02.17.11 10:45 PM ET
Top 10 Most Played-Out Movie Franchises
1. Big Momma's House
A hackneyed cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and Eddie Murphy's The Nutty Professor remake, Big Momma's House was released in 2000 to generally negative reviews. Nevertheless, it was a surprise hit at the box office, earning just south of $174 million worldwide. Martin Lawrence stars as an FBI agent who assumes the identity of an overweight, Southern senior citizen in order to get closer to her granddaughter (Nia Long), the ex-girlfriend and believed accomplice of a prison escapee (Terrence Howard). The sequel, Big Momma's House 2, was family-friendly fluff and Rotten Tomatoes ranked it 80th amongst the Worst 100 Reviewed Films of the 2000s, with an aggregated rating of 6 percent. The third film, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, just hit theaters, and features not one, but two hefty ladies—the other being Lawrence's character's stepson—and a subplot in which a kooky janitor with a thing for plus-sized women pursues Big Momma. The Guardian's review of the latest in the trilogy had this to say: "If Big Momma 4 comes out—well, that would be the time to make the booking with Dignitas and get the easyJet flights to Zurich."
2. Austin Powers
When Mike Myers' horny, outrageously flamboyant creation Austin Powers was introduced on the big screen in 1997, it was seen as a delightfully witty parody of the James Bond franchise. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery provided a fine showcase for the former Saturday Night Live star's randy brand of humor, allowing him to assume two roles: Powers, and the bald, pinky-to-mouth villain Dr. Evil, which paid homage to his idol, Peter Sellers. The movie went on to become a cult hit with The New York Times claiming, "The film's single-mindedness is so dauntless and just plain nutty that it's hard to resist." The 1999 sequel, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, still retained some of the original's charm, but introduced the incredibly ridiculous Fat Bastard, a disgruntled, huge, Scottish henchman. In 2002, the third installment, Austin Powers in Goldmember, was released to mediocre reviews. It boasted the franchise's flimsiest plot, the stupidest villain (who eats his own skin and talks to his armpits), Beyoncé struggling through her first movie role, and an overwhelmingly desperate number of celebrity cameos, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Nevertheless, Myers may outdo himself—he says the fourth Austin Powers installment is "on track," with a rumored 2013 release date.
The original Saw was made on a micro budget of $1.2 million. The 2004 film opens with two perceived strangers—a photographer and an oncologist—who awaken chained to pipes at opposites ends of a grotesque bathroom. Lying between them is a bag with a couple of handsaws and a corpse holding a revolver in one hand and a microcassette recorder in the other. The two learn that the Jigsaw Killer placed them there to atone for their sins, and, in order to escape, they must either kill the other, or give themselves the 127 Hours treatment. And surprisingly, it's not a typical blood bath—it boasted some suspenseful sequences involving a pair of detectives and a somewhat inspired—albeit flawed—philosophy on rehabilitation via shock and awe. Nonetheless, Saw paved the way for an impressive six sequels, and fast transformed into a mindless, deplorable torture porn franchise, depicting increasingly elaborate ways a booby trap can dismember the human body. The latest—and alleged final—film in the series, Saw 3D, was released in October, and led the Los Angeles Times to say, "Whereas the first Saw got marks for originality, the filmmakers have so lost their fastballs that this one's extreme gore provokes either laughter or sleep."
Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron set his 1984 action flick in an all-too-probable dystopia where the human race has been nearly vanquished by machines. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cyborg assassin sent back through time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she gives birth to John Connor, the leader of the human resistance. And in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the Terminator is reprogrammed to protect Connor from a liquid metal assassin. Cameron's contributions were two of the most inspired sci-fi films, boasting a cohesive vision of the future, expertly filmed action sequences, and Schwarzenegger at his best. Judgment Day ended the story perfectly, with the Terminator sacrificing himself, destroying all existing Terminators and reversing the course of history. Then, unfortunately, came 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Cameron refused to produce the third installment because he felt the story was completed already and Schwarzenegger presumably only took part for the reported $29.25 million salary (plus 20 percent of the profits). McG's prequel, Terminator Salvation, was released in 2009 and is best remembered for Christian Bale's epic on-set tirade. Now that Schwarzenegger has left California's Governor's Mansion and returned to the acting game, there is talk of a fifth Terminator film.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean
When it was revealed that Disney was developing a film based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at its theme parks, critics were skeptical. However, the first entry in this swashbuckling franchise, 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was a blast, thanks to the comic talents of Geoffrey Rush as the evil Captain Barbossa and, of course, Johnny Depp as the slurring, Keith Richards-inspired pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Then-up-and-comers Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom made for nice ornaments as well in what The New Yorker called "the best spectacle of the summer." The role even earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination for Best Actor—a rare feat for a comedic performance. Two sequels later, the comedy had been Kraken-ed out of the series, which has become awash in wanton CGI. A fourth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, will hit theaters this summer. Rob Marshall is taking over as director and considering his last film, Nine, was an epic disappointment, expectations are not high. Though On Stranger Tides does boast Penelope Cruz and model-turned-actress Gemma Ward, Bloom and Knightley have wisely jumped ship.
