A movie franchise is a collection of interconnected films with a shared cast of characters, universe, and concepts. Star Wars, Jaws, The Exorcist, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Avengers are just a few of the most profitable film franchises of all time.
Box office success, critical acclaim, and positive audience reaction are all factors that contribute to a movie franchise ranking among the finest of all time. While franchises are notorious for causing franchise fatigue, the following film series (listed in order of the number of films in the franchise) has maintained box office and fan popularity.
Toy Story (3 films, 3 theatrical shorts)
First Entry: Toy Story (1995)
Latest Entry: Toy Story 4 (2019)
Though there are computer-animated film franchises with more entries and higher box office results (such as Shrek and Despicable Me), Pixar’s Toy Story — about a group of toys owned by a boy named Andy who come to life when he leaves the room — was the first and received the most critical acclaim, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Pixar has also published three theatrical shorts and two television specials featuring Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the Toy Story gang in addition to the three feature features.
Mad Max (4 films)
First Entry: Mad Max (1979)
Latest Entry: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max, a 1979 action film directed by Australian George Miller, became a cult sensation after its debut due to its post-apocalyptic imagery and lead Mel Gibson’s dramatic performance. Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), in which Gibson appeared, became highly artistic.
Miller directed new Mad Max actor Tom Hardy in an action masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road, thirty years later. Mad Max: Fury Road received six Academy Awards for its breakthrough technical feats, in addition to considerable box financial and critical success.
Indiana Jones (4 films)
First Entry: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Latest Entry: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indiana Jones, the story of an intrepid explorer and archaeologist, was created in 1981 by filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who cast Harrison Ford in the lead role. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the outcome, is widely regarded as one of the best films ever created.
Before the end of the decade, it spawned two well-received sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Even though the Indiana Jones franchise has been inactive since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which garnered the series’ lowest ratings), Spielberg and Lucas have hinted that further films are in the works.
The Hunger Games (4 films)
First Entry: The Hunger Games (2012)
Latest Entry: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)
In The Hunger Games franchise, Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a girl in a dystopian future who leads a rebellion against an oppressive government. Mockingjay, the final novel in the trilogy, was broken into two films. The four films grossed approximately $3 billion in total worldwide.
Because there are no other books in the series, unlike the other franchises on our list, it appears doubtful that The Hunger Games franchise would generate another sequel. Of course, in Hollywood, there is no such thing as a no-spinoff policy!
The Lord of the Rings (6 films)
First Entry: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Latest Entry: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
The Lord of the Rings film franchise was directed by devoted fan Peter Jackson and is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy epic trilogy—one of the best-selling literary series of all time. The series recounts the adventures of a group of tiny beings known as Hobbits who set out to destroy an evil Dark Lord’s magic ring.
The trilogy was a box office success for both Tolkien enthusiasts and newcomers, and the third film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, making it the first fantasy film to do so. It was also nominated for 10 other Academy Awards.
Jackson directed a trilogy based on The Hobbit, a prequel novel to The Lord of the Rings, a few years later. Although the three-film adaptation of The Hobbit is less loyal to the novel than the Lord of the Rings films are to those novels, the Hobbit films were nevertheless huge box office hits.
Rocky (8 films)
First Entry: Rocky (1976)
Latest Entry: Creed II (2018)
When Sylvester Stallone started writing a screenplay about a down-on-his-luck Philadelphia boxer who is offered a fantasy battle against the world heavyweight champion, he couldn’t have imagined that the character would go on to feature in more than a half-dozen sequels over the next four decades. However, spectators have formed a strong bond with the Italian Stallion and his internal and external struggles.
The first film, released in 1976, won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was followed by four sequels between 1979 and 1990. Rocky Balboa, released in 2006, was a surprise return to box office success for the franchise. Creed, a 2015 spinoff about the son of Rocky’s title opponent Apollo, was another critical and box financial hit, reviving the franchise and propelling Stallone to the top of the box office.
