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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Longest Running Movie Franchises of All Time

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Many often criticize the mere existence of movie franchises since they tend to represent the less artistic, more business-driven side of Hollywood, but the truth of the matter is sequels have been a huge part of cinema since the medium started. Tinseltown "running out ideas" is not a new thing as franchising has been a part of filmmaking for a hundred years.

Think of these ongoing stories as being a testament to great characters, addicting narratives, and breathtaking action. It's giving the people what they want, in one of its most basic forms, and many times the results are spectacular. The durability of these beloved IPs is unparalleled and it's made for some of the best film runs in history. From world-conquering apes to world-saving spies, from magical teens to possessed tweens, here are the longest running movie franchises of all time.

The Longest Running Movie Franchises of All Time


James Bond

With the search currently on for a new Bond it's important to recognize how long this action-adventure series has been around. From the pages of British novelist Ian Fleming comes a film series that began back in 1962 with Dr. No. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all portrayed stalwart, lethal Agent 007 in a franchise that dabbled in loose continuity until Craig's run as Bond gave us a reboot and a fully serialized Bond (with a closed ending). There are 25 official movies in all (27 if you count non-series 1967's Casino Royale and 1983's Never Say Never Again).

See our guide to the James Bond movies in order.

Planet of the Apes

With Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes coming May 2024, this series has been officially running since the classic 1968 film adaptation of Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel. The first Planet of the Apes film spawned four sequels, two TV shows, and a Tim Burton remake in 2001. The Reboot Trilogy, telling an alternate timeline prequel story, began in 2011, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and has been going strong ever since. The overall premise — of humanity falling to intelligent super-apes — makes for a unique ongoing story, and not one you'd expect to stand the test of time. But here we are. Aping our way to box office gold.

See our guide to the Planet of the Apes movies in order.

Sherlock Holmes

Iconic, eccentric consulting detective Sherlock Holmes pre-dates the advent of movies, the brainchild of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the star of scintillating stories from the last quarter of the 19th Century. Over the past hundred years the super-sleuth has appeared in the screen over 250 times (not even counting stage and radio), making him THE most portrayed literary human character in film and television history. 75 actors have played the pompous button-pusher, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Robert Downey Jr., and — most famously perhaps — Basil Rathbone, who embodied Holmes in over a dozen films. Though talks of a third Downey Jr. film have started and stopped several times, Netflix's Enola Holmes series has kept the character going, with Henry Cavill in the role.

Batman

This summer's Flash movie will treat us to two major eras of Batman — with Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton both playing the Caped Crusader in a story that breaks the multiverse — once again proving that DC's most popular superhero is one of the most bankable screen personas of all time. Bruce Wayne's shattered, vengeance-driven alter-ego is so popular, in fact, that we're living in an era of four movie Batmen (Batmans?). Affleck and Keaton in The Flash, plus Robert Pattinson in The Batman 2 and a new face coming in The Brave and the Bold. What began as a comic character created by Bill Finger (with Bob Kane) in 1939 sprawled out into 1940's serials, a '60s TV series (and movie), a blockbuster multiplex run in the late-'80s and '90s (animation too), and…so on. We live in a Batman world, from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy to an entire Fox TV series about the city Batman lives in, Gotham.

See our ranking of the best Batman movies.

Dracula and the Universal Monsters

We could probably do a separate entry for many of the Universal Monsters, but it's easier to clump them together under the umbrella of Dracula and his kooky friends. With Renfield in theaters now, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter coming in August, there's never ever a shortage of Dracula. From 1931's Dracula (and before that, 1922's silent Nosferatu), our obsession with Bram Stoker's landmark 1897 novel is practically unrivaled pop culture-wise. Add to this the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster, and the Invisible Man, and more and it doesn't really matter that Universal's Dark Universe never made it past its first film. These icons of horror are here to stay and have been a part of our culture at the movies for a century (and part of literature even longer). For Dracula, though, it's the character's Universal and Hammer Films runs, with stars Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, that stand out as true game-changers.

