Some characters’ stories only need only one movie to be told. Romantic comedies such as “Pretty Woman” give you all you need to know wrapped up in a tight 125 minutes. Sci-Fi films such as Christopher Nolen’s, “Inception” are one and done. But every once in a while, a character or a universe is created, and just one movie isn’t going to do the story justice; thus, franchises were born. With universes where superheroes protect the Earth and magic is real, it’s hard to not fall victim to becoming a fan of some of the best film franchises of all time.
For instance, back in 2021, a study surveying people on which movies were “Best of the Year”, results showed that more picked Marvel’s “Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings” than any other film on the list. In fact, four of the top 20 movies of the year featured superhero characters from the same cinematic universe — “Shang-Chi” and “Black Widow,” which were produced by Marvel Studios, and “Spider-Man” and “Venom,” produced by Sony Pictures in association with Marvel.
Beyond the characters and ever-expanding universes, the iconic music also scores these films. A film’s score can genuinely make or break the movie experience. In fact, 59 percent of respondents agree a poor score ruins the movie for them. Conversely, a good score can make a bad film a bit more bearable, according to 62 percent of the poll. It also showed that of all the scores played for listeners, “Hedwig’s Theme” from the “Harry Potter” series and the “Main Title” from “Star Wars” were the most memorable, showing again how important some franchises are in pop culture.
At the end of the day, though, what are the most iconic film series out there to explore? We at StudyFinds set out to find out just that. We researched across ten sources to create a definitive list of the best film franchises of all time. Don’t see your favorite on the list? We would love to hear from you! Just comment below your go-to series. And now, onto the list.
The List: Best Film Franchises, According to Experts
1. Marvel Cinematic Universe
Of course, the franchise with a whopping 32 films to its name would be high up on the list. “Created by Marvel Studios, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently the most powerful movie franchise in all of Hollywood. ‘Avengers: Endgame’ which hit the theaters in 2019, was a fitting conclusion to the Infinity Saga that began all the way back in 2008 with ‘Iron Man.’ It alone amassed a massive $2.8 billion dollars in the box office, surpassing ‘Avatar‘ in ticket sales and gross revenue,” describes Flickside.
— Avengers (@Avengers) April 27, 2023
“Stretching a story arc across 23 films, as was done with the Infinity Saga, not only seems risky but downright foolish. It was, however, the most ingenious idea in filmmaking history. Along with the films of the Multiverse Saga, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing movie franchise, earning a combined $28.56 billion through all of its films. While the sheer volume of entries seems like it gives the MCU an unfair advantage over other franchises, it has a $921,148,482 per film average, making it tops in that category, too,” raves CBR.
“With the release of the thirtieth movie in the series, ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ in 2022, the MCU closed out Phase Four of its timeline and once again proved its status as a truly great film franchise. Since ‘Iron Man’ in 2008, the MCU has been putting out one hit after another at a rate and quality we’ve never seen before on this scale. In a world where box office numbers are declining, we’ll all still go to the theater for a Marvel movie. And with the foreseeable future lined up, the MCU isn’t slowing down,” WatchMojo adds.
2. Star Wars
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away where Jedi wield lightsabers and princesses shoot blaster pistols, our next franchise, “Star Wars,” was born. “When the first film premiered back in 1977, it was like nothing audiences had ever seen before; a Shakespearean space opera filled with great action, quotable dialogue, and special effects that were second to none. George Lucas’s creation was a truly seminal moment in the history of the movies. And while the quality of the various films can be argued, the fact that the franchise elicits such strong emotions from fans all these decades later is a true testament to its entrenchment in pop culture,” says WatchMojo.
“‘Star Wars’ is not just a film franchise; it’s a global phenomenon. Perhaps no other franchise on this list has had such a vast impact on pop culture than this epic space opera film franchise. What this franchise earns in merchandise sales alone rivals the combined box office collections of all films on this list. ‘Star Wars’ is the brainchild of George Lucas, who also directed four out of the six films comprising the original trilogy and prequel trilogy. The franchise returned after a lengthy, decade-long hiatus after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney. Naturally, ‘The Force Awakens’ made fans go berserk with excitement, helping the film break numerous records during its run,” describes The Cinemaholic.
WhatHi-Fi adds that “When ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ hit the cinema, it set a course for all other blockbusters to follow. The struggle between good and evil isn’t exactly a revolutionary formula, but ‘Star Wars’ packaged it into a series of films that captured the imagination and continues to entertain small and big kids alike. Arguably the definitive movie franchise, even when you take into account those controversial prequels.”
