There have been many successful franchises over the years. Franchises are a very hot thing right now. However, for every Star Wars, Dark Knight or Captain America franchise, there is a failed film series. Often these intended series will start off with an excellent movie but the second film will derail any plans for a third movie or beyond.
In no particular order, here are six franchises that never got past a second film.
Conan: Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian warrior Conan in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian, which was a box office hit. Naturally, plans went into action for an intended 5-film franchise, which would end with “King Conan”; as foreshadowed in the first two movies. This led to the sequel Conan the Destroyer in 1984. Unfortunately, the sequel was badly reviewed and under- performed. Also, there was a legal issue with the estate of creator Robert E. Howard. The third Conan film was therefore rewritten to become Red Sonja (1985) starring Brigette Nielsen, and Schwarzenegger played a Conan carbon copy named Kalidor. That film did very poorly in terms of both critical and financial results. This ended Schwarzenegger’s interest in doing another film in this franchise. He had the successful Terminator movie franchise to fall back on by this point, so he never revisited Conan.
THE FANTASTIC FOUR: This is a franchise that no one seems to be able to get right. There have been several film versions, beginning with the cheesy, 1994 Roger Croman effort, through Josh Trank’s 2015 debacle. The 2005 version of The Fantastic Four disappointed fans and was pounded by critics but regardless, it made enough money for the studio to bankroll a sequel. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer did nothing to redeem the mediocre first movie, nor was the studio happy with the lackluster box office. Fan interest in the FF was so low after this that plans for a third movie were dropped. Sadly, the 2016 reboot was even worse.
THE UNIVERSAL MONSTER “HOUSE” FILMS: Back in the 1940s, Universal studios, who were known for their monster films, got the clever idea to create the first-ever shared cinematic universe to reinvigorate the fading monster genre. After doing their initial x-over movie Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), Universal planned a trilogy of movies starring Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster , which would be known as the “House” movies. The first one, The House of Frankenstein (1945) was very successful, so the second one was rushed out the same year. The House of Dracula was inferior to the first and underperformed in theaters. The studio gave up their plans to do the intended third entry, which would have been called The House of the Wolfman. Instead, they teamed their trio of monsters up with mega-popular comedians Abbott & Costello for the comedy classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, which was a huge hit.
THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN: After the profitable Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire, Sony decided rather prematurely to reboot the franchise soon after. Probably too soon. They cast Andrew Garfield as the new web-spinning hero. The first one, called the Amazing Spider-Man (2012) made enough money to justify a sequel, despite making less than any of the Maguire movies. The next movie continued the trend of Spider-Man movies making less than their predecessors. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) was not the hit that Sony had hoped, grossing the least of any Spider-Man movie. Unhappy fans trounced it. Even though Sony had announced a 3rd and 4th movie—as well as the spin-offs Venom and Sinister Six—they decided to give up on the Garfield series, and went instead with a Disney-collaboration reboot, which will star Tom Holland. Holland got positive reviews for his appearance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War.
GHOSTBUSTERS: The 1984 classic Ghostbusters is one of the all-time great comedies. It was one of the top-grossing movies ever at the time of its initial run. It was no surprise that a sequel was made. What did surprise people, however, was the fact that the follow-up movie was so unfunny. Even though it had the same talented cast, and direction by Ivan Reitman, Ghostbusters 2 (1989) was not very good. Some of this may have had to do with the fact that the studio wanted the sequel to adhere more to the kid-friendly, animated Real Ghostbusters TV show (1986-1991). Even Bill Murray called the sequel “a whole lot of slime”. Plans for a third one were dropped. While occasional talk of a sequel circulated, the death of Harold Ramis ended the franchise. The recent reboot has become very divisive.
CHINATOWN: 1974’s film noir detective classic Chinatown (1974) is one of the greatest films ever made. With a 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Roman Polanski’s masterpiece starred the great Jack Nicholson as small-time 1940’s private eye Jack Gittes. This was meant to be the first of a trilogy about the Gittes character, each taking place at eleven-year intervals, focusing on the development and decline of Southern California, due to greedy developers and corrupt businessmen. Chinatown had been about water rights. The sequel, The Two Jakes (1990), co-starring Harvey Keitel, dealt with oil. If the third movie had been made—which would have been called “Gittes vs. Gittes”, since Jake would get divorced–it would have been set in the 1950s, and deal with pollution caused by the building of the freeway system. Sadly, the second movie was beset by behind-the-scenes struggles, including cast and crew changes, along with delays in filming (The sequel was not released until 16 years after the first.) One of the producers, who was kicked off the project, sued Jack Nicholson during filming. All this, along with the poor reviews The Two Jakes got, caused Nicholson to decide that he didn’t want any part of a third movie.