Franchises, for better or worse, are a staple in the film industry and now more than ever. Actors have found comfort in sequels and movie universes with promised continued work. Franchises allow established stars to stay relevant in today’s day in age, while up and coming actors are launched into stardom, allowing them to explore other creative endeavors.
While writing this article I had to play a game of sorts. Are there really so few actors left who don’t fall under this category? Brad Pitt and George Clooney starred in the Ocean’s franchise. Tom Hanks has the DaVinci Code films. Angelina Jolie had Tomb Raider; Kate Winslet starred in the Divergent series. The age of A-listers we’ve come to know is gone, but when did franchises take over and why didn’t we notice?
Godzilla was the first franchise before movie goers even knew what that word meant. The original was released in 1954 and Godzilla has made over 30 films to this day, with a total of $993,660,532.00 made worldwide. One of the pioneers of franchises, Carry On started in 1958 and ended in 1992 after 31 films. All of the films were created by director Gerald Thomas and producer Peter Rogers. The duo often employed the same crew for each film and drew on a regular group of actors. This is when audiences first started to see continuous actors and directors teaming up for sequels.
Many other hugely successful franchises formed in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that are now described as pop culture staples. James Bond, Star Trek, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Pink Panther, and Planet of the Apes all fall under this category.
However, franchises became a lot more prevalent when the superheroes took the spotlight. With multiple superhero films coming out every year and grossing such impressive numbers it’s an easy choice for actors. Nicole Kidman, who starred in Batman Forever in the 90’s is now making her way back to DC, as she plays Queen Atlanna in Aquaman. An actor whose career was saved from landing a franchise is Robert Downey Jr. He landed the lead in 2008’s Ironman and has appeared in seven films as the snarky hero so far. After going in and out of rehab and struggling to find work, Marvel saved his career. Downey then doubled down on franchises when he signed on to play the title role in Sherlock Holmes.
Now Studios grab talented Oscar nominated actors to helm their upcoming franchises. An actress who put herself on studio radar is Brie Larson. Larson nabbed the 2016 best actress Oscar for Room and it wasn’t long after that Marvel, or should I say Captain Marvel, came knocking. I’m happy for her recognition, but I want more films like Room, Free Fire, The Spectacular Now, and Trainwreck.
Eddie Redmayne, who has become a darling to the Academy for his work in Les Miserables and The Danish Girl, nabbed his franchise in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. An actor who focused on thoughtful original films will now be wrapped up in sequels for four more movies for a series that could have arguably been told in one film. My personal favorite of Eddie Redmayne’s work, The Theory of Everything also stars Felicity Jones, who was the lead in Star Wars: Rogue One. While her contract with Disney included appearances in more films, the ending solidified that her schedule would not be overwhelmed by headlining repeatedly in the universe. As for Redmayne and Larson, I’m sure they will continue pursuing indies, however much of their time will be taken up with these franchises.
Working Title Films
When studios aren’t making an effort to find original ideas, sometimes actors need to find them on their own. Jessica Chastain, who is set to make a quick franchise stop in the next X-Men film, launched her own production company called Freckle Films to find strong characters and compelling stories that resonate with audiences. Reese Witherspoon also has her own production company called Hello Sunshine. Witherspoon’s company focuses on female driven stories.
Why aren’t more actors taking a stand? We know it’s possible to avoid franchises, some of the most credited actors have done so. Daniel Day Lewis announced his retirement earlier this year with three Oscars and zero sequels.
Leonardo Dicaprio Dicaprio also remains one of the rare exceptions. When looking at other actor’s noted work the most credited film is often from a franchise. Yet when you look at Dicaprio you see Titanic, which made him a household name in 1997, Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, and Inception. All impressive films that went on to gross massive amounts of money. No doubt he has had a long and fruitful career, but Leo is the exception, not the rule.
One has to ask themselves: Are franchises and sequels all the scripts these actors are being offered? As I’m writing this, eight of the top ten films of the year are part of franchises. Actors can only pick from the scripts that are offered. Do scriptwriters need to create more original ideas, or do studios need to pick up more of these scripts instead of focusing on remakes, sequels, and prequels? If these are the only options, actors are essentially being forced to take them if they want continuous work. Or they would have to go the route that Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo Dicaprio have went, where they only do a movie every few years, however, most actors aren’t able to afford such a luxury. With less original ideas being picked up by big studios it seems actors will be forced into franchises whether they like it or not.
I think this is why it’s so important to go out and support original ideas. Most of my favorite movies from the past few years have come from indies or original concepts from studios such as Get Out, Hell or High Water, It Follows. With thought provoking topics and original scripts making them a breath of fresh air compared to the studio films that have become formulaic and uninspired. I can only hope lovers of film continue to seek out more original content… before studios stop making it.
April Dawn | Editorial Intern