Top 10 Franchises: According to Paul from The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews! (On Twitter!)
I’m used to making lists. I do it every week on my show with my co-host Wayne, and we manage to talk for at least an hour about our choices. But I can’t imagine how long writing out an hour’s worth of talk would be, so I’m going to make this short and to the point. And I’m going to start with this: Making this list was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to do. I don’t know how my competitors found it this week, but there are an incredible number of amazing film franchises – franchises that I look forward to whenever a new addition is announced, even if they’ve had one or two stinkers along the way. Because let’s face it, just about every franchise has had some lesser lights in amongst their successes. And I say “just about” because the top franchises on my list are those without a bad entry within them. And in the case of my number one, all of the films are, in my humble opinion, excellent.
But we’ll get there. Let’s start at the lower end of the list with what I consider to be the tenth best film franchise ever made …
10. The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Yep, I know. I just lost you. How the hell can this guy suggest the biggest film franchise ever made is only the tenth best? Well, it’s because I consider consistentcy to be the most important trait of a successful film franchise. And Marvel has done the near impossible with its story stretching across 23 films (so far!). But for every Avengers: Infinity War or Guardians of the Galaxy – two exceptionally amazing films which blew my mind for different reasons when I saw them for the first time – there is a Thor: The Dark World or an Iron Man 2. Those films were both massive let downs as sequels to their own origin stories and in furthering the MCU overall. Then there are the dozen or more films which are fairly considered decent to good on their own, but don’t hit that 4 star and above level for me. Hence, the MCU slips all the way down here to Number 10.
9. The Mad Max Series
Anyone who has ever listened to my podcast for more than 15 minutes is acutely aware of how much I love Mad Max: Fury Road. To my mind, it is quite simply the finest action film made this side of 2000. It is basically an exhilarating chase film set in a post apocalyptic world, filled to the brim with beautiful shots and stunning action set pieces. Then there is Mad Max 2, or The Road Warrior as North America knows it. Another visionary work from George Miller back when he was young enough to pull off his vision of an apocalyptic world with big trucks and fast cars and motorbikes all driven by people trying to kill each other over fuel. The original Mad Max is also a low-budget classic, and one that launched the careers of Mel Gibson and George Miller.
Now those who are fans of the series will notice I left a Tina Turner sized gap as I tracked back through time there, and that’s because Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is pretty damn awful. George caved to the studio demands for a PG-13 rating to get a bigger budget, and in so doing, consigned Max to thirty years on the scrap heap. So it is squarely Thunderdome’s fault that the Mad Max series slips to ninth on my list …
8. The Back to the Future Series
“Great Scott, Marty! What are we doing down at number 8? We’re universally adored and part of the pop culture lexicon! This is outrageous!”
“Yeah, but Doc, that adventure we had in the West kind of stunk it up.”
“How can you say that, Marty? We had a wonderful adventure! I met my wife and now I have a wonderful family.”
“I know, but the first two adventures we had were just cool, Doc. The terrorists, the clocktower, 1955, my folks … Then there was the future and my kids and the hoverboards and, well … 1885 just doesn’t measure up.”
“Well, let’s go back and fix it then! We can do it, Marty. You know we can. That’s what time machines are for…”
Hollywood, for the love of all that is pure, do NOT reboot this series.
7. The Mission: Impossible series
There are only three or four other film franchises which have lasted as long as the 25 years that Tom Cruise has been playing Ethan Hunt, and what the MI franchise has which only one other MIGHT claim to (partially) have, is that it ages like a fine wine. Essentially, after a great opening film from director Brian De Palma (back when he knew how to make good films), the series took a nose-dive with John Woo’s idiotic and way too over the top sequel. But from there, the ship has most definitely been righted and is now steering on a course of awesomeness. Mission: Impossible III made the story personal, while Ghost Protocol has some of the best set pieces of the series and started to emphasise the need for Ethan to have a team around him. Then when Christopher McQuarrie came on for Rogue Nation he made the insanely smart choice to make these films start to link to each other. Beyond just recurring characters, the call backs to previous films started, and he even went so far as to NOT kill the villain at the end of the film, allowing for him to come back and play a pivotal role in the franchise crowning Fallout. Seriously, Fallout is fantastic across the board – from its glossy look and fantastic action scenes to the fact it manages to maintain a palpable sense of tension throughout. And Rebecca Ferguson’s return as Ethan’s love interest is only trumped by having his wife (Michelle Monaghan) from the third film back in a decent sized role. Great stuff, and here’s hoping the world building continues in the next film in the franchise which I am chafing at the bit for.
6. The Indiana Jones series
There is zero doubt this franchise would be top of my list if it stopped at the trilogy. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the best adventure film ever made with Harrison Ford somehow carving out a character that many think is even better than his turn as Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise (which, for the record, could not possibly be near this list because the number of awful films in that series now surpasses the number of great films). The Temple of Doom did little to tarnish the franchise’s good will and is a solid follow up adventure (though, yes, I’m aware it’s technically a prequel), and then The Last Crusade absolutely puts the button the on trilogy with some fantastic chemistry between Ford and Sean Connery, cast as his father.
