Everyone loves a good movie franchise. Audiences are naturally drawn to stories that lend themselves to follow-ups, allowing the opportunity to rejoin their favorite characters or settings in sequels, spin-offs, and related tie-ins. Studios, filmmakers, and actors tend to push them because a every Batman, Lord of the Rings or The Avengers usually makes for the magic of escapist entertainment with the guarantee of continuous paychecks. Unfortunately, not all big budget movie properties get the chance at a film series they were designed for. Here are 15 big movie properties where the sure bet sequels did not happen.
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2012 was not a kind year for Friday Night Lights heart throb Taylor Kitsch. The actor was at the center of two mega-budgeted box office flops—Disney’ John Carter and Universal Pictures Battleship. The former barely cleared its $250 million budget worldwide, while the latter managed a mere $62 million domestically.
Paramount Pictures made a second attempt to bring Clive Cussler’s acclaimed literary character Dirk Pitt to life in 2005 with Sahara. The film cast Matthew McConaughey as the character in what was supposed to be the first in a series of cinematic Pitt adventures. Though the film proved to be a hit domestically, the high production costs of Sahara rendered its $122 million in profits well below its $160 million budget. The franchise and character’s cinematic adventures have been nil ever since.
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Emma Roberts first stab at headlining a franchise was Nancy Drew, based on the popular, long running juvenile literary series of the same name. The 2007 film that seemed primed for sequels failed with both critics and audiences alike, opening at number 7 in the box office and garnering a little over $25 million domestically.
Jim Carrey signed on to the Nickelodeon-produced adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events based on the idea that he would be able to play a new role in each subsequent entry of the series. The film enjoyed solid reviews and moderate box office success, but stalled development, corporate changeovers, and the aging of its child actors seem have more or less killed the franchise until the inevitable reboot is announced.
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After the 007 franchise made him a star, Cowboys & Aliens seemed poised to create a second cinematic series for the actor. The western/sci-fi hybrid barely won the box office top spot from The Smurfs upon its 2011 release and continued onto a $174 million gross, barely above its $163 million budget.
In 2003, Russell Crowe headline the historical drama Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The film was adapted from the first four books in a series of twenty by Patrick O’Brian. While the film was nominated ten Academy Awards and turned a modest profit, it failed to garner a follow-up. Director Peter Weir confirmed the franchise kill in 2005: "I think that while it did well...ish at the box office, it didn't generate that monstrous, rapid income that provokes a sequel."
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The John Travolta fronted science fiction film Battlefield Earth hit movies screens back in 2000. The film adapted the first half of the classic novel by L. Ron Hubbard. It would tank at the box office, earning well below its $44 million budget. It was also panned across the board by virtually all critics, emerging as one of the most reviled films of its year (and possibly of all time). The planned sequel, which would have covered the remainder of the book, was promptly aborted.
By the time 1999 rolled around, it seemed like Will Smith could do no wrong. With Independence Day, Bad Boys, and Men In Black, the rapper/actor proved a reigning box office action hero. Then came Wild Wild West, a mega-budgeted adaptation of the 1960s Western-Spy show. The new version cast Will Smith as an Army Captain who must battle a mad scientist and his giant robot spider in the old west of 1869. Do we need to explain why the film made well below its budget domestically? It was panned by audiences and critics alike and, unlike Will Smith’s character in the film, the proposed franchise did not ride its giant mechanical spider into the sunset.
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Last year Tyler Perry traded in Madea’s wig and handbag for a shotgun and trench coat in Alex Cross. The film is a reboot of the Alex Cross series previously chronicled in Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider, both of which starred Morgan Freeman as the titular serial killer catching sleuth. Perry’s version got pumped up with lots of gunfire and explosions. As such, Perry turned in an action hero version of Cross that got solid reviews from critics. Unfortunately the film itself failed to live up to his performance and Alex Cross made $10 million under its budget. A proposed sequel, Double Cross, was announced before the film’s release but subsequently seems dead in the water given the film’s box office death.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was intended to be Disney’s next Pirates of the Caribbean sort of franchise. In the video game adaptation, Jake Gylenhaal stretched his usually moody acting chops and bulked up for the title role. Despite a swashbuckling performance, the actor and property did not resonate with audiences the way Disney anticipated. Though the film performed and profited, it would not be the phenomenon they hoped for. As such Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, the video game’s sequels, remain unfilmed.
It seems every actor must tackle a comic book adaptation at some point in their career and Josh Brolin was unfortunate enough to nab Jonah Hex. The 2010 film was based off a DC horror/western hybrid comic about a bounty hunter who could talk to the dead. The melding of the supernatural with western and science fiction tropes perhaps reminded many audiences too much of Wild Wild West. The film brought in a mere $10 million of its $45 million budget, thus killing the potential for further Jonah Hex adventures.
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In 2008, Emile Hirsch was cast as the title character in Speed Racer. The long gestating anime adaptation was tackled by the Wachowski Brothers, who married the already established cartoon franchise with cutting edge filmmaking techniques and rising Hollywood star. That formula should have made for gigantic box office returns, but instead Speed Racer would bring in $20 million under its $120 million budget. The film was ignored by audiences and was accused by critics of being mere fodder for merchandising.
A year after Tim Burton’s Batman redefined box office success, Warren Beatty signed on to direct and star in package Tracy. The comic strip action film adaptation was chockablock with starpower-- the cast included Madonna, Al Pacino, James Caan and Dustin Hoffman. It also experienced a major marketing push, generating everything from action figures to a Madonna concert tie-in. Unfortunately, the film failed to match Batman’s numbers as Disney expected. While Beatty has long discussed making a sequel (as recent as 2011), Disney had no intention of making the film and gave the actor back the rights in 2005.
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Following the success of Batman Returns, a Catwoman spin-off seemed inevitable. After Michelle Pfeiffer bowed out of the property, Oscar winner Halle Berry took the reigns. The result was a Catwoman adaptation in name only. It featured Berry in lingerie battling industrialists with supernatural cat powers. The film was laughed off the screen by comic fans, critics and audiences. It failed to turn even a worldwide profit and was completely ignored in the subsequent Batman Begins. Berry won a Razzie for her performance and referred to the film as “a piece of s---, god-awful movie” in her cheeky acceptance speech.
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Though The Rocketeer had been in development since the mid-1980s, Disney gave the superhero adaptation a major push in 1991 due to the success of Batman. Director Joe Johnston lobbied for then unknown actor Bill Campbell to play the title character, beating out name actors like Johnny Depp and Bill Paxton. Unfortunately, a lack of a name actor in the lead and a confusing marketing campaign failed to bring in an audience, causing the film to bomb despite favorable reviews and a lot of tie-ins. Plans for further sequels were promptly scrapped by Disney and Bill Campbell did not become the mega-star many anticipated.