With the upcoming release of the first part of the Harry Potter finale, let’s take a look at the 25 BEST film franchises. So, what is the criteria for making the top 25? Longevity, consistency, and the overall effect a franchise has on the movie making landscape. A franchise technically consists of at least 2 films, but for this list, the minimum for each series will be 3 films. Once you get to that third film, a franchise can be certified successful, even if the third film is far inferior to the first two (which happens quite often…hello Godfather and Spider-man). I highly recommend picking up all of theses franchises on BLU-RAY (if available). Most are available in box sets. Head over to
AMAZON.COM and check out their low prices on these great series!!
Let’s begin with Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus at #25…
25. THE MATRIX - This franchise was supposed to be a starring vehicle for Will Smith. However, Will was busy shooting Wild Wild West and couldn’t commit to The Matrix. That was a good thing. Maybe not for Will, but for moviegoers. Nothing against Big Willie, but I really can’t imagine anyone else buy Keanu Reeves in the role of Neo. Add Laurence Fishburne and Carrie Ann Moss to the mix and this franchise was ready to roll. The Wachowski brothers created an insanely cool world for the movie going public to get lost in. Yes, by the time the sequels rolled around the plot was a bit confusing for some and chunks of the dialogue didn’t make much sense, but overall the series was carried by over the top visual effects, non-stop action, and an incredible baddie in the form of Hugo Weaving’s Mr. Smith.
24. SUPERMAN – Christopher Reeve was and always will be the ideal Superman. Tall, handsome, goofy when needed, and serious when needed, Reeve embodied the world’s greatest superhero perfectly. The first two films of this franchise were phenomenal. I actually prefer the second film over the first simply because of Terrance Stamp’s General Zod. A cold, straight to the point bad guy, Zod lifted the franchise up a bit from the original. Not to say the original wasn’t good…it was really good. Marlon Brando was perfectly chosen as Jor-El or Superman’s father. Gene Hackman portrayed the sinister Lex Luthor with a comedic tone that seemed to fit the overall tone of the pictures. Unfortunately, this series suffered from a lackluster third and fourth entries and an unsuccessful reboot in 2006. Otherwise, it would have been higher up on this list. I enjoyed Superman Returns and thought Brandon Routh was a good pick for the title role. However, it was lacking something. My problem was the casting of Kevin Spacey. Didn’t seem to fit Lex Luthor very well.
23. DIRTY HARRY – Clint Eastwood is Dirty Harry. No other film series has a standout lead actor as noticeable and as brute as this one. The original set the tone for action films and the formula is still used in today’s films. Clint was so charismatic in this film despite it’s grittiness. The sequels ranged from mediocre to really good, with Sudden Impact and Magnum Force being the standouts. The Dead Pool and The Enforcer didn’t work as well as the others did, but still had some classic Dirty Harry moments. Clint made a name for himself with his westerns, but it was the Dirty Harry series that added more proof to just how tough this guy really was. Clint continues to make high quality films even though he does most of it behind the camera now.
21. ALIENS - Two of today’s most famous directors had a big hand in successfully creating this monster franchise. Ask anyone and the first two Alien films are considered to be among the best sci-fi films ever made. Funny thing is each of them have really different tones. Scott and Cameron gave us a hint as to the talent they had as directors. The films also helped launch the career of one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood…Sigourney Weaver. Her Ripley character is one of the most recognized screen icons of all time. David Fincher, who is also among today’s biggest directors, tackled the third entry but it was far inferior to the first two. I guess Fincher just wasn’t the right man for the job…at that time. Another lackluster sequel followed, and then this franchise got paired with another mildly successful one with Predator. The Alien vs. Predator films were fun to watch, even if they could have been much better. On the horizon…Ridley Scott, the man behind the original, is developing a prequel to the classic. It’s kind of stuck in limbo right now, but if it does get made, Scott is definitely the man for the job.
20. SHREK - You can bet that Dreamworks probably thought it was silly to greenlight an animated film that was created by Mike Myers (that Austin Powers guy) and that revolved around a big green ogre. Well, someone knew what they had. Not only was Shrek enjoyable, but it was definitely a film that the entire family could enjoy. Then came the sequel, which to this day, is one of my favorite animated films of all time. The story of Fiona, Shrek, Donkey, and all of the great supporting characters is one that rivals the best Disney animated films and it will surely stand the test of time. The third film was a bit off compared to the first two, but was still very successful. With the release of the fourth entry this past summer, this franchise proved that it still had a lot to offer audiences. A spinoff, Puss N Boots is scheduled for release sometime next year.
