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Top 20 Films That Killed A Franchise

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

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Movie franchises or series' have become as much a staple of modern cinema as streaming-exclusives, superheroes, remakes and Adam Sandler. But surprisingly, they can be difficult to define. After all, is a film that's intended to be made into a trilogy as Peter Jackson's The Lord Of The Rings a franchise? Or what about when a series becomes rebooted - are the new films part of the original franchise or something new? The logic behind them is sound enough. If a film makes money then it's natural for a studio to want to repeat the exercise and some of the most successful films of all time belong to a series of one sort or another - Avengers: Endgame or Fast & Furious 7, for example - both took well more than a billion dollars at the global box office. Who wouldn't turn that sort of money down?

However, the danger of diminishing returns is ever present and many studios rarely know when to quit while they're ahead. Some franchises rumble on for far too long with sequels of lesser quality and audiences quickly fall out of love with their previously cherished favourites. With so many films being churned out, it's almost inevitable that some will misfire and some are such spectacular disasters that it brings an end to what had previously been a solid series. The following twenty examples all signalled the end of a series, either by being a financial or critical bomb (or both) that made producing the next film not financially viable. They might not have been the last film in the series but they did so badly that the franchise was never the same afterwards. If I've missed any out, feel free to contact me and let me know or if you have any ideas for future articles you'd like to see.

Number 20: Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982)

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When the star of the previous six Pink Panther films, Peter Sellers (above), passed away in 1980, it did not stop series creator and director Blake Edwards from producing a seventh film. Trail Of The Pink Panther would feature Sellers as protagonist Inspector Clouseau but his appearance was comprised entirely of deleted scenes from The Pink Panther Strikes Again. The film was marketed as a tribute to Sellers but actually featured Joanna Lumley as a journalist trying to locate the Inspector after he goes missing. Despite the cast being populated by series regulars like Herbert Lom, Graham Stark and Burt Kwouk as well as former stars like David Niven and Capucine returning, the film was a disaster. Audiences stayed away from the film (which earned just over $9 million, compared with the previous film which made more than $49 million) and critics savaged the film, calling it a waste of time and a bad idea that was horribly executed. It didn't quite kill the series - Edwards tried two more times to recapture the magic but it had long gone by the time the series was rebooted in 2006 with Steve Martin in the Clouseau role. And that didn't really work either.

Number 19: Superman IV - The Quest For Peace (1987)

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It might be unfair to criticise a film often cited as among the very worst of all time but Superman IV: The Quest For Peace can't escape a list like this. The film features the final screen appearance of star Christopher Reeve as Superman, only returning to the role for a boatload of cash and direct input over decisions about the director and the screenplay. But he really shouldn't have bothered - the film was crippled with budget restraints as a result of the series rights being sold to the Cannon Group who relocated production to England and hired cheaper, inexperienced crew. In fact, Jon Cryer (who made an early appearance in the film) claimed that Cannon actually ran out of money during the production. The result was a poorly made, unexciting and incoherent effort that some even claimed was unfinished when it was released. The film was nominated for two Razzies and sullied the Man Of Steel's reputation so badly that the character was basically consigned to history until 2006's Superman Returns.

Number 18: Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)

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This laboured fourth entry in the Love Bug series saw the wheels properly fall off. Now in the hands of yet another new owner, the sentient VW Beetle finds itself on an allegedly hilarious adventure in South America with support from the likes of Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman, both of whom are overacting like their lives depended on it. The film is a nasty and lazy affair, full of stereotypes and clichés that have aged about as well as the car itself and critics agreed, slamming the film as the worst entry at that point. The series, which had been running since 1968, was then hastily locked in a garage and would not see daylight again until a TV movie in 1997. Disney tried one final time to inject some new life into Herbie with the Lindsay Lohan-led Herbie: Fully Loaded but the damage had already been done. Herbie Goes Bananas took the least amount of money of any of the Herbie films and while it didn't quite kill the series, it certainly mortally wounded it.

