15 Box Office Bombs and Disappointments That Destroyed Movie Franchises


A good franchise is hard to kill. Bad ones, like the seven-film torture device Police Academy, can be even harder to exterminate. But sometimes doomed series are finally put out of their misery. Up on the shelf they go, doomed to a future of languishing on lists like this one.

The murder weapon is usually money. More specifically, the lack thereof. A big enough failure means a franchise won’t get another chance to pull their act together, and the most spectacular bombs get to live on as warnings to future film students. Even more interesting are the ones that aren’t total flops, the movies that maybe made a profit, but one so small or negligible that their studios decided to put that old franchise to bed, anyway. Here are 15 movies that killed their respective franchises for good.

Song of the Thin Man (1947)

Nick and Nora Charles are murder mystery elites, the precursor to modern duos like Benson and Stabler, Mulder and Scully, or even McNulty and Bunk. A married couple with a nose for trouble, the charming Charles’ — and their scene-stealing pup, Astra — globe-trotted through a wildly successful pre-Hays era life of crime stopping. Nick and Nora were created by writer Dashiell Hammett, the king of hardboiled noir fiction; their on-screen performers, Myrna Loy and William Powell, thrilled audiences for over a decade.

Then director W. S. Van Dyke died in 1943. Nick and Nora managed to eke out a financial win with their fifth movie under a new director, but ’twas the sixth that did them in. Song of the Thin Man is a bleak, loveless movie about awful people, any one of which could be the suspect the Charles need to nail. At least the soundtrack is fire, as the story is set in the world of nightclub jazz. For your party night trivia needs, it’s the first franchise-killing bomb in history. A secret MGM ledger asserts it came up over $120,000 short against its budget.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

It’s no secret that actors will take a job solely for the money — Sir Michael Caine’s appearance in this boondoggle is famously explained by how open he is about the house he bought for his mother with that paycheck. But Jaws: The Revenge is the sort of movie you can’t even watch for the memes. Its existence is inexplicable, a cataclysmic downgrade from Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece of man vs. nature. Though it made $51 million globally against a $23 million budget, it was the lowest grossing of the four films, effectively sending the franchise to shore. It didn’t help that the movie was also slaughtered by critics and has a 0% on RT. Did it deserve that treatment? You have no idea.

Recently widowed, because Roy Scheider wisely would not come anywhere near this franchise again, Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) suffers another devastating loss when yet another great white shark kills her son. Not only is it implied that she now has some sort of nightmarish psychic link with the shark but the thing follows her to the Bahamas after the funeral. The shark also explodes in its final battle with Ellen, a ridiculous scene that was added after its original theatrical release in the States.

Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Christopher Reeve is still the best Superman of all time. He embodies the curious innocence of Clark Kent without seeming weak, and he stood proud as the ultimate immigrant here to help make Earth a better world. But not all of his movies lived up to his performances. There are some good scenes in Superman III, like Superman beating down his own darker self, and with Richard Pryor at his most likable, even if he is totally out of place. But Quest for Peace has nothing going for it.

Good intentions turn a story about the dangers of nuclear weapons into a punching contest with a beefy Cobra Kai reject. Mark Pillow is the face of the villainous Nuclear Man, while Gene Hackman, absurdly, dubs the voice. With the lowest box office of the four Reeve films and a reputation as one of the worst superhero movies ever, Quest for Peace put an end to this series of Superman films until 2006.

Robocop 3 (1993)

RoboCop could’ve survived recasting a busy Peter Weller with capable character actor Robert Burke. But revamping Robo into a PG-13 family friendly character smacks of not learning the lesson RoboCop 2 was literally about: RoboCop’s job doesn’t involve watching your little league kids. His job is to shoot rapists in the dick.

Yet the franchise tried it anyway, ruining another well-intentioned Frank Miller script, which the writer alleged was heavily altered during production. From fridging Robo’s long-time partner, Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen), to the tacky “Japan is buying America out!” angle, complete with robot ninjas, yeah, no wonder the franchise croaked. A weak box office take and a deserved critical bludgeoning put Robo in the slammer for decades. An ill-conceived reboot in 2014 had no chance of reviving Murphy.

Death Wish V (1994)

Be honest. You didn’t know there were five movies in this classic franchise of vigilante violence. Much less that shock horror director Eli Roth tried to reboot it in 2018. Unlike so many other franchises that shed their lead actor at some point, OG tough dude Charles Bronson earns respect for sticking it out to the end. Death Wish V was his final theatrical film, with Bronson turning to gentler but still sturdy roles in TV films after that.

So what went wrong? Bronson, a man who could’ve sold how to be stoic to the Greta Gerwig Barbie crowd, visibly sleepwalks through a movie whose killing curse is how boring it is. A lack of rousing set pieces in an unseasoned chicken of a script created cinematic NyQuil. It made less than $2 million against an already cheap $5 million budget, and pissed off everybody, allegedly including Bronson. At least it has the distinction of being one of Rotten Tomatoes’ rare 0% movies. Yay.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Halloween Ends sucks, everybody said, and they were right. But that’s not the most ignoble way Michael Myers has seen his legacy get skewered to death. The Curse of Michael Myers is to the saga of Haddonfield as August Derleth is to the Cthulhu Mythos. Why in God’s name did anyone bolt on this much weird structure to something that was supposed to be horrifyingly inexplicable?

