10 Movies That Failed to Launch a Franchise

I was contemplating which movie studio had the greatest franchise (the ownership of a set of characters or storylines that continue in a series of successful sequels and possibly spin-offs). Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM) has James Bond. Lionsgate has Twilight, The Hunger Games, and The Expendables. Paramount has Star Trek, Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, and Paranormal Activity. Universal has Jason Bourne, Jurassic Park, The Fast and the Furious, and all its classic monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, etc.) Warner Bros. has The Hangover, Final Destination, and the whole lineup of DC superheroes that still haven't been tapped to their full potential (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest). The winner, from what I could see, is currently Disney, which now owns the rights to Star Wars, The Muppets, all the Pixar movies, Pirates of the Caribbean, the huge archive of Walt Disney hits, and of course the Marvel Universe. Even though Sony still holds on to Spider-man and Ghost Rider, while 20th Century Fox still controls the Fantastic Four and X-Men, Disney still dominates with The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, and all the other comic book titles waiting in the wings to be brought to life. Franchises are the tentpoles whose profits support the studios less successful projects.

Hollywood is constantly searching for potential new franchises. They often greenlight a new film with dollar signs flashing before their eyes as they dream of milking endless profits from sequel after sequel. Unfortunately, such plans do not always turn out the way they hoped. The history of cinema is full of motion pictures that failed to earn enough interest to warrant further chapters. Here are ten of the most noteworthy.

Battlefield Earth - L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction epic, which I read as a kid, wasn't nearly as terrible as the monstrosity that was shown in movie theaters. The cast seemed decent enough, with John Travolta, Barry Pepper, and Forest Whitaker, but the execution was a complete mess. The cinematography choices were probably the worst I've ever seen. It's no surprise that it was a commercial and critical disaster.

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze - Ron Ely starred as the pulp fiction hero. There was high hopes to film a sequel, but this first effort just wasn't good enough.  Attempts to make another Doc Savage film over the years, even with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached at one point to star, never materialized.

Eragon - The books by Christopher Paolini had a legion of loyal fans, so the lackluster movie adaptation was a bitter disappointment for everyone.

The Golden Compass - Another popular book series, this time His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, seemed like a natural fit for the big screen at a time when Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings were creating a golden age of fantasy cinema. Alas, this movie failed to connect with an audience, and the other books in the series remain unadapted.

Howard the Duck - This became one of the biggest punchlines in show business. George Lucas tried to bring the comic book character to life, and it just failed miserably. 

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - I always thought the title was unwieldly for a film. They should have just called it the subtitle of the first book The Bad Beginning, which ironically was what this movie was.

Lost in Space - Although it was more serious than the campy television show that inspired it, I still thought this might work, but it just didn't have a story that was compelling enough, or enough "wow" elements that a science fiction adventure needs to stand out from the rest.

Masters of the Universe - On paper it didn't seem so bad -- Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor, but there weren't enough sword and sorcery moments on Eternia and too many lame scenes on Earth.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins - Based on a series of bestselling paperback novels, there was major anticipation that this would become a long-running series, but, alas, the adventure began and ended with just one film.

Willow - George Lucas tried to start a fantasy franchise, with Ron Howard as the director, but it just didn't work out.

As you can see, I didn't include some of the more recent flops, such as John Carter, Jack Reacher, Green Lantern, I Am Number Four, and others, because even though I cannot see how anyone could justify following up those duds, it's still too early to tell if the studios will roll the dice again.  Sometimes a disappointing first film does not mean the death of a possible film franchise -- just look at Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a perfect example. 

There are so many others.  Have I left any of your favorites off the list?  Let me know.


Anonymous said…
I saw John Carter sort of by accident, without knowing what it was, and I actually enjoyed it. I think the problem with that one was the title and marketing. I saw commercials for it and still went into the movie completely clueless about its content. I didn't even realize it was scifi until partway into it!
Nick said…
I still haven't seen John Carter from beginning to end. I agree, the marketing team failed to sell it properly -- it's clear they had no idea how to promote it. And not having "Mars" in the title was a dumb move. I saw a small scene and it looked terrible, so I think the casting was bad too -- but I have to see it in its entirely to properly judge it. I'm hoping to read the book "John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood" which talks about the long and crazy process of bringing the story to the big screen and how Hollywood messed it up. The book is free to borrow for the Kindle for Amazon Prime members.