There are few things Hollywood loves more than a safe bet. Franchise money is safe money, even when critics and audiences alike are fighting against the dreaded franchise fatigue. Even Transformers has started to bring in a few million dollars less than Paramount would like. But a lot of franchises don't get as far in as their fourth sequel. Some don't even make it past the first entry.
For every successful franchise like a Transformers or a Marvel Cinematic Universe, there's a handful of potential blockbusters that stalled at the gate. Maybe the box office didn't take off the way the studio wanted; maybe there was drama behind the scenes; maybe critics and audiences just didn't bite (And sometimes, they keep going despite all that). In the wake of Universal's Dark Universe slowly collapsing in on itself, here are eight different franchises that didn't even make it off the ground.
Armored polar bears helping defend orphans from goblins? The Golden Compass sounds like every fantasy lover's dream on paper. The production was extremely troubled from the start, with delays caused by directors coming and going and a hefty budget of $180 million. The original plan was to film the following two books in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but a disappointing box office (only $70 million domestically) ended talks pretty quickly.
Even considering the movie's massive $300 million+ internatonal haul, the international rights were sold to help fund the movie, which resulted in New Line losing a ton of money and eventually merging with Warner Bros. Pictures. So we'll never get to see what happened with all those polar bears.
Orson Scott Card's sci-fi classic finally came to the big screen back in 2013. A story of children tricked into playing war games by their military academy teachers is a milestone in the genre, one that many people - including Card himself - didn't think would make it to the big screen. He cracked and eventually drafted a screenplay that turned into a star vehicle for Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, and Viola Davis.
It cost upwards of $110 million to make and grossed almost half that ($61 million) in the states. On top of the terrible box office, there were boycotts surrounding Card's opposition to gay marriage and financial support of vocal anti-gay organizations. A sequel based on the book Ender's Shadow was supposed to be filmed back-to-back, but the budget was too small.
Oof, where to start with this one? Disney started work on this adaptation in 2008, but production came to a screching halt in 2011 when they went over budget. Production started again in 2012, with Armie Hammer set to play the title character and Johnny Depp to portray Tonto. By the time the film saw the light of day in 2013, its budget was $250 million and it barely managed to make $10 million more than that with its domestic and international total combined.
Critics ripped the film apart and the audiences that did show up to see it weren't much nicer. There was also much controversey around the fact that Depp, who is very white, was playing the Native American character Tonto. A bad movie that went overbudget and had racism front and center? Talk about a triple whammy.
The DC Extended Universe is still struggling to get off the ground, but it was only a few years ago when things were a lot worse. 2011 saw one of the worst films - superhero or otherwise - of all time in Green Lantern, which starred Ryan Reynolds in an awful Green Lantern suit.
It grossed $116 million in the US on a $200 million budget and recouped just enough globally to not be a complete bust. Green Lantern was originally meant to be the start of a trilogy and the catalyst to the DC Extended Universe, but the extreme negative response to the film kept it buried in the back of comic and movie fans' minds for the last six years.
Imagine Transformers but with magic alien teenagers instead of giant robots and you've basically got a read on I Am Number Four. It's based on the first book of the Lorien Legacies series about a race of superpowered aliens on the run from mercenaries on planet Earth and starred Alex Pettyfer, Teresa Palmer, and Timothy Olyphant.
It cost $50 million to make and brought in $150 million globally and the studio decided against making more because they found the take disappointing. Considering the saturation of movies based on young adult novels at the time, this isn't that much of a surprise. People were angsted out.
John Carter is a book series that inspired a ton of pop culture across the 20th century, so expectations were high when Disney annonced a film adaptation. Taylor Kitsch was cast as the titular Carter, a Civil War vet teleported to the surface of Mars who becomes a superhero of sorts. That template alone laid the groundwork for characters like Superman, but unfortunately the movie just didn't catch on.
The film grossed $72 million in the US, a fraction of the $263 million budget. Disney planned on adapting more books in the series, but any chance floated away after that box office take.
Hayden Christensen's role as Darth Vader in the Star Wars prequels made him one of the hottest actors on the planet at one point. He was snatched up for the lead role in Jumper very quickly, a story about a group of people who could teleport across the planet being chased by a group of religious zelots. It has all the trappings of a potential sci-fi franchise...until it wasn't. Samuel L. Jackson wthi snow white hair wasn't enough, I guess.
It barely made its $85 million budget back in the US but grossed over $200 million around the world, so even if the execution was a little off, people were expecting a sequel. Even Christensen himself was interested in returning, but it just never happened. It's probably better this way so we don't have to see how Jackson starved to death in that hole on the side of the mountain.