Ranked: The Best and Worst Film Franchises

  • Comments: ↓ 35 user comments
  • Publish Date: August 8, 2012

Bourne, again

ImageOne of these Bournes is not like the others

Beginning with 2002's The Bourne Identity 68, the Bourne series of thrillers based on Robert Ludlum's novels has managed the rare feat of satisfying both critics and moviegoers; the three films released so far have averaged an impressive 75 Metascore while grossing a combined $945 million worldwide. This Friday brings a fourth film, The Bourne Legacy, which offers a new protagonist played by Jeremy Renner, who takes over for the departed (at least for now) Matt Damon. While we won't know for a few days whether the franchise will keep its winning streak alive at the box office, at press time it looks like Legacy could have the first yellow Metascore in the series; critics so far seem to be finding the series a bit tired and Renner an inadequate replacement for Damon.

But even if the Bourne franchise posts its first subpar installment, the series' overall average score should continue to place it among the best-reviewed franchises in recent years. Below, we take a look at the best franchises with at least four films released to date, ranked in order by average Metascore. Aside from that four-film minimum, there is one other requirement for inclusion on this list: every film in the series must be in our database and have a Metascore. Unfortunately, for several key franchises, we were missing one (or in some cases, several) older films, which means that you won't find the likes of Batman, Star Trek, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Die Hard, Rocky, Superman, Alien, Rambo, Friday the 13th, or other franchises here. (There's no Pokemon, either, but you probably aren't missing that one.)

1. Harry Potter

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross*
73.9 $350.5
% Good Score Range
100% bar

* U.S. receipts only, in millions; adjusted for inflation. Source: Boxofficemojo.com

The series may be over, but Harry Potter went out on a high note, with its eighth and final installment earning better reviews than all of its predecessors (though, shockingly for a series with so many films, not a single release earned less than positive reviews, making it the only franchise to achieve a perfect record of green Metascores). While the individual grosses listed below (and for all other films in this report) are domestic receipts only, adjusted for inflation for purposes of comparison, the success of Harry Potter was certainly not limited to America; combined, the eight films grossed over $7.7 billion worldwide.

The franchise so far (with U.S. box office grosses*):
64 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) $443m
63 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) $356m
82 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) $318m
81 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) $358m
71 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) $336m
78 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) $321m
65 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) $293m
87 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) $380m

* All grosses adjusted for inflation.

Next installment:
None.

2. Spider-Man

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
70.3 $416.4*
% Good Score Range
75% bar

* As of August 6; one film is still in theaters.

This summer's franchise reboot, with Andrew Garfield replacing Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, is well off the pace of its three predecessors at the box office (even without adjusting for inflation), though it is by no means a failure; a total worldwide gross exceeding $700 million is a possibility.

The franchise so far:
73 Spider-Man (2002) $550m
83 Spider-Man 2 (2004) $476m
59 Spider-Man 3 (2007) $387m
66 The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) $251m*

* still in theaters

Next installment:
A yet-to-be-titled follow-up to The Amazing Spider-Man (being rewritten by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) is already set for a May 2, 2014 release.

3. Shrek

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
68.0 $339.5
% Good Score Range
60% bar

The green ogre voiced by Mike Myers was retired after four hugely successful (but increasingly lackluster) films, though the franchise carried on with a spin-off featuring Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots character.

The franchise so far:
84 Shrek (2001) $375m
75 Shrek 2 (2004) $563m
58 Shrek the Third (2007) $372m
58 Shrek Forever After (2010) $238m
65 Puss in Boots (2011) $151m

Next installment:
There are no plans to revive the main Shrek series, but a Puss in Boots sequel is a possibility.

4. Terminator

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
67.5 $201.5
% Good Score Range
75% bar

First emerging as a taut and relatively small-scale sci-fi action-thriller in the early 1980s, the Terminator franchise helped launch director James Cameron (who helmed the first two films) to stardom, while giving star Arnold Schwarzenegger his "I'll be back" catchphrase. The series faltered after losing Cameron—and then, in the unmemorable fourth film, Schwarzenegger—while a TV spin-off (The Sarah Connor Chronicles) also failed to catch on despite fairly good reviews.

