What makes a movie franchise great? Is it the box office numbers, its success at continuity, its immortal source material, the characters, its general capacity as a ‘film’ or the love these films receive even generations hence? This discussion could go on a while, and whatever may be the reason for it, it’s now a known fact that movie franchises keep the wheel spinning in Hollywood. Most of the movie franchises were formed owing to the very first outing being immensely successful at its time; and while it is heartening to see somewhat concentrated efforts to keep these beloved movie franchises going, it also bothers me that a lot of them have morphed into shameless cash grabs, with the franchise churning out movies just to earn money, milking on the nostalgia and popularity of its previous films.
What’s fascinating to note is that a lot of the movie franchises on this list are operational till date, despite their first film being decades old, either going the ‘reboot’ way or leaping forward years, telling a similar tale with new, younger protagonists. What’s also notable, is that a lot of popular movie franchises didn’t make the list, owing to the fact that either the last few entries in the series were inconsistent, or weren’t simply that great. That being said, we now present a list of the top movie franchises ever. You can watch some of these best movie series on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
18. X-Men Movieverse
Suffering from temporal continuity issues and wildly varying success rates (which franchise doesn’t!), the X-Men movie franchise is the longest running superhero franchise we have. Kicking off with ‘X-Men’ (2000) directed by Bryan Singer, the film did superhero ensembles before it was cool, and is arguably the film that sent the craze for superhero movies over the roof. Following it up with excellent films including X2, First Class and DOFP (somewhat), average films including Last Stand, the two standalone Wolverine films and Apocalypse, and straight-up all-out R rated features Deadpool and ‘Logan’, it’s safe to say the franchise has held its own. With animated series and comics to back it up, able shoulders including Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy supporting it, (even though Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Hugh Jackman parted their ways from the franchise), I’d say there is still some hope and a lot of fuel in the quinjet to sustain this franchise. With a newer, younger cast, and most of the better X-Men stories still waiting to be adapted, here’s hoping Fox makes the best out of it.
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17. The Rocky Film Series
The only sports franchise on this list, and rightfully so. Beginning with a film that made Sylvester Stallone a star in his own right, the tale of an underdog boxer winning a “million to one shot” won hearts all over, and continues to be one of the more inspiring stories till date. Naturally, the first film’s success paved the way for sequels; much like any other franchise, the sequels continued to diminish gradually, until Rocky V. Stallone took it upon himself to deliver a fitting finale worthy of his legacy, and ‘Rocky Balboa’ (2006) proved to be just that, giving us one of the more inspiring film speeches.
However, that was presumably not the end. The series was revived with ‘Creed’ (2015), with Stallone returning as trainer to his long-time rival Apollo Creed’s son. The film opened to increasingly positive reviews and two more sequels have been greenlit. Here’s hoping that the series doesn’t overstay its welcome.
16. The Shrek Franchise
The second successful animated franchise on the list (You will know which as you progress), but this time it isn’t Disney. In fact, it beats any other Disney property by being the highest grossing animated franchise ever. The only other animation house that has come closer to Pixar in terms of content is Dreamworks Animation, and some of their most successful films include Kung Fu Panda, ‘How to Train Your Dragon‘, and Madagascar. One such wildly successful franchise from Dreamworks came as the story of a mild mannered ogre and his cohorts. The fairy tale world they live in is elaborately and beautifully realised, with their shenanigans often leading to hilarious outcomes. Mike Myers as Shrek and Eddie Murphy as Donkey is solid voice casting, with much of the humour centred on the two.
After the fourth film though, Shrek seems to be enjoying voluntary retirement, with the only other activity from the camp being the spinoff ‘Puss in Boots’ (2011) and a Broadway musical. A fifth film is in the works; if the movie can make us laugh hysterically like the previous instalments and has its heart in the right place, I say bring it on!