Number 17: Highlander II - The Quickening (1991)

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And speaking of fatal injuries, this film is so toxic and poisonous that it prevented the film from generating a franchise in the first place. Highlander II: The Quickening is one of the most incoherent pieces of sci-fi gibberish I've ever seen. Even if it didn't completely contradict the events of the first film (a film that I and many others enjoyed greatly), the film is a jumbled mess of environmental preaching and uninspired narrative. Stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery look as if they have no idea what's going on (frankly, I don't blame them) and the film has frequently been cited as one of the worst films of all time. It was questionable whether Highlander could continue after this debacle and to its credit, it tried - Highlander III took the unusual step of ignoring the second film and acted as a direct sequel to the original Highlander but by this point, audiences weren't interested and weren't going to risk getting burnt again. There have been a few straight-to-DVD films and some TV shows since but the long-awaited remake has been stuck in development hell for years now. But for fans, there's always a sense of what could have been if it weren't for this historically bad turkey.

Number 16: Rambo - Last Blood (2019)

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You could make a case for this final entry (at the time of writing) in the long-running Rambo series, pointing out that star Sylvester Stallone will be a bit long-in-the-tooth for these brainless, balls-to-the-wall action films. This is undeniably true although it isn't stopping him from a fourth Expendables movie which is currently in development. What can't be excused is the film's less pleasant aspects such as the racist narrative, the poorly written screenplay and the excessively violent action. What really hurts is that the first film, First Blood, was a tense and gripping survival thriller and certainly not the sort of mindless gun-porn that the series would soon become. Much like the series' revival in 2008, this film was far more interested in depicting violence in an almost sadistic manner with digital gore and excessive force the order of the day. I'm reasonably confident that this will be the last outing for cinema's beefiest meathead and not just because it says so in the title - Stallone's advancing years combined with the negative reception from critics and the disappointing box office returns for Last Blood mean that another film is highly unlikely.

I think...

Number 15: Charlie's Angels (2019)

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While I was tempted to include the limp Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle on this list, it was arguably this recent revival that delivered the final nail in its coffin. Marketed as a more feminist film with director Elizabeth Banks in charge, this film underperformed at the box office and was called one of the biggest disappointments of 2019. It's not the worst film ever made - Kirsten Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska did well as a new set of Angels in the employ of Bosley (also played by Banks) and the film injects new life into characters that had been stale for some time. But audience apathy was apparent despite a heavy marketing strategy and the film limped its way to just $73.3 million which wasn't enough to make a profit. Unlike some films on this list, this new Charlie's Angels wasn't completely torn apart by critics with the three leads widely praised. But it felt out-of-date and failed to engage with an older audience who might have been more familiar with the original TV show than younger fans.

Number 14: Pirates Of The Caribbean - Salazar's Revenge (2017)

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Released in the US as Dead Men Tell No Tales, this fifth entry into the highly successful Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise still took an insane amount of money at the box office (almost $795 million). But in truth, the series had been struggling since the fourth film - On Stranger Tides - which revived the series after the initial trilogy ended in 2007. For this (to date) final effort, Johnny Depp's increasingly tiresome Jack Sparrow returned to hunt down yet another salty sea-based artefact along with the rest of the series regulars and a new young couple that failed to find much favour with audiences. Despite the visual effects and well-worn routine fans loved, the film was bloated with far too much plot and seemed more interested in setting up a sixth film which has had a troubled development thus far. Depp has ruled out working with Disney again after his legal issues complicated their relationship and news about the sixth film has all but dried up. Even without Depp, it's not impossible for the franchise to return but at the time of writing, it looks more likely that the film series has sailed its last.

Number 13: Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973)

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Yes, I know that the series has continued on long after the release of this fifth film in the original series. But Battle For The Planet Of The Apes would signal the end of that original franchise, which had only started in 1968 and would soon transfer away from cinematic releases and move towards TV adaptations. The film is a post-apocalyptic take on the formula as highly evolved chimpanzee Caesar (played underneath rubbery prosthetics by Roddy McDowell) struggles to keep the peace between the ever-warring human and ape factions. The film was the least successful at the time, earning just $8.8 million in the US and was heavily criticised for its slow pacing, dodgy effects and plodding narrative. The film series wouldn't be heard from again until Tim Burton's 2001 remake of the original, also called Planet Of The Apes, but the franchise would essentially be rebooted in 2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. In fact, the next instalment is due for release in 2024 so the series hasn't been completely killed off. But Battle... certainly didn't do the franchise any good and won't be looked back on fondly by fans of all things simian.