“Having earned its spot among cinema’s greatest films, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is an epic fantasy series that remains impactful and essential viewing for anyone—even those who don’t care much for fantasy. The original trilogy follows the quest of Frodo Baggins to destroy the One Ring, supported by a strong fellowship of allies. Each film is executed with a wondrous scope and thematic storytelling, and it’s no overstatement to say that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ defines epic,” describes WhatNerd.
“If you’re really looking for a long marathon, I cannot recommend the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy extended editions enough. ‘Return of the King’ is a full 51 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, so yeah, this is a commitment. And while the theatrical cuts of these films may technically be a more concise/better way of telling the story, I find that the extended editions are almost like a ‘living novel’ experience. They’re just so dense, but also really slow down and take their time with the characters. Watching all three of these in a row is like disappearing into Middle-earth for an entire day,” explains Collider.
“From 2001 to 2003, there was one movie franchise to rule them all. One franchise that brought us all into the darkness of the movie theater and bound us together. ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy was what everyone was talking about and watching. And as financially successful as it was, it was also similarly acclaimed by critics and garnered thirty Academy Awards, winning seventeen of them – including Best Picture for ‘The Return of the King.’ Reviews for; ‘The Hobbit’ prequel trilogy were more mixed, but the films were still a huge success, raking in over $2.93 billion – which is just slightly under the $2.99 billion take of the three ‘LOTR’ films,” raves WatchMojo. With three films in both “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” series, respectively, and an almost never-ending supply of extended cuts, you can sit back and enjoy exploring Middle-earth for hours.
4. Wizarding World
Wands at the ready, turn to page “394”, and get your invisible cars because we are flying into all things magic with this next pick. In 1997, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (or “Philosopher’s Stone”) hit bookshelves for the first time, and little did anyone know the impact it would have on society. “The Wizarding World books were destined to become a great film franchise in the same way Harry Potter was preordained to kill Lord Voldemort. The 11 films of ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts’ enchanted audiences, earning $9.66 billion in Muggle money, says CBR. A series based on the originals novels has also been slated to be in development by Max, further expanding the franchise.
Your Hogwarts letter is here.
— Max (@StreamOnMax) April 12, 2023
“Harry Potter is arguably the most popular and successful venture in the media and entertainment industry in recent times, from books to movies, from video games to merchandise. The movie series has also seen immense success. Overall ‘Harry Potter’ has been a huge success in all the fields. But more than the success, the legacy of the character and world makes it so special,” describes GoBookSmart.
Flickside goes on to deliberate on the other stories outside of “Harry Potter,” saying, “With the series coming to an end, Warner Bros. decided to expand upon the world. This included a series of films that focused on the life of Newt Scamander, the author of the famed novel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While the first film set up the character and his surroundings, the second film saw Newt get involved in the battle between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. In October 2016, it was revealed that the Fantastic Beasts series would comprise of five films and that Eddie Redmayne would be reprising his role as the acclaimed Magizoologist.”
5. James Bond
“The names ‘Bond,’ ‘James Bond'” may just be one of the most quotable introductions in film history, and for a good reason, “Bond Movies have been one of the longest-running film franchises of all time. They have ruled the box office for more than half a century,” states GoBookSmart. “The super detective movie series is one of the iconic franchises in the world. The franchise’s popularity is unmatched. The 007 brand has 27 movies, and only seven actors have portrayed the iconic role of James Bond over the course of 60 years. Bond Films are considered a cult classic and are an important part of pop culture.”
“The epic spy franchise is based on the series of novels by Ian Fleming. The story centers around the secret agent James Bond, a character who has been played by seven different actors over the years. The successful franchise released its most recent film, ‘No Time to Die,’ starring Daniel Craig in his final act as Bond, in October 2021,” describes Stacker. As of now though, it is still being decided who will soon step into MI6 agent’s shoes next.
We won’t lie; a James Bond movie binge is an intimidating prospect. But it’s also a rewarding one. The Bond franchise goes out of its way to give viewers thrilling action, lavishly portrayed locations, and plenty of glamor. And it channels all of it through the adventures of one of cinema’s most charismatic characters. Each installment has some constants, but they each take up the familiar tropes in distinctive ways — so no one can resist asking, ‘Who did it best?’ Who’s the best 007? The best larger-than-life Bond villain? Favorite Bond girl? Not to mention the classic question: Which British actor should be peppered with questions about whether or not he or she is going to be the new Bond? Binging on Bond is about as classically stylish as movie marathons can get. Just make sure to do it with a martini in one hand,” adds Looper.
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