That’s not hyperbole; The Curse of Michael Myers throws together evil cults, “druidic” curses, a conspiracy to clone Michael, a crappy ending for Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), and *checks notes* the feature film debut of Paul Rudd. Loathed by any serious Halloween fan, this hot mess did technically turn a $10 million profit, but that’s not exactly difficult when your budget is $5 million. The fan backlash, confusing reshoots, and a set of disastrous reviews jammed a knife through that pale Shatner mask. The franchise stayed dead until Halloween H20 in 1998, and frankly, that barely amounted to a jolt through the corpse.

Batman & Robin (1997)

Something about the garish, PacSun-clad late ‘90s was like a stake through the heart of movie franchises. Batman didn’t fare any better than his blockbuster peers, seeing his aesthetic transform from the hot goth gloom of the Tim Burton era into that of a club kid passed out in his own absinthe-colored vomit. It’s not George Clooney’s fault, although he’s quick to accept blame as the wearer of the Batsuit. It’s not Chris O’Donnell’s either, although he took the bulk of a career-thudding blow as the clamor wore down.

Like other franchise killers, yes, Batman & Robin financially made it into the black. But not by much. A meager $80 million profit didn’t do much to soothe worldwide ridicule from fans and critics, much less Tim Burton’s own pointed response to the infamous Bat Nipples: “I’m too weird, I’m too dark, and you put nipples on the costume? Go fuck yourself.” We’re with Tim on this one.

Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

We’re stretching the definition of “bomb” when it comes to Lethal Weapon 4. Including the global box office take, Murtaugh and Riggs’ final ride earned $285 million in 1998. That said, this was a ridiculously expensive movie for the time, eating over half that gross. WB is cagey about the numbers, but we’re looking at roughly a $140 million budget, turning it into a disappointment for the studio. Bear in mind, the original Lethal Weapon, an action classic, cost $15 million. Even funnier, The Matrix, released one year after Lethal Weapon 4, cost $63 million. Bullet time and all.

So what did that moolah pay for? Multiple script rewrites, including last-second adjustments, Joe Pesci saying “Ok” a whole hell of a lot, and some violent set pieces nobody particularly remembers. The plot involves the Triads, but the result is so convoluted that, mostly, it’s about Murtaugh’s romantic partner Lorna Cole (Rene Russo) giving birth. Also Chris Rock is there. It’s a movie that burned off studio and audience goodwill like it was the ozone layer in the 1980s, and despite a middling TV series and Mel’s sweaty promises to make Lethal Weapon 5, this weapon’s been unloaded ever since.

Blade: Trinity (2004)

In 2004, nobody really knew what a Ryan Reynolds was. If you were a trash movie devotee, you might manage an “oh yeah, the Van Wilder guy.” But the Reynolds, he of the Deadpool mask, the gin, the phone company, the advertising powerhouse, the football club, and the one man who could get Hugh Jackman to strap on the claws one more time, he hadn’t arrived in 2004. Yet, while we are about to take a second to rag on the globally recognized worst entry in the Blade franchise, two decades later, Reynolds is still the best thing about this movie. 

Honestly, Blade: Trinity is so bad we could just leave it there, a testament to the fact that Reynolds commits to carrying any dead franchise on his shoulders. But let’s go on: Wesley Snipes was over this movie from day one, locked out of script decisions, casting calls, and being his own movie’s main character. Though his private riot turns into a joke via those famous CGI’d eyes, y’know, assessing the franchise-slaying results and his own 2005 lawsuit against New Line, maybe Snipes was in the right all along. For what it’s worth, he’s wished upcoming Blade Mahershala Ali the very best.

The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005)

The Crow may be a series about a guy who refuses to stay dead, but as a wise man once said, sometimes dead is better. The origin story from creator James O’Barr is less a tale of afterlife vengeance than it is one man’s attempt to process grief through the lens of rage. It resulted in a fantastic indie comic and one great if tragic piece of movie canon for ‘90s kids of the Siouxsie and the Banshees stripe. And then it became a grist mill for fast-cash tie-ins, on screen and off.

The walking tragedy that is this franchise took four movies to die, which is amazing when the second movie, 1996’s City of Angels, is already a trash fire. Wicked Prayer lives down to its predecessors with a 0% on RT, using a good tie-in novel as a basis and bungling it so badly that the author, Norman Partridge, refused to watch it. Good move, since this ignoble finale didn’t just destroy the franchise, it took its director, Lance Mungia, down with it. Unfortunately for us tired old goths, a reboot yet threatens.

Superman Returns (2006)

Bryan Singer seemed like a safe pair of hands in the 2000s, thanks to his successful X-Men movies. So he seemed like a great choice to redeem the Reeve era of Superman. But despite making the all-time great X2, lightning did not strike twice when Singer made the jump to DC.

