We all love films. The power of the cinematic experience and watching the unfolding tales of love, revenge or redemption has held audiences for the better part of a century. Despite changes in technology and how we view films in the 21st century, the allure holds. We want to be taken away to a world we don’t inhabit and to experience it on the big screen. Films are the best escapism we know.
Somehow, during the monetization of cinema over the past half a century, a different phenomenon developed. Films now seek to build a franchise. Studios have realized that the more the international audiences are familiar with the titles, the more they look forward to seeing the film – or a newer version of it – again. As they say, in Hollywood, familiarity breeds success, not contempt.
But what are the big franchises and how have they done it? How have they earned revenues before they even make the next film? Let’s look at some of the best-known film franchises.
One of the oldest and most successful franchises is the James Bond movies. It is also one that from the very beginning realised the power of product placement and licensing (how many young boys in the 1960s and 70s had model Aston Martin cars?). Based on a series of cleverly written spy thrillers by Iain Fleming, the first film, Dr No, starred the relatively unknown actor, Sean Connery. 55 years, 26 movies and 12 actors later, the franchise is still strong.
The James Bond films have included a particular style which is unmatched by many other franchises – the films always begin with an opening sequence with specially written music performed by a leading band or singer of the time. These are invariably hit singles and are released before the film.
Harry Potter is one of the biggest franchises of the 21st century.
Among other hugely successful franchises come both adult and children’s films. The most successful somehow managed to create a series of films that appealed to both young and old – meaning that even the parents would never mind going back to see the sequel because the original entertained them as much as it did the children. Think Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, Despicable Me and Harry Potter.
Harry Potter was the perfect series of films that closely followed the escapades of the young English wizard and his friends. The original J. K. Rowling books appealed to both adults and children, so the films were always going to succeed. The multimedia franchise, renamed J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, is now a global phenomenon which includes theme parks, LEGO toys, mobile games, card games and theatre plays.
The enduring affection for the Harry Potter franchise has been the fact that the main character was originally a small, bespectacled boy going to boarding school in England. As the series progresses, we, the reader and the film viewers grow up with him.
Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes started inauspiciously as a 1963 novel written by the French writer Pierre Boulle – La Planete des singes. After the successful 1968 film adaptation, there were four sequels between 1970 and 1973 which spawned two television series in 1974 and 1975.
Director Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes was released in 2001, and subsequent reiterations in 2011, 2014 and 2017 have kept the franchise alive. Throughout this time the brand has rarely been forgotten, and licensing has kept it in the mind of the public.
One of the many signs of a successful franchise is to gain a tribute from the gaming industry. The Planet of the Apes is just one of many mobile slot games inspired from movies. In the past there have been hugely successful games based on A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Big Lewbowski.
The Planet of the Apes slot is cleverly based on two movies – Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This perfectly captures the journey between Caesar’s life and the rise of the ape army. Both the Rise and Dawn play areas feature 5-reels, 3-rows, and 20 fixed lines. There are Bonus symbols, Scatter symbols, Wild substitutions and a whole host more.
Part of the success of the Planet of the Apes series was that the original film screenplay changed the plot of the novel to include both Cold War themes and a twist to the original ending. The story was supposed to take place on a distant planet where apes had enslaved humans. It was written as a satire, but Hollywood writers decided that the planet should, in fact, be Earth and the human astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) would land on it after his own planet – a future human settlement – had been destroyed in a nuclear war.
The most successful franchises ever
Everyone has their favourite franchise and, as well as those listed above, the hall of fame is long and memorable. Star Wars, The Fast and Furious, Transformers, X-Men, Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider Man, Ice Age, Indiana Jones, DC Cinematic Universe, Kung Fu Panda, Terminator, Star Trek, Alien, Jason Bourne, Men in Black, Rocky and Die Hard.
Some of them, however, have been more successful than others. The winner by quite a margin, with a worldwide grossing of $13.5 billion, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Probably better known as The Avengers, Captain America and Guardians of the Universe (they are deemed a single franchise), there have been 18 films in total.
With more than 40 years since the original hit film, Star Wars has been loved by all and has grossed over $9.8 billion. The Harry Potter series is now worth $8.5 billion after the original nine films. But with more Fantastic Beasts movies to come over the next two years, it would seem that we can expect plenty more.
We love franchises because we know what we’re going to see. The makers realize that the little world of make-believe that they took us too last time is good enough for us – and that we’ll always come back to see what our familiar characters are up to.