Every summer, Hollywood banks on film-goers beating the heat by seeking air-conditioned movie theatres for some high-budget, low-brow entertainment. And each summer, audiences are blessed with at least one blockbuster that relies on a franchise's success to move ticket sales. This year, "Toy Story 3", "Shrek Forever After" and "Twilight: Eclipse" are among that category, though only one of those films belongs in the top ten highest-grossing film franchises in history. Find out which one in the top ten below.
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- Harry Potter
The series has grossed $5,422,966,528 worldwide - and that's before the upcoming release of the seventh installment of the franchise. What is it that makes the Harry Potter series so successful? Is it that the movies transport audiences young and old to far and away lands full of magic and mystery? Or is that the producers of the franchise cash in on their obsessively loyal following by releasing what should be one film as two?
Catch the first half of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in November. And return to the box office one more time a year from now to find out what happens in the end.
- James Bond
Agent 007's success could come down to strength in numbers. The series includes a whopping 23 films, grossing a total of $5,074,402,453 since the release of the first film, "Dr. No", in 1962. And the films have only gotten bigger over the years.
"Casino Royale", released in 2006, grossed $599,200,000 worldwide. "Quantum of Solace", released in 2008, had the highest budget of all the films, at $230,000,000. The price tag could be due to the film being shot in six countries with a luxury Aston Martin destroyed for each one of those countries in the making of action sequences. (Success in Hollywood isn't just measured by ticket sales - development costs play a large part, too. Check out Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)
- Star Wars
If Star Wars is for geeks, then there sure are a lot of them on Earth (as opposed to in a galaxy far, far away). Grossing $4,411,410,761 internationally since 1977, George Lucas's baby found longevity in a trilogy of movies, released between 1999 and 2005, which visit Darth Vader's origins in a prequel to the original films. It would be impossible to measure the impact of Star Wars on pop culture - it's that vast. Remember Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs"?
- Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings
Much like the Harry Potter series, high ticket sales for "Lord of the Rings" films could likely be attributed to the fact that nearly every generation of teens is introduced to "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien, either as part of a high school English class or just for fun. But audiences likely weren't prepared for the films to actually be pretty decent.
Director Peter Jackson has earned three Academy Awards from the franchise, and since the first film's release the franchise has earned $2,927,933,388 worldwide.
- Pirates of the Caribbean
Walt Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" has come a long way since its origins as a ride at a California theme park. So far, Captain Jack Sparrow and his all-star crew have brought in $2,681,667,528 gross revenue worldwide since the first film's 2003 release. The second and third films broke box office records, including earning the highest 10-day gross, although "The Dark Knight" beat that record in 2008. The fourth part of the franchise, "On Stranger Tides", is set to be released in 3-D in 2011.
The Batman franchise is the first comic book series of the list, bringing in $2,669,234,002 since Tim Burton's first 1989 film, "Batman". Perhaps not surprising, "The Dark Knight" is the highest-grossing film of the franchise so far, due perhaps to the eerie circumstances of the death of Heath Ledger. The actor posthumously won the Academy Award for best supporting actor after playing the Joker to critical acclaim. (Summer movie season can be a major money maker for big studios, especially if they can produce a smash-hit. Don't miss The Economics Of Summer Blockbuster Movies.)
What could have happened to the Shrek franchise had "Saturday Night Live" actor Chris Farley been kept as the voice of the title character in the first film, released in 2001? Would the franchise have earned $2,647,155,040 worldwide without Mike Myers and his Scottish accent, who replaced Farley after his untimely death in 1997? According the Internet Movie Database, when Shrek uses "finger quotes", he is paying homage to Farley's well-known "Saturday Night Live" character Bennett Brower.
Who can resist the story of scrawny Peter Parker who wakes up with superhero powers and saves the city from evil? Not very many, since the franchise has earned $2,496,285,178 since it all began in 2002. After considering Leonardo DiCaprio, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Chris Klein for the part of Parker, Columbia wisely settled on Tobey Maguire. But with Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead", "Drag Me To Hell") not directing the fourth film in the series, set to be released in 2012, the franchise's future could be uncertain.
- Jurassic Park
Audiences flocked to movie theatres to see Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" come to life on film in 1993, perhaps for the sole purpose of seeing dinosaurs on the big screen. Since then, the franchise grossed $2,075,654,626 internationally, perhaps due to director Steven Spielberg's foresight - he picked up the rights to the film before the best-selling novel was even published in 1990.
Unlike most other franchises in the list, the dinosaur park movies have actually made fewer dollars over the years, despite having higher budgets. But that could be because Jurassic Park 3 is neither based on a Crichton novel nor directed by Spielberg. (Just because an overly-hyped film rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars does not mean it will receive critical acclaim. Read Money-Making Movies With Terrible Reviews.)
- Indiana Jones
Also primarily Steven Spielberg joints (and created by George Lucas), the Indiana Jones franchise has grossed $1,980,610,580 worldwide from the last four films of the series. And each film has only earned more money over the years, which is only surprising since Harrison Ford is about 30 years older than he was when he made "Raiders of the Lost Ark", released in 1981. How cool is it to watch him huff and puff through booby traps in search of a crystal skull? Pretty cool, according to box office numbers.
The Bottom Line
So what makes a franchise earn big bucks and find longevity? Is it mass appeal, high budgets, special effects, obsessive fans or big Hollywood names? By the looks at this list, it's necessary to combine all of those elements to get the level of box office success these movies have had. Oh, and see if Steven Spielberg's not busy. He can likely help.
*Franchise statistics are courtesy of the-numbers.com*
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