Pop Optics: Film Franchises That Peaked Early

Hello, Avocado! Allow me to resurrect another dormant feature of mine, Pop Optics. Formerly, this was meant to be a series of entries where I would relate a pop culture topic to some aspect of my life or being. Now, I’d like to still do that, but open it up and make it a little bit broad. Trying to explain how a particular piece of pop culture connects to me at a pivotal moment in my life is not something I’m shy about; ask my friends and they could tell you how many things I enjoyed as a child explained to them why I am who I am as an adult.

What I would like to do is use this series as a greater opportunity to talk freely and openly about very complex pop culture topics, but also think critically about what makes those things special or enjoyable. I try to eschew positions like “This is BAD pop culture” and “This is GOOD pop culture.” I do prefer to take the position that if something is not for you, then that’s fine. Not everyone has to like the things we like, but let’s explore the differences in tastes and learn more about each other.

So, without further adieu, let us dig into the return topic of Film Franchises That Peaked Early.

Cinema is diverse. Whatever your tastes may be, there’s likely a film that is palatable and satiates you well. What has become increasingly common in the last twenty years or so is a need for to satisfy your needs beyond one helping. Stories are no longer meant to be plated as a single serving meal, but now must be presented in multiple courses. Franchises have always existed, with the same characters featured in multiple entries spread over time. They aren’t anything new, given that the James Bond films have endured for 50 years. One could argue that serials were the precursor to film franchises, however, those were episodic short films that have more in common with television shows than films. The point is, franchises abound though feeling as though they were on the periphery of films, not dominating the scene.

Look to the horror genre, the most amenable towards franchising. I don’t know if it was fate, but when you consider that horror films are often seen as cheaply made, low-budget entry level films for budding film makers and actors, if you make bank, then the studios are quite willing to turn out another entry as soon as possible to prove they have a hot commodity on their hands. Granted, franchises are solely the staple of the horror genre, but I would surmise that the genre is home to at least 50% of the total franchises in all of film. If look to the 1980s, that was a decade rife with franchises beyond just horror, which included Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. You had your Indiana Jones and Back to the Future, plus the dawning of the Alien and Predator franchises.

Three films used to a franchise make. At some point, that threshold was extended past and thus a trilogy was no longer the standard for telling a multi-film story. Probably because the third film in a series is often not the most satisfying nor provides a succinct conclusion. Other times, the third film is where an emerging franchise hits its stride and finally clicks. It figured itself out and found its identity. And then of course, there are the franchises that we didn’t expect and kept going because the studios demanded as such, or the source material was plentiful.

Sometimes, there’s a film series that had a good thing going and knew when to wrap it up. Other times, they are content to continue the story and its nadir is only known in retrospect. That’s what I would like to discuss.

A few ground rules for the topic:

  1. There must be at minimum three (3) films in the series.
  2. The series needs to be linear; this means NO ANTHOLOGIES and that you can discuss entries that have a shared universe or spin-offs, but you can only look at the core series.
    1. Example 1: You can discuss the Marvel films, but you can only look at the Captain America films as a whole, not their connection to the larger MCU; same as with the Avengers films.
    2. Example 2: You can discuss the Fast and Furious series, but the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw is off the table.
  3. Prequels ARE acceptable, but you still need to speak of it in linear form.
    1. Example: As the Star Wars prequels are meant to take place before the events of The Original Trilogy, they cannot be considered the peak of the franchise, unless you are trying to argue the series as a whole peaked retroactively OR you are looking at simply those three entries alone, isolated from the rest of the entries

Now, I won’t strictly enforce those rules, but I would greatly appreciate it if we could adhere to them as best as possible.