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12 Movies Intended as Franchise Starters That Fell Short

Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower (2017)

12 Movies Intended as Franchise Starters That Fell Short

When a movie sets up a franchise skillfully, it can create a world of its own. We have seen this with incredible adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. These franchises, and many others, amass large audiences waiting for the next movie or television show to drop.

In cinema, we have been gifted exceptional films that build incredible franchises into which we love to invest time and money. However, wherever there’s success, there’s also failure. Take a look at these movies that were meant to be franchises but failed to make it past the first movie for some reason or another. (Then check out our list of the 25 best films you most likely haven’t seen.)

To compile the list of movies meant to be franchises, 24/7 Tempo consulted multiple entertainment sites, including IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. The failure of these movies to launch into a franchise was not due to one specific factor but a combination of factors that worked against each movie.

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Michael Fassbender in Assassin's Creed (2016)
Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

  • Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons
  • IMDb Rating: 5.6/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 42%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 18%

The 2016 “Assassin’s Creed” movie is an adaptation of the popular video game franchise. Within the video game, the character can go back in time and uncover important information from his ancestors. While this video game series is top-rated, the film failed to seize the same magic and love from its audience, even though it is set in the same period as the games. This may be partly because the movie doesn’t explore multiple characters. Instead, it focuses only on Callum Lynch, a character created specifically for the movie.

Immediately, the critics hated “Assassin’s Creed.” The movie failed to capture the same adventure as the game and wasn’t as exciting visually. Furthermore, the film’s pace was very slow, and the characters lacked the chemistry to make a movie work. As a result, “Assassin’s Creed” did not do well at the box office, making it one of the lowest-rated video game movies. This is surprising because, by all accounts, it should have been more successful. A factor in its box office failure is that it premiered around the same time as “Sing,” “Passengers,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Chalk it up to the timing just not being right, but despite its potential, the franchise did not work for this particular movie.

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger (2013)
Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

  • Starring: Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Ruth Wilson
  • IMDb Rating: 6.4/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score:51%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 31%

In the 1930s, a radio story of John Reid, a Texas Ranger turned vigilante, captured listeners’ attention. Soon, the story became the pop culture icon known as “The Lone Ranger.” However, in 2013, the Disney movie adaptation starring Johnny Depp failed. While this movie was set to continue as a franchise, many elements worked against it.

Before “The Lone Ranger” premiered in theaters, critics were already giving negative reviews. Additionally, it hit theaters at the same time as “Despicable Me 2.” These factors and more meant the movie lost at least $160 million at the box office. Although there were goals for a sequel, the plan didn’t take off.

John Carter (2012)

Taylor Kitsch in John Carter (2012)
Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

  • Starring: Willem Dafoe, Taylor Kitsch, Bryan Cranston, Mark Strong
  • IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 60%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 52%

“John Carter” is a film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s novel “A Princess of Mars.” This sci-fi film follows a man named John Carter who randomly finds himself on the planet Mars. During this time, he meets incredible creatures and eventually gets sucked up into a war between good and evil on the planet.

While the books are loved, and the premise is fun, “John Carter” was a box office flop. Its large production budget ($307 million) played into its failure. Then, when Disney lost the rights to the property, plans for a trilogy went along with it.

The Green Lantern (2011)

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

  • Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong
  • IMDb Rating: 5.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 45%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 25%

“The Green Lantern” was meant to be the beginning of a DC franchise. The story follows Hal Jordan, a man who gains supernatural powers. Then, he enters the intergalactic police force (The Green Lantern Corps.) While the comics are well-loved and many fans anticipated the arrival of the start of this franchise, it just didn’t have what it takes to continue.

The failure of “Green Lantern” to launch a franchise can be attributed to several factors. Critics claim the character development needed to be improved, and the lousy visual effects did not help. Additionally, while the comics possess a particular charm, the movie fails to capture it. This may be partly because while the comics set up a complex tale for its readers, these elements were not apparent in the film. All of these factors led to negative reviews. This and terrible box office results meant plans for a franchise were not in the cards.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

Willem Dafoe, John C. Reilly, and Josh Hutcherson in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009)
Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

  • Starring: John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia, Ken Watanabe
  • IMDb Rating: 5.8/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 42%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 37%

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” was a film based on Darren O’Shaughnessy’s book “The Saga of Darren Shan.” The premise of the books and movie follows Larten Crepsley, a vampire (albeit nonviolent) and a teenager he mentors. Crepsley is part of a traveling show called the Cirque du Freak, which consists of characters with remarkable abilities.

While the franchise was supposed to follow the books, the results at the box office were less than desirable. The movie also had negative reviews, leading to the trilogy being axed.

The Golden Compass (2007)

Nicole Kidman and Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass (2007)
Source: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

  • Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Evan Green, Dakota Blue Richards
  • IMDb Rating: 6.1/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 51%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 42%

“The Golden Compass” is a film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy “His Dark Materials.” The plot of the movie follows Lyra Belacqua, a young girl who travels far to save kidnapped children (including her best friend) from an organization that intends to experiment on them.

