Movie studios love franchises. Just look at the summer that’s drawing to a close, and the monies pouring into the studios’ bank accounts, courtesy of franchise juggernauts such as Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Franchises are, bluntly, goldmines.
But the biggest threat to a franchise often comes when the stars most intrinsically linked to it, for whatever reason, move on to other projects. This might be because they’ve had enough, their character’s dead, they feel they’ve outgrown it or there’s simply no place for them in the next film. Dont discount downright snobbery, either.
So what happens then? How does the franchise and the star fare when they part company? We take a look at ten-and-a-bit examples over the past decade or two, and examine whether it’s possible for both the franchise and the star name to remain intact afterwards…
When rumours were floating round last year that Fox was interested in reviving the Speed franchise, its plans were said to revolve around luring Keanu Reeves back to the role of Jack Traven. For long before The Matrix made him one of the biggest movie stars of his generation, Reeves had proven his box office credentials in some style with Jan De Bont’s bus-based blockbuster.
When the sequel came round, though, in spite of Reeves having tackled a follow-up before (the glorious Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), Keanu passed. The lure of a $12m payday couldn’t change his mind, and he headed off to the stage to do some Shakespeare instead. Thus, in got drafted Jason Patric to fulfil beefcake duties. It proved not to be a wise move, and while Sandra Bullock did return for Speed 2, plans for future films were quickly scuppered by both the critical and commercial response to the film.
Plans for a third Speed film did resurface a year or two back, with Fox reported at the time to be keen to lure Keanu Reeves back. But he’s continued to distance himself from Jack Traven, and it’s fair to suggest that the Speed series without him is dead and buried.
Keanu’s career, meanwhile, has thrived post-Speed. His major success has been, of course, the Matrix trilogy, in particular the first film, but Constantine and Something’s Gotta Give also did decent box office. More recently, though, he’s struggled to hit box office gold with his lead in The Day The Earth Stood Still‘s remake, and also The Lake House, A Scanner Darkly and Street Kings. He’s not been able to buy a hit. But we still suspect he’ll go back to The Matrix before he touches Speed again…
JIM CARREY THE MASK/DUMB AND DUMBER
Jim Carrey has only done two sequels to date – Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls – and we can’t see him doing any more in a hurry (although you could count Yes Man as a sequel of sorts to Liar Liar). In fact, he’s turned down follow-ups to many of his films, including The Grinch, The Mask and Dumb And Dumber, and the only one we can see him ever revisiting anytime soon is Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events (at least we hope he does…)
That said, New Line Cinema could smell a cash-in easily enough, and even without Carrey, it churned out cheap, profitable and shitty follow-ups to a couple of his films, presumably looking to see if there was a more lucrative franchise in there somewhere. There wasn’t, and robbed of Carrey’s presence, neither film was particularly impressive.
Son Of The Mask was easily the worst, dragging in Jamie Kennedy to do his best Jim Carrey impression, while Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd went down the even cheaper prequel route, not even bothering to bring the too-often-underrated Jeff Daniels back.
Both films, however, were so cheap – in every sense – that they brought in a few dollars, albeit hammering nails in the coffin of their respective franchises as they did so. We suspect neither will be heard from again.
Carrey, meanwhile, has hit a few buffers in his career of late, most notable when sure-fire hit Yes Man did less than expected numbers at the box office. But he’s still in a far stronger position for turning these particular sequels down, and did manage to squeeze in the stunning Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind instead. His upcoming comedy, I Love You Phillip Morris, may just help him to another big hit, too, and this Yuletide’s A Christmas Carol has major success stamped all over it…
MACAULAY CULKINMY GIRL
Even though he was only third-billed for the original, Macaulay Culkin was still the star attraction for the original My Girl. There’s a spoiler coming, in case you’ve any urge to seek this film out.
Still here? Right-o.
Culkin was listed third on the poster behind Dan Aykroyd and Jamie-Lee Curtis. Not this his legion of fans noticed. My Girl was released hot off the back of Home Alone, and it was the Culkin fanbase that turned the film into a modest hit. But then said fans got the shock they weren’t expecting when Culkin suddenly, and really quite hilariously, got stung by bees and met his on-screen demise. Never mind the weeping kids, this was cinematic comedy gold. It might sound callous of us, but you try watching that scene in the cold light of day without chortling. We can’t.