19. THE TERMINATOR - James Cameron created this franchise and probably wish he had better special effects technology when the first film debuted in 1984. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger brought the Terminator to life and he became a household name, but there was something ‘cheap’ looking about the original. Not that it was the filmmakers fault. The material just begged for more. It was almost like it was not ready for the big screen. But that was ok. Because when Cameron and Schwarzenegger readied the sequel, film effect technology had grown by leaps and bounds. Cameron perfected it and also wrote a more audience friendly story that hit a chord with general public. T2 was incredible and is one of those films (like The Matrix) that set the bar higher for all big budget action films. Terminator 3 was another decent entry and somewhat underrated. I think if Cameron had directed, it would have been much better. The most recent entry Terminator Salvation was heavy on the action, and featured some cool moments, but ultimately lacked the heart of previous entries. Overall, you can’t deny that overall impact this franchise had on the movie making landscape and just how popular the Terminator character is – worldwide.
18. THE OCEANS TRILOGY - Can you say ‘perfect casting’? In a series that really could have ended with one very successful film, the creators and cast developed sequels that were well written and clever. George Clooney as the cool defining Danny Ocean is the leader of the pack here, but kudos to all of this impressive cast. The slick and equally cool Brad Pitt helped carry the films…add Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Eddie Jemison, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts and you have one of the best casts ever in a film. The sequels were just as good as the original and Catherine Zeta Jones, as well as Vincent Cassel, added something interesting to the plotlines. We should be happy that director Steven Soderbergh stuck around to do all three films, because it’s the overall ‘cool’ tone and vibe that appears in each of them that carries them along ever so smoothly.
17. SPIDER-MAN- I truly worry about the reboot for this that is coming out in a couple of years. Why? Because it’s going to be hard to top what Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire did when they finally brought the legendary Spider-Man to the big screen. This was as close to perfect as you can get for a superhero film. The original brought us interesting back story, relatable characters, and a psychotic villain in the Green Goblin. Maguire’s Peter Parker was spot on. He was exactly what we thought Parker would be like…geeky, hopelessly in love with Mary Jane, and ready to take on the world with his new found superpowers. The first sequel, which I actually enjoyed just a bit more than the original, took the story lines to new heights and gave us an even cooler villain with Doc Oc. The second film is great because of how the tension evolves between Harry (James Franco) and Peter. By the time the third film rolled around, audiences were expecting big things with the announcement that Venom would indeed be one of the villains. Unfortunately, Spider-man 3 suffered from what I call the Batman and Robin syndrome. Too many characters, too much going on, and not enough time to devote to the development of one particular villain. Sandman was done well, but Venom missed the mark. Topher Grace was miscast and Venom kind of took a back seat to everything else in the film. Add the New Goblin as another villain…and well, you get my drift. If the third film had matched the level of the first two, the webbed superhero would have found himself higher up on my list.
16. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN - Disney had no idea what they had when Johnny Depp was cast as Capt. Jack Sparrow in their first film that was based on one of the theme park attractions. Credit has to be given to director Gore Verbinski, the writers, and the casting department for creating one of the most enjoyable franchises to ever hit the big screen. Depp owns the character of Jack Sparrow. He is fun, silly, smart, and crazy. Audiences enjoy watching him. Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, and Bill Nighy to the mix and this series features several memorable characters. Although the third film had moments that seemed to drag, the end of the trilogies finale was incredible. The final 25 minutes of At World’s End are the best of the series. Have no fear Sparrow fans, Depp will be back in the role in next summers Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
15. X-MEN – This had to a difficult one to put together. So many superheroes in one film, so many story lines to try to put into a couple of hours of screen time. They pulled it off. Not only did the casting for X-Men had to be spot on, but the script had to be smart enough to provide knowledge on all of the characters, as well as provide enough action to keep audiences coming back for more. The series has had various directors, all of which succeeded in bringing a good tone to the franchise, but credit must be given to Bryan Singer for making the first two films the standouts. Even the first spinoff Wolverine was very successful. Hugh Jackman is perfect for this character, as was Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellan as Magneto, Halle Berry as Storm, Anna Paquin as Rogue, and Famke Jannsen as Jean Gray. Up next…Wolverine 2 and next summer’s X-Men: First Class.