The franchise so far:
84 The Terminator (1984) $90m
68 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) $385m
66 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) $198m
52 Terminator Salvation (2009) $133m

Next installment:
After changing hands numerous times in the past two decades (in a behind-the-scenes story sometimes more compelling that what has actually been on screen), the rights to make further Terminator films are now held by Annapurna Films, and they plan to make a fifth feature with Schwarzenegger potentially taking a major role. Don't expect anything to happen soon.

5. Marvel Cinematic Universe (Avengers)

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
64.8 $297.0*
% Good Score Range
67% bar

* As of August 6; one film is still in theaters.

Yes, there were prior films based on characters from Marvel comics (see the Spider-Man listing above for just a few examples), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe—linked films that share characters and are produced by the comic publisher's own Marvel Studios—officially kicked off with 2008's Iron Man. In just five years, it has become one of the most lucrative film franchises in history, and a highly ambitious release schedule for the next few years should ensure that it remains so.

The franchise so far:
79 Iron Man (2008) $351m
61 The Incredible Hulk (2008) $149m
57 Iron Man 2 (2010) $311m
57 Thor (2011) $178m
66 Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) $176m
69 The Avengers (2012) $617m*

* still in theaters

Next installment:
Iron Man 3 arrives on May 3, 2013. After that, there's Thor: The Dark World (November 2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 2014), and Guardians of the Galaxy (August 2014). Also in the planning stages are Ant-Man (to be directed by Edgar Wright) and The Avengers 2 (to be written and directed again by Joss Whedon, who is also developing a live-action Marvel series for TV).

6. Mission: Impossible

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
64.8 $253.7
% Good Score Range
50% bar

The earlier installments grossed more, but it is the two most recent M:I films that scored with critics, with last year's Brad Bird-directed Ghost Protocol the series' best so far.

The franchise so far:
60 Mission: Impossible (1996) $324m
60 Mission: Impossible II (2000) $317m
66 Mission: Impossible III (2006) $162m
73 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) $212m

Next installment:
Given the success of the most recent film, a fifth installment is likely—possibly with Ghost Protocol's Jeremy Renner taking over the lead from Tom Cruise, much as Renner has done in the Bourne series—but it's far from a done deal.

7. Hannibal Lecter

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
62.8 $130.8
% Good Score Range
40% bar

While Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning performance in Jonathan Demme's 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs is seared into the minds of moviegoers, a total of three adult actors have actually portrayed serial killer Hannibal Lecter on the big screen, starting with Brian Cox in Michael Mann's Manhunter (based on Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, which later inspired another Lecter film bearing that title). Most recently, Gaspard Ulliel took on the role in the franchise-ending disaster Hannibal Rising.

The franchise so far:
78 Manhunter (1986) $18m
84 The Silence of the Lambs (1991) $246m
57 Hannibal (2001) $231m
60 Red Dragon (2002) $127m
35 Hannibal Rising (2007) $32m

Next installment:
Nothing on the big screen, but NBC will air the prequel series Hannibal in early 2013, with Mads Mikkelsen starring as a younger Lecter.

8. Star Wars

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
61.1 $569.8
% Good Score Range
43% bar

Including all the various re-releases, George Lucas' franchise has collected over $4.5 billion worldwide—and that's before adjusting for inflation. That figure is only good enough for third place all-time, however, behind Harry Potter and James Bond, though the latter has the advantage of over three times as many individual titles as Star Wars.

The franchise so far:
91 Star Wars (1977) $1,130m
78 The Empire Strikes Back (1980) $625m
52 Return of the Jedi (1983) $641m
51 Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $672m
53 Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) $412m
68 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) $470m
35 Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) $39m

Above grosses do not include Special Edition re-releases.

