For the most part, the longer a franchise drags on, the weaker it gets. Look no further than the aptly named Die Hard series. How we got from one of the best Christmas flicks of all time to Bruce Willis dragging his exhausted looking *ss around, I couldn’t tell you. The following list, however, is full of exceptions that prove the rule. These are instances where a franchise began to flounder and was miraculously brought back to life with either a successful reboot or a complete revival. So don’t count out the planned Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Highlander sequels yet. They may surprise you.
James Bond: This particular franchise is a goddamn roller coaster with peaks of greatness and valleys of cheese all over the place. But, for what it’s worth, the marked difference in quality between the end of the Brosnan era and the beginning of the Craig era is particularly noticeable. Casino Royale stands out as one of the finest installments in the series. I think we can all agree that Quantum of Solace was a bit of a misstep and the house is divided on Skyfall but I remain confident that as long as Craig is filling out 007 suit, I won’t have to endure Dr. Christmas Jones redux.
X-Men: The sins of X-Men: The Last Stand were compounded by the completely laughable X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I will never forgive anyone involved for that portrayal of Gambit. But along came Matthew Vaughn and a cadre of comely anglos to make us forget. If you had told me back in 2009 that I’d be looking forward to another Wolverine movie in 2013, I would have laughed in your face. And yet, here we are.
Dawn Of The Dead: This is a really tricky one because though George A. Romero’s first three films were excellent genre flicks, Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake had a broader appeal. (Is this zombie film blasphemy? If it helps, I hate giving Snyder credit for anything.) But then Romero continued his series with three lesser films (Land Of the Dead, Diary Of Thee Dead, Survival Of The Dead) meaning that this particular franchise had a brief revival before shambling on, lifelessly.
Spider-Man: When it was announced that the Marvel Spider-Man reboot would follow so closely on the heels of the hideously disappointing Spider-Man 3, the general response was a resounding “WHY?!” It felt like a blatant cash grab. And maybe it was. But what none of us expected was that the film would be good. Great? Maybe not. But the charming chemistry between Garfield and Stone was enough to drive out all memory of Tobey Maguire finger-gunning his way up and down the boulevard. It’s possible (in fact, given the advance images, we can go ahead and ratchet that up to probable) that chemistry alone won’t carry us through the next installment. But we can hope.
Star Trek: Well this is obviously a controversial opinion, and it’s not like the Star Trek franchise ever completely lost steam. The old adage is that the even numbered films in the franchise (eg The Wrath Of Khan, First Contact, That One With The Whales) are good and the odd ones a bit wobblier. That being said, if you compare the general interest and response for Star Trek: Nemesis to JJ Abrams 2009 reborquel and you’ll see a marked difference. And, in my opinion, a marked improvement. No offense to the Next Gen crew, but this franchises needed a shot in the arm. And it got one.
Iron Man: It might be unfair to include Tony Stark and company on here. Three films hardly a franchise make and many many great trilogies sagged in the middle. (Temple Of Doom, folks. Temple Of Doom.*) But the disappointment I felt in Iron Man 2 lowered my expectations so much that I left Iron Man 3 positively giddy. Bless you, Shane Black, for bringing Tony Stark back to us.
Mission Impossible: The third installment in this franchise was pretty good. The addition of Simon Pegg was particularly welcome. But Ghost Protocol is just downright delightful and Cruise’s stunt work in Dubai undeniably incredible. Add to that Jeremy Renner’s sultry forearms and Paula Patton’s ass-kicking ways and you’ve got one of the most enjoyable action films of 2011.
Batman: They did their darndest to Shumack the sh*t out of this franchise. (Bat nipples, folks. Never forget.) But Christopher Nolan made Gotham his own and somehow managed to out-dark Tim Burton. Who knows what the future holds for this series. Will it live on beyond Nolan and Bale? If DC has anything to say about it, I’m sure it will.
The Fast And The Furious: I know, I know. But if you’re laughing right now it’s only because you didn’t see that last one (which as fun) and you haven’t seen the new one (which is flat out great). Go check out The Rock, Gina Carano and the Old Gang this weekend and then report back.
*There are only three Indiana Jones films, right?
Joanna Robinson realizes most of these entries end with the word “Man” or “Men” and it gives her a flicker of hope for Snyder’s take on Kal-El.