October 9, 2012

The List: 10 Film Franchises That Won't Die, Part 1

I have never held the conceit that movie sequels suck and are never as good as the original. I think there are plenty of film series that have enjoyable, if not better, second films. Sometimes, and it is rare, a third film might even be better. Rare, but still.

I think most creative people know when they are getting good storytelling and when they are getting hosed for free cash: some franchises just mail it in while others try to make something good keep going. They don't always succeed. Here is a list of franchises that just simply won't die, for better or worse.

*Tune in a few days for Part 2. Also Franchises That Never Were shortly after that.


Series: Halloween
Total Films: 10 (four consider 'mythology', three considered 'alternate universes', 2 remakes, one spinoff); 1978 to 2009
Total Box Office: $308 million (domestic) (highest grossing $58.2, lowest $11.6)
Other Spinoffs: Comic Books
Status: Still Rumbling, But Approaching Death

Grade: C+

The series is not only resilient but surprisingly strong. The original is a true masterpiece and in my top five films of all time. That alone leaves this out of the D range. The second, direct sequel, Halloween 2, is not bad either and continues to capture the mood and atmosphere of the first while kicking up the gore and violence.

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch was an attempt at a yearly mythology without head baddie Michael Myers that fell on its face, though it holds some value and has a killer ending. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers did just that: brought Mikey back to slaughter big breasted girls and red necks. It is well directed and not bad considering it simply brought back the formula started in 1 and 2. It also tried to connect the return of Michael to departing character Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) with mixed results.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is definitely the franchise's low point with absolutely no budget, Z-grade actors, and zero atmosphere. It truly is an embarrassment that decides to take Michael Myers into new directions: mainly having a goofy boot wearing, black hatted, machine gun wielding weirdo show up and spring his buddy from jail.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is terrifically ultra-violent and gory and has a heavy metal score (and Paul Rudd) but dares to bring in ancient Druid mythology to explain Michael Myers' existence. Oy. Nice touch bringing back one of the original characters in Tommy though.

The franchise got a much needed boost with H20: 20 Years Later which ignored the previous six films and brought back Jamie Lee Curtis. The film is frightening and made in the vain of the then popular Scream films. And it had a conclusion! Well, until Halloween: Resurrection killed off Jamie Lee Curtis in the first 15 minutes and then officially killed that run of the franchise.

Rob Zombie decided to remake the original film, and also do a sequel (both simply called Halloween and Halloween II) and has, for reasons unknown, not been put to death yet.


Series: Die Hard
Total Films: 5; 1988 to present
Total Box Office: $1.1 Billion worldwide (highest grossing $383 million, lowest $140)
Other Spinoffs: It is hinted at that the Speed universe is contained in the Die Hard universe, but nothing substantial.
Status: Going Strong

Grade: B

Even though it is only five films, seeing a new Die Hard trailer always brings up the 'agaaaaain???' response. Bruce Willis has aged better then his Expendables' buddies and hasn't embarrassed himself ... yet.

The first film, Die Hard, is a classic, while the sequel Die Hard 2: Die Harder is pretty much ignored by everyone, even TBS. The series made up for it with a brilliant third film called Die Hard with a Vengeance which directly connected to the first film more and broadened John McClane's playground while Live Free or Die Hard was surprisingly impressive, if not classic, as a standard action film, not a Die Hard film. A Good Day to Die Hard is coming out in 2013.


Series: Hellraiser
Total Films: 9 (four released in theaters, 5 released straight to video); 1987 to 2011
Total Box Office: $48.5 million (no records for DTV; highest $14.5, lowest $9.3)
Other Spinoffs: Comics, Figurines, Novels (original)
Status: Deceptively Down, but Definitely Not Out

Grade: B+

Dimension Films pulled a Fantastic Four and made a piece of shit ninth film in the franchise called Hellraiser: Revelations that was hilariously disowned by Pinhead/Hellraiser creator Clive Barker. The film, shot extremely low budget without even franchise hero Doug Bradley, seems like a license-keeper (or a film made by a certain date to keep the film's rights in the studio's hands).

Besides this abomination I refuse to see, the franchise is a solidly good one, especially (and surprisingly) the DTV films. The original, directed by creator Clive Barker (who wrote the book The Hellbound Heart which introduced Pinhead, then named The Engineer), is a horror masterpiece, going far away from the slasher genre and focusing on the worlds of sadomasochism and perversion.

The sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, is kind of all over the place but is worth a viewing while Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, an attempt at mainstream acceptance, is an epically frightening, if not sometimes flawed, production. Hellraiser: Bloodline could have been the greatest, wide-ranging, genre-pushing horror film of all time, until the director quit and the studio hacked it to bits. The current 88 minute version, missing almost all of the original 45 minutes meant for the picture, shows what COULD have been, surrounded by focus group bullshit turning Pinhead into a normal slasher/creeper as opposed to the Demon (or Angel) of Pain we expect him to be.

*fifty percent of this trailer has footage not shown in the film

The DTV saga kicked off after Bloodline's box office failure with Hellraiser: Inferno, a decent, if certainly Pinhead-less first 80 minutes. Hellraiser: Hellseeker is the strongest of the DTV and rivals some of the theatrical releases thanks to a solid cast and the return of an original character. Hellraiser: Deader and Hellraiser: Hellworld can boast genre actors Kari Wuhrer and Lance Henriksen, respectively, but little else.


Series: Star Trek
Total Films: 12 (Six Original Series films, four The Next Generation films, one Reboot, one to be released); 1979 to present (the franchise started in 1966 with the first television show)
Total Box Office: $1.01 Billion (domestic); (highest grossing $257 million, lowest $43)
Other Spinoffs: 5 Television Series, Books, Toys, Comics, you name it ... 
Status: Regenerated and Strong

Grade A-

Star Trek is primarily a television property but it is also an institution of culture having been around for 50 years, spending most of that considered classic, seminal, and important. Like any franchise diluted by time, there were hits and misses. But, the core of Trek, the first series, some of the films, the second and third series and the fan base, is almost a part of life.

The films aren't as good as the series simply because, being a show of philosophy, ethics, and deep mythology, the translation from weekly show to 2-hour-appeal-to-the-mainstream product was hard though none of the original films, save one, suffered at the box office.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a huge success in 1979 despite being a laborious experiment by The Sound of Music director Ray Wise. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (now known with a II, though not originally) is considered a sci-fi masterpiece and may be the best film in the whole collection.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was fine while Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the Trek box office champion until the most recent film thanks to a 'bring 'em to the present' approach in which Kirk, Spock, and Company have to bring 1986 Whales back to the 24th century.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was a box office failure as well as a massive ego project for director-actor William Shatner while Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country fights for its place among the best Trek films as an impressive, hard hitting allegory for the end of the Cold War.

The Next Generation cast took over for the next four films with mixed results. Star Trek: Generations is the most beautiful looking of the films but felt too much like the show. Star Trek: First Contact brought the Borg in and became a huge success, also upgrading TNG from a TV-show-turned-movie into a film franchise all its own. However, despite my love for it, Star Trek: Insurrection followed and scared people away while Star Trek: Nemesis, the lowest grossing Trek film and then presumed the last, pretty much ended TNG in 2002.

A reboot, titled simply Star Trek, directed by JJ Abrams, is a little more Star Wars then Star Trek but is at least enjoyable, if not totally empty in thought and purpose. Star Trek: Into Darkness is due soon and will surely be a box office Juggernaut.


Series: Saw
Total Films: 7
Total Box Office: $415 million (domestic); (highest grossing $87 million, lowest $27.6)
Other Spinoffs: Video Games
Status: It's Never Too Late to Make a Saw Movie for $5 million dollars and make 500% of your money back!

Grade: D-

The first Saw was a revelation and while Saw II is a pile of shit, it has an incredible ending and dared to try to make a large mythology out of what should have been a small, independent horror film with a twist.

Then something weird happened: Saw III was awesome. No, not guilty-pleasure awesome. Actually well written, deftly directed, masterful horror presentation awesome. And a fitting end to a series that, when considered a trilogy, was hitting .667 at the plate.

But money is too hard to ignore. Terrible sequel after terrible sequel was released, only upping the creativity by producing unsatisfying gore and mayhem and very loose, stretched connections to the original films.

Let me put it this way: Saw made Cary Elwes a real actor for 90 minutes. Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, and Saw 3D made you actually miss him (*note: I haven't seen all of them and, if I did, they may have all blended together at some point so my grade may be a little less accurate then the others).

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