6. The Fast and the Furious
This souped up, homoerotic franchise is about an LAPD officer Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), who goes undercover in a gang of street racers who perpetrate high-speed truck hijackings. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) the head of the crew who befriends O'Conner, who eventually romances Dominic's sister (Jordana Brewster). Sound familiar? " The Fast and the Furious is Rebel Without a Cause without a cause. The young and the restless with gas fumes. The quick and the dead with skid marks," wrote The Washington Post of the 2001 film. Diesel was the franchise's main draw, but even he tired of it, opting out of sequels 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), which boasted an all-new cast. The original cast returned for 2009's Fast & Furious, leading esteemed film critic Roger Ebert to ponder: "After three earlier movies in the series, which have been transmuted into videogames, why do we need a fourth one? Oh. I just answered my own question." There's now a fifth film coming out this summer— Fast Five—featuring the original cast, and the addition of Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock). And if that's not enough, you can look forward to the sixth—yes, sixth—installment.
7. Rush Hour
Hollywood filmmaker Brett Ratner's 1998 formulaic buddy cop comedy proved to be an entertaining, lightweight romp, thanks to the good-natured chemistry between its star, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Slate critic David Edelstein aptly called Rush Hour, "a terrific piece of junk filmmaking." The movie follows a Hong Kong detective (Chan) who teams up with an LAPD officer (Tucker) to solve a kidnapping case for the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles. In 2001, Ratner brought Rush Hour 2 and things started to get dicey. With the cross-cultural humor well running dry, Tucker sends his obnoxiousness into overdrive, becoming completely unbearable. The action scenes are listless, and not even supporting roles from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Zhang Ziyi or the reliable Don Cheadle could spice things up. After being stuck in development for six years, Rush Hour 3 finally hit screens in 2007 and despite the casting coup of getting exiled filmmaker Roman Polanski to play a French police official, the Paris-set film was a complete mess. It's jam-packed with crude, bordering-on-racist humor and The New York Times called it a "junky, clunky, grimly unfunny follow-up." Still, Rush Hour 3 performed well at the box office, and Ratner has been developing a fourth film in the series, supposedly set in Moscow.
8. American Pie
For 1999's American Pie, directors and brothers Paul and Chris Weitz cleverly recalibrated the Farrelly brothers' gross-out comedy formula. The movie follows four high school seniors who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation. The performances were heartfelt, the gags were funny, and the film captured the teenage troubles of negotiating the relationship between sexual conquest and social acceptance. Then came the sequel, 2001's American Pie 2, which had no real story (or meaning), other than to provide a forum for some truly lame gags—including the de facto loser's (Jason Biggs) super glue and masturbation debacle. By the time American Wedding came around in 2003, Seann William Scott's wacko frat boy character Steve Stifler became the focal point. Salon called it a franchise that "is exactly the kind of movie that gives sequels a bad name." Nevertheless, American Wedding grossed more than $230 million at the worldwide box office, so, plans are currently under way for a fourth Pie movie, featuring the original cast.
9. Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the third film in Steven Spielberg's franchise, brought some genuinely fun action sequences and the long-awaited exploration of the dynamic between Jones (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery) in 1989. But then came 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It took two decades to bring this much-ballyhooed fourth Indiana Jones film to the screen; going through multiple script revisions and writers before finally landing on David Koepp's screenplay. Still, the result was a mess. The fourth film starred Shia LaBeouf as Jones' greasy, motorcycle-riding sidekick son, Cate Blanchett and her Russian accent as a villainous Soviet agent, and a seemingly unmotivated Harrison Ford, who presumably did the movie for the $65 million. Obviously, it could have been better. A vastly improved draft of the script from Frank Darabont ( The Shawshank Redemption) leaked online, omitting Shia LaBeouf's silly character entirely. Apparently, Spielberg loved Darabont's draft, but executive producer George Lucas didn't. Now, according to Ford, they're in the process of developing Indiana Jones 5.
10. Alvin and the Chipmunks
Since Hollywood is adapting virtually every family-friendly property into a franchise these days, why not this animated music group comprised of anthropomorphic woodland creatures? Watching this 2007 semi-animated family comedy, you almost feel sorry for its talented comedic stars: Jason Lee, Justin Long, and David Cross. The 2009 sequel—painfully-adorably titled Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel— brought in rival all-girl chipmunk music group the Chipettes, who square off against the Chipmunks for singing-squirrel supremacy. Time Out New York wrote, "Blending CGI and live action, this 'squeakquel' to the witless 2007 kids' film proves just how dangerous technology is when placed in the wrong hands." And yes, yet another sequel is on the way later this year entitled Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked—in 3-D, no less.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.