The Ten Most Powerful Movie Franchises in History

worlds_end.jpgIn this the Summer of Sequels, movie goers everywhere will be re-introduced to so many of their favorite movie franchises. Spider-Man has made his return to the big screen, Shrek came back for one more and now Captain Jack and his band of pillaging Pirates have entered the race, dominating the Memorial Day weekend with their journey to World’s End.

And while the world speculates whether these epic, record-breaking third installments will be the last of these particular franchises, I would like to take a look at epic franchises in general. What is an Epic Movie Franchise, you may ask? Well, it starts by having at least two movies in a series and can range anywhere from 2-3 films (a la Mission Impossible) to countless installments and re-hashings (a la James Bond). The even harder question: how do you say what is the most powerful movie franchise in history? Is it the one that has grossed the most money at the box office? Is it the franchise with the most longevity? Is it the one with the most marketing prowess or the largest fanbase? I say it is a combination of all of these things; the cult followings, the major blockbuster releases and yes, even the marketability play a part. When these franchises crank out a new film, fans storm the gates, camp out and sacrifice members of their families to be the first to behold their favorite characters on the big screen.

Today, I bring you the Ten Most Powerful Movie Franchises in History:

10. Indiana Jones

If you seek to understand what happened to George Lucas after Star Wars and what Steven Spielberg did before Jurassic Park, look no further than the Indiana Jones franchise. Almost subtly, these two cinematic masterminds unleashed one of the most iconic and unsuspecting heroes in film with Raiders of the Lost Arc in 1981. Jones had a way about him, thanks to a young Harrison Ford, that played well across just about every demographic. And while many though that Indy was a thing of the past, a relic to be locked up in the vault of cinema history, another film is due out in 2008. In classic Indiana Jones fashion, the guy may be down but he is certainly never out.

9. Spider-Man

Everyone knew that Spider-Man would make this particular list, but I bet you didn’t see it going so low in the pecking order, did ya? Whether it is my unbridled anger toward Sam Raimi for the most recent installment’s tremendous suckage or the fact that I personally think Batman could kick Spider-Man’s ass, I just don’t see Spider-Man as the end-all-be-all of movie franchises. Sure it has grossed billions world-wide between theatrical releases, DVDs and merchandising sales, but Spider-Man’s true fanbase is born of the iconic comic book hero, not Tobey Maguire in tights.

8. Shrek

I know what you are thinking; Shrek? WTF? And as much as Shrek may not belong in the same arena as some of the franchises yet to come on this list, there is no way to look past the power it has over the kids of world. The big green Ogre and his posse have proven with their third installment that even without much of a story, a Shrek movie can still be successful. Because it is animated and encompasses a great amount of characters, this franchise could live on forever. And even though the big kids may not appreciate it, the little ones will continue to devour everything Shrek, leaving mommy and daddy’s rising credit card debt in their wake.

7. Jurassic Park

George Lucas has his big franchise, which we will get to later in the list. But what about the other guy behind Indiana Jones? Doesn’t Steven Spielberg get any power franchise love? Of course he does, as his 1993 film Jurassic Park brought both dinosaurs and the lore of ILM to life and into the American mainstream. Even with 2 lukewarm sequels, Jurassic Park still stands tall as one of the crowning achievements of computer-aided graphics and it is to this day one of the most prominent blockbusters of all-time. And it was inspiration for a Weird Al Yankovic song. ‘Nuff said.

6. Pirates of the Caribbean

Unlike many of the franchises on this list that are based on epic comic books or great novels, the Pirates of the Caribbean films were based on a ride at Disneyland. While that may not have sounded like a good idea to most people back in 2002 before the release of the first film, leave it to the folks at Disney to show that they could market just about anything. It is a franchise that solidified Johnny Depp as a big star, brought back the Pirate as a popular Halloween costume and brought some flair back to Disney in general (because let’s admit it, they haven’t had a live-action franchise like this since The Mighty Ducks. And hanging your hat on Emilio Estevez is just no good.)

