The rights and wrongs of franchise films

There have never been more franchise films, but is that a good thing? Photo courtesy of Collider


I love movies. Those who know me know that I take every opportunity to talk about them. Like many people, that love started with the franchise movies of my childhood. Although they are not my focus anymore, they sparked something in me that has never dulled. However, recent trends have left me concerned about the state of this genre. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” came out on Friday, Feb. 17, kicking off Marvel’s Phase 5. This franchise grows larger with every phase, and there are no signs of slowing down. However, the franchise has taken a turn since “Avengers: Endgame”: a turn that I’m not convinced is for the best. This turn reflects trends in the franchise film genre that are jeopardizing its future. Franchise films include any film series that includes the same film universe. As with any other genre, there is a craft to creating franchise films. All genres have their formulas, but it’s the movies that do the most with these formulas which prove successful. The franchise films that get this right are some of the most beloved movies of all time.

It’s no shock that franchise films are popular. They’re fun, exciting and often make audiences feel good. There is something unique about watching your favorite characters over years and years of movies. The colossal scale of these stories makes them unique and exciting to get lost in. Franchises also provide a plethora of content, which keeps fans engaged for longer. Fans create attachments to characters in these movies since they’ve been a part of the character’s entire journey. Since franchise films are often family-friendly, many people also grow up with these characters. Tyler Trussell, a sophomore dance and English double major, said that franchise films were an important part of his childhood.

“I grew up watching [Marvel] movies,” Trussell said. “‘We watch them as a family, so it’s been a bonding time to get to see these movies together over the years.”

However, in an effort to cater to a wider audience and create this family experience, franchises sometimes compromise humor and plot. “Thor: Love and Thunder” fell victim to this by contrasting juvenile humor with a dramatic plot. The result was a hodge-podge of scenes that felt as if they were from completely different movies. In an effort to cater to a younger audience, movies like this end up treating their audiences less intelligently. This can alienate fans instead of bringing them in. 

Similarly, franchises have to balance the demands of fans with their own creative vision and plot. Recently, the Star Wars franchise has struggled with this balance. The Star Wars fanbase is infamous for their demands and entitlement about what they want from the franchise. So, it was no surprise when the most recent trilogy fell victim to these demands. “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was littered with nods to the past, and fans ate it up. When the franchise took a different direction with its themes for the next movie, the fanbase was more divided. In the trilogy finale, the franchise attempted to mend the rift. This movie ended up with the lowest box office sales of the trilogy and very mixed reviews. The franchise tried to please everyone, but this only led to inconsistencies in the plot and characterizations. The individual movies are not horrible on their own, but due to the nature of franchises, the conversation around them has become contentious.

Gabi Mathus, a sophomore criminology and psychology double major, said that this battle is present in the Marvel franchise as well.

“[Marvel movies get] very, very formulaic at times because it is an action movie,” Mathus said. “I think there’s a constant battle between creative ideas and trying to fit within what the fanbase expects.”

The fanbase is important, but if franchises focus on crafting a movie with care, then they might have more success. Recently, “Avatar: The Way of Water” showed the potential of this method. The director, James Cameron, is known for diving into his subject material and crafting his movies accordingly. Slowly but surely, he is using this method to build a franchise.

There were 13 years between the original “Avatar” and its sequel. Cameron was set on creating the perfect follow-up movie. He had a vision and waited for technology to catch up, as well as the story to be completely fleshed out. The result is a sequel that looks beautiful and takes the audience through a unique world. It is this carefully crafted world that fans have responded to.

Jade Diskin, a senior dance major, explained why she likes the Avatar movies.

“I’ve been a fan of this franchise since the first movie,” Diskin said. “The world is very complicated and intricate. I understand why it took so long [for the next movie].”

Our favorite movies hold so much power, and it takes a lot of time, passion and energy to get the formula right. Directors like Cameron apply quality over quantity to franchise films. Similarly, “Top Gun: Maverick” showed mastery of blockbuster cinema. It could have been a basic, formulaic sequel, but everything from the cinematography to the casting was done with care and intention. The result was an utterly charming movie that accomplished its goals. The project took years to complete, so it was highly anticipated by the time it was finally released. Granted, with such high expectations, the movie blew up at the box office and has been nominated for several Oscars

The approach of the Avatar and Top Gun franchises is becoming rarer and rarer, and the market is more saturated than ever before. However, the success of these franchises shows that audiences are willing to wait for the movies that they care about. There are incentives to continue popping out new content, but at what cost? Franchise films are dominating pop culture more than ever, and they’re getting criticized for it.

One of the more high-profile examples of this criticism was Quentin Tarantino’s quarrel with Disney over showtimes at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, CA. Tarantino’s film “The Hateful Eight” was supposed to play at this theater, taking over the slot of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” However, Disney threatened to take the Star Wars film out of all Arclight Cinemas’ theaters if they did so. Since Disney holds so much power in the film industry, the theater had to continue playing Star Wars despite their previous agreement. Thankfully for Tarantino, he has the platform to speak on these issues, but many smaller filmmakers do not. These are the artists who stand to lose the most. 

When franchises continue to dominate the industry at the cost of others, it can be hard to justify their validity. Due to bias against franchises, these movies already face an uphill battle to be taken seriously and gain acclaim, and they’re not helping themselves with behavior like this. If franchise movies are going to maintain credibility, the studios need to take a step back and evaluate what they want to accomplish. Studios producing franchise films cannot expect the same credibility as stand-alone films unless they hold themselves to the same standards. 

Audiences have fallen in love with franchises for a reason, and the franchises need to remember what that is. It’s the joy of seeing their favorite characters work together, watching them overcome obstacles and enjoying that experience with those close to them. The issue with franchise films is not that they’re formulaic or uncomplicated – it’s just that they’re out of touch. Film is a community-oriented activity by design. The industry works best when it taps into that community. Franchises need to remember their fans and respect the art form, or they risk an uncertain future.


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