Here at Movie Smackdown! we spend a lot of time arguing about movies — which ones we like, which ones we don’t, and which are the greatest. Naturally, when summer comes, we see a lot of sequels, prequels, and “reimaginings.” And from all these films comes a question of which film franchise is the best.
To come up with our top 10, we’ve decided that a “franchise” requires at least three films. And we’ve taken the extra step of counting only film franchises that are currently active — even if the franchise doesn’t have a film in production, but plans to carry on. A franchise can be relatively new (like Pirates of the Caribbean) or have decades of experience (“Bond. James Bond”).
Where it began: Dr. No (1962)
Why it’s worthy: James Bond is the ultimate super spy. With numerous cars, planes, and gadgets at his disposal, this agent with a license to kill is a legend that spans 22 movies. Based on the stories of Ian Fleming, James Bond has been played by multiple actors (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig), though fans all have their favorite Bond. Though the franchise has changed over the years to meet audience expectations, Bond continues to be the definitive spy — most recently in Quantum of Solace.
What’s coming next: James Bond will be back! The yet untitled 23rd film will star Daniel Craig in his third outing as 007. It is currently slated for release in December 2012.
Where it began: Batman (1966)
Why it’s worthy: Aside from Superman, Batman is one of the longest-running superheroes in the DC Comics pantheon. He’s been reimagined as a campy crimefighter in the 1960s, a larger-than-life hero in ’80s, and a dark knight in his current incarnation. Christopher Nolan redefines the superhero genre in 2005 with a more realistic Batman Begins. The Dark Knight (2008) is not only one of the most successful films in history, it gives audiences Heath Ledger as The Joker — a performance that will be remembered for decades.
What’s coming next: The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, will hit theaters in Summer 2012.
Where it began: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Why it’s worthy: Based on the wildly popular series of children’s novels by J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter films follow a young boy who discovers he is a wizard. As Harry is introduced to the wizarding world, audiences come to know the magic, too.
What’s coming next: The final installment — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — just hit theaters. But does that mean the end of the franchise? Rowling may decide to do something more to keep the Boy Who Lived alive in our collective heart. And if she doesn’t, it’s likely some studio will “reimagine” Harry in a decade or so — just to make a buck.
Where it began: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Why it’s worthy: From the minds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg comes a return to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when movie serials brought a special kind of adventure to Saturday matinees. With Raiders — and the subsequent Indiana Jones films — adventure movies were redefined for a new generation.
What’s coming next: Even though audiences felt lukewarm about the return of the franchise with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was successful enough that Lucas and Spielberg are talking about another film. When that might happen is anyone’s guess, but Harrison Ford has been rumored to be working out at the gym — just in case.
Where it began: Jurassic Park (1993)
Why it’s worthy: Steven Spielberg — with the help of Industrial Lights and Magic’s special effects — does the seemingly impossible. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park brings dinosaurs to life. With a fast-paced script and great cast, the film really succeeds because it makes dinosaurs something real. For the first time, dinosaurs aren’t a special effect. They are the stars of the show.
What’s coming next: Though it’s been a decade since Jurassic Park III was released, Spielberg is talking about Jurassic Park IV. At the 2011 San Diego Comic Con, he says that a new sequel might be coming out in two or three years.
The Lord of the Rings
Where it began: The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Why it’s worthy: After decades of hoping for a film worthy of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien series — and a couple of animated attempts — The Lord of the Rings finally comes to life under the steady hand of director Peter Jackson. With outstanding special effects by Weta Workshop, Jackson brings a world of hobbits, wizards, dwarves, elves, and various monsters to the big screen in the biggest fantasy epic ever to hit theaters.
What’s coming next: Now, a decade after The Lord of the Rings film trilogy began, Jackson is hard at work on The Hobbit, the story that started it all. Breaking the novel into two parts, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is set to be released in December 2012. It will be followed by The Hobbit: There and Back Again in December 2013.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Where it began: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Why it’s worthy: Based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was a box office surprise that has delighted fans for nearly a decade. Combining pirates with some of the greatest adventure stories of all time, the series has included ghost pirates, Davy Jones, the Flying Dutchman, and the Fountain of Youth. Though the principal cast from the first trilogy has mostly been replaced, Johnny Depp continues to keep the party rolling as Captain Jack Sparrow.
What’s coming next: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides hit theaters this summer. Though not as successful as expected, it has earned over $1 billion worldwide. That pretty much guarantees Captain Jack will return for more adventures.
Planet of the Apes
Where it began: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Why it’s worthy: Though based on the book by Pierre Boulle, the magic of Planet of the Apes is found in the screenplay by Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone). The story is more than a science fiction story, becoming an allegory of our own debates over faith, science, and evolution. Subsequent films in the franchise and the television series took our world and turned it upside down, using the world of the apes in the same way the original Star Trek series used alien worlds to examine modern society.
What’s coming next: Tim Burton’s reimagining of Planet of the Apes in 2001 was a mess. Now Battle for the Planet of the Apes is being rebooted as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which looks more like a horror story than a science fiction story. As long as the new film does well at the box office, it’s likely to bring more apes to theaters in the future.
Where it began: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Why it’s worthy: After a shortened five-year mission on television that only lasted three years, Star Trek regained popularity in the 1970s through syndication. As a result, series creator Gene Roddenberry sold Paramount on the idea of a film series to continue the voyages of the starship Enterprise. For over three decades, the film have been a tentpole for Paramount, following first the original crew and then the crew of the Next Generation television series. When the series seemed destined for the final frontier, Paramount gave director J.J. Abrams the go-ahead to rewrite Trek history with a reboot. The 2009 film Star Trek, reintroduces audiences to the classic characters in a whole new way.
What’s coming next: After the successful reboot with Abrams, there’s no doubt what’s coming. The film’s major cast members are signed on for two sequels. The original release date in June 2012 has been given to the G.I. Joe sequel, and Paramount has not rescheduled the Star Trek sequel.
Where it began: Star Wars (1977)
Why it’s worthy: From the mind of George Lucas comes an unlikely hit with this fairy tale / space western about a young boy who finds himself taken from his quiet, unassuming life and plopped down in the middle of an epic battle between the Rebel Alliance and an evil Empire. To everyone’s surprise, the film’s instant status as a classic allowed Lucas to go forward with two sequels to the original story. Twenty years later, he followed up with a trilogy of prequels that brought the story full circle. Say what you will about Lucas and his writing skills, his Star Wars franchise forever changed the way Hollywood looks at summer.
What’s coming next: The Star Wars franchise is still in full swing with its Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, books, comics, and video games. There’s also been rumor of a live-action television series. First announced in 2005, the series is on hold because of budgetary concerns. Really, George? You can’t pony up a few hundred million to get the ball rolling?
Now it’s your turn to have a say. For the next month, we’re running a poll to determine the greatest film franchise.