I’ve recently gone on record about two movie franchises, Star Trek and The Fast & The Furious, one of which I greatly preferred to the other. This got me thinking, and was the inspiration for this week’s list, my Top 10 Movie Franchises. Now, as always I’ve set myself some limitations. Firstly, I must have seen every film within the franchise. This immediately rules out the likes of Die Hard (haven’t seen number 5), Alien/Predator (haven’t seen Predator 2, can’t remember Alien 3 or Resurrection), Bourne (Legacy), Hannibal (Rising) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake and New Nightmare). I also didn’t include the looser franchises that simply take place in the same universe, for example the Avengers film, Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, George Romero’s Blank of the Dead series or the Muppets films. I also took into account every film within each franchise, so just because a film happened to feature some true classics, if there were some stinkers in there too then that didn’t help its case for inclusion. The franchise also had to have a minimum of four films, as I’ve made a list of my top trilogies before. So, without further ado, here’s my top 10 movie franchises:
There’s a lot of franchises out there! Seriously, there’s tons, more than I’d heard of, and I was shocked to discover some of the more longer-lasting movie sagas. Did you know there’s 30 Django films? I knew there were a lot of Carry Ons, but I didn’t think it was as many as 31, which is also the same number of Barbie films in existence (I’m guessing this doesn’t include Hotel Terminus). I’m most blown away, however, by the fact that there’s a Chinese series known as Wong Fei Hung, which includes a staggering 89 movies. 89! That, my friends, is insane. Anyway, I’ve barely seen any of these films (Django Unchained, Carry On Doctor) so obviously these can’t be in my Top 10.
No, this week’s two honourable mentions are the Final Destination franchise, and Police Academy. They beat out stiff competition from the likes of Shrek, Home Alone, Pirates of the Caribbean, Saw and the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, but if I had to pick my favourites then these two are them. Final Destination is one of the few horror series I pay much attention too – I’ve only seen the original Halloween, and have yet to see any Friday the 13th films – and I think this is due to the initially original concept of people cheating death, and being hunted down one by one to fix reality. It’s such a brilliant idea, and it means there’s no iconic killer who’ll end up as a parody of himself by the fifth film. Part four is easily the worst in the series – the premonitions don’t make sense and there’s some truly terrible CGI – but all the rest are at least decent, with number 2 being my personal favourite. I had a screenshot from the death of Rory as my background for a little while after seeing that film.
Police Academy is an entirely different yet still occasionally just as ridiculous franchise, following the antics of a police training school that’s just dropped any requirements for entrants, meaning anyone of any gender, race, weight and ability can sign up and be trained. Yes, the sequels got a bit terrible after Steve Guttenberg dropped out, and the less said about Mission to Moscow the better, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had with the earlier films, the first one is a true 80s classic.
This is one of those series where one truly diabolical film let down the whole bunch, and that, of course, is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Had that film, with its bizarre casting decisions (Will.I.Am?!?), horrible effects and ridiculous plot choices never been made, then this series would be considerably higher, even in spite of the disappointing (but still enjoyable) X-Men: The Last Stand. It just deeply concerns me that Gavin Hood, director of Origins: Wolverine, is the man charged with directing upcoming sci-fi adaptation Ender’s Game, which has the potential to be great, but the probability of being pants. On the other hand X-Men, and to a greater extent the sequel, seemed unlikely on paper, given the ensemble, unfocused natured of the story, but by centring it on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Anna Paquin’s Rogue director Bryan Singer was able to add a narrative drive, without which the story would have floundered (see The Last Stand). X-Men: First Class was an inspired decision, providing the ability to introduce new characters and storylines, whilst retaining original elements and including a cool 60s setting. I’m looking forward to the next one, especially because it sees Singer’s return to the series, and the inclusion of time travel, yay!
9. Harry Potter
I know a lot of people that would have this higher on their own lists, but it falls short for me simply because I don’t find a lot of the films to be terribly memorable, and because the first couple are a bit clunky and too rigidly stuck to the source material. I will always gladly sit down and watch any of them, however, purely because of the characters and the phenomenal cast. Also, the effects tend to be amazing, especially in the later films, and the good thing about not remembering much of them is I can go back and be surprised all over again, even though I’ve read all the books. I’ve discussed it before, but my highlight is Goblet of Fire (dragons!) and the low point is probably Order of the Phoenix, simply because I can only tell you one thing that happens in that entire story, and that’s just that one character dies. I couldn’t even tell you how.
8. Star Wars
Woah, hang on, Star Wars is only number 8? Surely something went wrong here. I mean, this is Star Wars, for Fett’s sake?!?! Alas, there has been no clerical error, this is where the statistics placed it, mainly due to those darn prequels, but also because of the flippin’ Clone Wars cartoon that riled me completely up the wrong way for its entire duration, other than a brief bit where there’s a battle on a vertical cliff. Regardless of how great the original trilogy is, it cannot help but be brought down by the later films which, although I enjoy most of, I just can’t admit that they’re terribly good. All being well, the upcoming continuation of the saga will boost these films to a higher ranking. J. J. Abrams, it’s over to you.