5. Batman

In my personal opinion, there is no bigger badass in the history of superheroes than the Dark Knight himself. Many people wouldn’t know that if their limited experience with the character consisted only of the cheesed up films directed by Joel Shumacher back in the late-1990s. It wasn’t so bad that he put nipples on the Bat-suit as it was that he put George Clooney in the Bat-suit. But thankfully the gods of cinema sent Batman fans a savior in Christopher Nolan, whose Batman Begins set a new standard for the entire franchise, giving the Caped Crusader some balls once again. And with a new movie just around the corner, fans not only have their savior, they have plenty of hope for the future.

4. The Lord of the Rings

What would a great “Epic Movie Franchise” list be without Peter Jackson’s mammoth Oscar-winning trilogy based on the equally as popular books by J.R.R Tolkien. The final installment of the series, The Return of the King won 11 Oscars and is ranked #9 on IMDB’s top 250 films of all-time list. And that is not to mention that the first two films didn’t do too bad, either. The journey of Frodo, Sam and a gaggle of others to save Middle Earth is one of the most well-documented cinematic adventures of all-time. And with rumors of a “Hobbit” spin-off running ramped, it doesn’t look like LOTR is done bringing in the bank just yet.

3. Harry Potter

Of all the great epic movie franchises, Harry Potter is definitely one of the youngest, but by no means the weakest. The first Harry Potter book by author J.K. Rowling was released circa 1998, with a major film adaptation coming in 2001. Since then the franchise has gathered one of the largest followings since Christianity with 4 films, 6 (soon to be 7) books and a web presence that is unprecedented. From fansites to podcasts to merchandising deals that would rival any major sports star, people go absolutely nuts for that awkward, pubescent little magician and his memorable friends. How long will the Potter lore last? J.K. Rowling could probably write books forever and people would buy them up, but the films have a shorter lease on life, as they won’t be too much fun when Daniel Radcliffe is 25 trying to play the part of a 17 year old…

2. James Bond

The star of one of the most abundant movie franchises, James Bond is also one of the most recognizable characters in all of film. The world loves his swagger, his sex appeal and his underlying badass nature. They even love to compare him to himself, with a rotation of actors constantly fueling the debate of who is the best bond? Some would say that Roger Moore had it down, others live and die by the Connery Bond and others still have been greatly impressed with Daniel Craig as the spy who shags often. But no matter who tops the list as your favorite Bond, we all know that there is no spy, no man of action who commands more attention than 007 himself.

1. Star Wars

With 6 films that have grossed almost $2 billion dollars at the box office and one of the most dedicated fan bases in all of pop culture, there is no question that Star Wars is the most powerful film franchise in history. Even despite a lackluster showing with the most recent 3 films, George Lucas is bombarded daily with questions about the future of the franchise. It is a franchise that has spawned countless spin-off projects, is the butt end of so many pop culture references and is constantly looked upon as the pinnacle of geekdom. Since the first film hit theaters on May 25, 1977 there has been no turning back; Star Wars is the king of all movie franchises, there is just no way around it.

Honorable Mentions:

The Matrix – In 1999 Larry and Andy Wachowski unleashed The Matrix, a film that would revolutionize the way Hollywood made action movies. It was the first film to show off bullet-time and one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles of the digital age. But while it did so much for action/fantasy film, it ran its course with 2 sequels, both received well by fans. Could they make another Matrix film? Sure. Would it be as good as the first time we experienced bullet-time on the big screen? Probably not.

Star Trek – Just so that I am not crucified by the geek nation for forgetting Star Trek, here it is. How could I forget it, you may ask? Simple: I don’t like Star Trek. To me, it pales in comparison to Star Wars (on the movie front) and has found more of an audience through various TV series. While it is a strong brand, none of the franchise’s films were able to break through to the mainstream as with Star Wars or LOTR. Plus this is my list. If you don’t like it, you can wait for the poll and make your voice heard.

Think you have a better list? Maybe you say that Rocky, Mission Impossible or Superman should have made this list? You are entitled to your opinion of course, but you need to take yours and stick it in the comment area below.

Don’t like my list? Tell me what you would pick in this week’s poll: You Decide: The Most Powerful Movie Franchise in History?


Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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