14. JURASSIC PARK – When Steven Spielberg brought dinosaurs back to life back in 1993, audiences were very eager to see what the end result would be. What moviegoers experienced was an incredible fantasy, action film that had stunning visuals and special effects. Combine that with an easy to follow, tension filled storyline and the result was a motion picture that gets the label of a ’game changer’ in the industry. The Lost World, which was the very successful, albeit not so much a critical or fan favorite brought the dinosaurs back to the States, but didn’t flow as nicely as the original. Spielberg left the directors chair for the third one and handed the reigns over to Joe Johnston. My feelings on the third one go like this – I thought it was a solid piece of entertainment and brought to life even more kinds of dinosaurs for us to be in awe of, but it also lacked the heart of the original. Overall, this series gets high marks simply because of how well the CGI effects were put to use, mixed with the great direction of Spielberg and Johnston. Having Jeff Goldblum in two of the flicks didn’t hurt either. Love Dr. Ian Malcolm. Spielberg…are you listening…time for another one…bring on JP4.
13. BACK TO THE FUTURE - I’m not sure there is another film series out there that is as much ‘fun’ to watch as this collaborative effort between producer Steven Spielberg and one of my favorite directors, Robert Zemeckis. The story was unique and unlike anything ever seen before on film, but it is actually a very simple plot. This series is about two things – time travel and the relationships forged between certain characters. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, and Lea Thompson are perfectly cast in the amazing first film. Glover as George McFly, in particular, is one of the most memorable supporting characters in film history. The second film had a bit of trouble trying to fit a lot of ‘details’ into one film and it got a bit tedious trying to figure it all out. In my opinion, the film got back to its roots in the third film. I enjoyed the ‘Old West’ approach and it was good to see all of the main characters in a setting such as that. It was fun to watch. I just had a chance to see the original on the big screen again a couple of weeks ago…and trust me, it definitely stands the test of time. It had been 25 years, but it felt like I was watching a film that was made yesterday. And storytelling doesn’t get much more fun.
12. DIE HARD – Back in 1988, an action film debuted under the radar, so to speak, and went on to redefine the action movie genre yet again. Why was this film so cool? Several reasons. Regular cop John McClane was a man that a lot of men could relate to. The ‘bad guy’ was portrayed ever so cleverly by Alan Rickman and he made Hans Gruber one of the best action film villains of all time. Director John McTiernan showed that he had a flare for directing the tension of a hostage/takeover film. The other films in this series were good as well, even though they never really measured up to the first one. Renny Harlin took over the reigns on the second entry and kept the fast paced action moving along nicely. McTiernan returned for third one and brought some comic relief in Samuel L. Jackson. And the fourth entry, Live Free or Die Hard proved the John McClane wasn’t too old for this shit and with the help of a clever plot, the film scored well with audiences. I will admit that I wasn’t too impressed with the villain in this one, but the film was pretty good otherwise. Who would have thought that the guy from Moonlighting could have pulled this off.
11. STAR TREK - So many films – some hits, some misses, and topped off with what is, in my opinion, the best reboot of any franchise so far. Trekkies enjoyed the original film, worshipped the second entry, and had mixed feelings on all of what was to come. There is no doubt that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are the faces of this franchise and I will say that the films with the original cast are the best ones. Although, The Next Generation cast dealt out some films that were also not too shabby. I really enjoyed Generations which combined Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. Patrick Stewart was well cast as the Captain of the Enterprise and in some ways, he was more ‘Captainlike’ than Shatner. But Shatner was much more fun to watch. The Voyage Home was a high mark for the franchise as far as financial success, and Insurrection was a low point. Director J.J. Abrams brought the series back to life in 2009 with the incredibly successful reboot. Well cast, and featuring the return of Leonard Nimoy in a bit of clever screenwriting, the new Trek was a prequel (and a sequel) that worked on every level. Due to it’s success, expect more Trek films in the near future as this series intends to ‘live long and prosper’.
10. ROCKY - Sylvester Stallone was near broke when he wrote this story about a struggling boxer who gets the chance of a lifetime to fight the Heavyweight Champion of the World – Apollo Creed. The story was extremely heartwarming and anyone struggling to make ends meet could relate to Rocky Balboa. When you get a chance, you take it – and you make the most of it. That was the theme here…not to mention the sweet love story between Rocky and the extremely shy Adrian. Burgess Meredith made Rocky’s manager Mickey memorable and Carl Weathers really made you dislike Creed. Director John G. Avildsen carefully made Rocky into a modern day masterpiece that took home the Best Picture Oscar. The sequels stepped up the action factor, added a lot more intensity, and colorful characters. The inevitable rematch in the second entry was great and Stallone proved that he wasn’t a bad director either. Parts 3 and 4 gave us Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lungren), as well as the heartbreaking deaths of Mickey and Apollo. Rocky V was abyssmal due to a very poorly written script and an underwhelming bad guy. The only saving grace of that film is the street fight at the end, which was pretty solid. Stallone totally redeemed the mistake of the fifth entry when he made Rocky Balboa. Probably the most perfect bookend to any series, Rocky went out with class and proved that if you have enough heart and desire…you’re never too old to get back into the ring.