This, you would think, killed any chance of a follow-up. But, in this case for commendable reasons, that wasn’t the case. Gambling that the pulling-power of Aykroyd and the name of the film would be enough, a My Girl 2 was commissioned, which is one of the better sequels you’ll find across the last couple of decades. It’s no masterpiece, but the film actually bothers to expand on and flesh out the characters and their stories. Every time you’ve cursed a lazy retread sequel, the makers of My Girl 2 weep a little, wondering why more people didn’t turn up to see their film. Heck, they bothered.
For without the then-boy wonder, My Girl 2’s commercial opportunities were limited, and Dan Aykroyd would, a few years later, instead try and resurrect the Blues Brothers franchise without, obviously, John Belushi on board. We’d take My Girl 2 over the aberration that was Blues Brothers 2000 any single day of the week.
Mr Culkin? He had one huge hit left in him, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, before unwisely playing against type in the fairly staid thriller The Good Son, and failing to find his audience again in Getting Even With Dad (a film most notable for the size of his head on the poster). When Richie Rich bombed in 1994, he disappeared from our screens until 2003, and did churn out a fine comedy with 2004’s Saved. But his movie star days faded at roughly the same time as the My Girl franchise…
STEVE GUTTENBERG POLICE ACADEMY
Even Steve Guttenberg had had his fill by the time the fourth Police Academy movie was released. Widely considered to be the biggest name amongst the ensemble cast, Guttenberg decided that enough was enough after Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, and it’s fair to say that by this time, it was inconceivable that a fifth film wouldn’t happen (given that they were being banged out at a rate of one a year). As out went Guttenberg, therefore, in came Matt McCoy – who would later go on to appear in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, L.A. Confidential – to effectively plug the gap left by The Great Steve.
Interestingly, though, the performance of the films continued to follow the same pattern as they did while Guttenberg was still on board. In fact, his absence seemed to make no difference, save for making the films just a little worse than they might otherwise have been.
The commercial performance of the Police Academy series followed a strict pattern of decline, with the first being the most lucrative, and the seventh (and last to date) being the least. The rest followed in strict order, forming a nice, neat downward slope on a graph (which might have been what inspired the film Ski Patrol, also from the makers of Police Academy). The franchise then died with the staggeringly awful seventh film, Mission To Moscow.
Guttenberg still had another hit him in, though, lending his charms to Leonard Nimoy’s Three Men And A Baby. Sequels to that and to Cocoon followed, but his star by this time was on the wane. Arguably his most notable role since the mid-90s, save for a stint on the US reality show Dancing With The Stars, came with his eight episodes of Veronica Mars.
Still, he’s touting not only the possibility of a fresh Police Academy movie, but also a proposed Three Men And A Bride. Admirers of Mr Guttenberg though we are, we wouldn’t bet too much cash on either of them happening, sadly…
VIN DIESEL & PAUL WALKERTHE FAST & THE FURIOUS
Also known as the franchise they all eventually came back to. The first film has Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and a lot of expensive cars. The second? Diesel had hopped it, so Walker took the lead role. Then he too fled the scene, which gave us the star-less Tokyo Drift, which many profess is their favourite in the franchise (although there is a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo from Mr Diesel in there).
But here’s the interesting thing. While the third film was the box office blip in the franchise, this was a case where it was the stars themselves rather than the franchise that floundered. Thus, for this summer’s fourth film in the series, Fast & Furious, it’s arguable that both franchise and stars needed each other to roughly the same degree.
Take Vin Diesel. Once he took off after the first film, he was riding the wave of movie stardom, steering xXx to international success. Following that, though, he has just one major hit to his name, and that’s the Kindergarten Cop knock-off The Pacifier. The line of flops meanwhile features The Chronicles Of Riddick, Babylon AD and Find Me Guilty. Thus Fast & Furious was the right film at the right time for him.
Paul Walker? He headlined 2 Fast 2 Furious, it too became a smash hit, so he hopped it to make Timeline (a massive bomb), Into The Blue (he was in it, but put it this way: it wasn’t him we were looking at), Running Scared (a flop), Eight Below (another flop), Clint Eastwood’s disappointing Flags Of Our Fathers and one or two others. In short, away from The Fast & The Furious, his name was struggling to open a shopping mall. He thus returned to the franchise too, and remembered what it felt like to be a movie star on an opening weekend again.
Diesel and Walker, unsurprisingly, seem to be back on board for F&F 5, and given that the fourth film has brought in over double the worldwide take of Tokyo Drift (and has, indeed, become the biggest grossing of the series to date), we wouldn’t rule out a sixth adventure either. All concerned would seem to appreciate it.