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15. The Jurassic Park Franchise
Steven Spielberg redefined the meaning of blockbuster cinema in my opinion, providing us wholesome entertainment while never compromising on the story part of it, and ‘Jurassic Park’ is only one of them. This blockbuster film franchise that centres on a theme park with cloned dinosaurs opened new doors for a franchise that would go on to become a favourite for the masses. The idea was simple but ingenious, and the audience flocked to the theatres purely for the thrill of watching these predators come to life, which was a technical achievement for its time. After two strong entries with Spielberg in the director’s chair, and a third which I think we can all agree was the weakest entry among the three, the franchise was revived in 2015 with ‘Jurassic World’, that appealed to the huge amount of nostalgia associated with the previous movies. While the movie itself was mediocre, let’s hope that the next instalment, ‘The Fallen Kingdom’ that hits screens in 2018, restores some credibility to the series.
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14. The Alien Franchise
It’s interesting how Ridley Scott has tried to build a franchise out of his first ‘Alien’ movie, released in 1979. Melding horror, science fiction and space fantasy into one genre, and with names like James Cameron, David Fincher, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Fassbender and Scott himself attached to it, this franchise could have truly been something else. But with an awful tie-up with the ‘Predator’ series, and the slowly diminishing qualities of its movies, we are uncertain of the promise this franchise once was, even after its rather underwhelming spinoffs ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Alien: Covenant’. Revisit the classic first few films, and hope the franchise doesn’t meet a slow, untimely demise.
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13. The DC Animated Movies Universe (DCAU)
Marvel’s film universe may be more established than DC’s is right now, but in the animated arena, DC is strides ahead of its comic book nemesis. This inclusion in the list may seem unusual, but some of DC’s animated movie titles are at par with some of the best films in the franchises mentioned in the list, and that is a feat in itself. Most of the animated movies (also the better ones) are centred on Batman, Superman, or The Justice League (Flashpoint Paradox, Under the Red Hood, Doom, Mask of the Phantasm, Public Enemies), the universe is continuously expanding to adapt more iconic storylines related to relatively lesser known characters including Teen Titans, John Constantine, and a treasure trove of others. Animated movies have the flexibility to be completely true to the comics in every sense, and that has been regarded and rewarded by the immense fanbase of the DCAU.
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12. Planet of the Apes
The first film in the series came out way back in 1968, adapted from Pierre Boulle’s French novel of the same name, about humans clashing with intelligent, matured apes. It was no ‘2001’, but a compelling sci-fi film for its time, that has stood the test of time in my opinion. The producers followed it up with four sequels (Beneath, Escape, Conquest, Battle), none of which reached the glory of the original film, and with a dwindling budget, they finally adapted the series for TV, in both live action (1974) and animated (1975) forms, raking up a reputable TRP back then.
After a lot of time in production hell, Tim Burton served up a reboot of the franchise with Mark Wahlberg in the lead, in 2001, by the same name, which was largely considered unnecessary. ‘Planet of the Apes’ was literally brought back from the dead following the success of one of the better trilogies of our time (Rise, Dawn, War) with Andy Serkis portraying Caesar through motion capture.
The series has become popular for the themes it has dealt with, including human supremacy and race, and the larger looming question: where have we come from and where are we headed? With extraneous sales in TV property, books, comics and toys, and another film in production, the franchise can be right up there if the quality of recent films is any indication.
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11. The Bourne Series
Another spy action thriller on the list, because who doesn’t like secret agents kicking serious butt? What separates it from the other two entries on this list is its rather intelligible plot. The series started it off with an excellent trilogy (Identity, Supremacy, Ultimatum) starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, and was widely considered one of the best action trilogies of all time, still is. But alas, the studios realised they hadn’t had enough, and produced a spinoff titled ‘The Bourne Legacy’ starring Jeremy Renner. Matt Damon too returned in last year’s ‘Jason Bourne’, and safe to say that both the films didn’t live up to the greatness of the Bourne trilogy. Still one of my favourites, the series finds a place on this list solely because of the first three films.
