9 Good Movies That May Have Harmed Their Franchises
When one movie stands as a member of an on-going brand of multiple projects, the filmmakers take on the extra responsibility of representing that brand as well as possible. By standard logic, that means making a damn good picture, so audiences would happily relinquish their hard earned cash, both for this installment and hopefully also return for the next one based on good faith.
On the contrary, an unsatisfactory franchise player risks souring and devaluing the whole package. Notably, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 forced Sony to reboot Spidey twice withn merely 5 years, Batman v Superman expended the street cred of the DCEU, The Mummy (2017) flat out killed the ambitiously planned Dark Universe on the first go. Well done, Universal. The morale of the story is "good movies benefit your franchise and vice versa". No sh#&, right?
As it so happens, there are those rarest of cases that presents, at the very least, an argument that the opposite scenario does exist. These following movies are all sequels in well-known franchises, generally considered to be good or even great, but through little fault of their own, they all ended up causing certain headache for the corporate management and follow-up filmmakers. This list, no doubt, will be highly subjective, so feel free to disagree. Here we go!
Batman Returns - Too dark for kids
For his second turn at the Batman series, Tim Burton decided that he'd just comfortably be himself, and consequently, people were very much weirded out. It's not like the 1989 Batman was "all there" to begin with, culminating with Jack Nicholson's Joker conducting mass murder via toxic gas during an extravagant parade, dancing to Prince music and getting all upset that Batman "stole [his] balloons". But apparently, American parents decided that it was the rocket-carrying penguin army and Danny DeVito biting off some poor guy's nose that crossed the line. Those, and that Michelle Pfeiffer may have sped up their boys' puberty.
The movie grossed $266.8 million, a notable drop from the $411.3 million of its predecessor while almost doubling the budget. Naturally, WB were not too impressed with the charts, and they pushed Burton to the role of producer for the 3rd outing, selecting Joel Schumacher to direct and openly demanding the following sequels to be more kid-friendly and "toyetic". The scheme worked to an extent, with the much more immature and colorful follow-up Batman Forever grossing $336.5 million, but the greed eventually resulted in Batman & Robin, one of the most high-profile cinematic trainwreck that's ever grazed the superhero genre. A planned 5th movie was duly cancelled.
Christopher Nolan picked up the Batman franchise with a reboot almost a decade later, and the rest is history. But Batman Returns, to this day, remains arguably the most overlooked Batman film. It's an outlandish villain-centered weird-fest that captures Burton's very unique type of humor in all its glory. DeVito and Pfeiffer's villains were intricately written and amazingly portrayed, even outshining Keaton's Batman. This is a typical example of an artist doing what he does best and getting misunderstood by the public of its time, which sent exactly the wrong message to the investors. It remains very much a real problem with WB's DC property today.
Saw III - Dealt away the ace card way too early
Spoiler alert for the Saw franchise, that is, if anyone cares.
Without any doubt, the poster character of the entire franchise is Tobin Bell's John Kramer, aka the Jigsaw killer, the sociopathic mastermind behind each torturous game, elaborately designed to "test human's instinctual will to survive". He is to this longevous franchise what Anthony Hopkins was to the Hannibal movies, as in he manages to elevate every scene he's in and somehow make each installment, regardless of overall quality, watchable.
Which makes it a pretty ballsy, although in retrospect unwise, choice to kill off Jigsaw in the threequel. Let's be fair here, it made narrative sense to kill him at the time, given the character was set up as a desperate cancer patient, and it would be plain silly if he shows up on his deathbed every time, only to boast about how he's about to die. However, it's at least equally silly, if not more so, that each sequel is about some new scenario related with Jigsaw's personal past that he pre-arranged before his death with seemingly supernatural foresight, or some secret apprentice of his that no other apprentices ever knew about.
And that has been the case since Saw V (IV took place concurrently with III), each time desperately bringing back Jigsaw in flashback or recorded video form so he could be featured in the movie in some fashion. By the time Jigsaw (2017), the eighth film in the series, went through the exact same trope, it was becoming downright pathetic. What's crystal clear is that the franchise has utterly failed to move on from this critical moment.
Ironically, Saw III wasn't half bad at all. Beneath the semi-torture porn were some heartfelt messages about family and dealing with loss, and some genuinely witty twists that few saw coming. It would have made a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, had that been where it halted. That being said, if you were always going to make 8 of these movies, maybe don't kill off the main draw so early into the game (no pun intended).
Star Trek Into Darkness - Details do matter
You may love or hate JJ Abrams' rebooted Star Trek series, but there's no doubt that he revived the Star Trek brand from dead water (dead space?) and the, as of now, trilogy of new films were generally considered one of the better and more consistent movie trios out there. The middle child, however, sparked some heated controversy among fans despite scoring the best box office results and an 86% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.
Crappy title aside, Star Trek Into Darkness was a lot of fun to watch. The visual effects, acting, production value and score were all top-notch; JJ kept his lens flare in check and, unlike last time, provided a memorable villain with the re-imagined Khan played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was a solid adventure with thrills, shrills, nostalgia and twists. So what went wrong?