ANTHONY HOPKINS HANNIBAL LECTER
While Brian Cox was the first to portray arguably cinema’s most popular modern-day serial killer on screen (in Michael Mann’s Manhunter), it was Sir Anthony Hopkins’ take on Hannibal Lecter that remains iconic. Bagging him a Best Actor Oscar for essentially a supporting role in The Silence Of The Lambs, Hopkins then reprised the role in the terrible-but-hugely-successful Hannibal (although the first half, to be fair, is very smartly directed), and the not-very-good-but-still-successful-enough Red Dragon.
But just how entwined was Hopkins to the Hannibal Lecter cinematic franchise? The opportunity to put that to the test arose when Thomas Harris delivered his manuscript of Hannibal Rising. Here – yes! – was a chance to do the origins story, and thus perhaps keep the big screen Lecter adventures going even if Hopkins wasn’t involved any more.
It was not a wise move. The worldwide box office take of Hannibal amounted to $350m. The Silence Of The Lambs pulled in $272m. Even Red Dragon managed $209m. But without Hopkins on the poster, and it’s fair to say that in spite of the piss poor quality of the Hannibal Rising movie that emerged that he was still the missing selling point, the origin story only bagged $82m across the planet. No Hopkins as Lecter, no deal, seemed to be the lesson.
Post his stint as Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins career has wound down a little, with high profile films such as Alexander, Fracture and Beowulf doing decent business at best. Despite occasional suggestions that he might quit acting, however, he’s still keeping busy, and will be next seen in The Wolf Man. But it looks like, despite occasional rumours to the contrary, that Hannibal Lecter’s cinematic adventures are behind him.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER TERMINATOR
In effect, two stars of the Terminator franchise are with it no longer. Writer-director James Cameron refused a third movie, that a $30m paycheque persuaded Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign up for. And by the time Terminator: Salvation rolled around, Arnie was Leader Of The Free World (well, California), and it was left to a posh computer to ensure he had any presence in the film at all.
The Terminator franchise, however, was clearly at its best when Cameron and Schwarzenegger were both on board, both in terms of commercial and critical performance. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was 1991’s biggest film, raking in over half a billion dollars worldwide, at a point when that was worth far more than half a billion dollars today. Without James Cameron – who, to be fair, has done quite well for himself with the small matter of the world’s most commercially lucrative film, Titanic (complete with its haul of Oscars) and this Christmas’ Avatar – the reviews got worse, but the star power of Arnie pulled Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines through. $433m worldwide was a decent take, and enough to justify the gamble of the enormous cost required to bring the franchise back.
But the worry now is that without Arnie, and with Christian Bale and Sam Worthington drafted in instead, Terminator: Salvation has just crawled past $350m across the globe. That’s still big money by most people’s standards, just not by the standards required of the expensive Terminator franchise.
Post Terminator 2, interestingly, Arnie never had a hit of that size again, only really coming close when he re-teamed with James Cameron for True Lies in the mid-90s. While he still had hits – Eraser and Batman & Robin did decent money – the Austrian Oak who took up T3 was arguably pushed into a box office corner, with a string of big budget projects such as The Sixth Day and End Of Days becoming box office poopers. It’s not inconceivable that Terminator 3 will be his last hit movie.
Still, the Terminator franchise does live on, and found a critical source of gold with the now-canned Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, that proved that it could deliver compelling entertainment without Mr Cameron or Schwarzenegger too near the steering wheel. The problem was that, without them, not enough people watch it. That’s also the case with Terminator: Salvation, and without a radical rethink, is likely to be the same for Terminator 5…
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER PREDATOR
We’ve just done one franchise that carried on without Arnie, so let’s tackle the other. Helmed by John McTiernan, just before he’d go on and direct Die Hard, Predator remains a firm 80s favourite. Arnie, the jungle and the predator creature of the title makes for a violent, wildly entertaining romp, and one that understandably remains popular to this day.
When the first film hit big, the talk inevitably moved on to a possible sequel, which 20th Century Fox was keen to greenlight. Its concept was to move the action from the jungle to the city, though, and this is the point where the Predator series and Arnold Schwarzenegger moved apart. Schwarzenegger was opposed to the idea of taking the predator away from the jungle, and eventually passed on the film as a result, opting to make – wisely – Terminator 2 instead. His role was thus rewritten for Predator 2, and evolved into Peter Keyes, who was eventually played by Gary Busey.