Number 12: A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

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It shouldn't have been like this. Die Hard was the definitive action movie in its day that showcased a charismatic Bruce Willis as John McClane, the unluckiest cop in the NYPD. But this wretched final entry ruined everyone's day by being stupid, out-of-date and perhaps worst of all, not even rated 18. The fifth film saw an far-too-old McClane touching down in Russia to help his son Jack (an undercover CIA operative) out of prison before tangling with terrorists in the only way McClane knows how to tangle. Disappointing in every respect, the film is rightfully hailed as the series low-point despite being relatively successful at the box office. There was briefly plans for a sixth film which Willis wanted to retire the role in but scheduling conflicts meant the plans kept getting delayed before finally ended in 2019. Willis did return as McClane for a final time in 2020 - in a TV commercial for a car battery, of all things - before his retirement from acting in 2022. Frankly, they should have left the memories alone as A Good Day To Die Hard will do nothing but infuriate fans of the series.

Number 11: Spy Kids 4 - All The Time In The World (2011)

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Have you ever seen a more desperate poster than that of the lamentable Spy Kids: All The Time In The World? Promising not just 4-D (whatever that means) but also Aroma-Scope, a tacky gimmick involving scratch-and-sniff cards distributed in theatres. The film is a belated entry into the series, coming eight years after Spy Kids 3: Game Over which, when you're using child actors, is a very long time indeed. The film was roundly criticised for its uninspired screenplay, immature humour and lack of familiar faces such as Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. Plans for a fifth film were almost immediately cancelled after the disastrous reviews and the lacklustre box office performance while stars Rowan Blanchard and Mason Cook moved on to other roles. A short-lived animation series later appeared on streaming services while series creator Robert Rodriguez is apparently moving forward with a reboot, meaning that All The Time In The World was less of a standard entry in the franchise and more like the ringing of a death knell.

Number 10: The Next Karate Kid (1994)

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Even the greats have to start somewhere. Future two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank made her theatrical debut in this fourth entry in the Karate Kid series, which no doubt intended to continue the series with a new lead character after former star Ralph Macchio walked away. But apart from the typically solid performance from series regular Noriyuki "Pat" Morita as Mr Miyagi, the film brings almost nothing new to the formula which shouldn't be a surprise. The Next Karate Kid essentially retells the story of the first film but with a female protagonist instead and audiences weren't convinced. The film limped its way to global takings of just $15.8 million, far less than the $90.8 million the original film took. After this, the series didn't return until 2010's The Karate Kid, which was more interested in putting over its star Jaden Smith - son of producer Will Smith - and less about telling an original story. Plans apparently exist for a second reboot but at this point, does anyone believe that the franchise has any legs left? Given the success that TV spin-off Cobra Kai has had, I'd suggest that is where its future lies.

Number 9: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

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Until the huge success of the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Sam Raimi trilogy had languished in infamy for years after the backlash this film received. In truth, Spider-Man 3 isn't as bad as many people remember - the film still has the key players in their respective parts including Tobey Maguire's acclaimed performance as Peter Parker, the visual effects were as impressive as they were ambitious and the film finally brought the popular Venom character to the big screen for the first time. But the film angered many of Spidey's more ardent fans with some of its decisions. It was far too confusing with no less than three of the Wall Crawler's foes appearing, it was much too long and the plot didn't really engage viewers either. The backlash from fans was so strong that plans for a fourth and fifth film were dropped (despite the huge financial success Spider-Man 3 enjoyed) and Raimi walked away from the project, citing the backlash and the lack of a decent script as the reasons why. Of course, the series would be rebooted with Andrew Garfield taking over the web-slinging duties from Maguire in The Amazing Spider-Man but it wasn't until No Way Home in 2021 that interest was revived in Raimi's proposed fourth film. Whether that will ever see the light of day is unlikely, given the various companies involved and who has the rights to what.

