Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: In honor of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” which effectively reboots Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” saga, which current movie franchise should be put out of our misery once and for all?
Carlos Aguilar (Carlos_Film), The Wrap, Remezcla, MovieMaker Magazine
20th Century Fox
Cancelling the “Avatar” franchise before it even becomes one would be ideal, but we know that James Cameron’s arrogance won’t allow that to happen. Aside from their ridiculous alleged titles, the prospect of four more movies based on a virtually forgotten blockbuster from 2009 seems more like a director’s refusal to let go than something fans are eager to consume. Surely there are audiences out there that hold this sci-fi version of “Pocahontas” with blue aliens dearly (some might even rewatch their old DVD on occasion), but will they be enough to justify the budget necessary to realize the Oscar-winner’s stubborn dream?
Even if the first sequel flops at the box-office Cameron won’t accept defeat, maybe that’s why production on all four began at once with an estimated budget of over $1 billion. In this trying times for the world, there are certainly better ways to spend such an outrageous amount of money than a vanity project that may or may not be successful. Imagine how many movies like “The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow could make with that. More often than not less is more.
Katey Stoetzel (@kateypretzel), The Young Folks
20th Century Fox
*scroll through Twitter*
Oh, look, the new “Avatar” films have been pushed back again.
*repeat for years*
Andrea Thompson (@areelofonesown), freelance forThe Chicago Reader, The Young Folks
When choosing an ongoing franchise that needs to die in our current era, the difficult thing is really narrowing it down to which one needs to die most. As for the few that really get under my skin? “Pirates of the Caribbean” has no business existing anymore, both due to its consistently downward spiral and all the baggage Johnny Depp now brings. But when I discovered the “Avatar” sequels had actually finally been greenlit, it quickly became the worst. Other franchises deteriotated over time, a natural consequence of studios demanding every penny from even a hint of potential, no matter how exhausted that potential became.
But “Avatar” was the movie we never needed in the first place. It had every cliché possible of the heroic white man. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is somehow the chosen hero needed to save the Na’vi, who also embody every pernicious stereotype of native culture. They live in harmony with the land with little technology, but are of course more enlightened and evolved than us. And their benevolent, peaceful life which is soon threatened by greedy, similarly stereotypically villainous humans who are after…unobtanium. Ugh. Now there are four sequels happening. Four. And the titles are hilarious: “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “Avatar: The Seed Bearer,” “Avatar: The Tulkun Rider,” and “Avatar: The Quest for Eywa.” Someone please kill this franchise before it starts.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG), Contributing Editor of Wicked Horror, freelance for Birth.Movies.Death, Vague Visages, The List
The so-called “Conjuring” Universe hasn’t produced a decent entry since, well, “The Conjuring.” The problem with mining one, only sort of okay, concept for ideas is very quickly it becomes clear that what was scary about The Nun or The Doll or The Crooked Man (pending the upcoming spinoff movie) or whatever is that the entity was barely glimpsed. Once the villain is front and center, the film around it has to work extra hard to justify its existence.
Corin Hardy was the ideal director to bring The Nun to terrifying life, given how well his debut feature “The Hallow” captured the tactility of banshee-like woodland creatures, and even he struggled to do anything besides putting her (played by Mulholland Dr.’s Bonnie Aarons no less!) at the end of hallways and having her advance slowly towards characters who always seemed to turn around a second too late.
Likewise “Annabelle,” which was fine but nothing special, was gifted a nonsense sequel that relied entirely on the much-maligned quiet-quiet-BANG aesthetic and whose teeny sliver of tension rested solely on whether the doll might move. Why bother going back to “The Conjuring” over and over again (especially when it wasn’t that great to begin with) when talented, horror-obsessed filmmakers like Hardy, or even series originator James Wan, could be better spending their time on new concepts?
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant
I think it’s time for the “Conjuring” series to call it a day. The first one was great, and the second one wasn’t too bad. Then we started getting these pointless prequels designed to create a “cinematic universe” we really don’t need. There have been two “Annabelle” movies focusing on the doll that is featured briefly in the original. Most recently, we got the abysmal “The Nun,” which gave us the backstory of the woman in a painting that factors momentarily into the plot of “The Conjuring 2.” What’s next — a prequel about the flashlight the hero of “The Nun” carries?
Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson
Ever since the obnoxious yellow minions made their debut beside Steve Carell’s Gru in “Despicable Me” eight years ago, I have secretly wondered would it be like to smash those bouncy little buggers. Are those seemingly immortal pill-shaped and goggled annoyances indestructible? I ask because, in my worst Schwarzenegger voice from “Predator,” “if it bleeds, we can kill it.” Please tell me they can bleed. Their collective nonsensical gibberish is more annoying than even the worst Gilbert Gottfried or Eddie Murphy-voiced animated sidekick from better movies. What began in the first film as a novelty of warming up to a supervillain instead of superhero (“Megamind” played with that role-reversal far better later in the same year), has obesely ballooned into three video games, eleven short films, four feature films (with two more on the way) that have grossed an outlandish $3.7 billion worldwide, and an infinite amount of eye rolls and nails on chalkboards.
Putting on my school teacher necktie and my parent hat alongside my film critic lens, I cannot, for the life of me, find worthwhile value out of these films as worthy entertainment for the young audiences within the masses. To see these hyperactive messes of animated blockbusters earn more audience favor than rich works like “Pete’s Dragon,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” or the “Paddington” entries is mind-numbing and colossally disappointing. I get the parental need to put something on to distract kids for some time-killing peace, but please, pretty please, with sugar on top, stop letting films like the Despicable Me series be those choices. Put on Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton films for physical comedy. If you need animated fare, find old “Tom and Jerry” cartoons or something with a shred of character like old “Scooby Doo.” Aim higher and feed kids better entertainment.
Aaron Neuwirth (@AaronsPS4), We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu
“Die Hard”. Bruce Willis traded in some semblance of pride for his most famous character, John McClane, for one of his now expected phoned-in performances in 2013’s “A Good Day To Die Hard.” Why keep rewarding this with more opportunities for him to reprise the role? With news that an upcoming Die Hard film will focus on McClane’s younger days (with Willis of course collecting another check for phoning in a cameo), further nullifying the whole point of the original film, I would just rather see McClane and the entire franchise die hard, if not harder, than all the others mentioned today.
Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the original “Harry Potter” books and movies, but unless I just let the franchise slip too far away from my mind after “Deathly Hallows,” I feel like it’s stumbling aimlessly at this point. It’s hard to believe there’s a cohesive direction for the franchise right now, with the multiple “Fantastic Beast” movies and the “Cursed Child” play feeling more like attempts to determine how much retroactive exposition is desired, rather than clear-headed and deliberate plans to expand the fictional world.
Oralia Torres (@oraleia), Cinescopia
Any new Harry Potter-related movies. It’s logical that J.K. Rowling wants to continue milking the one book saga that made her rich and famous, but we had our goodbyes and grand finales back in 2011, when ‘Deathly Hallows’ Part 2 came out. The new adventures presented in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ do not enrich the Harry Potter universe and, although entretaining, they’re repetitive, pointless and hollow. Instead of creating new stories or explore her original work in print, this new franchise is Rowling’s latest attempt to stay relevant while she modifies her original work to make it more inclusive, while the studios happily bank from it. It’s tiring, it should’ve ended definitively in 2011, and yet there’s still like 3 more movies left before they probably decide to reboot the original Harry Potter series.
Aaron White (@FeelinFilm), Feelin’ Film Podcast, FeelinFilm.com
This is a tough question because there are numerous film franchises that I feel have run their course and whose legacy would be best served by no future entries mucking it up further. But the one franchise I truly, with all of my heart, wish was not getting another sequel is “Indiana Jones.” Steven Spielberg had an incredible run in the 80’s creating the iconic Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, an archaeology professor/treasure hunter who paid homage to the action heroes of old film serials. At the time, this character was completely unique, embodied by actor Harrison Ford in a way that only he could do justice. Though the middle film, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” does get its fair share of flack, it is still an entertaining and interesting piece of the Indiana Jones lore despite not being quite to the masterful level of both “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Last Crusade.”
Post-trilogy the character was tried on television for a prequel series called “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” and while never living up to the films it was based on the series did win 6 Emmys and was mostly well received. But then a dozen or so years later came film number four, the polarizing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Spielberg returned to showcase an older Indiana Jones in more of a pulpy B-movie type of story, bringing in a sword-wielding Cate Blanchett and Shia La Beouf, fresh off of his “Transformers” breakthrough to add starpower to the cast. The film never found the kind of widespread audience approval that the first and third entries had, though, and what seemed like a plan to turn the franchise over to LaBeouf was met with strong resistance from many fans, as was the film’s oddly science fiction storyline. Now “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is the kind of film so hated by some that it frequently comes up in “worst film ever” conversations.
So, 10 years later, here we are with a fifth film announced to be in the works. The good folks over at Disney have pushed it back a year already and as of now the film is slated for release in the summer of 2020. I submit, however, that we’d be better off without it. Spielberg’s trilogy was successful at a time when Indiana Jones was a unique character, the likes of which had never been seen on screen before. Since then we have been spoiled with more fantastic treasure hunters in video games and film like Lara Croft of “Tomb Raider”, Nathan Drake of “Uncharted”, and even Nic Cage’s Benjamin Franklin Gates from the “National Treasure” trilogy. With other character options available, the idea of yet another Indiana Jones story that most likely attempts to pass the torch just isn’t very appealing, and the odds of it being a fantastic success seem very low. Disney, especially, has shown an inability to let their franchises die, and understandably so when they are such cash cows. But we’ve seen Harrison Ford as old Han Solo, old Rick Deckard, and old Indiana Jones already. It’s time to move on from the admittedly great, but now elderly, character and create new ones for us to explore, discover, and adventure alongside.
Courtney Howard (@Lulamaybelle), Freelance for Variety, FreshFiction
The “Insidious” franchise is overdue for a mercy killing. In less than eight years, it went from one of the scariest series to one of the silliest. The most recent film, “Insidious: The Last Key,” had a villain named Keyface. Key. Face. That’s a reach if I’ve ever heard one. The original 2008 film was a legitimate nightmare factory in which director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell brought an innovative vision to fantastical frights, tackling everything from debilitating parental fears, to earned jump scares involving malevolent spirits lurking in the shadows, spooky sounds on a baby monitor, and demons haunting in the daylight.
However, it’s been a rapid decline since. “Insidious: Chapter 2” was camp compared to the first, since the filmmakers’ kitchen-sink approach to scares didn’t lend itself to subsequent sequels. “Insidious: Chapter 3” forgot to add anything scary or memorable – ironic since the only memorable thing about it was that it wasn’t scary. And the aforementioned fourth entry not only had a terrible villain, but was also casually misogynist to boot. Listen, the cash cow the studio thinks it has is actually a badly beaten, dead horse – and it’s time to bury its rotting corpse.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today
This is difficult for me to write, since I am a lifelong fan of the James Bond series, but I think it’s time to put this one to bed. Original author Ian Fleming’s first book, “Casino Royale,” came out in 1953, and the first feature-length movie, “Dr. No,” in 1962. Both novels and films originated not only in Cold War fears and hysteria, but also in British post-colonial (or not so “post”) ideologies about race, gender and class. As such, they are relics of their time, often fascinating and (guiltily) fun, but difficult to adapt well to changing attitudes.
I once taught a course on the series, which stands as a wonderful example of shifting aesthetics and mores from its inception to the present, so I see the value in continuing to make additional movies in perpetuity, allowing future generations this great document of the evolution of the human race. Still, at some point one has to ask if it’s worth doing so, given 007’s inescapable DNA that seems to replicate similar plots and sexual politics, ad nauseum, no matter who incarnates the super spy. Would a black Bond make any difference? There have certainly been deserving calls for an actor like Idris Elba to step in, and this would bring a breath of fresh air, for sure. Or perhaps a female Bond? Even better! Those changes are so radical, however, that wouldn’t it be better to just kill Bond off and start anew? Bring on 008 and 009, and let’s be done with it.
Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet), SlashFilm, Shadow and Act, Mediaversity Reviews
As an OG “Jurassic Park” book and film fan, I absolutely abhor the new “Jurassic World” franchise. My particular irritation is with Colin Trevorrow, who seems to think his “Jurassic World” scripts are much cleverer than they actually are. The first one referenced “Jurassic Park” too much, and the second one had the nerve to literally kill off the park and its animals just to throw us into a “Planet of the Apes” reboot plot, complete with Blue pulling a Caesar and retreating into the forest. Are we to expect the animals to develop speech and a society in the third film, setting up a “War for the Planet of the Apes” battle? I sincerely hope not.
At the very least, I hope we can all admit that an advocacy organization for saving the dinosaurs is the worst usage of volunteer time possible. Ian Malcolm was right; the island was trying to right the wrongs the humans had created, and yet somehow this was presented as a problem we should all care about. There’s a lot more I could say about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” especially, since the film had such strange comedic beats and a hybrid dinosaur who only seemed created to possibly sell toys. But the short of it is that this franchise needs to go extinct with its dino kin.
Caroline Tsai (@carolinetsai3), The Harvard Crimson
Potentially unpopular opinion: The Marvel franchise has outlived its sell-by date by a long shot. Admittedly, the superhero action flick is a useful formula where equal representation is concerned, often long overdue. Films like “Black Panther” and the forthcoming “Captain Marvel” are or will be landmark movies for underrepresented minorities, proving that it’s not just the Robert Downey, Jr.’s and Chris Hemsworth’s of the world who can don a Lycra costume and wield a shiny weapon. But beyond that, Marvel films are not much more than an obvious cash-grab by a major studio, hinging on formulaic plots and computer-generated bells and whistles. I’ll reserve a little judgement for Brie Larson, whose performance in “Captain Marvel” might bolster faith in a tired-out convention. Until then, the franchise has much to be desired.
Joanna Langfield (@Joannalangfield), The Movie Minute
“Pirates of the Caribbean”. As much fun as the original was, that’s how much of a drag these churn-em-out sequels are. Take advantage of fans’ good will and, eventually, they will not only stay home for these films, but others, too. Give them something a little more special and they’ll show up. Maybe even on opening weekend!
Edward Douglas (@EDouglasWW), The Weekend Warrior, NextBestPicture.com
I’m sure everyone’s going to say this but the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise made Johnny Depp a household name and then just kept going as Depp’s star power began to crash and burn to the ground. The very first movie was great, because it was a nice surprise that Gore Verbinski and Depp could do something so interesting with a theme park ride, but the two sequels already had problems, and by the time Rob Marshall took over with the fourth movie, it was obvious that Depp flouncing around as Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t enough to maintain a franchise. And now there’s news that Disney are trying to reboot this franchise with the writers of “Deadpool” (and you just know this one won’t be R-rated either) so yeah, hopefully someone will wise up before too much money is spent to revive a franchise that shouldn’t have even lasted as long as it did.
Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM), Solzy at the Movies/Freelance
The obvious answer would be to cancel the DC Extended Universe and put it out of its misery–aside from “Wonder Woman,” which is the only good thing to come out of the DCEU so far.
In all seriousness though, “Pirates of the Caribbean” needs to come to an end once and for all. I had hoped we had seen the end of the franchise but recent reports suggest that Disney is looking to reboot the franchise. The latest attempt will come from a pair of “Deadpool” writers, but even then, it won’t be enough to save a franchise that saw its 2017 release perform worse than the 2011 release. Disney would have been wise to stop with the first three films but instead went for a fourth film and really under-performed with a fifth installment in 2017. Even on Depp’s star-power alone, Sir Paul McCartney’s cameo alone wasn’t enough to save this film.
If I could pick another franchise, it would be “Harry Potter.” When you’re a closeted trans girl in high school and forced to dress up as Harry Potter, you quickly get turned off by the franchise, be it books or movies.
Clint Worthington (@alcohollywood), Consequence of Sound, Alcohollywood
Much like its titular skeletal robot with a suspiciously Austrian accent, the “Terminator” franchise just keeps zapping back into our timeline when we thought we’d finally gotten rid of it. Which is surprising, given that literally none of the entries in this franchise have been good since before Bill Clinton was president. The first Cameron film worked because its premise was so stripped-down and straightforward: what if an unstoppable robot came from the future to stop you from giving birth to their future defeat? Miraculously, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” managed to up the ante by raising the stakes to an appropriate level, turning the first film’s villain into a hero, and bringing all of Cameron’s immense knowledge of action filmmaking to bear. At first, we left well enough alone – then they tried to go back to the well with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”, a lazy rehash of “T2” only mildly redeemed by the oh-so-ballsy twist that John Connor didn’t, in fact, stave off the apocalypse (and a deleted scene that hilariously explains why the T-800 looks and sounds like he does).
Each “Terminator” property since has bounced helter-skelter between ambitiously flawed departures (McG’s all-future “Terminator: Salvation”, which took itself too seriously) and cynical, confusing anniversary porn (“Terminator: Genisys”? Gynysys?), with a few redeeming moments to be found in the short-lived TV series “Sarah Connor Chronicles”, which tried ballsy stuff like a time-jump to the modern day. Sure, the prospect of Tim Muller’s upcoming “Terminator” sequel, featuring series lead Linda Hamilton returning in full warrior-grandma mode alongside Arnie and Mackenzie Davis, is an exciting one. But we were just here with “Halloween”, and how well did that go, really?
I say give the franchise this last hurrah and let Linda Hamilton hulk out in aviator shades and a tank top like the utter badass she is, then leave Skynet in the past where it so desperately wants to travel. After all, there is no franchise but what we make.
