What’s a Franchise and Which One is the Best?

You may have read my last two Planet of the Apes articles. I am now a huge fan of the series, and I’ve repeatedly made some variation on this statement: Planet of the Apes is the best science fiction franchise ever, and one of the best franchises ever. But what exactly is the competition for this title? How would one effectively define what constitutes a filmic franchise?

Wikipedia, the one-stop source for definitions, defines a “media franchise” as a “collection of media for which components exist in multiple forms of media, generally fiction, such as film, literature, television, or video games, involving a story, characters, and setting.”

Let’s unpack that definition. A series of films based around the same world or characters, especially one that branches out into other media, is a franchise. Now this definition is a wee bit too inclusive for our purposes. I think for a series of films to actually qualify as a franchise it can’t be a cohesive story. It also can’t be the same creative team throughout.

So The Matrix series, despite being awesome, is a trilogy not a franchise. It’s too consistent a creative team. There are a few side projects, but the films are not a franchise. A filmic franchise needs to work like an actual franchise. A company owns the property and enlists various managers to run their stores, or direct their movies, as it were. So The Matrix, Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit films, the Toy Story series (Pixar is too controlling for this to count as an actual franchise), and the like, are all out of the competition. In fact I would go so far as to say a franchise, besides needing different creators, probably has to have more than three entries.

A franchise should also be a little more haphazard. There should be a distinctly inconsistent story. Well. Not necessarily inconsistent, but there certainly shouldn’t be a plan for all the films from the get go. The Harry Potter films are about the only movies excluded by this definition. Eight films with a plethora of different directors seems ripe for franchise status, but the fact that it was intended to be seven films from the get go changes things. No comment on how this will change when the spin-off comes out, because thinking about that hurts my brain. (Just for the record I’m not entirely convinced these films would actually usurp Planet of the Apes from its throne.)

So what does that leave as competition for the Apes series?

Well let’s start with a list of franchises. The big ones are Star Wars and Star Trek. However also worth considering are Die Hard, the Alien series, Marvel, X-Men, Spider-Man, Godzilla, and the Bourne series. That’s more than enough to start with.

Star Wars, if you’re feeling honest, has a ratio of 2/6. Sorry Star Wars fans, but really only two of those films are good. Most are hard to watch. But let’s be kind and call the ratio 3/6, because the first three are thoroughly entertaining if nothing else. So that’s a ratio of ½.

Star Trek is about the same. Only half of those films are really worth the time, and I’d probably drop the first Abrams one from the list of watchable films on a mean day. But we’re being giving, so let’s call the ratio ½ again.

Die Hard can only possibly be considered… 2/5? That seems right. It’s not a contender; let’s leave it alone.

Alien might be the only serious competition for the title I’ve awarded Apes. Alien is obviously a brilliant movie. Aliens is one of the most overrated films ever, but I will concede to popular opinion on this one. And by that I mean fuck Aliens. I’d take Alien Cubed over it. But that’s still two out of the first three; you can pick your personal favourite sequel. I liked Prometheus, so we will call it 3/5.

Marvel movies, meaning the ones Marvel owns, are tricky. Iron Man is still a good watch. I would add Ang Lee’s Hulk but I think that one exists in a franchise-less limbo. Captain America one and two, Iron Man 3, and the Avengers are all pretty entertaining. Iron Man 2, Hulk, Thor, and Thor: The Dark World much less so. Which puts us at a ratio of 5/8. That’s actually not bad!

X-Men is a little rougher. Not entirely sure any of the first three could be called “good,” but we’ll award them the status of one good movie collectively for the entertaining portions of one and two. This is cheating, but I am Being Nice. I think the appropriate ratio then is 4/7. The other three being First Class, Days of Future Past, and The Wolverine.  All universally inferior to the majority of the Apes franchise, by the way.

Spider-Man is pretty plainly a 2/5. Moving on.

I won’t even begin to guess what the ratio is for the five billion Godzilla movies, but it’s sure as hell below a ratio of ½, so let’s leave it out of the running.

That leaves the Serious Competition that is Bourne. Bourne is so cohesive, and over half the work of the same director. So I’m not entirely sure it should be counted as a franchise. There aren’t any secondary properties either. So I’m inclined to drop it. But for the sake of curiosity, it’s gotta be 3/4.