Planet of the Apes (9 films)
First Entry: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Latest Entry: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Few sci-fi pictures have captivated audiences as much as 1968’s Planet of the Apes, which showed a crew of astronauts (headed by Charlton Heston) crashing on a planet ruled by apes. John Chambers received an Honorary Oscar for the groundbreaking makeup effects (before there was a makeup category), and the film’s ending is one of cinema’s most memorable.
From 1970 to 1973, there were four sequels, as well as live-action and animated television series. The brand appeared to be nearing the end of its existence after a 2001 reboot helmed by Tim Burton scored well at the box office but failed to deliver a sequel. The aesthetically beautiful reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), starring Andy Serkis as Caesar, the ape, was made possible by motion capture technology.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2015) were both popular and critically acclaimed sequels featuring Serkis as Caesar (2017).
Harry Potter (10 films)
First Entry: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Latest Entry: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
Before the obvious leap to film, the adolescent wizard Harry Potter was already a success thanks to author J.K. Rowling’s young adult novels. Each cinematic version of the seven-book series was a blockbuster, with the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, being split into two films. The eight Potter films grossed a total of $7.7 billion worldwide from 2001 to 2011. Unsurprisingly, the franchise continued when Rowling agreed to write more films on the Harry Potter universe’s prior history.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’s box office success demonstrated that there was still plenty of interest in Rowling’s universe, and a sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, was released in 2018.
Star Wars (11 films)
First Entry: Star Wars (1977)
Latest Entry: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
One of the most unforgettable films in movie history is the episodic sci-fi Star Wars series. Since the first film was released in 1977, countless individuals all over the world have become fans of characters like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2-D2, and Yoda. It became the highest-grossing film of all time very quickly.
George Lucas followed up the original film with two blockbuster sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), and then returned 16 years later with a prequel trilogy that was a commercial success, despite fan and critic criticism of the films’ quality.
Beginning with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the highest-grossing film in US box office history, Disney purchased George Lucas’ film studio, Lucasfilm, in 2012 and has since produced additional Star Wars sequels and spinoffs.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (20 films and counting)
First Entry: Iron Man (2008)
Latest Entry: The New Mutants (2020)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which is based on the dozens of beloved superheroes established by Marvel Comics and releases two films each year on average, has been a huge success. The MCU began with Iron Man (2008) and now includes numerous film series starring well-known characters like Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor, all set in the same universe.
The Avengers, released in 2012, brought the heroic heroes into an epic adventure. Since then, the franchise has grown to include more eccentric characters in films like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. With Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, the franchise has two billion-dollar films in 2018. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing franchise of all time, with over $1 billion in revenue.
James Bond (26 films, plus 2 unofficial entries*)
First Entry: Dr. No (1962)
Latest Entry: Spectre (2015)
James Bond, the British super-spy, is the gold standard by which all franchises are judged. Throughout the decades, six actors have played the suave and sophisticated Agent 007, each offering his unique perspective on the character.
Bond’s cinematic adventures have featured some of the most famous original theme music ever recorded, as well as revolutionary special effects and spectacular action sequences. Even though most fans of the series still consider the original James Bond Sean Connery to be the best of the Bonds, current James Bond Daniel Craig has starred in the franchise’s highest-grossing movie.
Godzilla (33 films)
First Entry: Godzilla (1954)
Latest Entry: Godzilla vs Kong (2021)
Godzilla, a 1954 Japanese sci-fi monster film, played on people’s fears of nuclear war by unleashing a massive monster on Tokyo. Godzilla went on to have dozens of sequels (including one that pitted Godzilla against King Kong), and he became famous all over the world.
Godzilla has maintained its popularity in theatres. The 2014 American version earned $529 million worldwide, whereas Shin Godzilla, a 2016 Japanese revival, earned $75 million in Japan and won the Japan Academy Prize for Best Picture of the Year. Several Godzilla films are currently in the works in the United States and Japan. Other franchises have come and gone, but one monster has remained.