Category Archives: Franchise Killers
In the late nineties, Twentieth Century Fox had a franchise problem. The studio’s most successful series of the day, the Die Hard trilogy, appeared to be done. They had tried and failed repeatedly to find a cost-effective way to reboot the Planet of the Apes movies. The X-Men series was still a couple of years away. Macaulay Culkin had aged out of the Home Alone movies, but Fox was so desperate that made a third movie without him anyway. With nowhere else to turn, Fox tried to resurrect the Alien franchise. Instead, they ended up killing the series.
The first-ever superhero movie franchise started with Superman: The Movie in 1978. Producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind were so certain of its success that they filmed the movie’s sequel back-to-back with the original. Unfortunately, the Salkinds clashed with director Richard Donner so they replaced him on Superman II with Richard Lester. Lester took full control of the third movie in what most assumed would be a trilogy. After Superman III proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment, Christopher Reeve announced that he was done with the character. The Salkinds eventually sold the rights to the Superman franchise to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who hoped to revive the series at Cannon Films. Instead, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace did what Lex Luthor never could. It killed Superman.
It may seem counter-intuitive to discuss the death of the Spider-Man franchise pending the release of a new movie starring the comic book hero. These days, studios are unable or unwilling to let their movie franchises die. It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly Spider-Man: Homecoming performs this weekend, Sony cannot afford to stop making movies about Marvel’s famous wall-crawling, web-spinner. But just three short years ago, the studio released a Spider-Man movie that was received so poorly that the studio put the brakes on all future Spider-Man-related projects and turned to a competitor for assistance.
Superhero movies are dominant at the box office. But that wasn’t always the case. In the 90’s, Batman was the only successful superhero franchise. Just two years prior to the release of the fourth film in the series, Warner Brothers was so confident of the caped crusader, they released a movie titled Batman Forever. It’s true that the studio will probably continue making Batman movies long after you and I are gone, but the next Batman movie they released derailed not just the series but the entire superhero genre for years to come.
In 1982, John Milius wrote and directed a very pulpy movie about Robert E. Howard’s fantasy character, Conan the Barbarian. Knowing that physicality was more important to his movie than actual acting ability, Milius cast athletes in the lead roles rather than actors. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the time an ex-body builder who was struggling with English. The success of the first Conan didn’t exactly make Schwarzenegger a star, but it did crack open the door for more acting roles. Schwarzenegger was under contract to make three pictures for producer Dino De Laurentiis, so it makes sense that a sequel would follow. What’s the one role you know audiences will accept the Austrian body builder in? Conan.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that The Blair Witch Project had when it was released in 1999. The no-budget found-footage horror movie became an overnight sensation. Even if no-budget found-footage horror movies where young people get lost in the woods and are menaced by rocks and twigs weren’t your thing, there was no escaping the Blair Witch phenomenon. The image of a runny-nosed Heather Donahue speaking directly into her camera became one of the most satirized moments in cinema. The Blair Witch was up there with The Matrix and The Sixth Sense as one of the most influential movies of the year.
It was also among the most profitable movies ever made. With a budget of less than a million dollars, The Blair With Project grossed close to a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide. That’s some crazy return on investment right there. So it’s understandable at that executives at Artisan wanted a sequel right away. The pencil pushers had a plan for a series of Blair Witch movies released every October just in time for Halloween. There was only one problem. Absolutely nothing about The Blair Witch Project would work a second time.
The original Blade came along at a time when comic book movies were deemed “too risky”. The year before, a hat trick of comic-based failure consisting of Batman and Robin, Steel and Spawn all struck out at the box office. Marvel movies weren’t cool yet, so the first Blade was sold as a low-budget vampire movie rather than the adaptation of a comic book. Blade was a decent enough hit to generate two sequels and a TV series. Writer-director David Goyer clearly had plans to carry on the Blade franchise. In fact he seemed to be using the third Blade movie to set up a series of spin-offs. But instead, Blade: Trinity killed the series and ended up with everyone embroiled in a bitter lawsuit.
I grew up in the eighties when slasher movies were going through their heyday. The king of the slashers was Jason, the hockey-masked killer of the Friday the 13th series. It was very common back then to hear that there was a plan to make 13 movies in the series. Even as a kid, I knew that was ridiculous. If the movies were still making money, they wouldn’t stop at 13. If people stopped buying tickets, they wouldn’t make it to 13. That’s just not how things work.
As it turns out, the Friday the 13th series made it pretty dang close to the magic number. They got as far as Jason X.
For the month of October, Franchise Killers will be covering movies that ended film series in the horror genre. So we’ll be looking at movies that killed franchises about killers. Since today is Neve Campbell‘s birthday, I thought we would kick things off with a look at Scream 4.
It’s easy to forget this now, but once upon a time Eddie Murphy was the coolest and funniest guy on the planet. In the early 80’s, his movie career got off to a fantastic start with 48 Hours and Trading Places, But it was 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop that officially made Murphy a major movie star. Three years later, Murphy reprised his role as Axel Foley in an action-packed sequel. Beverly Hills Cop II wasn’t nearly as good as the first movie, but as 80’s action movies went, it was better than most. Then Murphy decided he wanted to do other things for a while. By the time he got around to Beverly Hills Cop III, ten years had passed since the first movie and no one cared anymore. Especially Murphy.
Tonight, the Muppets make their triumphant return to television. Advance word is that the show is actually very good and will appeal to all ages which is terrific news for beleaguered Muppet fans. For years, Jim Henson’s creations have struggled to find their place in pop culture.
Just four years ago, Disney successfully relaunched the Muppet movie franchise with the comedy, The Muppets. Disney hoped to build on that film’s modest success with a sequel. But unfortunately the 2014 follow-up, Muppets Most Wanted, cost more to make and grossed about half as much worldwide.
So when you’re watching the Muppets on TV tonight, remember, you have the failure of Muppets Most Wanted to thank for it.
This is a tale of two movies. Both combined live action and animation. One was a massive success at the box office. The other was not. One was a witty and well-done valentine to classic cartoons. One was a massive piece of product placement/vanity project for a sports star.
If this were a just world, the massive piece of product placement would have been the one to bomb. But, as we know all too well, this is not a just world. Yes, 1996’s Space Jam, that testament to Michael Jordan’s ego and warehouses full Hanes undergarments, Nike sneakers and Bud-Lite, made over $240 million worldwide. This, in spite of its quality or lack thereof.
More often than not, movie franchises end on a low note. Sometimes one truly awful entry in a series can kill an audience’s appetite for any additional follow-ups. Other times, a series will follow a long, slow decline that ends in apathy. But every now and then, you come across a franchise killer that is actually worth watching. That’s what we have here with Joe Dante’s zany sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch.