Disney is one of the best studios when it comes to making film franchises. It’s remarkable how many of the studio’s properties has seen at least one sequel, and how many of those have been remade over the years. There are more Flubber and Love Bug movies than you probably think and let’s not even talk about how many damn Air Bud films there are in the universe. Even these relatively small ideas became bigger franchises over time. Sometimes these franchises come to be because of the success of the first film, but frequently studios go into a project expecting to make more. From the moment Disney added a subtitle to the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, it was clear it smelled a franchise.
However, even the best get it wrong once in a while. Sometimes the franchise idea doesn’t work out. There have clearly been times when Disney thought they had the next best movie property, but instead, just had a movie, and a less than successful one at that. Here are five examples of franchises that even the all-powerful Walt Disney Company couldn’t make happen.
The Lone Ranger
How more clear could it possibly have been at the beginning that Disney had big plans for The Lone Ranger. The film brought together the writers, director and star of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for another action adventure summer blockbuster that simply swapped out the classic pirate archetype for the American cowboy. Also, like the Pirates movies, it was all based on a property people had at least heard of before.
In the end, The Lone Ranger was evidence that making lightning strike twice isn’t easy. The movie was incredibly expensive to produce and thus, it struggled financially from the outset. There are many potential reasons for this. Johnny Depp’s over-the-top performance as Tonto is one. The hit-and-miss nature of the modern western is another. The fact that The Lone Ranger, as a name, simply doesn’t resonate the way it once did may be the biggest factor. I didn’t actually think this movie was as bad as many did. The climactic action sequence on the train is actually really good. But there certainly wasn’t enough interest to make a sequel ever happen.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
The Lone Ranger thing really should never have happened because Disney should have learned that lesson years earlier. Back in 2010 the studio took the director and the star of the popular National Treasure movies and brought them back to make a film based on another well-known character, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. While the movie has essentially nothing to do with the segment from Fantasia that Disney fans know, save one scene involving brooms, it was an attempt to turn that name into a new action franchise.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice wants to be a franchise so badly it even has a post-credits scene to help set up the future installments that would never happen. 2010 seems to be about the point when Nicolas Cage started to make a transition from Hollywood headliner to “slightly crazy dude that will star in almost anything.” Whether The Sorcerer’s Apprentice lack of box office reception was a cause or an effect of this change isn’t really clear. In the end, the movie just wasn’t very engaging and it’s certainly not the kind of movie that leaves you wanting more.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Generally speaking, if you give your movie a subtitle, and it’s not a sequel itself, then it’s because you expect to be making other films of the same title in the future. The fact that this movie was based on the video game reboot, titled The Sands of Time and not the original Prince of Persia video game from the 1980s is really irrelevant to your movie.
If you remember at all that somebody made a movie based on the Prince of Persia video game series, you still may not remember that the film was made by Disney. While it’s actually one of the better film adaptations of a video game, it certainly didn’t attract enough interest to greenlight another movie. Maybe it’s because they cast Jake Gyllenhaal as a guy who was supposed to Persian? The film had Disney’s worst Memorial Day Weekend box office total to date, and that doesn’t get you sequels.
While Disney’s success turning theme park attractions into successful movies basically starts and ends with the Pirates of the Caribbean series, there has been no end of attempts to make the theme park successful fodder for the movies. Such was the case when Tomorrowland hit the screen.
While Tomorrowland had a familiar name, it was essentially an original project as the area at Disneyland and Walt Disney World from which it takes its name doesn’t have a story of its own. It starred Britt Robertson and George Clooney and imagined a progressive and futuristic city where all of the world’s greatest minds could work together for the betterment of all.
The film was inspired by the futurist ideas of Walt Disney that were exemplified by his creation of Tomorrowland, but the future for the movie itself would be far less optimistic.
A corollary to the above rule about putting subtitles in your movies is that if you’re making a movie based on the first book of a long-running series, you’re probably at least aware of the possibility that you might make the other books into movies too. You don’t turn Princess of Mars into John Carter, thinking you won’t continue the story.
I actually like John Carter and wish that the film had done well enough to warrant those sequels, but I’m in the minority in this. While Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars books are some of the most popular science fiction stories of their era, the fact is that they’re just not super popular today, and a movie with the utterly boring title of John Carter isn’t going to draw in those who aren’t familiar with them.
John Carter wasn’t even a terrible flop, making nearly $300 million around the world. If it hadn’t cost so much to make we might have still seen this franchise be born, and there have even been rumblings something could happen with it, but I’m not holding my breath.