We live in an age of Hollywood mega-franchises. Everywhere you look, there are new movie franchises being developed that are meant to make lots of money and produce tons of sequels. There are plenty of franchises that have done just that. There are others, though, that never totally got off the ground. Instead, these franchises squandered their potential before they were even completed.
Usually, a planned franchise fails to be completed for only a couple of different reasons. One reason is a lack of box office enthusiasm. If the first movie didn't make money, there's no reason to think the sequels will. Another potential reason to cancel a franchise is a lack of enthusiasm from critics. Often, these two things go hand in hand, and franchises are canceled before they even spread their wings.
Everything about The Last Airbender is fairly baffling. The film series was set to be based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated series about a young boy who is supposed to bring balance to the world. The series was told across three seasons, each of which contained at least 20 episodes. In The Last Airbender, they decided to take all of the episodes in the show's first season and cram them into one movie. The results were disastrous.
Needless to say, the planned sequels to the film never happened, in large part because the movie was a complete critical disaster.
Divergent was part of the YA boom, but that boom ended before the final film could be produced and released in theaters. The franchise, which followed a young woman who didn't fall neatly into one of the castes that existed in the society where she lives. Although it was meant to be an answer to The Hunger Games series, these movies weren't as critically or commercially successful.
As a result, the franchise was canceled after two movies. There was going to be a TV series for a second, but everyone realized that probably wouldn't be necessary. Not enough people were invested and Shailene Woodley said no.
20th Century Fox
No one can seem to figure out how to make the Fantastic Four work on screen. In 2015, an earnest attempt was made to launch the series as a franchise, but that attempt ended in disaster. The version of Fantastic Four that landed in theaters was a garbled mess. Its plot was incoherent, as were the motivations of its characters.
It's clear that whatever director Josh Trank's vision for the film was, it wasn't translated in the final cut. Instead, the movie fails to be either logical or entertaining. A sequel was never going to be in the cards, even if the studio wanted one.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a bit of a mystery. The series is based on popular children's books about a fantastical world filled with magical creatures. The film was a modest success with critics, and it didn't light the box office on fire, but it wasn't a disappointment either.
For whatever reason, a sequel never materialized. It may have been because the first movie combined five novels into a single story. While there were still more novels to adapt, the process of choosing how to adapt it may have been too overwhelming to be worth the trouble it would take to do so. Still, unlike most of the movies on this list, the movie that made it to theaters wasn't a disaster.
John Carter was an idea that sounded great on paper. It was based on a fairly popular graphic novel, and it seemed like it could tap into a combination of elements from movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings that had been enormously successful. It also featured a hot young talent in Taylor Kitsch.
Unfortunately, basically every decision the movie made failed miserably. It didn't do well with critics or at the box office, and all talk of sequels has basically evaporated in the years since its release. That's probably for the best. Not every epic fantasy story is meant for the big screen.
In the wake of Harry Potter, there were lots of fantasy franchises about children with special abilities that lived in fantastical worlds. Although the book series on which these series were based were often fairly popular, the filmed adaptations didn't always perform as well.
In the case of Eragon, any plans to adapt the book's sequels were put on indefinite hold after the adaptation of the first movie completely bombed with both critics and audiences. When your movie doesn't seem to be appealing to anyone, there's not much reason to sink more money into sequels. At the end of the day, Hollywood is a business.
The world of Ender's Game is massive, so in theory it made sense to try to turn it into a successful film franchise. It also came out in 2013, at the height of the YA boom, when stories about teenagers saving the world were at their most popular. This one also came loaded with adult stars that should have theoretically made it an enormous hit. Instead, the film was swallowed up by other blockbusters surrounding it.
The world of Ender's Game is fascinating and complex. In fact, it may be so complex that it would work better as a TV series than it did as a movie.
The people behind the Percy Jackson films were riding on the wave of franchises like Harry Potter, but these movies never came across the same levels of success. They did alright with both critics and audiences, but the studios behind the films seemed to realize that, after two were developed, there was no real need to make a third. The stars were aging out of their characters, and the public just didn't seem all that interested.
As it turns out, they really weren't. 20th Century Fox stepped away from the franchise at the right time, realizing that they would likely lose money if they tried to make a third film.
The first and only Master and Commander tells the story of a navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars. It's also based on the first of 20 finished novels from Aubrey Maturin about the character, and so there was a reasonable level of expectation that future novels would be adapted as sequels.
The movie did incredibly well with critics, but according to director Peter Weir, the film didn't make enough money to justify a sequel. Now that it's been more than 15 years since the first one was released, it's safe to say that any potential sequels are pretty much off the table, even though the first one is a genuinely great movie.
