Film series have been a part of Hollywood for decades, dating back to early adaptations of Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. However, with the emergence of blockbusters in the late ’70s, executives at movie studios recognized an opportunity to capitalize on a series’ popularity by creating related products – such as merchandise, video games, toys, etc. – giving birth to the idea of film franchises.
Now seemingly every decision made in Hollywood revolves around finding the next hit franchise, for better or worse. But when done right, a film franchise can have a significant cultural impact and generate tremendous levels of excitement for moviegoers.
With that being said, it begs the question: What are the four most influential film franchises of all time? Check out our list and join the conversation in the comment section.
But before we get started there are a few things to discuss:
- All box office numbers are courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo and are not adjusted for ticket price inflation.
- For the purpose of our list, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not considered as one large franchise but a collection of interconnected smaller franchises (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc). The MCU would have definitely made the list otherwise, and it was a difficult decision to leave it out.
- Only franchises with at least three films at time of writing were considered.
4. James Bond (Number of movies: 25, Worldwide Gross: $5 billion)
When it comes to longevity, not many franchises compare to that of James Bond, as the espionage series spans more than five decades with a whopping 25 entries. Over the years, 12 directors have sat at the helm of the franchise and the iconic Bond character has been portrayed by six different actors, resulting in changes in tone and style that have managed to keep things fresh.
But as the names on the credits change, the franchise’s trademark elements have remained the same: the 007 theme song, beautiful women, high-priced suits, luxury rides and high-tech gadgetry. Those characteristics have become synonymous with the famed secret agent (oxymoron?), even to those who have never watched a single entry in the series, which speaks to its influence.
3. Toy Story (Number of movies: 3, Worldwide Gross: $1.9 billion)
In 1995, Pixar revolutionized the film industry with the release of “Toy Story,” as it became the first feature-length computer-animated movie in history. But achieving such a technological feat didn’t come without challenges – such as production shutdowns and numerous re-writes – as Disney had a very specific vision for the project. However, the end result was a masterpiece that set the stage for the animated films of today and elevated Pixar’s status in the industry.
In addition to changing the game, the entire franchise is universally lauded for its endearing and sophisticated themes that strike a chord with people of all ages. In fact, the three films have an average fresh rating of 99.66 on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest mark of any franchise on this list. That excellence in storytelling is what keeps the adventures of Woody and Buzz a part of our collective consciousness.
2. Harry Potter (Number of movies: 8, Worldwide Gross: $7.7 billion)
Renowned author J.K. Rowling enchanted millions of readers with her Harry Potter novels from 1997 to 2007. Warner Bros. recognized the magical appeal of the beloved books and decided to bring the story of the boy who lived to theaters. As a result, people who never read the series were introduced to the unique characters and creatures of the wizarding world, which has inspired all kinds of fan fiction and theme park attractions.
Most of the time, films based on books fail to live up to expectations – a letdown often caused by unfortunate casting decisions, uninspired direction, or the limitations of the medium (i.e. time) that don’t allow for strict adherence to the source material. And while there were some notable omissions and changes from the books, the Potter films managed to avoid the pitfalls of similar adaptations to capture the essence of Rowling’s acclaimed work, which is a significant accomplishment and worthy of praise.
1. Star Wars (Number of movies: 8, Worldwide Gross: $6.7 billion)
If you want to know where the concept of a film franchise originated, look no further than Star Wars. Filmmaker George Lucas created an expansive galaxy that has captivated moviegoers for generations. The overall popularity of the series has led to the creation of TV shows, books, video games and comics, ensuring it remains a relevant force in popular culture.
The space opera features some of the most memorable characters and music in the history of American cinema, giving the franchise a distinctive quality that separates it from other works of science fiction. Seriously, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who is unfamiliar with Darth Vader’s line “Luke, I am your father,” or John William’s composition, “The Imperial March,” when it blasts through the speakers.