Hollywood loves their franchises in this day and age of shared cinematic universes, young adult adaptations, and comic book properties. Yet, what happens when those proposed brands don’t connect with audiences and best laid plans are left in the dust?
Just in recent years, a glut of dud series starters came and went without surpassing their premiere episode, but it’s nothing new, as it’s a common occurrence since the sequel explosions of the 1980s. Let’s delve into examining some of the more memorable examples and if said film earned its poisonous reputation.
10. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
Film in Question: Before Neo was dodging bullets, Remo Williams had finessed it in “The Destroyer” series, a vast collection of pulp paperbacks that seemed like a good fit for an 80’s action franchise with its hardened ex-cop/war trained in superhuman martial arts.
Producer Larry Spiegel snatched up the rights and developed it with James Bond veterans Guy Hamilton (director of “Goldfinger”) and screenwriter Christopher Wood (writer of “The Spy Who Loved Me”). They were so confident with the results that the movie was even christened with the subtitle “The Adventure Begins”. So when the film painfully bombed, you can imagine all were awkwardly embarrassed and quick to move on.
Is It Any Good? “Remo Williams” is by no means a good movie – the tone is haphazard, the action weak, and the sources potentially squandered – but it is still an incredibly watchable movie though due to it’s silly and enjoyable nature. The usually strong and gruff Fred Ward is miscast as Williams, a supposedly hardened vet, yet that’s all punchlines and goofy hand-to-hand fights.
Even worse is Joel Grey hilariously playing an Asian sensei. Yet despite this, their relationship of student and mentor is kind of endearing and is the film’s stronger foundation. It’s all the other elements that fail with the movie, making it feel bland, aside from a peak scene where our hero assassinates a guy with a golf ball across another building’s rooftop. You have to give them points for creativity!
Possible Future? Spiegel tried squeezing more juice out the property via a TV pilot that acted as a continuation of the film (although with a obviously cheaper cast), but it wasn’t picked up and this successfully put a nail in that incarnation. As of 2014, however, action guru Shane Black signed up to direct a reboot of the series. Still, due to his highly busy schedule, things have been very quiet since, with no movement since the announcement.
9. Dredd (2012)
Film in Question: Judge Dredd exploded off the pages of radical comic “2000 A.D.” in the late 70s – a brute force of nature that was both satirical government piss-take and badass hero, there was no denying his cinematic potential. Sylvester Stallone attempted in 1995 with “Judge Dredd”, but the angle was all wrong, taking only the superficial elements of the homicidal cop and leaving all the clever flavor and mythology from the books. The film bombed and soured the potential for another movie for almost 20 years.
Then, vastly talented writer Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) shepherded a screenplay into a faithful, worthy adaptation of said property. With a unanimously successful Comic-Con screening and ecstatic word of mouth, a trilogy was already being mapped out for the next adventure in Dredd’s cinematic story. Then the film came out and its worldwide gross couldn’t even recoup the already low budget; it was a given that all plans for more Dredd were suddenly dropped.
Is It Any Good? Definitely. Karl Urban as the titular character manages to perfectly capture the deadpan essence of Dredd, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every aspect of the comic – from it’s color palette to its grey morality – are lovingly recreated. Its ‘day-in-the-life-of’ approach feels a little small-key considering the wealth of material, but its baby-steps approach actually did a fantastic job at setting up the world in a easeful manner.
There are several possibilities as to why this excellent film didn’t connect; the first being the criticism that it ripped its plot from “The Raid” (2011). While the similarities are undeniable, the fact that “Dredd” was filming whilst Gareth Evan’s sleeper hit played the festival circuit quickly dispels that.
The most likely reason is the fact that it was released in a period where hard R-rated genre pieces just weren’t able to find an audience. Whatever the reason, it’s all a damn shame in the end because it deserved a lot better.
Possible Future? “Dredd” took a lashing at the box office but did well on Blu-Ray and VOD platforms, helping it become a cult sensation that has a strong and loyal following; so strong, in fact, that an online petition (initially for a movie sequel) has gotten the ball rolling to see more of Urban as the character.
While Garland has sworn off working on the franchise (claiming he failed it), Urban and producer Adi Shankar are devoted to making the character return, and the most likely venue is in the long format TV avenue with potential interest from Amazon or Netflix to pick it up. Still, as of yet, nothing official has been announced.
8. Master of the Universe (1987)
Film in Question: In the early 80s, the “He-man” Mattel toyline property was basically a license to print money. The concept was a part “Conan”, part “Star Wars” mashup that reached even larger success with a well-received kid’s cartoon series – and a movie adaptation was the inevitable step forward.
Unfortunately, those rights were snatched up by notoriously cheap Canon pictures, who fast-tracked production to make a profit off of the brand. A follow-up sequel was a non-question and was even being mapped out before the first film’s production – titled “Masters of the Universe: Cyborg”, it was meant to be set in a post-apocalyptic America and was filmed for about half the original budget by Z-movie auteur Albert Pyun.
That overconfidence would turn out to be misplaced as the resulting movie was laughed off as hokey by critics and didn’t click with audiences, being too juvenile for the action fans but also too violent for the minors. The end credit stinger that has villain Skeletor screaming “I’ll be back!” at the camera only served as salt on the wound for Canon as it headed for bankruptcy soon afterwards.
Is It Any Good? In general terms, not really, but if you’re looking for glorious 80’s genre schlock, “Masters” is close to cinematic gold.