Details, man. Details matter. In its excitement to retell a fan-fav story with a fresh perspective and with the studio's go-ahead to simply be creative, the movie perhaps took a bit too much liberties with the lore, and resulted in a well-made movie ageing relatively poorly and being constantly ridiculed. If Enterprise can enter the atmosphere at will, why do we need shuttles? If Khan can teleport between planets, why do we need starships? And did they seriously just cure death with Khan's blood? All these nagging issues hamper people's ability to fully remember this movie fondly in the long run, and by the time Star Trek Beyond rolled around, it became clear how much fans' enthusiasm of the new continuity had unfortunately waned.
Blade Runner 2049 - A vision that cost too much
For all the crap we give to WB management for unwanted studio inference with their mega-projects such as DCEU, and accusations of how little consideration they show for filmmakers' artistic expression, the fact that they greenlit a 163 minute arthouse film, sequel to a cult classic that didn't profit to begin with, under a director with a track record of underwhelming box office, not to mention costing about USD180 million to produce, legitimately deserves a standing ovation.
Ending with an abysmal USD260 million results, Blade Runner 2049 most definitely did not break even, despite widespread critical acclaim and the insane word-of-mouth. Although for now they are insisting that the expanded Blade Runner universe is still very much a thing, the truth is most probably some time next year some guy in suit and ties will quietly pull whatever next project in this franchise off the schedule.
As if it's not bad enough that Blade Runner 2049, one of the most stunning and thought-provoking instant classics of recent memory, may have outright killed its franchise, it sent all sorts of wrong messages to Hollywood. Apparently, we audiences don't like brainy quality cinema. Better just stick to Transformers.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day - Simply too good?
Can a movie be TOO good? As in, so good that it killed the prospect of its franchise? Apparently, it's possible, and James Cameron excels at it. I'm choosing Terminator franchise over Alien because, between the two, Terminator was Cameron's baby all along. It started with him in 1984, and arguably it ended with him in 1991.
T2: Judgment Day was the ultimate cinema. Released 27 years ago, its special effects, editing and action paces were so ridiculously ahead of its time, it might as well was made yesterday. Every conceivable aspect of filmmaking was crafted to be top-notch, story, character development, emotion, score, exhilarating action...everything was brilliant. It also closed the loop that began with the 1984 original, leaving little space for any followups. But of course, that didn't stop the studio from trying.
It's not that people didn't want to see more Terminator action anymore, we did, maybe still do. The problem is, the brand of Terminator became 100% defined and embodied by that masterpiece (or the original to some). T2 remains the public conception of what Terminator should look like, sound like, and feel like. Deviate from it, oops, the brand is not well represented; stick to it, oops, can't do it half as well. This has been the blessing and curse that's daunted and haunted all of its sequels, for all their hits and misses.
Superman II - It's good, so we're fine, right?
If you are hoping that WB management learn from their numerous mistakes from the current DCEU and restrain from putting their own administrative handprints over everything for future phases of the DC projects, rest assured, it's not gonna happen. It's an age old problem dating all the way back to the late 70s.
When Richard Donner was commissioned to make the Christopher Reeve-heading Superman movies, the initial plan was to shoot two movies back to back. However, turns out Donner and the Salkinds, producers of the property, didn't really see eye to eye with one another, therefore the decision was made to halt all production on Superman II, and divert all resources to finish the first movie instead, which turned out to be a huge hit. At that point, Donner already finished about 70% of the sequel's shootinvg. The Salkinds brought in Richard Lester, known for his work with the Beatles, to helm the movie through its finishing stages. Lester edited out all of the Marlon Brando sequences (supposedly because of the actor's 11% share of the film's gross), and added some baffling original powers to Superman (teleportation, shadowing, using his logo as a weapon....what?), because if there's anything Superman needed to enhance his characterization, it's even more powers!
In spite of all that mess, Superman II proved almost equally popular and satisfying to an, admittedly speaking, less-demanding-than-today audience. Sensing no need to shift their course, the Salkinds gave Lester full rein over the inevitable Superman III, and Lester happily set free his comedic instincts. Hence, Richard Pryor, of all people, became the focus as well as main antagonist of the movie and enjoyed more screen time than the Man of Steel himself. It was a tonal disaster only partially redeemed by Reeve's fantastic bipolar performance of good/evil Superman, which wasn't explored nearly in-depth enough. The Superman franchise would not recover from this misstep for decades, and some might even say it still hasn't.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi - This complicates things
Being a brand new film, its lasting influence will take time to manifest, but here's how I make of it. It is the most audacious, risky and unconventional Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and that alone deserves a round of applause. Really, did anyone expect less from Rian Johnson, who helmed that Breaking Bad episode where Walter and Jesse spent 40 minutes trying a kill a fly. That said, taking risks does not automatically guarantee positive results, and The Last Jedi's dazzling highlights and glaring flaws say it all. Whether you appreciate or loath the movie, therefore, heavily depends on your certain point of view. Poetic, really, for a Star Wars film.