Now that it's a TV series, it seems like a pretty safe bet that the A Series of Unfortunate Events movie will never get a sequel. The film, which adapted the first three books in Lemony Snicket's 13-book series, also starred Jim Carrey in a prominent role.
Although it could have been a disaster, the film was actually a modest hit with both critics and audiences. A sequel might have been possible, but corporate shakeups at Paramount put any plans on hold for too long. When you have young stars, you have to act fast before they age out of the parts they're meant to play.
New Line Cinema
The Golden Compass was supposed to be the first in a series of fantasy films based on the His Dark Materials series from Philip Pulman. The series is firmly anti-religion, and The Golden Compass managed to make just about everyone mad by watering down those themes so that fans were unhappy but keeping them to such an extent that religious groups weren't happy either.
The film's enormous budget wasn't recouped at the box office, and plans for further sequels were put on hold indefinitely. If you're a fan of the series looking for a sequel, don't get your hopes up.
There are seven Chronicles of Narnia books, but there are only three films. Although the first film was a genuine hit, it was clear that interest in the series was waning as time passed. These books definitely had a moment, but that moment was brief, and by the time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was released, it was clear that audiences were no longer interested.
It's a shame that that's the case, in part because the other books in the series are well worth adapting. It's a fascinating fantasy story, and it never got to go out on its own terms.
Open Road Films
There were several attempts made to turn Saoirse Ronan into a franchise star, and The Host was one of them. Although Saoirse became a star anyway, The Host is not the film that got her there.
The film was an adaptation of another series of books from Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, so it made sense to assume it would be a hit. It even had the credible older actors that many of these series try to take advantage of. Instead of hitting with audiences, the film barely made back its budget, and most of the cast and crew wiped their hands of it and never really looked back.
Like so many of the movies on this list, The Mortal Instruments was another series that attempted to take advantage of the YA boom in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, it didn't have the massive success of the best performing franchises of that era, possibly because it was more of a fantasy series than many of the other YA films of its era.
Although the series has plenty of die-hard fans to this day, that audience wasn't large enough to justify putting more money toward a sequel. Instead, they turned the series into the moderately successful Shadowhunters TV show that aired its series finale in mid-2019.
There's a reason we don't associate Jake Gyllenhaal with massive franchises, and it's because when he tried to make one, he failed fairly miserably. In Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, we get a look at an fairly successful video game adaptation that didn't go over very well with critics.
Although the performances were widely praised, the film suffered from a weak script, and it didn't make enough back on its massive budget to justify a sequel. That was probably okay for everyone involved. It's not as if Jake Gyllenhaal's career has really suffered for not having a massive franchise at its center.
Now that Hellboy has been rebooted, it seems clear that we're never going to get a third film in Guillermo Del Toro's original franchise. That's honestly kind of a shame, in part because the two Hellboy movies that Guillermo made were well-reviewed and did decently well at the box office.
Although a third installment in the series never materialized, it wasn't because Guillermo was out of ideas. He's discussed what would have happened in the third film, one he never got to make. Still, the director shouldn't be too disappointed with how his career has gone since. After all, he made a Best Picture winner less than a decade after Hellyboy II.
Since 2002, we've gotten an incredible number of movies featuring Spider-Man. There were three starring Tobey Maguire, and then shortly thereafter there were two with Andrew Garfield. The Amazing Spider-Man franchise was supposed to last past the two films we got, but Sony, the studio behind the films decided against it.
Instead, Spider-Man became a part of the Marvel universe, which seems to have worked out well. Tom Holland is phenomenal in the role, and he may be the universe's future after movies like Infinity War and Endgame. Nobody seems to miss Andrew's take on the character, even if it came with a couple of nice quirks.
The success of 28 Days Later made a sequel feel almost certain. Five years after the first film in the zombie horror franchise, 28 Weeks Later arrived. In that movie, a NATO takeover of the U.K. eventually unravels after one person with the virus infects many of the survivors.
Although the film was a fairly thrilling sequel, plans for a third movie, titled 28 Months Later, never came to fruition. Apparently, there are issues with the copyright that are difficult to resolve because the parties involved aren't speaking to one another. Even so, there's still a slim chance that the third movie happens eventually.
DC was never going to be able to compete with the Marvel universe, and they probably shouldn't have tried. They did, though, and we ended up with a brief Justice League franchise that culminated in a movie nobody seemed very interested in seeing.
Although there was some initial interest in Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, that interest faded before the team could actually unite. The dark, gloomy aesthetic of the films never totally worked, and it felt like they were trying too hard to be Marvel. We may never see what was supposed to come next, and that might be okay.