When it comes to film franchises, there seems to be a law of nature that dictates that the more movies that are made, the worse the franchise become. This phenomenon may partly be the result of simple probabilities, since making more movies means more opportunities to make a flop. However, every once in a while, a film franchise is rescued from mediocrity when a new director takes the helm. Although this doesn’t always guarantee that the quality of all the subsequent films in a particular franchise will continue on an upward trajectory, a new director can often provide a welcome respite from the usual inevitable decline of most franchises.
Perhaps the most famous example of a franchise that saw a steep decline in quality is Star Wars. While the first three films in the franchise are widely regarded as sci-fi classics, the last three prequels directed by George Lucas were considered major disappointments by many fans. Fortunately, the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens features a new director (J.J. Abrams), who many fans are hoping will restore the franchise to its former glory.
For the purposes of this list, we will be examining several well-known film franchises that had one or more installments that were poorly received by audiences or critics before a change of director revitalized the series with a fresh perspective. In no particular order, here are five movie franchises that were rescued by new directors.
1. Franchise: Star Trek, Director: J.J Abrams
If Star Wars: The Force Awakens lives up to the hype, it will be the second sci-fi franchise that director J.J. Abrams has successfully rescued. While there have been several notable successes in the long-running Star Trek film franchise, the series was definitely beginning to grow stale by the time Star Trek: Nemesis was released in 2002. Directed by Stuart Baird, the film garnered mostly mediocre reviews from the critics and its $67.3 million worldwide gross barely covered its $60 million production budget, as noted by Box Office Mojo. At least one critic even viewed Star Trek: Nemesis as an obituary for the franchise.
“I’m sitting there during ‘Star Trek: Nemesis,’ the 10th ‘Star Trek’ movie, and I’m smiling like a good sport and trying to get with the dialogue…” wrote film critic Roger Ebert. “…and gradually it occurs to me that ‘Star Trek’ is over for me. I’ve been looking at these stories for half a lifetime, and, let’s face it, they’re out of gas.”
Despite Ebert’s dire pronouncement, director J.J. Abrams soon proved that there was plenty of gas left in the Star Trek tank. In 2009, Abrams helmed Star Trek, a commercial and critical hit that reintroduced the original Enterprise crew with new actors and new storylines. Star Trek earned over $385 million in worldwide gross, making it the highest grossing Star Trek movie ever released, according to Box Office Mojo. Star Trek also earned high critical praise with a 95% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Abrams further bolstered the franchise with a well-received follow up, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, but has yielded the director’s chair to Justin Lin for the next film in the series.
2. Franchise: Godzilla, Director: Gareth Edwards
This long-running film franchise was kicked off in 1954 by director Ishiro Honda’s critically acclaimed film about a giant monster that is spawned by nuclear bomb tests conducted in the Pacific Ocean. Over the last 60 years, literally dozens of sequels have been produced that have achieved varying levels of success. Since many of the later Godzilla films are beloved by fans for their endearing campiness, it’s hard to say exactly when this franchise jumped the shark. In 2004, the Ryuhei Kitamura-directed Godzilla: Final Wars received mixed reviews and earned a low approval rating of 40% from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
However, most American moviegoers would probably point to the universally loathed 1998 Godzilla reboot directed by Roland Emmerich as the film that almost killed the franchise. Besides alienating fans of the franchise by depicting the classic monster as a more iguana-like creature, Emmerich’s Godzilla was also criticized for its overall lack of a sensible storyline. The 1998 Godzilla film still has a low 16% “rotten” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
“One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert. “The movie makes no sense at all except as a careless pastiche of its betters (and, yes, the Japanese Godzilla movies are, in their way, better–if only because they embrace dreck instead of condescending to it).”
Director Gareth Edwards was widely credited for revitalizing the franchise with his 2014 film Godzilla. The film earned over $528 million in worldwide gross, more than any other Godzilla movie in history, according to Box Office Mojo. Godzilla was also critically acclaimed and currently has a 74% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The success of the film has led to plans for an Edwards-directed sequel that is scheduled to be released in June 2018, according to ComingSoon.net.