Now the Planet of the Apes series? I haven’t seen Burton’s but we’ll count it as a bad film. That leaves us with a ratio of 5/7. Whoa. That’s better than or comparable to all of them. The only ratio that comes close is Alien. So let’s compare the individual movies a little bit. Alien is probably the best movie of all of these. Done, moving on. Aliens is a hugely popular movie, but I’d argue that both the original Planet of the Apes, and Conquest, are plainly better. And I’d rather watch those five Apes movies over Aliens. Prometheus is less coherent than most of them, and Alien Cubed may look amazing but it’s kind of a mess.

So Apes wins!

What do you guys think? Am I being fair? Comment with whatever franchises you think I should’ve covered, and I’ll tell you why Apes is better. Is there any real competition? Makes me want to watch some more obscure series, like Zatoichi, to compare them… Make yourself heard below:

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Harry Edmundson-Cornell is obsessed with comics and film and writing, and he fancies himself a bit of an artist. He's dabbled in freelance video production, writing, design, 3D modelling, and artistic commissions. He mainly uses Tumblr to keep track of what he's watching and reading and listening to. Occasionally he uses it to post original works. You can find his email and junk there too, if you want to hire him or send him hate-mail.

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  1. I’m going to ignore the scores you give for the ratios because that’s subjective and everyone already knows you’re totally and completely wrong on the scores you give to Star Wars and Star Trek. :)

    But the Bond franchise is certainly much larger than the others you discuss, and if the standard is “watchable” then it would wind up with a really high ratio. On the other hand, if the standard truly is “good” then that ratio would bottom out. I can’t think of another series with as high a ratio of “slightly better than average.”

    But I really like your idea of messiness as a requirement for a franchise. A lot of them are far messier than we remember. For example, there was a live action Apes show in the ’70s (never seen it) as well as a cartoon (also never seen it). And with Star Wars there is an animated feature film, three animated TV series, two TV movies, and one belovedly awful, feature-length TV special.

    Also, what about popular characters like Dracula, Tarzan, and Sherlock Holmes? Again, the quality ratio is probably going to be low, but the number of entries would be staggering.

    Anyway, fun article. And you’ve finally got me interested enough to check out some of those Apes movies from the ’70s. I quit the series after the second one.

    • Bond!!! Can’t believe I didn’t think to look at Bond films. That would’ve been interesting…. I’m inclined to believe the fact that the Apes series continues to strive for legitimate themes all the way through still makes it a cut above, but damn Bond would’ve been a contender. Great suggestion.

      Yeah, should’ve just said a franchise is 3 or more sequels that weren’t originally planned. Shorter and clears up the Bourne dilemma. But I only just thought of it!

      There are definitely, say, series with Dracula (Hammer eg) but there are so many different versions of the character made by so many different studios and directors that it’s hard to even call it a franchise. Godzilla films are all at least the same studio. But that would be an interesting number.

      You should definitely watch the Apes stuff. Just got the TV show so I might start that when I’m done the films. And quitting after the second one both makes so much and so little sense to me. That movie is so delightfully mental.

      • Funny Bond came up, since I finished a rundown of every Bond movie immediately before watching the Apes series. I love both franchises, but they are so different in tone, in intent, and even ion the way they work as franchises that they are pretty hard to compare. The fact that the Bond franchise has been kept running for more than fifty years, with 23 official entries and two unofficial ones is a massive achievement all by itself. However, if we play strictly by Harry’s system of good vs. bad films ratio, I think the Apes franchise does come out on top, since I’d estimate Bond has roughly a 50% ratio of good vs. bad films. A few of them, kind of like Beneath The Planet of The Apes, exist on this limbo of not really good, but pretty fun and over the top (You Only Live Twice comes to mind)

      • Not going to lie, I’ve seen a criminally small number of Bond films.

  2. Well, if it’s of any use, here’s my personal list of the better Bond movies. They are listed in chronological order, and they range from alright to pretty great:

    -Dr. No
    -From Russia With Love
    -You Only Live Twice
    -The Spy Who Loved Me
    -Never Say Never Again
    -Licence to Kill
    -Twomorrow Never Dies
    -Casino Royale (2006)
    -I feel it’s still a little early to rank Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, but they are both very watchable.

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