Godzilla

The Atomic Age of the 1950s gifted us with classic killer kaiju Godzilla, a gargantuan prehistoric monster awakened by nuclear radiation in the 1954 self-titled film from Toho – which is still making Godzilla films to this day. With over 30 Japanese flicks and a handful of American entries, including the still-going Legendary MonsterVerse, which began with 2014's Godzilla, this is one of the most reliably enduring global franchises in movie history. And while Godzilla is occasionally pitted against Universal's King Kong, the large lizard comes with its own awesome offering of kaiju frenemies, from Mothra to Rodan to Megalon.

See our guide to the Godzilla movies in order.

Harry Potter

A new Harry Potter TV series, based on author J.K. Rowling's books, has just been green-lit for HBO Max, even though the film series, which ran for a decade (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 2001 to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in 2011) aren't all that far in our rearer view and are still immensely popular. A far more controversial property in recent years, thanks to Rowling's hateful transphobic comments, the Harry Potter-verse is still a global sensation that also includes theme parks and video games. Though the Fantastic Beasts prequel films fizzled out by the finish, Hogwarts Legacy sold 12 million units in its first two weeks of release, proving that there's still blood flowing through these wizard veins. It's strange to say that this book series, which began back in 1997 and has already toppled the adaptation mountain, is about to take on its biggest challenge yet with a 10-season streaming series, but it's true.

See our guide to the Harry Potter movies in order.

Halloween

Though Freddy Krueger is dormant and Jason Voorhees barely clings to life (afterlife? – more on this in a bit), Michael Myers remains as the most trusted name in slasher horror. Having just completed a successful Reboot Trilogy — which was the second reboot timeline after Halloween H20 to bring back original star Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode — Halloween, complete with Michael's trademark mask and the catchy, chilling John Carpenter score, is a horror mainstay. From 1978's devilishly influential first film to movies every decade since (including Rob Zombie's remakes), this sinister saga is one for the record books (and multiverse nerds). Sure, it seems like Halloween Ends spelled the actual end for "The Shape," but he only kicked the bucket in that timeline. Michael Myers' particular brand of evil is forever.

See our guide to the Halloween movies in order.

Rocky Balboa (and Adonis Creed)

Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in (and directed) two of the most successful film franchises of the '80s: the Rocky and Rambo films. Both of which continued on, decades later, thanks to Stallone bringing the characters back and helping popularize not just the decades-later sequel but also the "legacy sequel." 1976's Rocky, however, which took home the Best Picture Oscar, is still going incredibly strong under the Creed brand, having just scored a box office K.O. a few months back with Creed III. Stallone had already given the Rocky character a fitting finish in 2006's Rocky Balboa but the Creed films, which featured Stallone as Rocky in the first two, gave him an even better last ride while also passing the torch to a new, worthy fighter.

See our guide to the Rocky and Creed movies in order.

The Exorcist

Still considered by many to be the scariest film of all time (helping it become the only horror movie to get nominated for Best Picture), 1973's The Exorcist offered up two direct sequels: 1977's forgettable Exorcist II: The Heretic and 1990's better-than-you'd-expect The Exorcist III. The series then went dead (for about as long as the break between II and III), returning with some big time prequel films in the Aughts and a direct sequel Fox series last decade. Not as abundant with its offerings as some of the other franchises on this list, The Exorcist is back in business once more, thanks to Halloween Reboot Trilogy's David Gordon Green and Blumhouse. Slated for this year, on October 13, The Exorcist: Believer kicks off Green's latest horror Reboot Trilogy.

Star Wars

Star Wars is a galaxy unto itself, one of the largest multimedia properties in history, all starting with a monumental 1977 sci-fi fantasy-adventure film that instantly changed viewers' lives. Three distinct trilogies, over the course of four decades (plus some incredible animated series) brought different generations of fans into the fold – and it's only all gaining momentum. Ahsoka premieres this summer on Disney+ while the horizon promises Skeleton Crew, The Acolyte, Andor: Season 2 and multiple films. As the original shared movie universe, pre-Marvel Studios, Star Wars is one of the longest serialized stories to go without a reboot.

See our guide to the Star Wars movies in order.

The MCU

Though there were most certainly movies made about Marvel characters before 2008, Marvel Studios' Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with Iron Man, is nothing short of a phenomenon. Time-wise, it feels like a baby compared to some of the other franchises on this list but the saga's scope and sheer amount of output more than makes up for its smaller window (of only 15 years). We're a staggering 32 films in, now with eight Disney+ streaming series to consider too. This doesn't even take into account the TV/streaming shows from the last decade that were once considered part of the MCU, like Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, etc. Consider those as victims of Thanos' snap.

