The Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween franchises all have their flawed entries. But their problems are nothing compared to some of the series we’ll be looking at. It’s always tough to predict what will become a good franchise. The Exorcist is a great movie, but it spawned a franchise with only one sequel of excellent quality. The rest are pretty terrible (Hopefully David Gordon Green will correct that with his upcoming trilogy). A Nightmare on Elm Street, on the other hand, could have suffered exactly the same fate, but instead became one of the most profitable series of all time. Why did it succeed while so many others have failed? Who decides these things?
It comes down to audiences, mostly. Franchises that succeed are going to have more money thrown at them to keep the series going. But the balance of profit can be difficult. If it makes too much money, sequels are rushed out with no regard for quality. If it makes too little money, those sequels will be given progressively lower budgets and will eventually be released straight to video.
So many franchises that start off great don’t wind up that way. Sure, you could make the argument that any idea can be driven into the ground, but a lot of the franchises on this list made a dramatic turn pretty quickly. For some of them, it was right after the first movie. For others, it was a slow progression into ridiculousness. Read on for nine franchises that could have been great but didn’t meet their full potential.
Children of the Corn
Stephen King’s original short story is terrifying. It’s terrifying because you have this entity within the cornfield, something you never really see. It’s terrifying because of the children and how adamantly they believe what they believe and the lengths they go to for those beliefs. The story is a work of incredibly dark satire and a lot of that is lost on the film, even though it’s still effective. The original movie isn’t perfect, but it works. Certainly, it works in a way that none of the sequels do. But with a little more money, there could have been some smart, scary and even darkly comedic sequels that played a little more with the original idea. Instead, we got a sequel in urban Chicago.
Joe Dante’s The Howling is one of the best werewolf movies ever made. It’s incredible and—maybe aside from the FX at the end—it still holds up incredibly well. Yet it spawned one of the most notoriously bad franchises of all time. Despite that, it could have worked. I know it could have worked because it worked on the page. Gary Brandner, author of The Howling, wrote two sequels to his original novel. Neither of them were adapted to film, tossed aside in favor of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Howling III: The Marsupials, respectively.
Wishmaster has an initial gimmick as good as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination or Saw. You have something here that inherently sets itself up for outrageous death scenes, each more over-the-top than the last. It’s the perfect formula for a lucrative series which makes it even more bizarre that this franchise is as atrociously bad as it is. And that’s coming from someone who thinks Wishmaster 2 is (in places) better than the original. But immediately after the exit of Andrew Divoff, this series jumped the shark in the worst way.
This one’s a toughie because there’s not a truly terrible, unwatchably bad film in the bunch. Even Fright Night 2: New Blood has its moments. It’s a more earnest Fright Night movie than the remake. But that original series should have continued. There were so many directions they could have taken the further adventures of Charley and Peter, vampire hunters. It’s a shame to keep rebooting a series with great potential for character development instead of getting some actual sequels that would give those characters room to grow.
Return of the Living Dead
The first and third Return of the Living Dead films are among my favorite zombie pictures of all time. Both are excellent and both are completely different from one another. Yet, at the same time, they compliment each other in some really unexpected ways. That’s what a good franchise should do. Sure, Return of the Living Dead II may be a rehash of the first, but it’s a fun rehash. There’s nothing fun about either Necropolis or Rave to the Grave. This series deserved better. It could have been one of the most imaginative, unique zombie series of all time. It was so close to being that, too. Instead, we got two SyFy sequels that premiered on the same day and killed the franchise outright.
Pumpkinhead is in a very similar boat to Return of the Living Dead in that the franchise was killed by back-to-back sequels produced by the SyFy Channel. But even though Pumpkinhead II is a really fun low budget monster movie, it doesn’t add much to the overall idea. There’s a great mythology established in Pumpkinhead that was never as fully explored as it should have been. In addition to a great monster who should have gotten more exposure, it really was a series with endless possibilities that were never explored.
I adore the Puppet Master series. I live and breathe it. In fact, I wrote book about it. The first five movies were a huge part of my youth and are incredibly close to my heart. But in a franchise with so many entries, only a handful of them are good. Even I, in my fandom, have to admit that. It’s a series full of potential that never really got fully explored. Most of that is due to money. They never had the time or financing to concoct stories that were as detailed as they should have been or that furthered the mythos. Luckily, the series has received the comic treatment and we recently got a solid series reboot with The Littlest Reich.
Hellraiser is another of my favorite franchises. I treat the mythology Clive Barker created for this series with the same reverence many people feel for Lord of the Rings. It’s that important to me. Which makes me sad, considering how bad some of them are. I find myself defending a few of the straight to video sequels sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re anything close to what they should be. They’re not what should be out there representing the Hellraiser name. This is a series that has gone off the rails in a big, bad way. I don’t know how on earth it could be saved, when we won’t give the money to Barker and Bradley to make the movie they want to, and instead go in the direction of yet another original script rewritten to be a Hellraiser film.
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