Top 10 Movie Franchises That Became Cash Cows



Top 10 Movie Franchises That Became Cash Cows

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
These movie franchises know how to rack in the big bucks! For this list, we'll be looking at film series that, after the critical or financial success of the first flick, went on to pump out sequels seemingly with the sole purpose of making money. Our countdown includes the “Transformers” franchise, the “Jurassic Park” franchise, the “Terminator” franchise, and more!
Script Written by Garrett Alden

Top 10 Movie Franchises That Later Became Cash Cows

Boy, they really milked these properties for all they’re worth! Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 movie franchises that later became cash cows.

For this list, we’ll be looking at film series that, after the critical or financial success of the first flick, went on to pump out sequels seemingly with the sole purpose of making money. We won’t, however, be including franchises that were designed to be monolithic in the first place, such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

#10: “Transformers” franchise (2007-)

Given that it’s a big screen adaptation of a cartoon and toy line, “Transformers” was likely destined for commercialization from the very beginning. Be that as it may, the extent to which this property has been milked is remarkable. The very particular formula laid down in the first film of explosions, MacGuffins, comic relief, and product placement was essentially copy and pasted for the next four movies. And despite critics hating them, people ate it up, so Paramount just keeps ‘em coming! Here’s hoping that the“Bumblebee”, which was much better received than its predecessors, is the first step in a new direction for the property. As the spin-off proves, you can try something new, craft a movie with heart and still make bank.

#9: “Saw” franchise (2004-)

The original “Saw” movie was a massive hit by horror standards. It earned its $1.2 million budget back nearly 100 times over and launched the career of filmmaker James Wan. A thoroughly effective horror thriller, “Saw” focuses on two men chained in a bathroom who’ve been given a deadly choice. Unfortunately, creativity quickly took a backseat as the studio began churning out annual sequels six years in a row. The increasingly outlandish traps, twists, and disposable characters also gave the franchise an ugly reputation. With a new instalment due in 2021 that seems to be moving away from the more repetitive aspects of the series, only time will tell if it’s a return to form, or just another cash grab.

#8: “Halloween” franchise (1978-)

A seminal entry in the slasher genre, the “Halloween” movie franchise generally sees its victims stalked by the masked and silent killer, Michael Myers…for the most part. Over the years, the franchise has weathered retcons, remakes, and whatever they were trying to do with “Season of the Witch.” While the first movie is considered a horror masterpiece, few of its many sequels were well-received. The middle period of releases, also known as the “Thorn Trilogy” is particularly maligned for having needlessly complicated the mythology. Thankfully, the 2018 film took things back to basics, which is encouraging for the future.

#7: “Paranormal Activity” franchise (2007-)

A found footage horror series, “Paranormal Activity” depicts various characters encountering and filming demons in their homes. This low budget and seemingly authentic aesthetic was initially part of the appeal; plus, it certainly helped the profit margins! Unfortunately, the quality of the franchise has varied wildly from one instalment to the next. And while the found footage gimmick arguably wore thin with each progressive film, attempts to vary the formula haven’t done much to improve the quality of later sequels. The series has been on hiatus for several years, but a new film is in development, so we’ll have to see if it proves a fresh start or just more of the same.

#6: “Jaws” franchise (1975-87)

The original “Jaws” is a suspenseful masterpiece about a shark that terrorizes a beach community. The film is widely considered to be the first summer blockbuster and its influence cannot be overstated. But... given that the shark is killed at the end of the film, the story should’ve ended there. Seeing dollar signs, however, the studio decided to make it a franchise driven by the concept that “sharks are monsters”. Each successive sequel made less money and received harsh criticism than the last, culminating in 1987’s widely-panned “Jaws 4: The Revenge”. Thankfully, Universal took the hint and there hasn’t been a Jaws sequel since. It’s not that we’re afraid to go back in the water, we’d just rather rewatch the original!