See our guide to all of the upcoming Marvel movies and shows.

Indiana Jones

Including the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the Indiana Jones franchise stands at only five films (over 40 years) but as the whip-cracking hero once said, it's not the years it's the mileage. Especially when you consider that Harrison Ford has been the only one playing Jones on the big screen this whole time, even at 80-years-old. A couple actors have been cast as a younger Indiana — River Phoenix for an extended flashback and Sean Patrick Flanery for the George Lucas-produced '90s series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles — but any and all talk of actually rebooting everything with a new actor has been met with fan outrage.

See our guide to the Indianna Jones movies in order.

Mission: Impossible

Even if we were just talking about Mission: Impossible as a film franchise, which we mostly are, it dates all the way back to 1996. And while the movies are wrapping up over the next few years, with Dead Reckoning Parts 1 and 2, this is still a stunningly long series that's only gotten better and better, bigger and bigger, with each new movie. Now if you take into account the TV series, which began in 1966 and ran for seven seasons, and connect them to the movies through the character of IMF agent Jim Phelps (Peter Graves on the show, Jon Voight in the first movie) then you've got a heckuva hefty legacy.

Star Trek

Though Star Trek's purer, headier sci-fi aspects hinder its pop culture impact during its frequent comparisons to the more accessible Star Wars, this is a mega franchise that has successfully integrated, and interwoven, TV and movies like few other properties. Starting on TV in the '60s, finding theatrical success in the '80s, and then even bigger TV triumph in the '90s, Trek is now in the middle of another boom period right now, with the most TV concurrent shows it's had in decades. Because that's how Trek works best, with multiple stories flowing at once. And with an acclaimed final season of Picard wrapped up and Strange New Worlds: Season 2 on the way, fans are boldly going out of their minds.

Child's Play

A horror movie getting a franchise is par for the course, but it's still uncommon to have one stick around for over 35 years. And it's very rare to have one go on that long with the same writer/creator, Don Mancini, and star, Brad Dourif (as the voice of Chucky). Yes, aside from the Universal reboot in 2019, the Child's Play story, which began in 1988 (and has seven movie sequels) has been one continuous ride, all under the watchful eye of Mancini, who's even behind the hit TV show currently prepping its third season. It's scary, it's hilarious, it's meta…it's Chucky!

See our guide to the Chucky movies in order.

Fast and Furious

The Fast and the Furious Franchise has been with us this entire century, beginning as Point Break with street racing and slowly escalating to global James Bond/A-Team adventures with cars. From car thieves and drug dealers to hackers bent on world domination, the Fast family has delivered the goods over the course of ten films (including spinoff Hobbs & Shaw). With Fast X marking the 10th Fast saga film, the count will be at eleven as fans clamor for bigger, more outrageous action. Off-screen tragedy and behind-the-scenes drama couldn't stop this runaway train of pure popcorn fun.

See our guide to The Fast and Furious movies in order.

Saw

The gruesome Saw movies have only been around since 2004, which is a long time but not when compared to some other horror properties. But this series, which is about to hit its tenth movie when (tentatively titled) Saw X lands in October, but no series has done more with a main antagonist who's been dead since the third freakin' movie. With a ton of retconning and a lengthy, detailed memory (both things Saw shares with the Fast and Furious films), Saw has proven to be a "torture porn" holdout.

See our guide to the Saw movies in order.

Friday the 13th

Nightmarish rights issues have kept poor Jason Voorhees locked away in a vault, not having been seen since the 2009 remake. Normally, he'd have been off this list since his franchise is inactive, but Hannibal's Bryan Fuller has swooped in — with his love of all things horror and, in particular, Friday the 13th — and is creating a Crystal Lake prequel series for Peacock. Partnering with A24, this show, like Hannibal, could very well become a malicious mix tape of the Friday the 13th franchise, including the appearance of a young pre-laked Jason (you can bet Mrs. Voorhees is most definitely going to be a character). Anyhow, since the first movie came out in 1980 this continuation definitely helps Jason ch-ch-ch-chart.


Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN, a member of the Television Critics Association, and co-host of We Enjoy Wrestling. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.

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