Last week I gave you the top 10 movie sequels of all-time which can be found here. This week I’m taking it to the next level with the movie franchise. While sequels are undoubtedly hard, movie franchises are even harder. It’s not just one followup; it’s two, or three, or four or even five followups. But the reward is that while sequels make money… franchises make more money. So once again, with Star Wars: Episode VII opening this weekend, I’m giving you my top picks for the best franchises in film.
Before we begin, there are some guidelines that I’ve set in order for a series to qualify…
- The franchise must be, at minimum, a trilogy.
- Reboots are counted as their own series, and will not be counted with any prior set. For example, J. J. Abrams’s two Star Trek films will not be counted with the original series/The Next Generation films (which are both connected through Star Trek Generations).
- Unofficial trilogies and themed connections like Alejandro G. Innaritu’s “Death” trilogy, Lars von Trier’s “Depression” trilogy, Chan-wook Park’s “Vengeance” trilogy or Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy do not count.
And, as always, here’s a few honorable mentions that came close but didn’t quite make the cut: The “Bourne” series, Dirty Harry series, Harry Potter saga, Hunger Games trilogy, Indiana Jones series, “Mariachi” trilogy, Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Matrix trilogy, The Naked Gun trilogy, and the Night of the Living Dead series.
So as the Joker would say, “And… here… we… go.”
10) The Star Wars Saga
1977-present – Yes, it’s not #1, but if the category was “most over-hyped, and most deliriously loved and hated with furious religious fervor franchise”, then Star Wars would win easily by well over twelve parsecs. Of course, George Lucas’s space opera has its issues – For every Hayden Christensen, there’s a Carrie Fisher; for every Jar Jar Binks, there’s an Ewok, and for every “I hate sand”, there’s Anakin Skywalker’s son bitching about Tosche Station. No one cares about your precious power converters when the Galaxy needs to be saved! Each trilogy has its crosses to bear, but it’s the story of Anakin’s rise, fall, reign of terror and eventual redemption that makes it all worth watching. Add to that two iconic villains, a charming anti-hero, a wise green midget with an unusual way of speaking, a revolutionary visual effects company, the fluke masterpiece The Empire Strikes Back and those flashy stick things, and you have a multi-billion dollar sci-fi/fantasy adventure that, along with Spielberg’s Jaws, kick-started the blockbuster era.
9) The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Saga
2001-2014 – Don’t kill me, Ringers, but I actually feel The Return of the King sweeping the Oscars was more out of tribute than merit. City of God was the better film that year, but wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. That said, despite what should be a Guinness World Record for most endings to one film, adapting J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic four-part series is no easy feat, yet former horror-comedy filmmaker Peter Jackson’s work in bringing Middle Earth to life is quite spectacular thanks to his incredible all-star cast and the wonderful effects work by New Zealand based Weta Workshop. And while The Hobbit portion of the saga has its problems (as does The Lord of the Rings), upon recently learning from Jackson himself that they basically winged it for the entire production of those three films, it’s a miracle as to how entertaining they still turned out to be. With a total run time of nearly one full day, a week if you count the extended versions, Jackson may have never heard of what an editing room is, but his six-part saga is nevertheless an ambitious and extraordinary effort.
8) The Millennium Trilogy
2009 – Its graphic violence will be too much for some and for others the run time will be a patience tester, but Noomi Rapace’s fierce performance as the intelligent yet damaged heroine Lisbeth Salander alone is worth visiting Niels Arden Oplev/Daniel Alfredson film trilogy (Oplev directed the first film, Alfredson directed the second and third), which is based on the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed novel series (if you think the film is dark, you should read up on what inspired Larsson to write his story). While the third entry, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest doesn’t quite pack the punch brought by first two, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, overall, Rapace and co-star Michael Nyqvist’s make for compelling characters throughout this three-part sobering thriller.
7) The Back to the Future Trilogy
1985-1990 – Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis’s sci-fi trilogy takes an overused genre device – time travel – and injects it with a heavy dose of originality. Not only does it work as an eccentric sci-fi adventure, but thanks to pitch-perfect chemistry between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, it also works as a buddy comedy flick, and the first film’s reverse Oedipus complex subplot isn’t as creepy as you might think it is. Of course, Part II and Part III aren’t at the level of the first film, but they still benefit greatly from the Fox/Lloyd team-up, and Zemeckis’s exploring of alternative realities in the future and also the Old West earns the two sequels bonus points for keeping things fresh. Plus, the time machine is a DeLorean. That’s an automatic win in my book.