But then the powers that be in Hollywood got too greedy for their own good and kept pushing for a fourth film despite approximately 7392 writers having a crack at it and never quite being able to nail it. So, instead, they settled on an insipid script featuring an alien artefact, Indiana surviving a nuclear explosion in a fridge and Shia Labeouf swinging through the jungle with a bunch of monkeys. Sigh. That film is bad enough that I usually refuse to acknowledge its existence, but today I have to in order to justify this ranking. Damn you, Crystal Skull!
5. The Evil Dead series
Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell. A low budget dream team that carved out massively successful careers from this film series which started out as straight horror and eventually became a fantasy comedy in the case of Army of Darkness; before the reboot in 2013 swung it right back to its horror origins.
All of the films in this franchise work (and if you want to add the Ash Vs Evil Dead TV series to that, you can because it is also excellent). The first is a great B grade horror that nails a creepy vibe and excels past its very small budget. Evil Dead II remains one of the greatest horror comedies ever made and turns Bruce Campbell’s Ash into one of the best reluctant heroes ever depicted on screen. Campbell is a very good comedic actor who nails the physical stuff, and he REALLY turned on the charm in Evil Dead II, making it one of my favourite films ever. After that is Army of Darkness which isn’t quite up to the standards of its predecessors (by his own admission, Sam Raimi says he had probably mellowed a little too far by this point), but is still a fun film with some great lines. Then there is the 2013 reboot from Fede Alvarez which did little to tarnish the legacy of its beloved predecessors. This franchise also gets bonus points for being a horror series without a poor entry – something which no other horror film franchise can claim – and that’s enough to prop it up to this elevated place on my list.
4. The Cornetto Trilogy
Here’s the one franchise on my list which is linked less by characters and stories than it is by the talent involved in bringing these films to life. Namely, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and producer Nira Park. The first two wrote all three of these films – one an incredible rom zom com that ranks among the best zombie films ever made, one an action comedy that brilliant homages the buddy cop films of the 80s and 90s, and the last a sci-fi comedy which isn’t as amazing, but neither does it completely miss – while Wright did the directing, and then there was the magic of Pegg and Frost on screen together that added something special. Together this dream team of talent is responsible for 2.768/3 amazing films which have all become cult hits. And yes, the Cornetto trilogy loses points and places fourth on this list because The World’s End isn’t as stunning as the other two films, but overall, you’d be hard pressed to find a finer trio of films. (Unless you look slightly lower down this page).
3. The Toy Story Series
Anyone who leaves this series off their list hates life or at least has no imagination. The adventures of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Bo-Peep and crew are delightful for young and old alike. The first was the first ever fully computer generated movie, so was ground-breaking for that reason alone, but it also set the bar in being just as engaging for parents as it was for kids with its sly humour and unquestionable wit. The fact that the second film is almost as good is absolutely incredible, but then the third film came along and nailed the emotional ending leaving barely a dry eye in the house. Every fan – myself included – shook their head in a resigned fashion and maybe went as far as shaking their fist at the Hollywood studio system churning out another unnecessary sequel when the news of Toy Story 4 broke. And then the first trailer did little to alleviate those doubts. But what do you know? They damn well delivered an excellent coda to what already was a wonderful trilogy for the whole family, and in so doing, managed the almost impossible: FOUR from FOUR hits and batting a thousand!
2. The Dark Knight Trilogy
Christopher Nolan completely shook up superhero films for the next 15 years when he turned in Batman Begins, a darker and grittier comic book adaptation than anyone had seen in a long time. Grounding it in something approaching reality worked for Batman in particular, but combine that with some inspired casting choices (including Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred and Gary Oldman as Gordon), a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and a suitably big budget, and this one was never going to fail. Then lighting struck twice with The Dark Knight, thanks to the best depiction of The Joker ever put on screen, some ballsy decisions in the writing room, and the perfect level of tension. This film was so good you could almost consider it a genuine thriller rather than a superhero film and no one would fault you.
Now, sure, the third film is the trilogy is the weakest and somewhat lets the series down. But not in a significant way and only by comparison with its predecessor which many consider the very best superhero film ever made! Those are some lofty standards to scale toward, and though, Rises did not quite make it there, it was still a good film with a satisfying conclusion and the big IMAX moments we’ve come to expect from Nolan.
1. The John Wick Trilogy
The original film was a surprise hit because who was expecting a film with a storyline as cliched as a retired assassin seeking revenge, starring Keanu Reeves, as directed by a couple of stuntmen, to be any good? But it wasn’t good, it was flat out amazing! It had style oozing from its pores, a great physical performance from Reeves doing a great many of his own stunts, and it was directed so fluidly and assuredly that the audiences could see the action. Gasp! Who knew that’s what action fans actually wanted?
The world inhabited by John Wick was also quite fascinating and went on to be beautifully fleshed out in the subsequent sequels – both of which continued the tradition of exhilarating action set pieces. Reeves came to own the role and each adventure built on the last in a way that had the fans clamoring for more. And. Unbelievably. the ending of Chapter 3: Parabellum has set things up to be even more exciting! Writer Derek Kolstad really has killed it here. This is action cinema done right, and nothing else – at least out of the Hollywood system – has come close in a long, long time (Fury Road excepted).
So there you have it. The best film franchises from my humble perspective. If you got this far, thank you. I know it must have been hard after finding the MCU at 10 to keep reading on (hahaha), but it’s been a pleasure walking you through these fine film franchises.