- Franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have grossed billions at the box office, proving the appeal of consistent storytelling.
- The fourth installment has been unlucky for many movie franchises, often leading to a decline in quality or even the end of the series.
- The Batman and Superman franchises both suffered after their fourth films, demonstrating the challenges of maintaining success over multiple installments.
The 21st century has seen film franchises growing increasingly massive, but many once-popular sagas died after only four movies. Franchises are incredibly appealing to Hollywood, as a familiar title can often sell better than a headlining actor or director, particularly in the modern era. Titles like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone have grossed roughly $40 billion at the box office combined, telling consistent stories. Other franchises like James Bond and Godzilla have continued to find profitability for decades through reboots and spin-offs, trying to maintain their original appeal through new lenses.
Many of the longest-running movie franchises have carried on through reboots, but different iterations of franchises that died after four movies will still count. For example, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Batman series isn’t the only Batman, but the saga ended after the disappointment of its fourth installment. For many titles, the fourth film has been the unlucky number where things went downhill, either collapsing the title for good or requiring it to be rebooted years later. In the case of Batman, Christopher Nolan luckily rebooted the character with The Dark Knight trilogy, though not all franchises have been as fortunate.
Batman and Robin nearly killed Batman movies.
After the campy Adam West Batman of the 1960s, anticipation was ginormous leading up to Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, which set to introduce a darker, gritty tone to the world of comic book movies. The casting of Michael Keaton was initially divisive, given that the actor had been known for his comedic roles in the ’80s, and Tim Burton hadn’t yet proven to be the trusted auteur he’d later be known as. However, the film proved a major success, spawning multiple sequels. Batman Returns followed it up in 1992, arguably an even better Batman movie. But after that, the franchise started to go downhill.
For the third film, Batman Forever, director Joel Schumacher took over the director’s chair, with Val Kilmer replacing Keaton as the Caped Crusader. Batman Forever outperformed Batman Returns at the box office, though it was seen as a stylistic departure and an overall decline in quality. The fourth film, Batman and Robin, which saw George Clooney as Batman, is still considered one of the worst superhero movies ever. The style was made to be light-hearted to sell more toys and merchandise, resulting in a widely hated film that performed terribly at the box office. The installment killed the ’90s Batman franchise and nearly killed Batman movies altogether.
Christopher Reeve’s Superman films went downhill.
Like the Batman films, the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise died after its fourth film. 1978’s Superman: The Movie was lightning in a bottle, combining the joy of classic comic-book superhero stories with the rising magic of blockbuster cinema and special effects. For the first time, audiences would believe a man could fly, with Christopher Reeve’s perfectly vibrant Superman costume and look, accompanied by the iconic John Williams score. Superman was the film that established the superhero film genre and is still regarded as one of the chief inspirations for many of the best superhero blockbusters today. Unfortunately, that success was difficult to repeat.
Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies would continue to go downhill after the first. Superman II had a notoriously troubled production, resulting in Richard Donner being replaced by Richard Lester as the film’s director. Superman II: The Donner Cut was released decades later, showing the original vision in a better movie cut. Superman III continued the downward trend, but it was the fourth and final film that ended the franchise for decades. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is still known as one of the worst Superman movies and marked a significant box office drop.
4 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 4 lacked much of what made the first few successful.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney is one of the most popular children’s series of the 21st century, ongoing since its first release in 2007. Naturally, Hollywood sought to adapt the books into feature films, releasing the first in 2010. They released two more in subsequent years, each of the three performing quite well at the box office, given their low budgets. After a five-year gap, the franchise continued in 2017 with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, keeping the same director but re-casting the characters. The film performed poorly commercially and critically, ending the series.
The fourth Halloweentown was poorly received.
The Halloweentown films were successful, family-friendly Halloween-themed movies that were highly entertaining and some of the best Disney Channel original movies. From 1998 to 2006, the Halloweentown saga saw four installments, though the last of which, Return to Halloweentown, was poorly received. Despite the poor reception, the series has endured for years as beloved seasonal movies for those who grew up watching them.
Psycho couldn’t be dragged out any longer than four films.
Psycho deserves to be mentioned among the movies that didn’t need a sequel, as the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock horror movie was terrific as a standalone classic, regarded among the best films ever. Still, Anthony Perkins returned as Norman Bates in 1983 for Psycho II. Then twice more in Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning. Psycho II may have slightly outperformed the original at the box office, but no films in the saga held anywhere close to the prestige of the original. The saga ended after four films in 1990 before being unnecessarily rebooted by Gus Van Sant in 1998.
1 James Bond (Pierce Brosnan)
Brosnan was replaced as Bond after only four films.
The James Bond franchise is one of the longest-running ever, with the first releasing in 1962 and the most recent in 2021. Like many popular film characters, the role of Bond has moved around between different actors, with many fans having different opinions on who their favorite is. Pierce Brosnan is considered one of the worst James Bond actors, primarily due to Die Another Day, which killed his run as the character. His fourth Bond film was his last.
James Bond was brought back shortly after with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, who played the character for five films. Sean Connery also played the character in five films, and Roger Moore had seven. While Pierce Brosnan’s films weren’t exceptional, that shouldn’t discredit his performance, as he consistently received some of the worst material to work with.