It’s tempting to think of movie franchises as relatively new, but in one form or another they’ve been a staple of filmmaking for years. Think of basic examples such as the ‘Carry On’ films – basically the same characters re-appearing in different situations – and that’s the basis for a franchise. There’s more to it than that of course as franchises also tell an ongoing story and develop characters, but the general idea is the same; films in an easily recognisable grouping. Big studios have realized the long-term potential of such franchises and have evolved these into money-making machines.
Mini franchises and developments
There’s some debate as to what one might call a franchise as opposed to simply a succession sequels. For example, ‘The Godfather’ might be considered a mini-franchise with the elements of a known brand, mostly the same characters re-appearing and developing and a story being told, yet it’s possible to watch the films in a different order or miss one or more out.
Is ‘Jaws’ a franchise? Seemingly a one-off initially, several follow ups were made but it doesn’t have the coherent feel of an ‘intended’ franchise. Did the makers of the original ‘Jurassic Park’ intend it to become a franchise – especially since there were long gaps (over a decade) between releases? Perhaps it became a franchise by accident?
What did George Lucas have in mind when he made the original ‘Star Wars’ film back in 1977? Did he envisage the longevity the franchise now has and, as this run down by shows, huge commercial success?
It’s clear ‘Harry Potter’ was planned as a franchise – not least because of the number of books to draw from – and the all-important merchandising opportunities it provided. The ‘Star Wars’ franchise is developing from being a straightforward sequel (or prequel) progression to including spin-off films such as 2016’s ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’. It’s probably fair to say studios have become better at spotting what made the accidental ‘organic’ franchises successful over a long period and have been able to plan how to develop these traits from the outset.
Marvelling at Marvel
Disney subsidiary Marvel Studios could arguably be dubbed the ‘kings of the franchise model’. With strong superhero characters and a carefully orchestrated cycle of releases, the filmmaker with admirable efficiency.
The main ‘Avengers’ series alternates with others such as ‘Iron Man’ under the general ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ umbrella. This way regular releases can be made without overdoing any one series. They are evolving this model by blending in the various series to the point where it could become one long franchise telling a unified story, yet with ‘standalone’ titles released as at present.
It’s clearly a model that is informing parent Disney’s future plans for its ‘Star Wars’ franchise – acquired in 2012 and kicked off with the – and is set to add even more value to the famous filmmaker.
DC stepping into the arena
Marvel’s rivals in the superhero comic world, DC, are about to take it on in superhero films with its ‘Batman v Superman’ release featuring characters such as Wonder Woman which will go on to take major roles in related films.
DC is owned by Warner Bros, which has its own franchise successes to point to such as mega hit ‘Harry Potter’, clearly sees a route to franchise success by benchmarking itself with its old adversary.
Overall, film franchises – just like in business terms – are a lot to do with brand recognition. Marvel carefully controls its films to the point where some new directors feel a little constricted by the studio’s formulaic approach, but it knows what its fans like and is happy to serve it up. Studios understand what franchises are, how to create and cultivate them and how they can deliver financial success over a long period.