#5: “The Conjuring Universe” (2013-)

Although we considered including the similar“Insidious” franchise, “The Conjuring” started stronger and expanded more aggressively. A cinematic universe of interconnected horror films, “The Conjuring Universe” follows various paranormal investigators looking into hauntings and demons across several decades, with a recurring villain in the form of a demonically possessed doll (among others). The franchise has featured some of the best horror movies in recent memory, but also a couple of real stinkers. Some of these films feel like “Conjuring Universe” movies in name only- as if they’ve been labelled as such purely for profit rather than actually contributing anything to the lore. Given that “The Conjuring Universe” has made nearly $2 billion worldwide against a cumulative budget of under $140 million... it’s clearly working.

#4: “Jurassic Park” franchise (1993-)

This huge franchise revolves around the concept of a modern-day zoo/amusement park featuring living breathing dinosaurs, which, surprise surprise, run amok. The first movie has stood the test of time with its endearing characters, great music, and surprisingly timeless effects. Unfortunately, subsequent instalments have felt like an exercise in diminishing returns. Dare we say it, it’s almost as if the greedy corporations behind the parks are the ones behind all these sequels! Cardboard, forgettable characters abound and the return of stars from the original trilogy feel like transparent attempts to recapture the magic of the older films. At the end of the day, it’s all about profitability, and so long as they keep making billions at the box, expect the sequels to keep coming.

#3: “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (2003-)

A movie franchise based on the Disney attraction of the same name, “Pirates of the Caribbean” proved to be a runaway success. And it did so thanks to its refreshing swashbuckling fantasy story and Johnny Depp’s charismatic, Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. After the success of the first movie, a pair of sequels to round out a trilogy seemed fair enough, even if they didn’t quite match the first film in quality. But then... they just kept making movies, despite clearly being short on stories worth telling. And so what cinemagoers got instead was a lot of recycled elements minus any real heart. We get that the studio is eager to get that box office gold, but these adventures don’t measure up.

#2: “Terminator” franchise (1984-)

This sci-fi action franchise began as the story of a time travelling robot sent back to preemptively kill the future leader of the human resistance. And it’s essentially continued in that vein for decades! The franchise has contorted itself through multiple timelines and leads only to maintain the same essential premise, retreading old ground with familiar characters and faces, to consistently disappointing results. Audiences have come to expect disappointment from this franchise, but they’ve historically continued to pack the theater regardless. That is… until “Terminator: Dark Fate”, which, despite being a slight improvement on sequels past, reportedly lost about $130 million. Given how iconic this property is, however, don’t expect to be saying “hasta la vista” to the “Terminator” franchise any time soon even if plans for future films aren’t currently in the works.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

“Fast & Furious” franchise (2001-)
Cars Initially Sparked Viewers’ Interest, But Now It’s Just Action

“Shrek” franchise (2001-)
Audiences Can’t Get Enough of Shrek & Donkey’s Adventures

“Friday the 13th” franchise (1980-)
Jason Never Dies, So People Keep Watching

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise (1984-)
The Nightmare Never Ends When You Have a Villain Like Freddy

“The Exorcist” franchise (1973-)
The Acclaim of the Original Kept Bringing People Back for More... & More... & More...

#1: “Star Wars” franchise (1977-)

Look, we love “Star Wars,” you love “Star Wars” – everybody loves “Star Wars. And that means that this sprawling space opera franchise is basically all but guaranteed to make money. Although creator George Lucas had a very specific, and not always well-received vision for the films, the company has been milking it for all its worth especially since being acquired by Disney, with spin-off movies and TV shows galore. Granted, it’s been a cash cow for decades, what with how many action figures and other merchandise it’s sold, but it’s become a little more prominent recently. And it’s “far far away” from ending.
The Shrek franchise already had it%u2019s last, there pretty much was always the intention for there to be atleast 4 films plus an eventual spinoff.
What about the MCU? That series has made easily over 10 billion dollars.