7. James Bond
At 23 films, the Bond series is easily the longest on this list, with the next closest both having eight. So yes, it’s not surprising that along the way there’ve been a few clunkers, the most egregious of which for me is Die Another Day with that horrendous CGI wave. The fact that the films were able to recover from that is almost unbelievable, but the Daniel Craig era is suiting up to be a great thing, in spite of the Writers’ strike-struck Quantum of Solace. In fact, I’m halfway through Skyfall as I type this, and whilst it may not be quite as incredible as it was on the big screen last year, it still remains a great film, although it doesn’t quite top Goldfinger, the series highlight. Along the way there’s been seriousness (Timothy Dalton), inspired villainous casting choices (Robert Shaw, Christopher Lee, Christopher Walken, Yaphet Kotto) and a great deal of silliness (about 80% of the Roger Moore films), but with the recent rumours that Sam Mendes will be coming back for Bond 24, you can bet that I’ll be in the theatre watching it.
6. Mission Impossible
I was quite surprised that Mission Impossible made it so high on the list – something we’ll come to later as well – but the key here is that there haven’t been many films, and only one of them is really any bad. Part one is great, and features most of the series’ iconic moments, with Tom Cruise suspended above a pressure-sensitive floor, a bead of sweat dripping ever closer being the most remembered, and parts three and four are also cracking good fun. John Woo’s part two, however, went a bit too far with the silliness of face masks and a forgettable plot about an illness and its antidote. There’s still gold in there – Ving Rhames is always a delight as Luther, and Richard Roxburgh is entertaining too – but as a whole the film is a little empty. Which is fine, giving how great the other three are. The unique thing about the Mission Impossible films – at least amongst this list – is that all four films have been directed by someone completely different, who hasn’t been afraid to put their own stamp on an already well known story.
Just like most of the other franchises here, the Batman series hasn’t always been a great one. When Joel Schumacher took over for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, a lot of fans weren’t overly happy with the results. As crappy as those films may have been, there was no keeping this series down when every other film to feature the Bat character is brilliant, right back to Adam West in 1966’s Batman: The Movie. Tim Burton’s Batman is decent and Batman Returns even better, but when Christopher Nolan stepped up for his Dark Knight Trilogy, he may as well have started the whole thing over again. All other Batman films became a distant memory at that point.
4. Ice Age
So, basically I’m a child. It’s become a running joke over on the Lambcast that I grew up without really having a childhood, and my taste in films shows that apparently I’m making up for that now, as modern animations are amongst my favourite films to watch, particularly the output of Pixar. As soon as Toy Story 4 gets released (or even announced), that’s going to shoot up to the top of this totem pole, but for now Ice Age will have to do. The story of an unusual herd – initially comprising of a mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger and sloth, but eventually adding two possums, a second mammoth who thinks she’s a possum, a one-eyed weasel and a female sabre-tooth – may not be technically chronologically accurate, but then neither is the fact that they reference a mine field at one point, and there’s a load of vultures who apparently inspired the musical numbers in Oliver!. It’s no surprise that my favourite of the four is part three, mainly because it’s got dinosaurs in it (and Simon Pegg!), but to be honest they’re all pretty great. If you’d written off the franchise as being sub-Pixar kiddie fare, well then you’re right, but that doesn’t make them bad films.
Another horror franchise, Scream earns a position because it’s not just any horror series, but the one that simultaneously pays homage to and riffs on pretty much every horror film that came before it, and even references itself and multiple sequels, once the time was right. The first two films are incredible – genuinely scary, but also impossibly self aware and down right funny. The third lost its way a bit, drifting almost more towards parody than horror, but it was funny enough and features some interesting cameos – Jay and Silent Bob, Carrie Fisher. Part four arrived after an 11 year break, and set about being influenced by the more recent slew of found footage and ultra-violent horrors. It didn’t quite work as well as it should, but I can still enjoy it, even if the twists were a bit stupid.
Robots! Robots from the future! Time travelling paradoxes! Robots! I love the Terminator films, particularly the first two. They’re equal parts blockbuster entertainment and insightful science fiction, with Schwartzenegger’s greatest performance to date – just try and copy him trying to smile in T2 – although Edward Furlong is all but intolerable by the end. Part three, directed by Jonathan Mostow rather than James Cameron, suffers from an unthreatening antagonist – it doesn’t matter how old Arnie is, I’m guessing he’ll always beat Kristanna Loken in a fight – and an unclear conclusion, but fortunately by the time Terminator Salvation came along they’d decided to write out T3‘s existence. The choice to show the life of John Connor (Christian Bale) before sending a robot back in time was a good one, but though it was gripping enough, it lacked the requisite intelligence of the first two films.
1. Indiana Jones
The key, it seems, to making this list is to have four films, of which only one is utter shite. It helps if one of the films is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made (Raiders of the Lost Ark, the only person I’ve met who doesn’t like it is my girlfriend, but that’s mainly due to a crippling fear of snakes), and another two would be regarded just as well if they didn’t have that original to live up to. Personally, I’m a big fan of The Last Crusade, because I love the dynamic between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, with the former alpha male being demoted to a beta role by his father, but I’ll still gladly watch Temple of Doom, even if I have to endure the one-two combo of Short Round and Willie Scott. And then we come to the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, one of the most anticipated, and therefore most disappointing, films of all time. The key problems with the film are a ludicrous plot, blatant twists, endless stupidity and, of course, Shia LaBeouf. Who will never, ever, be able to replace Harrison Ford, in anything. I kind of hope they cast him as Han Solo’s son in the new Star Wars films, but then immediately kill him off by having Greedo or Boba Fett’s kid kill him. Slowly and painfully. As in, he’s still clinging to life at the end of the trilogy, having been tortured for the duration of all three films. And then he dies. God I hate him and everything he’s ever done.