6) The “Before” Trilogy
1995-2013 – While Richard Linklater may not have the name power that George Lucas, Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis have, his three “Before” films are still some of the strongest examinations of both the highs and lows that are par for the course with any committed relationship, opening with a meet-cute in Before Sunrise and closing with an emotionally honest look at the trials of marriage in Before Midnight. No, it doesn’t have the pop and epic scale that are moviegoers usually associate with trilogies, but thanks Linklater’s insightful screenplay and the incredibly heartfelt performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (both of whom shared screenwriting credits with Linklater), it’s still one of the smartest trifectas around.
5) The Dark Knight Trilogy
2005-2012 – Much earned respect goes to Tim Burton’s two Batman films (he can blame Joel Schumacher for why he’s been excluded), but Christopher Nolan’s trilogy took the Caped Crusader to cinematic heights yet to be seen. Placing our titular crime-fighter inside as grounded of a world as a comic book film can get, Nolan guides a fantastic cast, led by Christian Bale as the Dark Knight, through Batman’s tortured origins in Batman Begins, to the gritty crime thriller pursuit of the Joker (played with all the sadistic delight in the world by the late Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight, to the anarchic terror and eventual end of a reign in The Dark Knight Rises. Exploring its deep themes of heroism, revenge and regret to terrific effect, while also delivering on the action-packed thrills, Nolan’s trilogy is one for the ages.
4) The Mad Max Saga
1979-present – Fueled by some of the most exhilarating car chases you’ll ever see and one of the greatest action heroes in film, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic frenzy is a non-stop adrenaline rush that never lets up once it slams on the gas pedal. From the moment Max Rockatansky first arrived at the tail end of the ’70s, Miller would continue to raise the bar of what defines an action film with each and every pulse-pounding entry to the franchise. What’s even better is that even with it being 30 years since Beyond Thunderdome, Miller would go on to shatter expectations and prove he hasn’t lost a single step with this year’s exciting Fury Road, this time with Tom Hardy taking over the role that Mel Gibson first made so memorable. Nearly four decades after it first began, Mad Max is still riding strong.
3) The “Dollars” Trilogy
1964-1966 – Believe it or not, Sergio Leone’s Akira Kurosawa inspired Spaghetti Western series wasn’t as beloved back when it first reached American audiences as it is nowadays. Over time, though, its legacy has grown to become one of the most enduring, game-changing Westerns of all-time, turning Clint Eastwood into a star and influencing filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi and even Eastwood himself. Between the gorgeous, expansive photography, Ennio Morricone’s iconic score and Eastwood’s commanding presence, it’s a thrilling three-part tale that revels in getting its hands dirty. Not only does its third-act end on a strong note, many argue that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ends on the strongest note, a rarity for a trilogy. One things for sure, by the time you’ve reached the climactic graveyard showdown, your breath will be taken away.
2) The Godfather Trilogy
1972-1990 – If you know me, you’re probably surprised that this is #2, but even with the greatest film of all-time and the greatest sequel of all-time in the pack, Part III isn’t as strong as its predecessors. That said, despite its issues – namely Sofia Coppola’s performance – Part III also gets a lot of overblown crap thrown at it simply ’cause its not as good as the first two. Taken as a whole, Francis Ford Coppola has pieced together a stirring adaptation of Mario Puzo’s crime saga that’s brought to life through Gordon Willis’s sepia-tinged cinematography, Nino Rota’s evocative score and the uniformly excellent performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, John Cazale, Andy Garcia – need I continue? To think I haven’t even yet mentioned the narrative’s thematic richness which supplies the film with its heart and soul, or depending on the character, it’s utter lack of either. Truly, crime sagas don’t get any better than this.
And here we are at the #1 spot. All you Resident Evil fans can just sit down ’cause today’s not your day and tomorrow ain’t looking too good either. So what’s behind door #1?
1) The Toy Story Trilogy
1995-2010 – Both The Godfather and Part II may be the better films, but when we’re talking about a one-two-three punch of near equal quality, Pixar’s Toy Story trilogy wins the grand prize (from what I’ve read, the recently announced Toy Story 4 will be a standalone). Much like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs seven decades before it, Pixar changed the game for animated films with 1995’s computer animated Toy Story. The cutting-edge animation is so good even Stevie Wonder could tell you how immaculately designed it is and the wonderful cast of actors, led by both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, have come to make these characters their own; however, what truly makes Toy Story such a classic is its themes of friendship, loyalty and enough heart-tugging moments to make even the most hard-boiled soul tear up. Now twenty years old, the trilogy is still just as cherished as it was when it first arrived and shows no sign whatsoever of losing its appeal. To infinity and beyond, indeed, Buzz.
There ya go, readers. The best film franchises not named Step Up or Transformers to have ever hit the screens. Agree or disagree? Like always, feel free to throw out some of your favorite franchises in the comments section below.