“The Golden Compass” had an uphill battle from the start. Several religious organizations opposed adapting these books because of the negative religious elements that were thought to be depicted. This led to the film undergoing several changes and departures from the books. On top of it, the recession of 2008, poor box office results, and financial concerns meant the franchise was canceled.

Warcraft (2016)

Travis Fimmel in Warcraft (2016)
Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

  • Starring: Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton
  • IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 76%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 29%

The film “Warcraft” based on the popular video game series was set up for success. The actors were talented, the storylines were fascinating, and the onscreen chemistry was excellent. The film also sticks close to the source material, showing the first war between the Orcs and humans. “Warcraft’ should have succeeded. So, what happened?

If we have learned one thing from video game to screen adaptations, video game films do not typically do well. One reason is that they fail to capture the actual pull of video games, which is the personal element. Unfortunately, “Warcraft” suffered a similar fate and was not well-loved by critics who said the character development was lacking. The negative reviews immediately impacted the theater release. Though many fans loved the adaptation, the harsh criticism from reviewers meant the franchise did not get the green light.

The Last Airbender (2010)

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

  • Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz Beckham, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel
  • IMDb Rating: 4.0/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 30%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 5%

In 2005, Nickelodeon launched one of the most successful animated series of the 21st century: “The Last Airbender.” In 2010, fans everywhere anticipated the film adaptation of the beloved series. Yet, from the beginning, it was evident the film would most likely be a flop.

From the get-go, it was clear “The Last Airbender” did not honor the Asian heritage and had no problem whitewashing the cast. This move led to negative reviews before the movie even aired. “The Last Airbender” is a prime example of casting white actors in place of actors that represent the authentic culture. In this case, white actors were chosen to play Asian characters.

Additionally, the film also failed to show the incredible way the benders could manipulate Earth, Fire, Wind, and Air the way the animated series did. These two factors, combined with a lack of humor, a dull script, and a low theater release, meant plans for a franchise were not in the cards. However, there is a live-action Netflix series that took a shot at adapting this beloved animated show, and it did better than the movie.

The Dark Tower (2017)

Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower (2017)
Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

  • Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Idris Elba
  • IMDb Rating: 5.6/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 45%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 15%

“The Dark Tower” is based on the novel series by Stephen King. This science fantasy film featuring McConaughey and Elba was meant to be the start of a franchise. The film depicts a young boy who sees visions of a Man in Black who is trying to destroy a tower.

The 2017 film failed to launch a franchise because of the negative reviews and low box office results. Several reviews felt that the film was bland, rushed, and failed to live up to the expectations of the book fans. However, filmmaker Mike Flanagan is adapting the book series into a television show.

The Mummy (2017)

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe
  • IMDb Rating: 5.4/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 35%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 15%

In 2017, plans for the Dark Universe seemed promising with the release of “The Mummy.” This was a darker remake of the original “The Mummy” movies from 1932 and 1999. The film depicts the life of Nick Morton, a man who loves to plunder ancient sites in search of rare artifacts. Yet, he faces an obstacle when an ensuing attack awakens an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet. The plan was for this specific movie to launch the Dark Cinematic Universe. With a large budget and two talented leading characters, Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, in its pocket, why did this film fail?

One of the reasons “The Mummy” failed was due to a poor marketing strategy that led to many disappointed fans. In many of the promotions, the main focus was on Princess Ahmanet’s eyes, which seemed to show an extra pupil. This extra detail leads to fans speculating that she possesses a unique ability that we would see in the movie. However, when the film finally premiered, there was no information about her eyes or extra pupils.

Additionally, critics claim that the characters in the movie lacked substance and development, making them hard to root for. When Ahmanet was finally revealed, she was less than scary, at least not what you would expect from an actual Dark Universe. All these factors led to the idea of a Dark Universe being canceled.

Eragon (2006)

Rachel Weisz and Ed Speleers in Eragon (2006)
Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

  • Starring: Ed Speleers, Sienna Guillory, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich
  • IMDb Rating: 5.1/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 46%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 16%

“Eragon” is an adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s novel and was set to launch a franchise. The movie tells the tale of a young boy who finds a dragon egg sent by Princess Arya. With this discovery, he soon becomes a dragon rider and helps save his home from the evil ruler, King Galbatorix.

The movie was an instant letdown for many book fans. It did not stick with the original ending and misrepresented Arya, one of the main characters. Since the film creators chose not to stay loyal to the source material, had a relatively low budget, and were unable to bring the book fantasy world to life, the plans for a franchise were canceled.

King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword (2017)

Charlie Hunnam in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

  • Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou
  • IMDb Rating: 6.7/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: 69%
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer: 31%

“King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword” was meant to be the one to launch a six-movie franchise universe. It depicts Arthur figuring out his lineage when he pulls the sword out of the stone. He then leads the rebellion against King Vortigern. This beloved legend should have done well. However, it was a flop.

Maybe it was the setup of the plots that didn’t resonate well with the audiences, but for one reason or another, it only brought in $44.9 million during the opening weekend. Since the movie came in much below the production budget, the plans for a franchise were canceled. (Next, read our list of must-see movies you probably missed.)

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