9. BATMAN - This is a film franchise that can be split into two. First, we have to acknowledge how good Tim Burton’s Batman films were. For the time they came out, it was exciting to see Batman in action. A cleverly cast Jack Nicholson as the Joker was the perfect villain for the Caped Crusader’s first big budget film. The second entry was much darker, but equally as clever and managed to equally share the storylines of the villains. Joel Schumacher took over and made a bright, over the top action piece with Batman Forever. This film successfully brought Robin into the mix and in a genius, albeit obvious, bit of casting gave us Jim Carrey to bring life to the Riddler. Val Kilmer was a decent choice for Batman/Bruce Wayne as well. Unfortunately, the film didn’t mix two villains quite as well as Batman Returns, and Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face kind of played second fiddle to everyone else. This type of mistake was elevated to new heights with the horrible Batman and Robin. Too many villains, an unnecessary Bat-Girl, and the miscasting of George Clooney as Batman led to it being the worst big budget superhero film of all time (yes, it is). Several years later a new approach would bring the Dark Knight back to the big screen with a vengeance. Batman Begins gave us a very good origin story to Bruce Wayne and marvelously gave us the reason to him becoming a vigilante. Director Christopher Nolan did an excellent job with this film, keeping it dark, yet very informative. Then came The Dark Knight…which in a complete opposite of Batman and Robin, is the best superhero film of all time. Why? We get the building of the Bat-cave, the proper use of Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent, the promotion of Commissioner Gordon, and the incredible, awe inspiring performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Nolan and team are currently working on the third installment to their part of this franchise…The Dark Knight Rises.
8. JASON BOURNE - I will admit that when I heard Matt Damon was being cast as Jason Bourne, I cringed. The guy from Good Will Hunting? I was wrong. Very wrong. Incredibly filmed action sequences and amazing performances by Damon is what carries this series. In all reality, the storyline could have worn thin after the first film. Seriously, how can they keep this interesting? Bourne has one motivation and that is to find his identity and discover what happened to him. Along the way, he loses the only woman he’s ever loved (well, the only one he remembers) and it just adds more fuel to his fire. The best thing about the Bourne series is that you are always interested in what is going to happen next to our title character. The direction of all three films is outstanding. Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass pace the films out so evenly that there is never a dull moment. They are exciting, smart, and intense. The best ‘action’ series out there. Hands down. Unfortunately, it was just announced that the fourth installment is being made…without Matt Damon??
7. JAMES BOND - oo7. Many different faces have brought Ian Fleming’s secret spy to live since the 1960′s. Some have been great and some just mediocre. I can’t really say that any of them were entirely horrible. Yes, Timothy Dalton had his faults, but at times, even he shined as Mr. Bond. Sean Connery is a fan favorite, Pierce Brosnan was extremely cool, and Roger Moore has his followers, but I really enjoyed Daniel Craig’s take on the character. Craig handled the suaveness, the intensity, and the action better than any of his predecessors – as a whole. The films have also been pretty consistent, with the exception of a few misses. In a series that consists of 23 films, you are going to have a few that don’t live up to some expectations. James Bond has been around forever and one day we will see him on the big screen again. This series is too profitable to sit in limbo for too long. The best of the best – Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Casino Royale, License to Kill, Goldeneye, and Live and Let Die.
6. INDIANA JONES – The combination of megastar Harrison Ford, super director Steven Spielberg, and mastermind George Lucas resulted in one of the most exciting franchises and one of the most recognized characters in film history. These films are what adventure stories are all about. Intelligent, witty, funny, and very well shot, the Indiana Jones movies are pure cinematic entertainment. Raiders of the Lost Ark got this series started off with a bang. It is a great beginning to the franchise and let us know that not only were we going to get a high quality action film, we were going to get a history lesson as well. The Temple of Doom only increased the fun factor and is more than a worthy follow up to the original classic. The Last Crusade (which it wasn’t) was the most lighthearted of all of the entries and Sean Connery was well cast as Indy’s father. An incredibly fun film that would have been a nice end to the franchise. But no. It took a long time, but finally the fourth entry appeared after going through several rewrites. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull looked great and still had some fun moments, but truly lacked the overall appeal of the first three films. Didn’t matter much to audiences…it was a monster hit. Rumor has it that a fifth installment is in the beginning stages, so let’s hope Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford can get things back on track. Like Back to the Future, this is a series that never seems to get old. Easily watchable and still very entertaining.