Number 8: RoboCop 3 (1993)

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By now, you'd be forgiven for thinking that continuing a series after the lead actor has left or died is not normally a good idea. Unfortunately, that never occurred to Orion Pictures who began producing RoboCop 3 soon after the previous film was released. But there were problems from the start - star Peter Weller was unable to reprise the role due to scheduling conflicts so a largely unknown Robert John Burke was called in to play RoboCop instead. The screenplay, by Frank Miller, was heavily rewritten by director Fred Dekker and left Miller so disillusioned with Hollywood that he wouldn't be involved in movies again until 2005's Sin City. And Orion themselves were essentially bankrupt, dramatically reducing the film's budget and delaying the release considerably. Predictably, the result was a film that disappointed fans and critics alike and failed to inspire at the box office, despite reducing the film's rating to a more family-friendly PG. Like so many other franchises, the series then moved to TV spin-offs before being resurrected again in a 2014 reboot that also failed to find favour with critics. The writer of that film, Ed Neumeier has suggested that he's working on a new film that would ignore all the other sequels and serve as a sequel to the 1987 original instead. At the time of writing, though, it looks like Alex Murphy has arrested his last perp.

Number 7: Scary Movie 5 (2013)

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Honestly, I don't want to talk about Scary Movie 5. Not because it's scary but because its very existence feels like a stain on the industry. The final part of long-running parody series Scary Movie, the film is basically a listless string of parodies of actual horror films, non-horror films and popular culture references but has about as many laughs in it as Apocalypse Now. It's a sad, desperate film that feels more exploitative than anything else, encapsulated by the appearance of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan at the very nadir of their personal problems who pop up in the film to poke fun at themselves. Tellingly, the film wasn't screened for critics and was lambasted upon release with one critic telling readers to take an iPad to the theatre because they will be able to watch a better film on it. Even the director, Malcolm D. Lee, advised people not to see it and many people took his advice. Before this final film, the series had usually defied critics to take a respectable amount at the box office in spite of negative reviews. But such was the calamitous nature of Scary Movie 5 that nobody was surprised when the series has been canned ever since.

Number 6: Blade - Trinity (2004)

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Long before the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Blade was one of the few superhero movies that actually managed to be a success. Sadly, Wesley Snipes' time as the vampiric vampire hunter would come to a juddering halt with this third and final film. Teaming up with Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds (again, long before he became Deadpool), he must battle more bloodsuckers who are on an uninspired quest to bring back the daddy of them all - big Vlad himself, Dracula. Extremely formulaic and crippled with dodgy acting and directing, the film was a critical and commercial flop which took the least amount at the box office (despite costing the most to make) in the series. It would be followed briefly by a TV adaptation in 2006 but the character has been fast asleep in his coffin ever since although Marvel are developing a reboot within the MCU at the time of writing. It's questionable how much longer the original trilogy would have ran for but Trinity pretty much delivered a stake to the heart of the franchise. Here's hoping that Marvel can revive the bloodsucker once again because there isn't much wrong with the first two films, at least.

Number 5: Beverly Hills Cop 3 (1994)

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Given that the reception to the second film was far more mixed than the first film, it was either brave or foolish to attempt this third entry into the franchise. But attempt it they did and oh boy, did they bodge it. Murphy, who has been one of many people involved to dismiss the film, deliberately downplayed the comedic aspects of the film, leaving many to wonder what the point of the film was. A spiralling budget, uninspired action scenes, absence of humour and a dreadful script meant that Beverly Hills Cop 3 stood no chance and sure enough, it was the least successful of the series. A proposed fourth film disappeared into the ether, despite rumours around 2006 that it was still in development. But even as late as September 2022, news was still emerging about the plans and casting decisions but with nothing to actually show for anything. A short-lived TV show came and went in 2013 and that has been it for the wisecracking Axel Foley ever since. At this point, surely any film would have to be a reboot but without Murphy in his signature role, what's the point? Even more damning is that Murphy hasn't had a hit film since the end of the Shrek series and is unlikely to have the same box office appeal he had in his heyday.