3. Franchise: Batman, Director: Christopher Nolan
Director Tim Burton gave the Batman film franchise a strong start with a blockbuster film in 1989 that starred Michael Keaton in the title role. The sequel Batman Returns, while not as commercially successful as the first film, received even higher marks from the critics, including an 80% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
Unfortunately the series went off the rails when Joel Shumacher took over the director’s chair for the last two films in the series. The final installment in the series — 1997’s Batman and Robin — introduced viewers to the unfortunate concept of bat nipples and the film is still widely considered to be one of the worst superhero films ever made. Batman and Robin currently has a dismal 11% rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
While many feared that Batman and Robin had killed the franchise, director Christopher Nolan brought it back to life with 2005’s critically acclaimed Batman Begins, which currently has an 85% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Nolan followed up his introductory installment with two other well-received sequels. Besides garnering high critical rankings for all of his Dark Knight trilogy films, Nolan’s films were also commercially successful with a combined worldwide gross of over $1 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
The success of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy may have done more than just redeem the Batman franchise. Now a crossover film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is scheduled to be released in early 2016.
4. Franchise: Hannibal Lecter, Director: Jonathan Demme
Based on a character found in a series of novels written by Thomas Harris, the Hannibal Lecter film franchise is comprised of five films by five different directors. The series kicked off with 1986’s Manhunter, directed by Michael Mann and featuring Brian Cox as the cannibalistic serial killer. Although the film has since acquired cult status, it received mixed reviews when it was originally released and only made $8.6 million in box office gross, according to Box Office Mojo. Many reviewers criticized Mann’s highly stylized directing approach, including the Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson.
“Like the mirrors that dot it, ‘Manhunter’ is all flat, brilliant, reflective surfaces,” wrote Benson in 1986. Manhunter probably would have faded into obscurity if not for the overwhelming success of the next film in the franchise.
Based on the second novel in the book series, the Jonathan Demme-directed film The Silence of the Lambs became a commercial and critical success in 1991. Starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the film earned over $272 million in worldwide gross, according to Box Office Mojo. The Silence of the Lambs also garnered high critical praise and won five Oscars, including a Best Director award for Demme. While none of the subsequent films in the franchise achieved the level of success reached by The Silence of the Lambs, it is quite likely that the Hannibal Lecter franchise would not even exist if it wasn’t for Demme’s unrivaled entry.
5. Franchise: Alien, Director: Ridley Scott
The sprawling Alien franchise consists of four core films, one related prequel, and two spin-offs that crossover with the Predator franchise. The first two main films – Alien and Aliens – are widely considered to be the strongest in the franchise with Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh critical rankings of 97% and 98%, respectively.
The franchise began to lose steam with 1992’s Alien 3 and 1997’s Alien Resurrection, which both garnered “rotten” level ratings from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The two Alien vs. Predator movies released in 2004 and 2007 garnered even worse reviews, with Alien vs. Predator: Requiem achieving an approval rating of only 12% from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
The decay of the Alien series inspired Ridley Scott – director of the original film — to return and rescue the franchise he initiated in 1979. “I watched three [sequels] get made after the one I did and then I watched Alien vs. Predator,” recalled Scott, according to Gigwise. “I thought about it for two or three years and thought my baby was lying in a cupboard somewhere and I think there is life in the little bugger yet.”
In 2012, Scott unveiled Prometheus, a prequel that explores events that took place before the original Alien film. Prometheus was well received by most critics, including the ones at Rotten Tomatoes who gave the film a 73% Certified Fresh ranking and noted its “haunting visual grandeur and compelling performances.” Besides reestablishing the critical bar that was set by the first two films in the franchise, Prometheus also set a new standard for commercial success with a franchise-best worldwide box office gross of over $403 million, according to Box Office Mojo.
The success of Scott’s Prometheus has led to plans for a sequel that is tentatively titled Prometheus 2. The renewed attention that Prometheus brought to the franchise may have also helped secure yet another sequel for the main film series. According to Variety, Neill Blomkamp has been tapped to direct a new Alien film that will integrate with the primary film series.
All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.
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