Next installment:
Don't expect another new Star Wars film, but do expect the old ones to continue to be tinkered with; next up should be a 3D re-release of Attack of the Clones in 2013. An oft-discussed live-action TV show spin-off is also still a possibility for the future, with Lucas reporting last year that 50 episodes have been scripted, though production is still years away, if it happens at all.

9. X-Men

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
59.6 $226.4
% Good Score Range
60% bar

The original trio of X-Men films ended on a sour note when a less capable Brett Ratner replaced Bryan Singer as director. Then, a prequel centering on Wolverine took the franchise to a new commercial and critical nadir before Matthew Vaughn rebooted the series last year with First Class, though that improved film didn't exactly set box office records.

The franchise so far:
64 X-Men (2000) $231m
68 X2: X-Men United (2003) $282m
58 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) $283m
43 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) $191m
65 X-Men: First Class (2011) $144m

Next installment:
James Mangold is directing The Wolverine, a stand-alone film about Hugh Jackman's character, set for a July 26, 2013 release. Then, X-Men: Days of Future Past will continue the story of First Class when it comes to theaters on July 18, 2014

10. Scream

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
59.0 $130.1
% Good Score Range
50% bar

Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven's clever (at least at first) and modestly budgeted horror films were major hits for Dimension Films, though last year's attempt to revive the franchise after over a decade away turned out to be misguided.

The franchise so far:
65 Scream (1996) $179m
63 Scream 2 (1997) $173m
56 Scream 3 (2000) $131m
52 Scream 4 (2011) $38m

Next installment:
Plans for a Scream 5 were pretty much dashed by the disappointing box office performance of the fourth film, though MTV is attempting to develop a television series based on the franchise.

11. Spy Kids

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
57.8 $115.0
% Good Score Range
50% bar

Yet another franchise that couldn't leave a successful trilogy alone, the Robert Rodriguez-created family film series was revived last year after a long absence with a stinker (literally) of a fourth installment, though it still proved to be profitable.

The franchise so far:
71 Spy Kids (2001) $158m
66 Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002) $117m
57 Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003) $147m
37 Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011) $38m

Next installment:
A fifth film is reportedly in development, though nothing official has been announced.

12. Ice Age

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
54.3 $204.7*
% Good Score Range
0% bar

* As of August 6; one film is still in theaters.

The four Ice Age films to date have done a far better job of winning over moviegoers than critics; only the Shrek films, among animated film franchises, have grossed more.

The franchise so far:
60 Ice Age (2002) $240m
58 Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) $236m
50 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) $209m
49 Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012) $133m*

* still in theaters

Next installment:
While it hasn't been officially announced, a fifth Ice Age film is a strong possibility.

13. Pirates of the Caribbean

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
52.8 $376.6
% Good Score Range
25% bar

Not bad for a bunch of films based on an amusement park ride: Pirates is the fifth highest-grossing franchise of all time (and second only to Harry Potter, if you look at the average worldwide gross per film), despite producing just one film to receive positive reviews.

The franchise so far:
63 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) $401m
53 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) $512m
50 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) $356m
45 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) $237m

Next installment:
A fifth film is in pre-production (though little details like the director, script, cast, and title still need to be hashed out), and Disney is eager to extend the franchise to another film after that; in fact, two films could shoot back to back.

14. Lethal Weapon

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
52.5 $230.6
% Good Score Range
50% bar

Two of the top action films of the 1980s (yes, there was a time when Mel Gibson was known for his on-screen performances) were followed by two of the worst of the 1990s; all were directed by Richard Donner.

The franchise so far:
67 Lethal Weapon (1987) $132m
70 Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) $294m
36 Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) $276m
37 Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) $220m

Next installment:
None. While the official Lethal Weapon 5 was abandoned, the gang at It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia shot their own memorable version, which you can watch on the season 6 DVD set.

