Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 FAVORITES (58): Would You Like a Franchise With Your Movie?

Last week, I talked about how this Summer (just like some of the more recent Summers) is a season of "Franchise Films" being released in movie theaters.  And for some of my friends, it seemed like I was rather cynical about the quality of these types of films.  While I do question the studios insistence on rolling out sequel after sequel to films that clearly don't need them, there are several Movie "franchises" I quite enjoy.  Now, I put the word "franchise" in quotation marks because like a lot of the actors (and even some of the writers and directors!) involved in these films, the word does not do proper justice to some of these movies.  A "franchise film," for me, has more to do with the marketing surrounding a movie.  That includes all the toys, books, lunchboxes, sheets, backpacks, toaster ovens, weed-whackers and what-have-you that have that marketable title branded on their product box.  So because of all the paraphernalia that goes with most of these movies, they unfortunately get categorized as "franchise films," even if the term is rather condescending (I mean, the Oscars don't typically love these types of films!).  But there are certain "film franchises" that, no matter what, manage to turn my head in their direction (so to speak!).  This week's 10 FAVORITES is all about "film franchises" and how these particular ones have kept my attention (as well as the attention of many a movie-goer!) throughout the years.


In many online polls, The Man of Steel manages to top the list of America's Favorite Comic Book Hero (or at least eke into every top 3!).  And there are good reasons.  His story is the ultimate standard when it comes to origins, secret identity, complex villains, traditional values, etc.  The 1978 Richard Donner-directed film was quite well-done with its casting and its flow.  It was followed by a pretty good sequel ("Kneel before Zod!!!").  However, the franchise tended to drop off the radar with some poorly produced sequels (Superman IV was quite laughable!).  They did try a reboot and, despite some good buzz, Superman Returns was ultimately a misfire (I mean, The CW's Smallville was more liked by fans!).  Let's hope the next reboot will be slightly better.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Who knew that a Disney ride would yield such a delightful set of films?  The answer is: Those marketing geniuses at the House of the Mouse.  When it comes to marketing, no studio can hold a candle to Disney.  Colleges offer business courses on Disney's marketing model.  It's that powerful.  And with this "franchise," Disney has spared no expense.  And let's face it, without Johnny Depp, these films would not be as popular. His Oscar-nominated (!) characterization of Captain Jack Sparrow has become the stuff of legend.  While a fifth film as been announced (they really should have left it a trio!), the four they have done have made enough money to keep audiences happy for quite some time.

For me, Spider-Man's origin story has always been more engaging than that of Superman's.  Maybe it's because I identified more with Peter Parker and I am quite moved by the Marvel mantra that is "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."  The first Spider-Man film was fascinating and extremely enjoyable.  Like Superman, it was followed by a very good sequel (in fact, my brother likes Spider-Man 2 more than Spider-Man!).  The third one was a little much for my taste (Tobey Maguire's "version" of "Bad-Spidey" was just a big "Stop it!").  I am looking forward to the reboot coming this July, even if the trailers aren't enticing me in the way they should (most trailers these days suck anyway!).

The Muppets
You thought these delightful characters would be higher, didn't you?  Yes, I have made no secret about my love for the genius that was Jim Henson and the everlasting joy his creations will bring me.  The only reason that Kermit and friends don't make it into the Top 5 of this list is that I first fell in love with these guys through Television and their seminal variety series The Muppet Show.  All that said, The Muppet Movie and the two films that followed it will forever be on my "Rainy Day" watch-list.  They even charmed me with their post-Henson films (Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, etc.).  And their Oscar-winning comeback film from last year was touching and entertaining at the same time.  Good times...such Good times!