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10. Mission Impossible Series
What has probably kept this series going is its charismatic lead star upping the ante with every next film in the franchise. From breaking into a secure facility by dangling on ropes, to scaling the Burj Khalifa, to engaging in hand to hand combat on constantly shifting parking bays in a multilevel car park, to literally hanging by the side of a plane in the latest instalment ‘Rogue Nation’! Tom Cruise has left no stone unturned in defying his age and making these stunts and action sequences the hallmark of his M:I films as super spy Ethan Hunt. With new cast members being added to the ever increasing cast of the franchise, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner being the latest ones, the franchise was breathed new life into with ‘Ghost Protocol’ and now seems to be headed in an overall good direction. One or two more films, a few more exhilarating action scenes ad chases by Cruise and Co. and this series will cement itself among the best action franchises.
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9. Pirates of the Caribbean
The POTC films have been incredibly fun affairs to watch, just a speck above mere popcorn entertainment because of some cracking dialogue and straight out insane action sequences with an infectious old world charm. But the credibility of the franchise rides on one and one man’s shoulders alone, Johnny Depp. The actor stepped into the shoes of the swashbuckling, eccentric pirate Jack Sparrow with the ease of a chameleon, in a role perhaps tailor made for him. Ably supported by fine cast members including Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann and Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, the franchise effectively captures some witty banter between them, backed by sweeping visuals of an infinitum of sea. However, with each subsequent entry declining in quality and content, we are not sure if this franchise can rule our hearts for long enough.
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8. Toy Story
Coming from the acclaimed Pixar Studios, this series of films were ingenious and heartfelt in equal measure. The ‘Toy Story’ series of films deals with the adventures that a group of toys belonging to a seemingly normal boy, Andy has. Apart from pulling the seemingly impossible task of making these toys talk while not looking all too doltish, the writers helped the diverse group of toys come alive on the screen in such a way that they in no way seemed different from their human counterparts, making Woody and Buzz Lightyear instant favourites. Like all other successful Disney franchises, this one too includes TV shows, toys, holiday specials, and a sequel currently in production.
All the entries in the franchise were extremely well received, with the third one being hailed unanimously as the best one in the series, and one of the best animated movies. Countless rewatches, and I have come to the conclusion that there won’t be a time when Andy going off to college and bidding farewell to his toy companions won’t break my heart into several pieces.
7. Star Trek
A franchise beginning with a TV series of the same name in 1966, followed by an animated series, four full length feature films, another television series with a new cast (The Next Generation), two more feature films, at least three other TV series spinoffs (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise), followed by four other lukewarm full length features, before finally going the ‘reboot’ way in 2009, having produced two more films under it. Whew! The Star Trek franchise has come a long way!
The series has seen some ups and downs, having been sunk and revived by a couple of films in its roster. While the film series faced some stiff competition with another space opera franchise on this list (no marks for guessing which), Star Trek has maintained a strong, loyal fanbase over the years. Besides movies and TV series, the franchise’s success and influence on pop culture can also be gauged by other properties it has spawned, including but not limited to video games, comics, action figures and the like.
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6. J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World
Earlier consisting only of the wildly popular Harry Potter films, the franchise recently began developing a shared universe with last year’s ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’. Apart from being enormously successful, this franchise has received immense love from fans, owing to its highly engaging source material that I often tend to revisit despite the last book coming out a decade ago, and somewhat faithful renditions onscreen, that essentially maintain the charm of the quintessential ‘good vs. evil’ story, and the quirks of its huge list of endearing characters.
I still remember the time when Harry Potter merchandise flooded the markets when the first film released. For many of us, the books and films form an indistinguishable part of our childhood and teen years; we essentially grew up with Harry, Hermione and Ron. And you know what they say about us fans, “Once a potterhead, always a potterhead!