While there's little that people can generally agree on regarding The Last Jedi, there is no doubt that the fanbase is split in half on this matter. In pursuing its own vision, the movie alienated quite a portion of its hardcore audience, which is a bigger issue in Star Wars than other franchises, given how humongous and passionate this fanbase is. There might never come a time when Star Wars fails to find an audience, but it wouldn't be surprising if the box office of Episode IX suffers somewhat from the ongoing repercussion.
Further complicating the matter is the passing of Carrie Fisher preventing her from appearing in the final chapter. Now that Luke Skywalker became one with the Force in The Last Jedi, Leia will be the sole surviving character from the classic trio, but harsh reality dictates that she could only appear in a compromised form (CGI, recast, etc), if at all. The original plan for Lucasfilm is to focus on Han in Ep.VII, Luke in VIII and Leia in IX. Had they known that Carrie would not be available for IX beforehand, it's likely that the story would have progressed in a very different manner. As it stands, due to all these internal and external complications, the hype for IX isn't nearly as felt as it was for VIII.
Logan - Timeline is so confusing
Ah, Logan. What a beautiful masterpiece it was! The magnum opus of the X-Men franchise, a loving sendoff of the Hugh Jackman era, a film that left no eyes dry in the theater. It was brutal, extreme, heartbreaking, devastating, yet utterly satisfying. It even scored an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a rarest feat for comic-book based movies. While its complete devotion to a relatively standalone story that did not, for even one split second, hesitate to tear down the universe built over its past 17 years is commendable and 120% worth it, judging by the end results, it did leave the X-franchise in a somewhat confusing state in its wake.
The movie took place in 2029, which in my opinion perhaps would have benefited from being set another decade or two further into the future. As it stands, it was only 6 years after the "happily ever after" ending of Days of Future Past, drastically reducing the long term significance of that feel-good conclusion. So the McAvoy-generation didn't age one bit for 40 years, but within the 6 years starting 2023, Logan lost most of his healing ability, Xavier developed a lethal brain degeneration, X-Men were mostly dead and mutants were on the brink of extinction. Yikes!
With that in mind, should we still care about any further X-Men adventures set before that point, knowing that this is the inevitable destination of their journey? Or shall they have to further branch out these timelines, claiming that the standalone movies take place in a parallel universe of some fashion? While the latter seems increasingly likely at this point, it threatens to confuse viewers all over again, almost immediately after DOFP finally cleared up the mess. It's unclear if the current behind-the-scenes troubles 20th Century Fox seems to be experiencing with the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants have anything to do with this issue.
Even more regrettably, albeit in the most positive way possible, Logan was such a masterful end of the line for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stuart, who both gave their franchise best performances in the movie, effectively terminating any chance that might have been for the two to reprise their roles. Because how the hell could there possibly be a higher note to end on?
Rocky II - Maybe it shouldn't have been?
Unpopular opinion warning! Rocky is one of the most consistent franchises ever made in terms of quality. At seven movies including the most recent Creed (2015), each installment shone and inspired in its own way, with even its low point (Rocky V) packing some powerful moments. To question a series that's brought so much enjoyment and inspiration to the moviegoers seems unappreciative, but here's the thing: should it have become a series to begin with?
Rocky (1976) was the quintessential tale of a small timer getting a big shot and, against all odds, made the most of it. Rocky Balboa was in his early 30s, his career was confined to local rings and debt-collection for some loan shark. By sheer fortune, the World Heavyweight Champion selected him as his opponent on the biggest stage because he had a catchy nickname. The rest was history.
Rocky II (1979) pit Rocky and Apollo against each other once more in a rematch, and this time, Rocky emerged victorious. He went on to defend his title for many years, defeating increasingly cartoonish opponents and making one hell of a legacy for himself. While it's been fun, haven't we forgot that Rocky wasn't originally designed to be the best boxer in the world? His first, and supposedly only, big shot took place at the tail of a boxer's usual prime time. With excessive training, sheer iron will, the power of prayers and love combined, and a very underprepared opponent, he still lost the fight by split decision, by no means a small feat, but he was clearly supposed to be the less talented fighter, albeit with a burning desire to prove himself and an eye of the tiger, determined to make something out of his boxing life before it's too late.
By having him defeat Apollo and subsequently even more dangerous opponents onward, one might argue that certain spirits of the original was unfortunately retconned. Turns out Rocky really was a boxing genius that's simply been held back by his environments over the years. There's a part in all of us that relates to the Rocky down on his luck and hungry to take on one opportunity at all costs, but it's so much harder to relate to the Rocky who throat-locks Hulk Hogan, as entertaining as it was. This series has a habit of announcing it's Rocky's last fight every single time, so I guess it's only fair that the first movie starts the trend.
Well, that was a fun list to compile, and hopefully you had fun reading as well. There is no lesson to be learned here, because damned if I would be the one the tell studios to stop taking risks in the name of quality storytelling and focus on franchise management instead. Above is a meme to hopefully brighten your day. Ciao!