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 three movies, though four were planned. 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 fantasy 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.
Walt Disney Pictures
Tron: Legacy was a sequel to the '80s cult classic movie Tron. But the sequel failed to live up to the hype of the original. The film was widely praised by critics for its state-of-the-art visual effects, but failed to woo audiences over with its storyline. The film didn't do spectatularly at the box-office. So while originally there were plans to follow Tron:Legacy up with a a third Tron film that would complete the triology, there aren't any concrete plans to make the third movie a reality anytime soon.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the follow up to the 2004's National Treasure, was a surprising hit. The film ends on a cliffhanger, with the president handing adventurer Ben Gates the fabled "Book of Secrets" — a tome rumored to hold the answers to all the world's best consipracy theories, with cryptic instructions to take a look at page 47. Despite promises for years that National Treasure 3 was in the works, fans have yet to discover what was on page 47. As of 2018, a script for the third film was close to being finished, but the film has not yet been green-lit.
Kick-Ass was one of many attempts to make offbeat D.C. comics properties into box-office hits. Starring Aaron Johnston, Nicholas Cage, and Chloe Grace Moretz the original film was both a critical and financial sucess and went on to aquire something of a cult status upon its DVD release. Problems with the franchise came with the sequel Kick-Ass 2, which failed to copy its prequel's sucess. Comicbook author Mark Millar said that a third movie would depend on the sucess of Kick-Ass 2. So far an end to the triology has not been greenlit.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Expectations were at an all-time low for Clash of the Titans, whose tagline promised that "Titans will clash." Although Clash of the Titans was slammed by critics, it was enough of a financial success to merit the greenlighting of a second and third film. The sequel, 2012's Wrath of the titans featured more titan on Titan action. The final chapter in the trilogy was canceled after Wrath of the Titans was also slammed by critics. That and the fact that everyone literally ran out of ideas for another film.
Sometimes Hollywood shoots itself in the foot. By all accounts, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo should have spurred a massively successful franchise. The 2011 film was a remake of a Swedish language film based on the massively successful Millennium series by author Stieg Larsson. The film was both a critical and financial success. It even garnered an Oscar nom for its star Rooney Mara. Reported script difficulties kept the series from moving forward. As of 2015, it was announced that the series would be rebooted with a new cast, and would focus on later books written after the death of original author Stieg Larsson.
AVOC Embassy Pictures
Escape from New York is a 1981 sci-fi film whose premise was that New York City had been converted into a maximum security prison. When the Air Force One crashed into the prison-island, protagonist Snake Plissken is given a day to rescue him. The cult classic film received good enough reviews for it to get a sequel, Escape From L.A.. In what is a tale as old as time, the sequel bombed, and plans to round out the series into a trilogy never came to be.
2008's Inkheart was based on a series of Young Adult novels about a man who can 'read' characters out of books. The only catch is that every time a character is read out of a book, someone from the real world must be read into the same book. The film starring Brendan Fraser received dismal reviews from critics. Though there were never any official plans to turn the movie into a franchise, the rights to all three books in the Inkheart franchise were optioned. After the failure of the first movie, no other Inkheart films have been made.
The Weinstein Company
Hollywood tried very, very hard to make Alex Pettyfer into a star, starting with his breakout role in Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. Based on the YA series Alex Rider, about a young teen who is drafted into MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, this film failed to capture the magic of its source material. Operation Stormbreaker was panned for its lack of originality and unbelievable storyline. No more Alex Rider films were ever made.
I Am Number Four was another attempt to catapult the very blonde and very handsome Alex Pettyfer to stardom. Based on the Lorien Legacies book series, the movie told the story of a group of alien children with special abilities who had been sent to Earth after the destruction of their homeland. The film co-starred Glee actress Dianna Agron. Critics said that the film was cookie-cutter and forgettable and plans were scrapped to expand the series.
Released at the tail end of the vampire craze in 2014, Vampire Academy never spawned the franchise it intended. Despite the fact that it was directed by Mark Waters, the director of Mean Girls, and was written by Daniel Waters, the writer of Heathers, the film was slammed by critics, who thought that it was hokey and poorly acted. Rolling Stone gave it zero out of four stars. At least star Zoey Deutch would go onto find success in Netflix's 2018 romantic comedy Set It Up.
Beautiful Creatures was yet another YA series adaption that failed to stand out in the post-Twilight era. This standard supernatural love story stared Alden Ehrenreich and Australian actress Alice Englert. While the film recieved mixed reviews from critics, it was one of the biggest box office flops of 2013. The Caster Chronicles series on which the film was based is made up of four books total, but another movie based on the series was never made.