The entire cast of the film changed too, with the exception of Kevin Peter Hall as the predator (with Danny Glover effectively now taking the lead role), and in came director Stephen Hopkins (now best known for helming much of the first season of 24), who turned in a far more conventional, by the numbers action flick. It’s not an unpopular film, and it is a very violent one, but there’s little danger of it becoming favoured over the first Predator. It made less money too, counting up $57m at the worldwide box office against the near-$100m take of the original.
While Schwarzenegger’s post-Predator story we’ve covered when talking about The Terminator above, the Predator franchise has continued to splutter along. Fox bowed to long-standing fan pressure, as well as the pressure from its own moneymen, and knocked the Alien and Predator franchises together for Alien Vs Predator in 2004, and watched as $172m poured through the tills, without the need for any star names. Even the terrible Aliens Vs Predator – Requiem brought in $128m.
And that was enough to persuade Fox to belatedly jump-start the main Predator series, courtesy of an old Robert Rodriguez script. As such, Predators has now moved into production – without Arnie involved at all, it seems – with a release set for next summer. Don’t wager against it being a good-sized hit, and marking Predator as one of the few franchises that’s not heavily reliant on a star name…
KATE BECKINSALE UNDERWORLD
So just how pivotal was the husband and wife teaming of director Len Wiseman and star Kate Beckinsale to the Underworld franchise? Important, but not vital, would seem to be the answer.
The franchise, to be fair, has hardly been a magnet for glowing reviews at the best of times, but both 2003’s Underworld, and 2006’s Underworld: Evolution did decent money, with the former turning in $95m worldwide, and the latter increasing that slightly to $111m. But after the second film, the pair departed the franchise, to differing fortunes. Wiseman landed the gig directing the fourth Die Hard movie, and did a better job than expected, too, with the film’s take also eclipsing all of the previous films in the franchise. It’s not up to the standard of the original by any realistic measure, but Die Hard 4.0 is still a fine, daft piece of action entertainment.
Beckinsale, meanwhile, declared in early 2008 that she wouldn’t be involved with the third Underworld film, although wouldn’t rule out returning to it. Her films since, however, without the possible exception of Vacancy depending what mood you were in, have hardly been notable.
The franchise pressed on anyway in the time-honoured prequel fashion, albeit it seemed with Beckinsale involved. As it turned out, some previously shot material of her was inserted into Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, with Rhona Mitra instead taking up the lead. Beckinsale’s absence certainly didn’t help the film, but it didn’t deliver a fatal box office blow – takings worldwide were at $90m by the time Underworld 3 exited cinemas, and a fourth film is likely.
However, you can’t help but conclude that it’s Mr Wiseman who has fared the best thus far since the franchise, its star and its director parted professional company…
BATMAN & SUPERHERO MOVIES IN GENERAL
This is a bit of an odd inclusion, and hence we’ll bundle together a few other movies to cover it. Because the argument, and it’s a strong one, is that Batman is the star of these particular movies, rather than the actor who happens to be donning the cape at any one time. Did anyone, with the best will in the world, queue up to watch Batman and Batman Returns because they fancied watching a Michael Keaton movie, for instance?
This is further cemented by the fact that every actor who has taken on the role of Batman in the modern day franchise has enjoyed watching it hit. Even poor old George Clooney, stuck in the middle of Batman & Robin and seemingly unable to call bullshit on it, got to sit back as over $200m poured into Warner Bros’ bank account.
But then superhero movies can survive a casting change in an instant, and are arguably more star-proof than any other genre. It mattered not, for instance, whether Ed Norton or Eric Bana was the Hulk, or if Mr Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney or Bale was donning the batsuit. The box office is seemingly unaffected by it.
As for the stars themselves? That’s more interesting. Post-Batman, Michael Keaton hasn’t had a major blockbuster hit, even if he has bitten off some meaty roles. To be fair though, Keaton isn’t the kind of actor who ever struck us as putting commercial viability at the top of his shopping list for projects. Val Kilmer? He left Batman behind to try his hand at being The Saint, and it turns out he wasn’t very good at it. Since then, he’s had moderate hits, but his best film post the Batman era, the outstanding Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was no major money-maker.
Only George Clooney seems to have been able to take a superhero role and leave it behind, helped in part by the shitty movie he was a part of. But as we watch Brandon Routh trying to carve out a post-Superman career, you can’t help but conclude that a superhero costume, once left behind, could be as much curse as blessing…