5. TOY STORY – Summer 2010 gave us the long awaited finale to Pixar’s first franchise. In a rare occurence, I actually found the third and supposed final installment to be better than the first two films…if only slightly. Hard to pick a favorite here. All of the films are equal on so many levels – great writing, near perfect animation, spot on voice work, and the ability to appeal to adults as well as children. Buzz Lightyear and Cowboy Woody are two of cinemas best characters and the supporting players (or toys in this case) are just as adorable. Toys coming to life has endless possibilities and the filmmakers really dove into the majority of them. With an easy to follow, heartwarming storyline, they gave these toys feelings, while at the same time examining the emotions of their owner. We got to see Andy grow up and how the toys reacted to the distance that inevitably grows between the two of them. It’s a great tale and each time you watch one of these three glorious films, you want to be a kid again.
4. HARRY POTTER - Making a successful film series based on a popular book series is not easy. In this case, the pressure was even greater simply because the material was so dear to those who read the beloved J.K. Rowling novels. Translating the books to film had to be a daunting, but exciting task for Warner Bros. They had to be careful and meticulous. Success. First and foremost the casting of the leads was very important, because not only did these children have to fit the first film, but all of the ones to follow. The casting department outdid themselves with this one. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are Harry, Hermione, and Ron. They have been for 10 years of their lives and it culminates with the release of part 2 of the finale next summer. Beginning in 2001, and ending next summer, Harry Potter has become a worldwide phenomenon. The success of the books was enormous, but that didn’t necessarily mean ‘all’ of the films were going to be. Yes, the audience was built in for the first one, but if the filmmakers had screwed it up, audiences would have not shown much love to the sequels. However, even using different directors for most of the films, the series was able to maintain the same tone throughout. No movie series can ever truly match what’s written on paper (unless you have several hours per film), but HP comes pretty damn close. With a new theme park and the two part finale coming up, the success and phenomenon that is Harry Potter continues on.
3. THE GODFATHER - The studio didn’t even want Al Pacino to play Michael Corleone. What? The original film was a Marlon Brando film, but the casting of Pacino as Michael was essential to what made this what some consider the best film of all time. It is a film about family. The good, the bad, the drama, and the power of the mob. You can’t take your eyes off of Brando when he’s onscreen. It’s a true testament to his natural screen presence. James Caan’s hot head Sonny gave audiences a feel of just how different siblings can be. Michael was the calm one. Francis Ford Coppola gave moviegoers 2 masterpieces…back to back. My personal favorite of this series is, of course, Part II. Not only do we get the continuation of Michael becoming the Godfather, but we get this incredible look at the backstory of Don Corleone, portrayed wonderfully by Robert DeNiro. Watching both stories at the same time is pure filmmaking magic. You stay interested, entertained, and mesmerized by the performances and the storytelling. Several years went by until the next entry rolled around. The story was still somewhat interesting and the actors were once again at the top of their game (Andy Garcia is quite good in this), but the film had some flaws. Sofia Coppola was miscast, and the film just didn’t flow as well as the first two. It did have a great ending though and finalized the series quite nicely.
2. LORD OF THE RINGS – What Peter Jackson did with this material is nothing short of astonishing. He brought out every bit of excitement there was when he spent years developing this remarkable trilogy. Once again, great casting played a huge part and the creation of the Gollum creature was genius. But what really make Lord of the Rings so special is just how amazing the action sequences are filmed. Jackson used locals in New Zealand for lots of the sequences and all of them are just beautiful to watch. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay to these films is the fact that when you view them, it feels like you are there with the characters…strolling around middle Earth, going on each and every adventure with them…side by side. Each film gets better than it’s predecessor. Jackson was putting together a masterpiece and by the time the third film came around, you could tell that the cast, crew, and director had found quite a groove. Something was being built. The first film set the tone for the series, gave us the story, and left us wanting more. The second film raised the bar with it’s rousing action sequences and leaving us eagerly awaiting the grand finale…and what a finale it was. The Return of the King had everything you could want in a fantasy action film. A fitting conclusion that left moviegoers satisfied. Jackson is currently working on the prequel…The Hobbit. All I can say is we should all be thankful that he is the one in charge. Can’t imagine anyone else doing this.