As moviegoers, we’re accustomed to gigantic blockbuster franchises. We’ve almost come to expect multiple sequels to follow anything that even remotely succeeds in theaters, as it has become the en-vogue way for studios to make a quick and easy buck. But what happens when a studio swings and misses completely? There’s a graveyard of forgotten franchises out in the world that few ever stop to think about. Some saw one quasi-successful movie, but didn’t quite make enough at the box office to justify even one sequel. Others were complete and utter flops that everyone has now forgotten about.
Each of these movies rank in the annals of film as tragically uncontinued franchises, most ended with a cliffhanger, expecting to be picked up for a series of movies that never happened. Alas, it could not be so.
1. I Am Number Four (2011)
In a series of novels with over 15 installments, you can bet that DreamWorks was seeing green when they adapted I Am Number Four to the big-screen. Big names like D.J. Caruso, Steven Spielberg, Timothy Olyphant, and Alex Pettyfer were all attached to the movie that never quite caught on the way they’d originally hoped. Rotten Tomatoes reports a meager $55 million box office haul pairing with a 33% rating as the main reasons it never quite got off the ground, barely making back its $50 million budget.
We’ll sadly never get to see the next chapter, but given the story’s derivative plot (an unsuspecting teenager with secret superpowers that make him the savior of his people, while on the run from danger), it’s no huge surprise.
2. The Host (2013)
Stephanie Meyer already struck gold once in theaters with the adaptation of Twilight, so naturally her alien-centric franchise The Host was bound for success. Not to be confused with Bong Joon-ho’s horror masterpiece of the same name, this film was one of the biggest box office flops this side of John Carter (more on that later). Despite a $40 million budget, it only managed to bring in a shade more than $26 million to go with an awful 8% Rotten Tomatoes score. The story was Stephanie Meyer in a nutshell, featuring a teenaged heroine in a love triangle. Without the massive built-in fanbase of Twilight, there weren’t many reasons for tweens to see this one.
3. Mystery Men (1999)
Despite critical acclaim, the ensemble cast of Mystery Men wasn’t enough to fetch it box office success. Star power like Ben Stiller, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, and William H. Macy didn’t propel it past anything more than a cult phenomenon in the end. It even was well-received critically at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes as a well-paced comedic look at the typical superhero format (adapted from a Dark Horse Comics series). We can only imagine what an entire film series would have looked like, but who knows: Maybe over 15 years after the fact someone will pick up this overlooked classic and reboot it into a blaze of glory.
4. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Issues with casting Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian prince aside, this video game-based flick was supposed to be a cash cow for Disney. Instead, it went massively over-budget at almost $200 million, while making just $90 million at the box office according to Rotten Tomatoes. Once again, we saw a video game make for a terrible film adaptation, wasting the talents of great actors like Ben Kingsley and Gyllenhaal. As it turns out, even a popular childhood video game needs to be more than a mindless swashbuckling popcorn movie to get people in the seats.
5. John Carter (2012)
Heralded as the most infamous flop in recent blockbuster history, John Carter was an unmitigated disaster for Disney. Set on Mars as space-centric Civil War allegory, its opening at the box office fell flat. In fact, “flop” doesn’t really even begin to describe it.
According to IMDb, it made just $73 million on a $263 million budget. Everything from marketing that didn’t tell audiences anything about what they were about to see, to its ambiguous name, shortened from John Carter of Mars, doomed it to failure. Combine that with its lack of star power in both the cast and production, and not even middling reviews could save this one from acting as the poster child for how not to market your summer blockbuster.
6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
It seemed like a recipe for box office gold: Get Russell Crowe to star fresh off of Gladiator and get The Truman Show’s Peter Weir on board to direct. Then, adapt a beloved series of books with a rich universe and compelling characters, before cashing in on the millions that would likely rain down from the heavens. But the final step of this process ended up being much more difficult to accomplish than originally expected, even with a great story and an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score.
As it turns out, the younger generation is more concerned with sexy vampires than Patrick O’Brian’s nautical-themed series, making it so any built-in audience they might have had was thin at best.
7. Ender’s Game (2013)
Ender’s Game is a book that’s been required reading for just about every 8–9th-grade student. Maybe it was the deeper themes about the horrors of war and genocide, or even the idea that kids hate required reading. Whatever it was, the popular series set in the midst of a complex war with an alien race never caught on the way Summit Entertainment had hoped. Box Office Mojo estimates the movie had a production budget of $110 million, but made less than $126 million worldwide, a number just significant enough to make any studio give up on any ideas of launching a franchise.
8. Jonah Hex (2010)
Megan Fox was fresh off the set of the wildly profitable Transformers sequel. Josh Brolin had just starred in the Coen Brothers’ Oscar hit, No Country for Old Men. What could possibly go wrong? For the comic-book adapted Western about a man brought back from the dead to stop the forces of hell, apparently the answer is “a lot.” Jonah Hex was a great example of an interesting comic that was turned into an awful movie, thanks in large part to the lack of focus and a run-time that was a shockingly brief 84 minutes.
Rotten Tomatoes estimates its box office profits at an absurdly low $10.5 million, and the popular comic series was never heard from at movie theaters again.
9. The Golden Compass (2007)
Much like Ender’s Game, The Golden Compass numbers itself among the Young Adult adaptations that stumbled out of the gates. Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels gave New Line Cinema plenty of material to work with, and yet the adaptation was plagued by a watering down of its overtly atheistic message. Protests from religious groups only added fuel to the fire, putting the final nail on the coffin and bashing the studio’s hopes for more movies.
10. District 9 (2009)
There was a time when Neill Blomkamp was heralded as a sci-fi visionary, based solely on his considerable work on District 9. The film addressed a number of relevant social issues, while featuring a compelling (albeit horrifying) story arc that showed us one man’s Kafka-esque transformation into an alien. In the years since, Blomkamp has struggled to recapture that magic, with follow-up efforts like Elysium and Chappie never quite measuring up.
All this has gotten in the way of District 10. The sequel was long thought to be a sure thing, but in the years since, the possibility has slowly faded away. It’s still not clear if we’ll ever see the follow-up effort get made. That said, the odds aren’t good.
11. Godzilla (1998)
Hollywood has made a concerted effort to make Godzilla into a franchise superstar for almost two decades. That first started in 1998, with the self-titled Roland Emmerich-led adaptation, starring Matthew Broderick. It certainly had lofty ambitions, ending the film on a cliffhanger that showed Godzilla’s surviving children hatching from their eggs. Unfortunately, the film was far from well-received, netting a paltry 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and regarded today as a veritable flop.
12. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
E.T. is a rare example of a truly great film that simply never got the sequel originally planned by its director. Following the massive success of the film at the box office in 1982, Steven Spielberg wasted no time throwing together the story for a planned follow-up, titled E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears. He smartly scrapped the idea soon after that, later correctly pointing out that “a sequel would do nothing but rob the original of its virginity.”
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