Franchises. As much as we like our smaller, more artistic, horror films we keep returning to the well of the familiar. There’s nothing wrong with that really, time has shown us that there’s plenty of space for more unique horror films to thrive (and perhaps become franchises themselves) alongside the old profitable standbys.
But what makes a good franchise? A great first film helps, and a lot of these have GREAT first films. But that’s not all it takes. For a franchise’s legacy to endure it requires an unholy (and sometimes contradictory) mix of consistency, variety and history. It’s entirely possible to have a flat-out classic as your first film but then taper off into highly unremarkable territory.
Head inside to see how your favorite franchises stack up and to vote in our poll! Needless to say, my list is highly subjective and I welcome differing opinions. Also – please note I stuck to franchises with 5 or more entries (including remakes)!
Of course Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original is a classic, a truly beautiful film. And his 1986 sequel is a masterpiece of gonzo universe reinvention. But man are parts 3 and 4 abysmal. The 2003 remake was decent enough (though I didn’t care for its prequel) but there’s not a lot of the original franchise to left to chew on. Once you get to this year’s remake/sequel you’re seeing this series push up against its limitations (though I agree with one of my friends who asserts that 3D would have been a much better film if they’d had the conviction to drop the “modern day” angle and keep it in 1994 – which was clearly the original intention).
This feels sort of nuts because it has bar none the best film out of any of the franchises that beat it. John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween is without question one of the best horror films ever made, and certainly the best slasher. But, deep in my gut, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for this brand as a whole. Sure Halloween 2 is okay and Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is pretty great but the subsequent Michael Myers installments (I’m including the remake and its sequel in this assessment) just kind of all fade together. The 4th film is pretty good but it begins a slow bleed out and the way the mythology is expanded just doesn’t interest me. I’m not a fan of H20 or Resurrection at all and can’t relate to Rob Zombie’s take on the material either.
Perhaps the diminishing returns can be boiled down to one fact. The more you explain Michael Myers, the further you get away from the point of the original film – that evil simply is. Of course, I think we’d all welcome a visceral new installment that got back to basics.
While none of the films in the Child’s Play franchise come close to hitting the highs of the original Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Don Mancini’s enduring creation gets points for consistency. Even if you don’t like the direction taken by Bride Of Chucky or Seed Of Chucky, you still feel like they’re an (admittedly weird) extension of the original story. The newly released Curse Of Chucky also carries some surprises in that department. Like it or not, the Child’s Play films provide their villain with a complete journey – something that oddly satisfies me.
The same can be said for A Nightmare On Elm Street and its sequels. While the quality of the films (especially in terms of scares) begins to decline after Dream Warriors (hey, I like Freddy’s Revenge) they still present a complete arc for Freddy. On top of that, they’re not lazy about exploring the milieu of the dream world and the ability of Freddy and his victims within it. As horrible as Freddy’s Dead was, it was preceded by 5 movies that all felt like part of a larger story that really worked towards developing whatever ideas its universe offered. The first and third entries are legitimately great (with a case to be made for the second), and the creativity of the two subsequent disappointments actually earns the franchise points as a whole. Not even the aforementioned Freddy’s Dead or the widely hated 2010 remake can take that away.
Perhaps the messiest franchise of them all, this one earns points for variety as well as its compelling history, legacy and cultural impact. I’d argue that Jason Voorhees became the most famous modern slasher through this franchise’s sheer force of will to survive (if not quality). Jason’s journey is much more fractured than Freddy’s or Chucky’s, but it still breaks down in an interesting manner. You’ve got a good first film in which he’s only alluded to (save for the end). Then Parts 2-4 form an interesting “living Jason” semi-trilogy that traces our antihero’s evolution from myth to actualized killer to dead special needs case. Then you’ve got your Tommy Jarvis trilogy (sharing part 4 with the semi-trilogy). The continuity between all of these films can be shoddy, but there’s at least a narrative thrust here that I can get behind. After that we get a variety of (almost) stand alone takes on the character that reward different camps within the overall fanbase, culminating with Jason X.
The series also gets points for unpredictability. It doesn’t suffer from the slow decline that most franchises do. While the original Friday The 13th might be the weakest first installment out of any of the series listed above, none of them had what was arguably their best moment six films in. Part 2 is great, The Final Chapter is even better and Jason Lives is (for me) the best. It also doesn’t hurt that the 2009 remake is handily better than the Chainsaw, Halloween or Elm Street remakes. Bonus? You can throw on an F13 movie any old time. People just don’t say that about Halloween: Resurrection or Freddy’s Dead.
But don’t take my word for it! Vote in our poll below! I’ve also included a few additional franchises to choose from (like The Howling and Hellraiser – IMO the quality of their sequels weighed them down. Evil Dead and Scream are great but didn’t have enough entries etc… so I put them in the poll instead).