4 Installments that Killed their Franchises – Friday Four
In their quest for creating profitable franchises, sometimes companies can get a little shortsighted. They push movies through before they’re ready, make dumb changes, and approve all kinds of things that never should have been approved. When enough of these mistakes come together, they can add up and start dragging down the resulting movie. Sometimes that means the film gets canceled, and sometimes it’s too late to cancel. They have to put out what they’ve got. And what they’ve got… is shit. The franchise the film was supposed to continue is shot dead in its tracks. While they might not stay down forever, these 4 films certainly did a number on their parent franchises.
4. Godzilla (1998)
This year saw the release of a new Godzilla movie, only the second to be made in America. Why did it take 16 years to make another? Probably because the 1998 film is so bad that it pretty much killed the potential American version of the franchise before it could even get started. Directed by that master of critical disaster Roland Emmerich, who landed the job mostly because he was willing to stoop to the budget the studio wanted, the film features little of the monster and lots of nonsense. Emmerich agreed to it only if he was granted more or less free reign with the monster, which on the heels of Independence Day, they were willing to do. Funny thing is, Emmerich has a pretty open dislike of Godzilla, which I can only assume is partially to blame for the film’s awfulness. The monster itself was retconned by the Toho company, which owns the rights to Godzilla, into being a different monster just named “Zilla.” To show their disdain for it, Zilla gets into a fight with the real Godzilla in Godzilla: Final Wars, in a beatdown that is so fantastic it must be seen to be believed.
The movie was supposed to be the first installment of a trilogy, but when it was outed as being shit, that was the end of that. I’m sure Emmerich was laughing diabolically in the back of the theatre when he heard the news. It’s also apparently littered with all kinds of other petty things to get back at people he felt had wronged him, which is really just sad.
3. Battle for the Planet of the Apes
I’ve touched on this before, but Planet of the Apes is a movie that I was shocked to find out had 4 sequels. It seems pretty tightly wrapped up by the end, doesn’t it? And when Charlton Heston and others were wrestled into making a second, they tried to ensure that no more could be made by destroying the whole planet at the end of that movie. Not a great way to end things, certainly not as iconic, but okay. And yet they made a third, as a pseudo-prequel with time travel, and a fourth, a fifth… and it’s this fifth, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, that finally was awful enough to finish this zombie series off. The basic ideas in these films weren’t inherently bad, and many of them (such as Caesar, leader of the apes, and his willingness to try to coexist with humans) were recycled in the recent reboot, but the premise had already been pushed way, way, way beyond what anyone could possibly care about. The special effects are also really, really bad by comparison, barely any better than the TV series. That TV series did air after this, but with as quickly as it died, the writing was already on the wall. It wasn’t until 2001 with Tim Burton’s reboot that another Apes project was attempted, and even that film killed the franchise for another decade.
2. Alien: Resurrection
Alien 3 was a disaster, to say the least. It’s almost legendary in terms of how badly the production went, mostly due to cranky executives and a hardheaded director who eventually left the project at the last minute (not that any other Alien-related film had easier production). But somehow, the franchise managed to survive that, and crap out one last film before succumbing to a fatal case of mismanagement. That film is Alien: Resurrection, directed by a french auteurist filmmaker by the name of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, best known for Amelie. He didn’t actually speak English at the time this film was made and never did bother trying to work in Hollywood again. The initial recipe seemed pretty solid; the script was written by Joss Whedon, whom we all know and love. But Jeunet and Whedon disagreed about the tone of the film (as you might guess) and with Buffy already coming together, Whedon basically just resigned himself to it. The film was going to suck, and suck it did. It’s a mess of human/alien hybrids and clones and all sorts of nonsense, missing iconic parts of the franchise like Weyland-Yutani, but Whedon did eventually salvage a few concepts from it that he managed to use to his own satisfaction in Firefly. The franchise stayed dead until Prometheus and Ridley Scott’s less-than-triumphant return to the world of Alien, though the corpse was dragged out and made to dance around alongside that of the Predator franchise in Alien vs. Predator in 2004 and again in 2007’s Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.
1. John Carter
I tried to pick the other entries on this list because they killed their respective franchises for at least 10 years. But after the catastrophic premiere that was John Carter, I think we can go ahead and call this one now; there almost certainly won’t be any Barsoom films before 2022 (and I’d guess a lot longer). It’s a shame, because the end result isn’t exactly awful. The film can be a bit tedious at times, and since every sci-fi story since has stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work either directly or indirectly, it ended up coming across as derivative (and extremely dated). But as far as big screen sci-fi epics go, it does okay. The worst parts are the weird framing devices in which a fictionalized version of Burroughs appears and the bits in Arizona, which make it seem like it can’t make up its mind what genre it wants to be.
That being said, this one had problems all over the place. The director, Andrew Stanton, had never done live action films before; he’d come from Pixar prior to this. The Disney execs kinda just let him do what he wanted, resulting in the one time we all wish they had interfered somehow. Stanton reportedly ignored advice from his more experienced crew, and a number of reshoots were needed. When it finally was finished, they decided not to go with the title of the first book in the series, A Princess of Mars, with marketing feeling that “princess” in the title would make turn young men off the film. Then it was John Carter of Mars, which was okay, until they decided to drop “Mars” because recent films with that word in the title had done poorly (mostly because they were stupid movies, like Mars Needs Moms, but correlation apparently does equal causation in marketing land), so now it just had the indistinct, generic title John Carter, which told no one anything about it. I did, actually, see the film in theatres, but that was only after I saw a commercial for it late at night and spent about 3 hours digging around trying to figure out what the hell it was supposed to be about. And also someone else offered to buy the ticket for me. That didn’t hurt.
The end result was a film production that is an almost perfect model of how not to make a movie. Between all the reshoots, effects, and marketing costs, it would have needed to make nearly $600 million in order to have turned a profit, which it never even got close to. The film was just so mediocre it could never have hoped to. Disney gave up the rights to the series, and while it’s been said that the new rights holders are shopping it around to studios, I just can’t see anyone taking the risk.
Are there any big franchises that’ve been taken out by crappy sequels or spinoffs that you think should be on the list? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on twitter.