15. The Fast and the Furious

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
50.8 $164.4
% Good Score Range
20% bar

The first film was a surprise hit a decade ago, and its sequels were also quite successful, though they had more of a niche audience in the U.S. That is, until last year's unexpected runaway success of Fast Five, which established FF as a global action franchise to be reckoned with; that film—the only one in the series to win positive reviews from critics—grossed more than $600 million worldwide en route to an unexpected #7 ranking for the year.

The franchise so far:
58 The Fast and the Furious (2001) $202m
38 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) $167m
46 The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) $76m
45 Fast and Furious (2009) $171m
67 Fast Five (2011) $206m

Next installment:
Fast Six arrives May 24, 2013, with Justin Lin once again directing.

16. The Twilight Saga

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
50.8 $276.2
% Good Score Range
0% bar

The film adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's popular fantasy novels turned around the fortunes of indie studio Summit Entertainment overnight, turning it into a major industry player as the critic-proof franchise grossed more than $2.5 billion worldwide.

The franchise so far:
56 Twilight (2008) $213m
44 The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) $308m
58 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) $299m
45 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011) $285m

Next installment:
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 concludes the film series on November 16, 2012. However, though Breaking Dawn was the final book, Lionsgate (Summit's new owner after a merger earlier this year) has expressed interest in continuing the franchise with either another film or a television series.

17. American Pie

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
48.3 $139.3
% Good Score Range
0% bar

Yes, it's another example of a belated fourth film trying—and only partially succeeding—to revive a franchise many years after the end of a lucrative trilogy. In this case, though, the franchise wasn't entirely gone in the interim; four spin-off films (featuring almost none of the original cast save Eugene Levy) were released straight to DVD from 2005-09.

The franchise so far:
58 American Pie (1999) $160m
43 American Pie 2 (2001) $203m
43 American Wedding (2003) $137m
49 American Reunion (2012) $57m

Next installment:
Universal announced a few days ago that American Reunion directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg will return to direct a fifth American Pie film. (Though it flopped in the U.S., Reunion made enough money in the rest of the world to make a sequel possible.)

18. Step Up

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
46.5 $52.5*
% Good Score Range
0% bar

* As of August 6; one film is still in theaters.

Before he was a male stripper (well, after he was one in real life but before he was disrobing on the big screen), Channing Tatum was dancing his way to love in Step Up, a film that featured the magical combination of a low budget and an easily reproducible formula.

The franchise so far:
48 Step Up (2006) $79m
50 Step Up 2 the Streets (2008) $64m
45 Step Up 3-D (2010) $42m
43 Step Up Revolution (2012) $25m*

* still in theaters

Next installment:
None announced. The fourth film, now in theaters, is on track to be the worst performer in the series (at least in the U.S.), so this could be the last dance for the franchise.

19. Tyler Perry's Madea

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
45.4 $65.4*
% Good Score Range
0% bar

* As of August 6; one film is still in theaters.

Whether or not you think Tyler Perry in drag is funny (and, if you're a critic, you probably don't), the writer-director-actor-mogul is laughing all the way to the bank. All but the most recent of his Madea films were based on plays that he also wrote, though the film and stage versions of I Can Do Bad All By Myself don't share much more than a title.

The franchise so far:
36 Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) $63m
45 Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion (2006) $76m
45 Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns (2008) $47m
50 Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail (2009) $100m
55 Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009) $55m
45 Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family (2011) $52m
42 Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection (2012) $64m*

* still in theaters

Next installment:
None yet on the schedule, though there are several Madea plays yet to be turned into films.

20. The Mummy

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
43.0 $190.5
% Good Score Range
0% bar

The 1999 blockbuster remake of the 1932 adventure film was so successful that it spawned two direct sequels (each, like the first, starring Brendan Fraser) as well as a spin-off, The Scorpion King, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. (The latter film also had two direct-to-DVD follow-ups.)

The franchise so far:
48 The Mummy (1999) $242m
48 The Mummy Returns (2001) $283m
45 The Scorpion King (2002) $124m
31 The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) $113m

Next installment:
Another Mummy sequel was originally planned, then canceled; instead, it looks like the series will be rebooted from scratch under the guidance of producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers).

