Over the years we have seen many attempts at a film franchise, and while some have succeeded, many have spectacularly failed to complete the series. Here are some of the top would-be franchises that our writers felt had more potential than they were given:
When someone says the words ‘failed franchise’, more often than not the disastrous adaptation of Rick Riordan’s critically acclaimed Percy Jackson book series is the first thing that comes to mind. With the first film being released in 2010, a barely accurate adaptation of the first book of the series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the failure of the franchise is still being spoken about a decade later. With Riordan himself publicly condemning the movies, they’re an awful stain on the Percy Jackson legacy. The movie franchise had the chance to be as big as Harry Potter, with it’s extensive world, lore, brilliantly written characters and coming-of-age tone, with each book signalling another year passing. And, as a bonus, this franchise wouldn’t have been written by a racist transphobe (we love you Uncle Rick, unproblematic king), and has a plethora of POC, LGBTQA+ characters in it, with coming-of-age movies being painfully light on that kind of representation. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010), and the latter somehow even worse movie, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (2013), completely missed the point of the book series, ignoring the heavy themes of pressure, abandonment, friendship and comradery to instead opt for cheap jokes and strange dance sequences to Lady Gaga songs. All we can hope is that the upcoming Disney+ series adapation will do the beloved book series justice.
The Lone Ranger
The 2013 Disney version of The Lone Ranger was a critical and commercial failure, it was perhaps the largest box-office bomb ever, and it currently sits at a particularly poor 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Why then, is The Lone Ranger such a good film? It is a fantastically fun wild west romp starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. The charisma between the two leads, the excellent action, and the unreliable narrator make it genuinely very good. Weirder still, I’m not the only one who thinks this movie garnered some unfair reviews, none other then Quentin Tarantino put it in his list of the best films of 2013 (it also included the dire Kick-Ass 2, but he’s very much right about The Lone Ranger).
Armie Hammer was basically signed on for The Lone Ranger to become a series of films (à la Pirates of the Caribbean) were it to be successful. Given how far Pirates has fallen, maybe this film being standalone is for the best. Nevertheless, this plan for sequels fell flat, but provided it nailed at least another good film, we could’ve seen even more from the charismatic duo and their surprisingly engaging tale.
His Dark Materials
Admittedly, as a child, this was one of those films I saw before I’d read the book (a secret shame for a bibliophile like me); but it did the trick in getting me to read the books, but after revisiting the 2007 feature film, I realised it just wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been.
I adored its casting: while Ian McKellen has always been Gandalf in my mind, there is now nobody else who I could hear as armoured panserbjørn Iorek, and Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala is stunning as always. Author Phillip Pullman even agreed that several changes to characters were exactly what they were made for, such as the blonde Nicole Kidman playing Mrs Coulter who is black-haired in the book. Pullman responded that “[he]was wrong, … [Coulter] has to be blonde. she has to be.”
And the designs of the sets, costumes and the integration of the dæmons with the live actors is flawless. Plus, the more compass-like aletheometer has been my favourite part of the world, and is a design I wish the BBC adaptation had also used.
The primary issue I think, is that New Line Cinema was trying to recreate their previous success in the fantasy film genre. Four years after the release of Return of the King in 2003, there are distant parallels with the more successful and beloved film trilogy, and this can also be seen in the advertising; several tv spots and trailers use a similar shot of the aletheometer turning upon a black background, as with the One Ring. And the writing combines multiple major plotlines and reveals for the first instalment; while they were undoubtedly waiting to establish a long-standing franchise, cutting short and removing important details or really effective cliffhangers that would have been perfect for a movie trilogy.
It’s such a shame that the franchise never got the start it deserved, as I would love to see where it could have gone.
Master and Commander
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was overshadowed in 2003 by larger and louder franchises. It failed to make enough profit to warrant a sequel, even after receiving ten Oscar nominations (and winning two). A fantastic recreation of the Napoleonic Wars and the Age of Discovery, it stars a peak Russell Crowe as Captain Aubrey and Paul Bettany as his best friend (and the ship’s doctor) Stephen. Adapted from Peter O’Brien’s legendary, 20-strong book series, the film has stunning camera work, authentic detail and rip-roaring sound design. Its ending left the door open for a sequel, one which could translate the narratives from any of the other numerous books to continue the story. There is no shortage of future material. With the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise dead in the water, audiences need a new naval, period blockbuster; one that will treat them with respect. We have seen enduring flops such as Blade Runner get an acclaimed sequel years later, so the risk is not as high as the studio may think. Russell Crowe wants a sequel; fans want a sequel. Make a sequel!
Does anyone remember Sky High? That super cool movie about teen superheroes in high school that just happened and then was never really spoken about again? A massively underrated superhero movie, Sky High premiered on the Disney Channel (those were the days) back in 2005, as well as going into cinemas, right around the time of peak Disney Channel Original Movies (think High School Musical, Twitches, Wendy Wu, and so on). It follows the story of Will Stronghold, son of famed superheroes The Commander and Jetstream, as he starts at a new floating school specifically for superheroes, ‘Sky High’, whilst trying to hide the fact that he hasn’t actually got his powers yet. Originally, the film was supposed to have been made into a trilogy of movies, centring on each new year in Will’s high school experience, but unfortunately said plans were scrapped. There is SO MUCH untapped potential in this movie universe, and so many superhero stories to explore (I personally want to see more of Layla, her powers are AWESOME), it’s just begging to be made into a proper franchise.