1995’s Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone easily ranks amongst the worst comic book movies ever made, with some seeing it as a sign that the Dredd character could never see a proper on screen adaptation. However, 2012’s Dredd proved everyone wrong, and delivered a hyper violent, self-contained action spectacle that saw Karl Urban take on the titular role. Unfortunately, while the film was a much truer adaptation of the original source material, it didn’t end up starting a new franchise.
Dredd did everything right when it came to making a modern action movie. The film used mostly practical effects to capture its bloody action sequences, and is primarily set in one location, in the vein of classics like Die Hard or Speed. It’s also one of the rare films where the 3-D actually enhances the experience. Dredd also was able to explore the complex morality of the character by giving Dredd a partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who contrasts his black and white view of the world.
The possibilities for a series of further Dredd adventures is endless, as there are many storylines within the original comic series that would translate well into eye popping action sequences. Karl Urban himself has expressed interest in reprising his role, but as for now the series seems to be at a standstill.
4. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Guy Ritchie has made many stylized, modernized versions of older franchises, including the two Sherlock Holmes films, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and this year’s Aladdin, but none better than 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The self aware spy adventure allowed Ritchie to utilize his signature quickly cut action sequences and goofy sense of humor in service of a campy caper that played off all of the fun and paranoia within the Cold War espionage era. The box office underperformance, however, downplayed the chance of it being a new franchise for Ritchie.
However, the seeds for a great films series are in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., particularly when it comes to the great characters. While Henry Cavill’s depiction of Superman was cold and humorless, his role as the wisecracking Napoleon Solo allowed him to use dial his charisma up to eleven. Armie Hammer also gave a great performance, and was able to bring a sense of dignity to what could have been an easy Russian stereotype. Most importantly, Cavill and Hammer had great chemistry, and while their characters reach an agreement by the end of the film, there’s clearly more places for them to go.
With an obvious sequel setup that teases a new mission in Istanbul, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. clearly leaves the door open for new villains, gadgets, and locations to be explored. It’s unfortunate that the film was so underseen and hasn’t caught the following it deserves, as it could easily be one of the most unique spy film franchises.
3. Serenity (2005)
After the cult classic science fiction series Firefly was tragically cancelled during the middle of its first season, series creator Joss Whedon decided to take the beloved space western to cinemas and end his series on a high note with Serenity. Once again the film was a critical success that gained raves from niche fan groups, but in the fifteen years since its premiere there has not been any word on the further adventures of Captain Malcom Reynolds and crew on screen.
While Serenity concludes many of the storylines that were initiated on Firefly, there’s still many stories left to be told in Whedon’s universe. Chiwetel Ejiofer’s main antagonist The Operative ended the film on an ambiguous note as to where he would go next, leaving room for another encounter with the Firefly crew. Also, while the secret behind the origin of the Reavers was uncovered, the main villainous organization the Alliance was never defeated, and it’s clear that their very existence will continue to threaten the crew as long as they live.
Serenity may have been a box office disappointment at the time, but over time the cult following for the show and the series has increased and drawn in new fans. With Whedon coming off the back to back success of the first two Avengers films, now is a better time than ever for a sequel to Serenity.
2. The Rocketeer
Before he directed Captain America: The First Avenger, Joe Johnston helmed another all-American World War II superhero action film with 1991’s The Rocketeer. Compared to today’s superhero films, The Rocketeer is refreshingly optimistic, playful, and even corny, and perhaps one of the truest depictions of a serialized 1930s action hero ever seen on screen, with Billy Campbell delivering a charming performance as the bumbling reluctant hero Cliff Secord, who becomes The Rocketeer.
While The Rocketeer is now regarded as a classic of the genre, it was a financial disappointment at the time that promptly cancelled all sequel plans. Even if the film ended with the defeat of the villainous Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton), the original source material provides many possibilities for other villains that The Rocketeer could face off against. The film also establishes a strong ensemble of supporting characters, including those played by Alan Arkin and Jennifer Connolly, all of whom would be fun to see in further movies.
The Rocketeer ends with Cliff becoming more confident in his abilities and newly committed to being a hero, so that setup for him to be thrust into another adventure couldn’t have been more obvious. Unfortunately, too much time has passed for there ever to be a realistic chance at continuing this story, but the film’s critical appreciation begs the question as to what a series of The Rocketeer films would have looked like.
1. The Nice Guys
Few filmmakers know how to create buddy cop films as well as Shane Black, who perfected the genre as writer of the Lethal Weapon series and director of 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. In 2016, Black outdid himself with The Nice Guys, an endlessly quotable noir comedy that forces an alcoholic private eye (Ryan Gosling) and a belligerent strongman (Russel Crowe) to work together in order to find a missing porn star.
The setup is perfect, and Black crafted an instantly iconic screen duo that transcended the genre; while the mystery itself is fun, the film’s strength was seeing these two very different actors with distinct comedic sensibilities play off each other.
Unfortunately, while the film gained a positive response and was heralded for its innovative comedy, fun 70s setting, and uproariously chaotic action sequences, The Nice Guys didn’t break enough ground to inspire its own franchise.
What’s tragic about this isn’t just that The Nice Guys is a brilliant, underseen film, but that it’s essentially an origin story for these characters, who start their own detective agency at the end of the film. Black’s Lethal Weapon sequels were able to recreate similar story beats, yet develop the central relationship a little bit more in each film, and it’s easy to see a franchise of The Nice Guys that would do the same thing.
Sequels to The Nice Guys would allow Gosling and Crowe to continue making interesting decisions with their careers. Gosling is known for being one of the best dramatic actors working today, but his incredible physical comedy in The Nice Guys, including the now iconic toilet scene, showed a different side of him. Crowe is one of the best actors of the past few decades, but hasn’t had many great roles recently, and could use another solid hit.
The film also featured a breakout performance from Angourie Rice as Ryan Gosling’s daughter; Rice has gone on to co-star in the new Spider-Man films, but in The Nice Guys she was able to match Gosling and Crowe with her ability to deliver one liners.
Black has admitted in interviews that he has an interest in making sequels, and that it was the box office performance that tempered expectations for Warner Bros. to greenlight a second film. If there is any film that feels best suited for a franchise, it’s The Nice Guys, and given that everyone involved still seems to be interested, it could still happen.