With its cheesy plot twist of throwing its fantasy characters into 1980’s America, the script is a series of nonsensical story contrivances and blatant thefts from better movies. Yet, stage producer Gary Goddard makes an enthusiastic directorial debut, with an underlying sense of fun felt throughout its half-decent action scenes and screwball comedy.
Dolph Lundgren (straight after his star-making turn in “Rocky IV”) landed in the iconic shoes of He-Man and even physically looks the part, even if his acting was fairly bland at this point in his career. On the other hand, Frank Langella’s Skeletor appears to be having a blast with the silly material and it’s contagious. Hardly highbrow entertainment, but it’s definitely a ‘so bad, it’s good’ kind of material.
Possible Future? After Canon was unable to retain the rights to the property, it used its leftover sets and costumes from the sequel pre-production for its 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme schlock classic “Cyborg” (1989), with some of the plot streamlined into that script.
Over the years, the “He-Man” property has shown constant interest in being rebooted, even if it’s all lead to zero results. Directors like John Woo, John Stevenson, and Jon M. Chu have all been attached in failed attempts. The most recent news was that McG was in the director’s seat, but the reception has been less than enthusiastic.
7. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Film in Question: Based on the highly-respected 20 book-spanning “Aubrey-Maturin” series, master director Peter Weir (“Gallipoli”, “Witness”) sold the concept of a lucrative adventure franchise to 20th Century Fox with A-list star Russell Crowe as the stern naval officer and his escapades in the oceanic battleground of the Napoleonic Wars.
After Crowe’s recent success with “Gladiator” (2000), it was pretty much a no-brainer for the studio and they flushed it a healthy budget for the always expensive water-based productions.
The film came out to strong reviews and decent enough box office returns, yet it wasn’t the type of movie the studio bought (namely ‘Gladiator on the Ocean’), and even though Crowe and Weir were keen to return to the material, the high price range and lack of enthusiasm on the money men’s behalf sadly left this the one and only entry in the franchise.
Is It Any Good? It’s quite excellent, to be frank. Certainly you can understand the studio’s confusion when the results were less “Pirates of the Caribbean” and more “Barry Lyndon”, as “Master” feels Kubrickian in its elaborate pacing, authentic detail, and flawless tonal switches.
Yet, if this sounds like they’re in for a slow burn costume drama, you’d be wrong. Sure, it’s less action-orientated, yet once the battle kicks in, it’s truly a barnstorming, fiercely violent adrenaline rush that’s all the more devastating from our investment in the characters.
It’s also impressive how Weir was able to map out the boat-based society naturalistically yet economically, all anchored by an ever-reliable Crowe. Yet he’s only one part of the film’s strong central dynamic, with Paul Bettany being the other half with their engrossing main relationship – essentially polar opposites, yet best friends all the same. It results in a mature and lush piece of historical adventure that begs for a follow-up to its open ended finale.
Possible Future? There’s been absolutely zero murmurings about a follow-up. Weir and Crowe have been asked on several occasions and have always thrown it back to it being Fox’s non-decision. Conclusively, the whole concept behind this film is that noble ‘white elephant’ – a high-budget intelligently made adventure franchise for adults, something that never happens. One has to commend Weir and company for at least trying, even though it’s a grand shame that this is as far as it went.
6. Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Film in Question: “Banzai” was the offspring of the partnership between successful screenwriters Earl Mac Rauch (“New York, New York”) and W.D. Richter (“Big Trouble in Little China”). Rauch had developed a handful of stories on his own behest around a pulpy superhero Buckaroo Banzai – your average neurologist/inventor/rockstar/badass.
Richter loved the concept and jumped on board to produce and direct the premiere episode, which threw the character into an smash-up with old school schlocky sci-fi. Its intended sequel (as the end credits blatantly promised), “Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League”, was to take cues from 70’s kung fu movies.
Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out due to a decidedly confused marketing campaign, and the film’s plain weirdness was unable to click with 80’s audiences. It flopped and was quickly swept under the rug with “the 8th Dimension” being the sole entry in the “Banzai” saga despite the wealth of material Rauch has on paper.
Is It Any Good? “Banzai” is an instance where you wonder if the filmmakers were purposely attempting to make a cult phenomenon from its outset. It has all the necessary ingredients – schlocky effects, absurd plotting, quotably silly dialogue – yet it always seems in on the intentional joke, creating a film that’s as fun to watch as it likely was to make, regardless of how often you’ll be scratching your head at the pure insanity of it all.
Richter style is break-neck yet breezy, pushing us through Rauch’s loopy plot with ease. It’s all flavored with one of the stronger 80’s ensembles (Peter Weller, Jeff Goldblum, Clancy Brown), yet it’s truly John Lithgow’s insane villain that steals the show every chance he gets in what equals to a wacky, entertaining watch for us cult enthusiasts with one of the best end credits ever.
Possible Future? Over the years, the massive underground following it gained have led to murmurings of follow-ups, including a failed late 90’s TV pilot, a proposed series of novels, and a handful of published comic books. Yet the most substantial plans were made by director Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) in 2016 for an Amazon original series developed with MGM.
The intention was to remake “the 8th Dimension” into a long form miniseries, then follow up with the “World Crime League” sequel. Whether Smith had the chops to handle a remake of his childhood favorite will never be answered since he learned of MGM legally cutting Richter and Rauch out of financial proceedings, so he nobly walked away. The project as of now remains in flux.