Number 4: Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002)

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Now this is a film that certainly killed its franchise, putting plans for a fourth film on hold and in development hell for some twenty years and counting. The third film in the Austin Powers series saw Austin travel back in time again, this time to the 1970s to once again battle the nefarious Dr Evil, Mini Me, Fat Bastard and a new nemesis (who was also played Mike Myers), the titular Goldmember. Despite bringing in Michael Caine and Beyoncé Knowles for her film debut, the film was a limp effort with multiple recycling of jokes and ideas and so many cameos that they ultimately didn't matter. It felt tired, desperate and unnecessary and ultimately earned less than the preceding film, The Spy Who Shagged Me. News stories have been dropping for years now suggesting a new script, cast members being announced or directors coming and going from the project. But for a series that was hugely popular at the time, the franchise's deafening silence speaks volumes about how badly this final film dropped the ball.

Number 3: Jaws - The Revenge (1987)

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Low hanging fruit perhaps but there was no way Jaws: The Revenge would miss out on a list like this. The fourth and final entry into a franchise that never really got out of second gear, the film was a complete omnishambles with cheap effects, an absence of fear or tension noticeable in the other films and a laughable story that suggested that sharks had an understanding of the concept of vengeance. Lorraine Gary, who wisely didn't appear in the preceding Jaws 3-D, returned as the widow of Chief Brody who is convinced that a shark is hunting her personally after her son is eaten at sea. Even if audiences somehow forgave the gaping holes in the logic, they would have been unimpressed with the film which was universally panned by critics and largely ignored by the public. It also helped reinforce the idea of the Law Of Diminishing Returns which suggests that the more sequels that are produced, the lesser they are in quality. It was nominated for a staggering seven Razzie awards and has been described as a cinematic anomaly, a film so awful that it moves beyond the 'so bad, it's good' niche to become just a universally accepted vision of a really bad film. The series has been absent from cinemas ever since although Steven Spielberg (director of the first Jaws) has hinted at a possible prequel.

Number 2: Batman & Robin (1997)

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Look at the photo above and tell me if you can think of three actors who look more embarrassed than George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone. The final entry in the original Batman series, Joel Schumacher's colourful and camp interpretation of the Dark Knight might have its fans among those who recall the character's Sixties TV show but modern viewers were outraged. Batman & Robin was the antithesis of what audiences had wanted, eschewing the darker and more Gothic version of the character for a clunky, more light-hearted approach and it simply didn't work. Almost everyone involved with the film has pretty much disowned it at this point (Clooney famously offers fans refunds to anyone who saw it at theatres while Schumacher later apologised for it) and the film completely derailed the film careers of O'Donnell and Silverstone, both of whom found themselves quickly falling out of favour with studios and audiences. The film was such a disaster that the character disappeared from view entirely until Christopher Nolan's ground-breaking Batman Begins revived interest in the character in 2005. It also led to Warner Bros. cancelling not just a fifth Batman film but also influenced the cancelling of a proposed Superman film written by Kevin Smith in 1998 - later the subject of documentary The Death Of "Superman Lives": What Happened? by Jon Schnepp.

Number 1: Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

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This horror-comedy mash-up from Universal has become one of the most cherished films from the era - indeed, it's preserved in the US National Film Registry at the Library Of Congress. So why is it on a list like this? It's not the worst film ever made although critical consensus is that Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is a long way from the comedic duo's best. But the film ruined the previously impeccable success rate of Universal's Frankenstein series of films which had up to this point been straight-forward horror films. The strength of the Frankenstein franchise saw the character interact with the likes of Dracula and The Wolf Man who had their own successful franchises with Universal. With the financial success of the crossover with Abbott & Costello, Universal then had the pair team up with other horror characters like the Mummy, the Invisible Man and even star Boris Karloff. The result was the same every time, as audiences suddenly found that characters who had haunted their dreams for years were now figures of fun and purveyors of light-hearted comedic japes.

What Abbott & Costello did was essentially signal the end for what is now known as the Universal Classic Monsters era, arguably the first film crossover series and precursor to the likes of the MCU today. The last film recognised as belonging to this period, 1956's The Creature Walks Among Us, was released the year after Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy and since then, the characters have popped up numerous times in other places such as Hammer Studio's series of horror films. Following the success of The Mummy in 1999, attempts have been periodically made to remake a new 'Dark Universe' (particularly after the success Marvel have had) but with limited success - the idea was ultimately scrapped after the failure of 2017 reboot The Mummy. As for Frankenstein, his last great appearance on film came in the Mel Brooks comedy Young Frankenstein which only undermined the character's scary origins even more.

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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