English language franchise, and has achieved much critical success as well (the first four films all rank in the 90-100% range at Rotten Tomatoes). With 22 films, James Bond has been a strong presence in the film industry for almost 50 years. Naturally, a series spanning this length has required different actors to take on the iconic role. Many film buffs and junkies still swear by the original films with Sean Connery as the finest efforts, however, the series has continually enjoyed popularity throughout the years. “Casino Royale” was received quite warmly by critics in 2006 as a return to form and the popularity of Daniel Craig as Bond ensures that the franchise is showing no signs of stopping yet. The next Bond film with Craig, set to be released in 2011, is now in pre-production.


Godzilla (1954) – 28 Films

Godzilla is a Japanese science fiction film that has spawned 27 sequels and remakes. If you love b-movies, I suppose they will hold some campy appeal. But to think you could spend an entire month watching a new Godzilla film every day is a bit mind-boggling.

The original 1954 film is critically considered a classic (93% at Rotten Tomatoes), but the rest are all hit or miss and considered of varying quality (by Godzilla standards of course). A number of the films are unintentionally hilarious, so expect a “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ type-event if you watch them with friends.

Rumors are that Godzilla will return again to celebrate his 60th anniversary in five years.