21. Scary Movie

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
41.5 $146.2
% Good Score Range
0% bar

Not to be confused with Scream (which originally was to be titled Scary Movie), this Scary Movie, and its sequels, is pure parody rather than homage, going for laughs rather than scares. Unfortunately, it spawned a cottage industry in terrible genre parody films championed by the first Scary Movie's writers, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

The franchise so far:
48 Scary Movie (2000) $231m
29 Scary Movie 2 (2001) $100m
49 Scary Movie 3 (2003) $144m
40 Scary Movie 4 (2006) $110m

Next installment:
Scary Movie 5 was originally set for an early 2012 release, but it turns out that a film needs to be written and filmed—well, at least filmed—before it can be screened in theaters, so April 19, 2013 is the new release date.

22. Underworld

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
40.3 $64.3
% Good Score Range
0% bar

This action-horror franchise has all the subtlety, depth, and sophistication of a videogame adaptation without actually being based on a videogame. All four installments have been directed, produced, and/or written by Len Wiseman (also responsible for the just-released Total Recall remake), who married the franchise's star, Kate Beckinsale, after the first film.

The franchise so far:
42 Underworld (2003) $68m
36 Underworld: Evolution (2006) $75m
44 Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) $51m
39 Underworld Awakening (2012) $63m

Next installment:
Nothing confirmed, but given the success of this year's Awakening (it is the highest-grossing film in the series, worldwide), a fifth film is a definite possibility.

23. Final Destination

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
39.0 $63.7
% Good Score Range
0% bar

The moderately successful horror series about good-looking young people who escape death only to (mostly) wind up dying shortly thereafter spawned five movies, several novels, and countless negative reviews, though last year's fifth film was actually better than the four that came before.

The franchise so far:
36 Final Destination (2000) $78m
38 Final Destination 2 (2003) $62m
41 Final Destination 3 (2006) $65m
30 The Final Destination (2009) $71m
50 Final Destination 5 (2011) $42m

Next installment:
None planned. At the moment, Final Destination 5 is finally the final Final Destination film.

24. Resident Evil

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
36.5 $59.5
% Good Score Range
0% bar

Though there have certainly been worse movies based on videogames (see, e.g., the oeuvre of Uwe Boll), these ongoing films based on Capcom's survival horror series should not be confused with good cinema. All four films were written by Paul W.S. Anderson (and all star his wife, Milla Jovovich), though he only directed two of them.

The franchise so far:
33 Resident Evil (2002) $55m
35 Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) $65m
41 Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) $58m
37 Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) $60m

Next installment:
The Paul W. S. Anderson-directed Resident Evil: Retribution arrives on September 14. Care to guess the Metascore?

25. Saw

Image
Avg Metascore Avg Gross
34.7 $69.3
% Good Score Range
0% bar

The fifth-highest-grossing horror franchise of all time, the torture-happy Saw series is also a textbook example of diminishing returns.

The franchise so far:
46 Saw (2004) $70m
40 Saw II (2005) $108m
48 Saw III (2006) $97m
36 Saw IV (2007) $73m
19 Saw V (2008) $63m
30 Saw VI (2009) $29m
24 Saw 3D (2010) $46m

Next installment:
None planned at the moment. Saw 3D was intended to be the final film.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the ratings above, or do you think that some of these franchises have been under- or over-rated by critics? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Comments (35)

  • cub317  

    I don't care what the critics say! Star Wars will always be my favorite movie franchise of all time!

  • WhySoSerious008  

    Where is The Dark Knight Trilogy or the orignal batman series.

  • locpro998  

    no

  • sybrn  

    No James Bond? This Jason Dietz that wrote this is up in the night. 22 films and counting and the second highest grossing franchise and it's not even here - idiotic!

  • jimtheseraf  

    I cant see anywere Lord of the Rings and the Dark Knight franchises.. ? Why?

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