It seems that every weekend movie theaters are cluttered with unnecessary sequels, with some franchises continuing to rehash the same story for multiple installments that no one asked for. Unfortunately, while there are seemingly countless sequels playing at any given moment, it’s often that the films most deserving of a franchise never get past the first installment.
There are many great films that seemed perfectly designed for future installments, but never got the chance to continue their story. Here are ten films that should have started franchises.
10. World War Z
After one of the most legendarily tumultuous shoots in recent cinema history, World War Z became an unexpected smash hit, earning over $540 million worldwide and gaining critical acclaim. While the film did a great job at capturing the scope of what the global reaction would be to a zombie pandemic as seen through the eyes of a former United Nations operative played by Brad Pitt, the novel that the film was based on features countless more story possibilities for a world overrun by zombies.
Unfortunately, production of a sequel has been just as challenging as it was to make the first film, with World War Z 2 officially cancelled by Paramount, despite months of pre-production and the involvement of the great David Fincher. A world in which Fincher helms a major action blockbuster would truly be incredible, especially considering how successful his past collaboration with Brad Pitt have been.
Even if Fincher wasn’t involved, there are countless other directors that could make a great zombie film in this universe. Considering that the first film introduces its world by spanning many locations and characters, it’s possible that a sequel could be done on a more intimate scale for a smaller budget. The mystery of how the zombie crisis was initiated was left open at the end of the first film, and it’s unfortunate that there will be no sequels to address it.
9. Dune (1984)
After Star Wars started a wave of science fiction blockbusters in the late 1970s and 1980s, many expected the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to be the next big sci-fi saga. The high profile status of the adaptation was increased when Universal hired the genius David Lynch to write and direct. Lynch was coming off of the success of his cult midnight movie Eraserhead and the Oscar-nominated The Elephant Man, and despite a huge budget and aggressive marketing, Dune wasn’t the film many were expecting and didn’t end up spawning any sequels.
While behind the scenes drama diluted much of Lynch’s vision for the film, it remains a visually distinct film with an epic scale, great cast, and terrific score by Brian Eno and Toto. Sequels to Dune that adapted later novels in Herbert’s series could have allowed Lynch to have more freedom in making the films he wanted to see. Even the original cut, which Lynch himself has issues with, does a great job at showing the depth and culture of Herbert’s mythic civilizations. It’s also the film that began Lynch’s collaboration with actor Kyle MacLachlan, which would go on to be one of the best partnerships in cinematic history.
Lynch was denied the chance to continue the Dune franchise, despite plans to make a second and third film. However, unlike the other films on this list, the Dune franchise does have somewhat of a happy ending, as a reboot of the series will begin next year with the brilliant Denis Villenueve directing and Timothee Chalamet starring as Paul Atreides. It’s exciting that another talented duo will work on this franchise’s future, but at the same time there was a missed opportunity to use the 1984 film as a blueprint for the Dune universe.
8. Eastern Promises
David Cronenberg’s mafia thriller Eastern Promises instantly established itself as one of the greatest crime movies ever made, with Viggo Mortensen earning waves of critical acclaim for his performance, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. With its shocking plot twist, brutal violence, and layered character dynamics, Eastern Promises looked like it could be the beginning of a brilliant franchise, as the ending left room for Mortensen’s character to continue operating in London. Although Cronenberg reportedly had plans for a sequel, it still hasn’t happened.
The story of Easter Promises is self contained, and much of the film relies on the shocking revelations of the secret sex trafficking ring in London and that Mortensen’s mob hitman is actually an undercover British agent determined to dismantle the organization from the inside. However, the ending teases a future, as Mortensen’s character Nikolai is now running the crime family along with Vincent Cassel’s character Kirill. How will an undercover British agent run a mafia family, and how long can he go undetected before the family realizes they’re being sold out by one of their own?
These are the questions that Cronenberg was planning on addressing in a follow up that would begin at the same point that the previous film ended, but plans for a sequel have dragged on and it doesn’t appear that Eastern Promises 2 will happen anytime soon. Audiences have been waiting since 2007 to see what would happen if Kirill discovered Nikolai’s secret, and considering that Mortensen is coming off a number of acclaimed performances, he could certainly convince Cronenberg to continue this story.
7. Flash Gordon (1980)
Like Dune, 1980’s Flash Gordon was fast tracked into production after Star Wars made studios realize there was a market for sci-fi space operas, with Flash Gordon hitting theaters only six months after The Empire Strikes Back. Unlike those films, Flash Gordon was extremely goofy and satirical, and was purposefully campy in a way that reflected the original serial and comic strip series. While it has gained a cult following, plans for a sequel never materialized, and there hasn’t been a Flash Gordon film of any kind made since then.
Especially compared to the sci-fi of its time, Flash Gordon stands out by embracing its camp elements through sets and costumes that are large, lavish, and colorful. There is absolutely no moral grayness to the story, with Sam J. Jones playing the titular character as an almost comically perfect hero, and Max von Sydoux chewing scenery with wonderfully over the top menace as the evil Ming the Merciless. More than anything, the film stands out due to its iconic soundtrack by Queen, who created an incredibly energetic rock anthem that elevates every scene.
The time has passed on a possibility of a Flash Gordon sequel, as the retirement of director Mike Hodges and the passing of Freddie Mercury making it impossible to recreate the film’s magic. While there are many that now cite the film as a major breakthrough in appreciating self aware sci-fi, it’s unfortunate that this audacious world was never extended into multiple movies.
6. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Peter Weir’s Napoleonic naval adventure film seemed to be a modest hit, earning $210 million worldwide and gaining 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The film was distinguished for its realistic depiction of naval travel and warfare, as well as the excellent performance from Russell Crowe. It also has one of the easiest setups for a franchise, as it is based on the Aubrey-Maturin series from author Patrick O’Brian, which contains 21 books.
Crowe has publicly lobbied for a sequel to be made, and when looking at the rich source material, it’s a shame that sixteen years have passed without any word on a Master and Commander follow up. The film has such a rich cast, including Paul Bettany in a pivotal role as the crew’s surgeon, and stands out as one of the last great cinematic epics. Few films have been able to capture the chaos and terror found in a naval battle, and the film ends with an obvious hook as Aubrey’s crew pursues an enemy ship.
Director Peter Weir has not made a film since 2010’s The Way Back, and could certainly have a major comeback vehicle if the franchise was to continue. Crowe has seemingly taken a backseat to starring roles, and it would be great to see him return to one of his most iconic characters. Either way, it’s a shame that this great film wasn’t the first of many Aubrey adventures.