Kristen Lopez (@Journeys_Film), Culturess, Forbes.com, The Young Folks
This might be a controversial statement but I’m gonna say Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story.” I’m a HUGE fan of all three “Toy Story” features. The last one was released in 2010, right as I was transitioning into graduate school and finally realizing it was time for me to a proper Adult, so watching Andy’s journey come to a close held a lot of resonance for me. It was a proper send-off, watching him gift his toys to another little girl. Yes, spin-offs were a possibility – as seen in the various short films that came out afterwards – but we were all ready to say goodbye to these characters theatrically. Then they announced Toy Story 4. Disney’s never been shy about milking a dry udder, and even before “Toy Story 3” came out they were trying to find ways to continue the characters’ lives, but the world is different now. Hell, even Pixar, once perceived as the untouchable studio whose every movie was gold and the face of their company an unimpeachable figure. “Toy Story 4” seems like a cashgrab, no different than “Monsters University,” a story that doesn’t need to continue. I’m ready to consign Buzz and Woody back to the toy chest.
Karen M. Peterson (@KarenMPeterson), AwardsCircuit.com, Citizen Dame
Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bay F
It’s time for the “Transformers” to end. They were clever action figures and a fun cartoon in the 80s, but five films deep into Michael Bay’s world of Autobots and Decepticons and the story has devolved into mind-numbing banality. Yes, this is a silly series and was never intended to be Serious Art. But they have run their course and more. And now, instead of sequels, the series moves ahead with the “Bumblebee” prequel hitting theaters in a few weeks. Bumblebee is probably the most loved character from the films, but origin stories that aren’t even origin stories are the mark of a franchise that is out of ideas and hoping to coast on the dollars of boys that just like to watch things explode. Give audiences something fresh and new instead.
Joel Mayward (@joelmayward) Cinemayward.com, Freelance
While I try to celebrate the true, the good, and the beautiful wherever I find it (cinema and otherwise), sometimes that also means decrying the deceptive, the bad, and the ugly. The franchise that should have ended before the second film was ever produced–and looks like it could be finally over, depending on the success of this year’s “Bumblebee”–is the “Transformers” series.
One of the worst in-theater experiences I’ve ever had was sitting through the entirety of “Revenge of the Fallen,” which subjected us to multiple dog-humping jokes and giant Transformer testicles in its 150-minute running time (remember the recent critic survey about movies being too long? This one certainly was.). Inane, crass, and with an ethos of misogyny and racism, Michael Bay’s cinematic marketing scheme franchise somehow made a lot of money without ever making a good film. The series sold audiences on the mindless spectacle of Bayhem, which distracted them from its underlying ideologies promoting consumerism, militarism, jingoism, and us-vs-them thinking. In a way, the ongoing success of the “Transformers” franchise was a cinematic barometer for all that is presently wrong with America. We should have seen the warning signs.
Daniel Joyaux (@thirdmanmovies), Freelance Contributor for Vanity Fair, The Verge, MovieMaker Magazine
I have a somewhat contrarian answer to the question of which movie franchise should be put to death for good: None of them. Not a single one. To be sure, many once-great (or never-even-good) franchises have been handled terribly in their most recent outing(s), and I’d certainly be in favor of some sort of mandatory “new idea” waiting period after an awful movie. That’s the big problem with the DC movies; it’s not that they’re making bad movies, but rather that DC is making them so rapidly, leading to all of their movies being bad in the same way, for the same easily fixable reasons.
But to wish for a franchise to be put down “once and for all” is to believe that there are hugely popular characters out there for whom there are simply no good ideas left, and I wholly reject that notion. Look, I’ve never seen a “Resident Evil” movie or an “Underworld” movie and I don’t have any plans to change that. But do you know what might make me want to see one in the future? If an amazing filmmaker like Jeremy Saulnier or Ari Aster decides he wants to make one. And if that happens–if Jeremy Saulnier decides he wants to make a “Resident Evil” movie and he comes up with a great idea for one–then I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him that, Sorry, a group of taste fascists had already decreed there shall be no more “Resident Evil” movies, once and for all.
I grew up on comics, and one of the eternal truths of the comic industry is that no matter how stale a character or group of characters may feel at any given time, a great new idea is always around the corner. You just have to find the person who has it and then let them do their thing. Movie franchises are no different. I never want to think about “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” ever again. I feel physically ill just typing out that title. But I also have no doubt that, at some point in my lifetime, a new, great Indiana Jones movie will open in theaters (or possibly stream directly into our brains), and I will utterly love it.