News this week came in that the final planned Divergent Series movie would be skipping the theaters and go direct to television/DVD. It’s a rare move for such a major studio franchise to make, and it got me to thinking about other movie series that fizzled and did the same. Come inside to check out a history of downward sliding franchises!
If I come off sounding a bit harsh about all this, it’s mostly due to the fact that it’s such a bizarre situation. It’s been awhile since a studio franchise had to dropped down to direct-to-television and it’s not a good thing. Sure, Lionsgate is trying to spin the information that it’s part of a planned way to jumpstart a spin-off TV series...but the reality is this isn’t how they wanted The Divergent Series to end.
It’s a failure, and frankly, I’m kind of surprised the movie series made it all the way to three films. You could see the declining box office throughout the last few years, as even the book series’ diehard fans struggled to find motivation to see the films in theaters. Sure, when they announced the third book would be split into two movies (like other popular Young Adult book adaptations have done) it seemed like a good idea, but now it’s biting them in the ass. Had they buckled down and wrapped up the film series with a basic trilogy, they could have saved a little face. As it stands, they have to hope fans will understand...Especially as I’m hearing quite a few cast members are thinking about dropping out because of the switch.
As I’ve dwelled on this shocking move by Lionsgate (and poked some fun at it), it got me thinking about other movie franchises that burned out in theaters only to continue on the small screen directly to TV or DVD/home entertainment. If these are any indication, Divergent: Ascendant doesn’t have much chance.
[Quick Note: When compiling this list, I tried to limit it to actual film franchises. Not just a single movie that hit theaters and had a bunch of Direct-to-DVD sequels.]
Highlander: The Source (2007)
Of all these on the list, I think bringing up Highlander is the one that cuts deepest. It’s one of my favorite films of all time, and despite some hiccups with a truly out there sequel and a third movie that somehow made even less sense, it was a franchise I loved. I watched the TV series adamantly, and was thrilled when Highlander: Endgame managed to fuse the movie and show stories into one (even if it wasn’t the greatest).
Thus, when The Source was initially announced as the start of another planned trilogy of Highlander films, I was optimistic...Then I found out it was coming only to the Sci-Fi channel. Then I watched the damn thing. Wow. What could have been a neat premise and way to reboot the Highlander series, turned into a horrible mess and was so critically panned the planned trilogy never happened. It put the final nail in the coffin for a franchise that once held so much promise.
Critters 3 & 4 (1991-92)
Critters and Critters 2: The Main Course hit theaters in the 80s and featured ravenous little alien monsters hell bent on decimating the human population, as space bounty hunters tracked them down. They were fun little action/horror flicks in the same vein as Gremlins (though the director continues to refute the claims of Critters being a cash-grab), which garnered a fan following. They’re great B-movie flicks to watch on a Saturday night with nothing else to do.
Critters 3 and 4, which were shot back-to-back, never made it to theaters however. Despite the cult status of the originals, these sequels were poorly received in comparison. The setting for the films were changed drastically and the cuts to the budget were readily apparent. Hell some of the shots in the films were taken directly from the previous movies and reused to save time. It's biggest claim to fame as a piece of trivia, however, is it features the movie debut of Leonardo DiCaprio.
I'll Always Know What you Did Last Summer (2006)
The Jennifer Love Hewitt starring horror franchise came out in the late 90s, capitalizing on the upswing of young group-based slasher flicks (Scream, Urban Legend, etc) and did pretty well. Though the formula seemed to remain the same, the first film managed to bring some interesting ideas and scares for audiences. The sequel showed more of its cash-grabbing nature, and it seemed like the franchise was dead.
Then someone got the bright idea to bring the franchise back to life with a direct-to-DVD sequel. Despite not featuring any of the surviving cast members from the previous films, I’ll Always Know is a direct follow-up to I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The filmmakers decided to start with an all new cast and new story (of sorts). Apparently there was a cameo written into the script for Hewitt, but she declined after seeing the story. Critics agreed with her assessment as the film currently commands a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Home Alone 4 (ABC in 2002) & Home Alone 5 (ABC Family in 2012)
The first two Home Alone films remains movie classics and holiday favorites for people the world over. For many, it’s just not Christmas without popping in either of these films at some point. While Macaulay Culkin’s portrayal of Kevin McCallister made him famous and a household name at the time, the studios wanted to keep the franchise going even after he grew out of the role. Thus, they came out with Home Alone 3 which featured an entirely new family and story...It didn’t do well.
The brand still held power, however, and thus a TV movie was created that once again put Kevin McCallister back as the main character (though obviously a different actor). It debuted in 2002 on ABC, and I wouldn’t necessarily call it a success as the studios waited another decade before making Home Alone 5 (also just for television). The fifth film once again tried to bring in a new character, but as there’s been no word or development another Home Alone, it might be safe to say audiences have grown tired of the attempts.
Addams Family Reunion (1998)
The Addams Family and Addams Family Values delighted audiences with their weirdness, yet surprisingly touching family dynamic. Based on the cartoon and TV series of the same name, a new generation of people were introduced to the family and people thoroughly enjoyed it. The strange blend of dark fantasy and humor resonated with fans and critics alike, with the first film snagging a number of award nominations.
When Raúl Juliá tragically passed away, Paramount wasn’t sure exactly how to move forward with the franchise...so they didn’t. Instead, Warner Bros. (who had the rights to the TV series still) decided to try and make a movie of their own, intended specifically for TV/home entertainment. Addams Family Reunion wasn’t intended to follow the Paramount films and brought in an entirely new cast (though the actor who played Lurch did return), but audiences weren’t pleased with the reboot and did so poorly, it’s only ever been released on VHS (not even warranting a DVD port). While rumblings of a new animated series for Addams Family have been swirling since 2010 (http://www.cinelinx.com/movie-news/item/288-animated-the-addams-family-is-no-longer-a-rumor.html) nothing has really been done with the series since Reunion. Perhaps now’s the time to bring the iconic family back into the limelight.
Honorable Mentions: Since these films technically weren’t franchises before making the switch to TV/DVD, I didn’t feel I could list them in the primary article. As such, they’re getting an honorable mention.
Tremors - A few of these are actually pretty good and do right by the original.
The Lost Boys - The first remains a classic in its own right, but the sequels were a joke.
Universal Soldier - This is an interesting series. The first two sequels were straight to home video, while the third sequel came to theaters...then there were two more direct to DVD sequels after that!
Return to Oz - After a whopping 46 year gap, The Wizard of Oz got a sequel, though it’s proof positive that not all good things come to those who wait.
Scorpion King - By the last count, we’re on The Scorpion King 4...Yes, it has more films in its lineup than The Mummy franchise from which it spawned, with The Rock skipping out on all of them except the first (the only one to go to theaters).
While The Divergent Series isn’t the first major movie franchise to crash and burn onto the small screen, it’s the first major one in a very long time (just check the release dates on these things). Judging by the quality of these direct-to-TV/DVD sequels, how much hope can really place in the future of Divergent? Sure, the television landscape is a far different place now, but such a drastic change in plans can’t be a good thing.
What do you guys think about The Divergent Series shifting to television for its finale? Any other big movie franchises you think I should have included on the list?