In new research, TotallyMoney looks at the major film franchises that have come to our screens over the years, to find how they’ve gone from strength to strength years…Or strength to slip-up.
Plenty of films make it to a sequel. Many even make it into a trilogy. But there are those that we see in the cinema year after year: fan favourites like Die Hard and Alien, generational updates like Rocky launching into Creed, and the ever-confusing titles of the Fast and Furious franchise.
But what does pumping out so many films around the same ideas and characters do for the series? A new interactive data explorer from TotallyMoney looks at the rises and falls in quality of some of the longest and most popular film franchises from the last 50 years, taking into account opening weekend box office takings, and both critical and public reviews.
The research includes films from different corners of the industry, ranging from horror films like Saw and Halloween to fun-for-all-the-family titles like Harry Potter and Shrek.
One of the most surprising features was that the most popular film by opening weekend box office earnings in a series on average was the 8th, should the franchise make it that far. The average opening weekend for an eighth film was $97.5 million – compared to $45.2 million for the first film, and only $17.2 million for the 10th.
In terms of specific films and their popularity, and taking into account the user scores on IMDb and the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, these were the top results:
1. Indiana Jones – the general public on IMDb rate Harry Potter and Indiana Jones equally – a rating of 7.65/10 on average – but critics on Rotten Tomatoes put the Harrison Ford classic up over the wizarding world by 1.37%, making it the most popular series of all time.
2. Harry Potter – having had the 20th anniversary of the first book’s publication this year, Harry Potter is now a venerable name in the film industry. The series earned an average rating of 84.63% Rotten Tomatoes, with its highest-rated film being the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at 96%.
3. The Hunger Games – despite IMDb users marking it as peaking on the second film and going downhill from there, The Hunger Games took an average of effectively 7.38/10 (if the Rotten Tomatoes score is converted to a figure out of ten). In earnings, however, the average opening weekend for each film was the highest in the research, and over $13 million higher than the next most successful, Jurassic Park.
4. Mission Impossible – defying a traditional belief that a sequel is never better than the original, Mission Impossible hit its top scores on the fourth and fifth films – Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation – with the former reaching 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, a higher score than 95% of the films included in the research.
5. The Bourne Films – viewers weren’t keen on ditching Matt Damon in the Bourne Legacy, which scored only 56% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 93% on the previous iteration in the series. But even bringing him back didn’t win any points: it scored even lower on Rotten Tomatoes and reached the same score as Legacy on IMDb, a disappointing 6.7.
The Biggest Film War: Users vs Critics
While for the most part where critics didn’t like a film, users agreed, there were a few films included in the research where professional review didn’t account for taste. In the cases where there was significant disagreement between film critics on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb users, it was almost always the case that the users enjoyed the film while critics rated it poorly – with the sole exception of Spy Kids, which the professionals gave nearly 4 points (out of 10) more than the users.
In the top ten for critical disagreement, the Saw series showed up three times, more than any other franchise – with fans giving far more points than critics to Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, Saw V, and Saw IV.
The top critical battle, however, was Underworld: Evolution – the second film in the Underworld series, it was panned by the critics at only 16%, lower than 90% of the scores in the research. But fans felt it warranted more than that, giving it a healthy 6.8/10 – 5.2 points higher than the critic score, when they’re converted to the same scale.
Room for Improvement
In many – most – cases, film series declined in quality over the course of the series, with ratings dropping on average from film to film. But there were a handful of franchises, six in total, which defied the trend and went from strength to strength, improving on the whole in each sequel:
1. Mission: Impossible – The 1996 Tom Cruise classic spawned a full set of 5 films so far, with a sixth set for release in 2018. It’s shown the most improvement over time, with its top ratings coming for Ghost Protocol and only taking a very small dip in Rogue Nation.
2. The Fast and the Furious – While it borders on an impossible mission to try and remember the names of each title in the correct order, the fate of this film franchise is to make steady improvements over time – though The Fate of the Furious didn’t quite live up to Furious 7.
3. X-Men – X-Men went from a slightly goofy but fun superhero series with a weak spin-off to a critically acclaimed series of tense action films. Its most recent film, Logan, in particular, proved to be Hugh Jackman’s finest hour, earning rave reviews across the board.
4. Harry Potter – The fan favourite franchise has largely stayed at roughly the same level of quality throughout, but due to a high scoring final entry, has managed to prove itself a slowly-but-steadily improving series.
5. Final Destination – While it’s not the best or most successful horror franchise, Final Destination did make a significant jump from The Final Destination to Final Destination 5 – by a total of 2/10 points.
6. Twilight – The series divided viewers into three camps: Team Edward, Team Jacob, and those who thought it was the worst thing to happen to film since the Star Wars DVD re-release. All the same, the last film, Breaking Dawn, Part 2, was the best-scoring, reaching the dizzying heights of 5.2/10 – better than Part 1, which reached only 3.65/10.
The Best Worst Film
Critics don’t always get it right. Or maybe the public just have bad taste – either way, there are a number of films which failed to perform critically, yet went on to earn large amounts of opening weekend revenue at the box office.
At the top of the list is Twilight: New Moon, the second entry in The Twilight Saga, which, while receiving a combined score of only 3.70/10 (an average of the Rotten Tomatoes percentage and the IMDb score out of ten), managed to draw in $163 million in its first weekend.
It’s immediately followed by its sequel, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, which earned a slightly lower score at 3.65/10 and accordingly took in only $150 million.
Additionally heavily featuring in the top ten worst valuable films is the Transformers franchise, as well as three entries from the Police Academy series.
“Conventional wisdom has always said that sequels are rarely better than the original, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Joe Gardiner, TotallyMoney’s Head of Brand and Communications, “Many of our favourite film series just get better and better, and the peak could come anywhere. We all have our favourite films – it’s hard to predict which will be a winner in the box office and in the reviews.”