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5. Indiana Jones
After the release of the first film in the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, George Lucas was so sure that the film would be a disaster, that he went off on a vacation to Hawaii with his friend, Steven Spielberg. It is then that these two brilliant minds conceived the idea of filming the exploits of one archaeologist, Dr. Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones, giving us one of the best film series in the adventure genre. Backed by stunning, natural locales, the franchise blends elements of fantasy, action and history, allowing its charismatic leading man, Harrison Ford, who was on a roll back then, to shine all the way. After the exceptional first three films (Raiders of the lost ark, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade), the fourth one (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) turned out to be a dud in comparison. However, following the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, a new Indiana Jones movie is in the works. The good news? Spielberg and Ford are already onboard.
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4. Middle Earth Franchise
Peter Jackson gave a whole new definition to the word ‘epic’ with his dramatic and highly faithful retelling of Tolkien’s legendary work, on screen. ‘The Lord of The Rings’, widely regarded as one of the best fantasy literary works ever produced, was translated onto screen with finesse, in a trilogy of movies, with each subsequent one surpassing the previous film in terms of storytelling, characters, scale and the sheer epic-ness of it. ‘The Return of the King’ was undoubtedly not only the best film in the franchise, it is also probably the best film in the fantasy genre.
However, Peter Jackson went the George Lucas way and announced a trilogy of films that would serve as a prequel to the original trilogy, paving the way for ‘The Hobbit’ films, which were in a lot of ways inferior to the original ones. However, as a series foraying into the intensely imaginative world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, it’s an absolute winner.
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3. Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
You’ve got to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the strides the MCU makes on a daily basis. The MCU is an elaborately constructed universe spanning over nine years, which may seem like a short period of time compared to the other established franchises on this list, but with 16 films released under the Marvel Studios banner, and at least 6 others in the kitty, the MCU continues to grow, adding new characters to its large ensemble of superheroes, while with every new movie they release, the audience makes sure they are smiling their way to the bank. Not one of the movies they have released has opened to negative critical reaction, such is the power of the mass appeal of its gigantic superhero team up, comprising beloved characters Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Spiderman and many others.
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2. James Bond Franchise
Who doesn’t love the exploits of the super savvy British spy on her majesty’s secret service? 007 films, more than their stories, are known for their elaborate, yet sometimes outrageous action sequences, and Bond’s sophisticated gadgetry on display, including everything from laser watches, to exploding pens, to x-ray shades to explosive paste! However, it’s not about how outlandish (or outright ridiculous) some of these are. What marks the guilty thrill of reveling in these films is how Bond uses them to get himself out of a pickle, looking effortlessly cool while doing the same.
The first Bond film, ‘Dr. No’, starring the evergreen Sean Connery as the eponymous character, came out way back in 1962. Since then, quite a number of actors have had their go at the character, most notable among them being Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, The Bond series, as of now has 24 films to it credit. For its 25th film, Daniel Craig may be in talks to return, but if he doesn’t, the studios should look no farther than Tom Hardy, the man would be perfect!
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1. Star Wars
‘Star Wars’ is not just a film franchise, it’s a global phenomenon. Perhaps no other franchise on this list has had such a vast impact on pop culture than this epic space opera film franchise. What this franchise earns in merchandise sale alone rivals the combined box office collections of all films on this list. ‘Star Wars’ is the brainchild of George Lucas, who also directed four out of the six films comprising the original trilogy and prequel trilogy. The franchise returned after a lengthy, decade long hiatus, after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney for a hefty amount. Naturally, ‘The Force Awakens’ made fans go berserk with excitement, helping the film break numerous records during its run.
The franchise followed it up with a spinoff, ‘Rogue One’ (2016), and while both the films under Disney have been huge commercial and critical successes, the original trilogy (Episodes IV to VI) continues to remain the best in the series. With two more sequels and an anthology series already in development, no stopping this franchise, there is. May the force be with it!
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