The Lord of the Rings
Talk about a series that has influenced all forms of media.  J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth has had an influence on Music (Led Zeppelin), Books (J.K. Rowling has cited Tolkien as a major influence), Stage (there was a moderately successful musical version of Tolkien's books), Television (where would Game of Thrones be without Tolkien?) and of course Film.  Peter Jackson's hugely successful trilogy is unlike any other and will always be revered by many.  While he is busy working on Tolkien's prequel The Hobbit (slated for release this Christmas!), we can marvel at the cinematic wonder that is The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Star Trek
Like The Muppets, I got to know my pals from the United Federation of Planets through the landmark TV series (more from The Next Generation than the Original, but Rodenberry's influence was clear!).  But the films were ever-present in my childhood, especially the far superior Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country (II and VI, respectively).  Though most of the odd-numbered Trek films have manage to tick off a lot of diehard fans, some of them are more enjoyable than one would think.  And J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot was just the charge the "franchise" needed to rekindle interest.

James Bond
Whether he looks like Sean Connery or Daniel Craig, Agent 007 is always smooth and cool.  After 23 films (with 24 AND 25 on the way!), Ian Fleming's James Bond has become the ultimate super-spy and everyone's favorite hero. If I had to pick a favorite Bond film, it would be a contest between the earliest ones (Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger).  However, the two recent ones (starring the brilliantly reserved Daniel Craig) have been must-watches (especially Quantum of Solace!).  I have a feeling that we'll always have Bond to watch, either "shaken or stirred!"

Harry Potter
For a series that (compared to all the other "franchises" here) is pretty much the youngest of the group, this boy wizard and company have fared pretty high on this list.  J.K. Rowling's exciting and mega-successful (and I can't stress the "mega" enough!) novel series has enraptured a whole generation of young readers.  When Warner Brothers and British producer David Heyman embarked on making the film versions of her 7-book series, little did they know that it would become the most successful film series in the world.  In the United States alone, all 8 films (the 7th book having been split into 2 parts!) have grossed almost $3 million (Worldwide, the figure is about 3 or 4 times that!).  The series has made superstars of its 3 young leads (In his Broadway ventures, Daniel Radcliffe has managed to recoup investments within 3 months!).  And J.K. Rowling herself will never have to be on welfare ever again!  That's pretty good for character conceived on a delayed train.

When it comes to superheroes, it is The Caped Crusader who figures into my childhood quite prominently (For those who might disagree, blame my brother!).  Director Tim Burton had me spellbound with his take on the character.  Both Batman and Batman Returns were essential viewing into my young adulthood.  Though the "franchise" was almost destroyed by the work of director Joel Schumacher (Batman had a Bat-credit card, that's all I'll say!), it was resurrected to great glory by the brilliance of writer-director Christopher Nolan.  Nolan had an even darker and more psychological take on the character and his origin story.  Christian Bale has given new dimensions to Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego that have not been explored before.  And need I mention the ingenious Oscar-winning work of the late Heath Ledger as Batman's arch-nemesis, The Joker. I wait with baited breath the final installment of Nolan's Batman trilogy (with the always charming Anne Hathaway taking risks as the sensual Catwoman) and forever cementing Batman's place in my life.  (NOTE: I know I have utilized The Dark Knight Rises trailer a couple of times on this blog already, but I just love this trailer!!!)

Star Wars
For those who really know me, this cannot be a surprise.  In a sense, it is the "Mother of all Franchises" as it was one of the first major blockbusters and has amassed more money in merchandise than Batman, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings put together.  It is also a "franchise" that is completely original in that the entire universe that the series lives in was created in the mind of master filmmaker George Lucas (compare that to most of the other "franchises" on this list which are based on books, comic books or even rides!).  And even though I make fun of them a lot (and there are a lot of problems with them!), the prequels made in the early 2000s are somewhat enjoyable.  But they cannot hold a candle to the original series.  Both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are brilliant pieces of American cinema, and the 1977 original is perfection when it comes to Fantasy storytelling.  When it comes to unique qualities, there is nothing like Lucas' world and the complex characters which inhabit it.

No comments:

Post a Comment