Using the first two Reeve films as background, along with a posthumous cameo from Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman does return. But it’s been a long time, despite his promises at the end of Superman II, and the world’s moved on. The result is a story of uncertain canonicity, loaded with a melancholy that puts a damper on Brandon Routh’s attempts to catch Reeve’s charisma. Superman Returns is not a bad film, all told — it may even be a great one. It turned a mild profit, and fans remain happy to argue about its place in the best of lists. But Warner Bros. didn’t believe this odd entry to the canon successfully grabbed the cape, and killed Singer’s dreams of a sequel. The Reeve era was truly no more.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Do you, good readers, have a movie you hate so fervently that you refuse to acknowledge it whenever possible? That it angers you so much that you make weird noises with your mouth? Well, here we are. AvP: Requiem pulls off one incredible feat: bringing Xenomorph and Yautjia fans together to psychically throw spoiled produce at everyone involved with this movie, forever. Technically, it turned a profit, but at what cost to our souls?

The feature film debut of the Strause Brothers was meant to have a sequel. Thankfully someone, hip to the critical drubbing and the anger of the fans, saw that a $90 million profit was not enough to soften the blow of a movie where a US town gets nuked and nobody comments on it, and killed their planned follow-up. Instead, the brothers went off and inflicted the Skyline franchise on the world. We’d offer a sarcastic thank you, but hell, the worst Skyline movie is better than Requiem

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The good news is, we think the third and final movie in the Narnia franchise froze Ben Barnes’ telomeres in time, and that’s why our favorite Prince Caspian still looks like he’s barely scraping 30. But the most puzzling aspect of Dawn Treader’s forgettable place in history isn’t that it’s bad. It’s middling at worst, and it gets C.S. Lewis’ Christian scholars and fantasy junkies slapfighting over whether the movie tramples on the series’ theology. Heck, it even did okay at the box office, making over $300 million overseas, landing it in the black.

Yet, over a decade later, The Dawn Treader goes forgotten, and the franchise is as dead as Pat Robertson. Perhaps it was the limping opening weekends, which saw the movie underperform and place behind Tron: Legacy. Perhaps the studio was fixated on winning that Harry Potter-sized cash bag. In any case, the Dawn Treader smashed itself against the rocks. It’s the rare case where a franchise killer doesn’t make us chuckle.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Let’s give Frank Miller this much: after years of watching his scripts get mangled by the Hollywood machine, the guy was right to embrace his “screw this, I’ll do it myself” directorial era with the help of Robert Rodriguez. Sin City is a miracle of filmmaking. Yeah, it’s a bloody, brutalist mess on purpose, but holy God, it’s beautiful to behold. His second gig, The Spirit, did not go well. Partially because, although it’s from the same noir roots as Miller’s Sin City, it was never meant to carry the mean-spirited cynicism Miller excels at.

Picking himself up and dusting himself off, Miller reunited with Rodriguez for a sequel to Sin City. Unfortunately, the stories selected for this second anthology don’t flow together, creating a mishmash of tragedy and death that leaves a viewer numb to the whole thing. The stunning visual techniques couldn’t carry the film home, creating a traditional kind of franchise killer: with a budget of $65 million, A Dame to Kill For couldn’t scrape it past $40 million at the box office.

The Mummy (2017)

Tom Cruise was supposed to herald an all-new era for the classic Universal Monsters. The Mummy was its ambassador, with Cruise taking on Sofia Boutella as a gender-flipped version of Boris Karloff’s Imhotep. To create an MCU-like tie between worlds, Russell Crowe was brought in to play Dr. Jekyll, his monstrous id included. As silly as it all sounds, Universal dumped close to $200 million into this endeavor, and hey, they made some cash back. But not enough to convince Universal to kickstart a multi-film cinematic universe, especially when the easiest thing to remember about this movie is how its trailer originally dropped with a borked audio track.

Slapped together with dingy tones and dodgy CGI, and with zero of the campy charm that made the Karloff franchise a treat with eternal life, The Mummy sucked so hard it killed an entire universe before it started. The Dark Universe’s only lasting legacy is a Twitter account with two tweets, one of which is a soulless, photoshopped group photo of its would-be stars.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are back with a story from James Cameron. Tim Miller, director of Deadpool, is at the helm. The John Connor story is over, and we’re going to look at the malleability of time from an all new angle. All of that sounds great! And then we discover that the iconic T-800 is a dadbot — not in itself a bad gag, but it does lessen the cyborg’s inherent terror — and that Cameron’s story has four other cooks and three credited screenwriters.

In another era, Dark Fate is a direct-to-video jaunt that almost has something going for it, mostly on the strength of Gabriel Luna. That’s not enough to salvage what was meant to be a high-profile blockbuster. To break even, the film needed to make a ton of money worldwide. Exhausted fans, unhappy with the way the overstuffed plot didn’t just move away from John Connor but chucked him bodily into a garbage can, barely scraped together $260 million. Thus, a Skynet-level bomb did in one of the greatest sci-fi action franchises in history. Hopefully for good.

The post 15 Box Office Bombs and Disappointments That Destroyed Movie Franchises appeared first on Den of Geek.

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