My relationship with film franchises seems increasingly strange, even contradictory as time goes on. I’m generally not against sequels or reboots/remakes for that matter. My feelings about the franchises in particular vary from one series to the next. Some franchises are so deeply ingrained in my affections, or simply respect unique/minimum expectations, that it’s nearly impossible to get sick of them. Others have much shorter lives.
I’ll just say that I don’t mind revisiting characters and worlds I like every couple of years. I’ve rounded up 7 movie franchises that I love to the point where every single chapter has some sort of entertainment (or deeper) value to me. Yes, every single one. This has been severely tested with some of these franchises.
Some of the franchises for this ranked list are ranked in more detail than I am, but most are not. If we’re all really lucky, I’ll get to them someday.
7. The Howling (1981-2011)
Number of entries: 8
Seriously? Do you like all of them? Yes, although the whole point of this month’s column is running into small problems as we try to justify an 8 movie strong low budget werewolf franchise. The Howling began in 1981 with an early hit for the legendary Joe Dante. The drop in quality from number one is significant, but generally you’re teetering between low-budget efforts that you can at least admire for ambition, or things that sit firmly in the so-bad-it’s-good category.
The Howling series as a whole is currently in development hell. There was a sequel/reboot in 2011 that I watched the other day before writing this. I didn’t even know it existed, which should tell you how successful it was. We haven’t had an update on a new Howling movie in a few years.
Favorite Records: The former is directed by Joe Dante, so look for his deep appreciation for what makes these kinds of films work, combined with his sense of humor and enthusiasm. Throw in performances by Dee Wallace and a few genre legends and it’s a good time.
Also, when we get into the endlessly weird sequels, I have to recommend Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (with Christopher Lee and Blast Hardcheese) and Howling VI: The Freaks. Good news, you don’t have to watch another movie to “enjoy” The Freaks.
The hardest to enjoy: III and IV are bad as hell, but nothing comes close to the completely and sadly forgettable 2011 reboot.
6. Phantasm (1979-2016)
Number of entries: 5
Seriously? All of them? All of them justify the marathon for one or more reasons. Five entries is pretty good for a series that isn’t afraid to get seriously weird with its plots, to the point of only half glancing at things like continuity. This may make for a jarring viewing experience for some, but I don’t mind.
It’s not looking good for Phantasm 6 either. With the death of star Angus Scream, and given the aging of the rest of the cast, it’s probably for the best. Ravager ends this franchise on a beautiful, strange and uniquely challenging note. This is a story about the friendship of all things.
Favorite Records: I know 1988’s relatively big budget Phantasm II isn’t a fan favorite, but a one-two punch of that with the first film is something nostalgic I just can’t say no to.
The hardest to enjoy: III is perhaps the most wobbly of the series. The various threads and characters don’t quite connect to the convoluted plot, but it’s still mostly a lot of fun. Even the Home Alone shenanigans.
5. Universal Classic Monsters franchise
Number of entries: The number of Universal Classic Monsters films can vary depending on the eras and films you include, but many fans seem to agree that the definitive classic era spans 41 films from 1931 with the English and Spanish Dracula films to 1956 with The Creature Walks Among Us.
Seriously? All of them? yes Some of them are a little harder to memorize on the fly than others, but this will keep you occupied and mostly entertained if you want to do something wild this year.
You could say that the era of Universal Classic Monsters officially ended in 2023 with the death of Creature actor, the great Riku Browning. These are some of the most iconic movies ever made. Only their visuals still connect them to modern audiences. Universal’s reboot/reimagining efforts have been mixed, to say the least. Still, nothing will hit like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff, and that’s fine.
Favorite Records: We could be here all day with the best of Universal’s classic monster movies, so I’ll be quick and just say that cinematic entertainment doesn’t come much better for me than Bride of Frankenstein, Lugosi in Dracula, or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The hardest to enjoy: As pretentious, as absurd, and somehow as gray, the stunning failure of Tom Cruise’s 2017 vehicle The Mummy put an end to Universal’s dire-sounding plans for a Dark Universe franchise. The upcoming 2023 Renfield starring Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage as Dracula is supposed to reboot the Dracula franchise. Maybe more.
4. The Exorcist (1973-present)
Number of entries: 5 are currently available. The direct sequel to the 1973 original from 2018 Halloween trilogy director David Gordon Green is slated for release in October 2023. Two more sequels to this film will follow, possibly if the first is a hit. There are also 2 seasons of a TV show, but technically we’re not including that in this discussion.
Seriously? All of them? While The Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the most outrageous sequels ever made, it’s still a movie I’d say I enjoyed. Sometimes it’s just marveling at the choices made by everyone involved, but that’s always better than being bored, so yeah, I like them all.
Favorite Records: I’ve ranked the Exorcist franchise before and that ranking still stands today, but I’ll say it again that The Exorcist III is not only my personal favorite of the series, but one of the best horror movies ever made, period.
The hardest to enjoy: I’m tempted to be a fool and say David Gordon Green’s upcoming 2023 film, since I mostly disliked his Halloween effort, but we’ll stick with what’s actually coming out and say Renny Harlin’s 2004 version yr of the film’s prequel (2005, the original version by Paul Schrader is better) is the dullest of the bunch.
3. Alien (1979-present)
Number of entries: 6. Not counting the Alien vs Predator movies or the upcoming TV series. That leaves the four films of the original series centered on Ellen Ripley, and two films for Ridley Scott’s presumably unfinished trilogy.
Seriously? All of them? Covenant is kind of a bummer, but I even like Alien Resurrection and Alien 3, two films that are at best divisive among fans of the series. In practice, I have no problems with either. Ripley’s overall story arc is fascinating to me, and these are four great performances from national treasure Sigourney Weaver. Each entry has either a unique take, one or more good performances, some great visuals and production design, or all of these qualities.
Favorite Records: I don’t think anything will ever top the claustrophobia and pacing of the seminal 1979 classic The Alien, but I rarely tire of those movies. You can put any of them and I will be very happy.
The hardest to enjoy: I think we all know the answer to that is Alien: Covenant. It’s not a complete wash for me, but it’s mostly a less interesting regenerated Prometheus protector.
2. Child’s Play (1988-present)
Number of entries: 8. We have 7 films from the original series, which now lives on in the form of the absolutely brilliant Chucky TV series. There’s also a remake that many people seem to have decided to pretend didn’t happen.
Seriously? All of them? Oh, you can bet your sneakers Good Guy I do. I’ve ranked the Child’s Play franchise before, but this is one of the few franchises where I don’t have to go out of my way to enjoy whatever Child’s Play movie you decide to include. Every single one of these movies is funny, creative, hilarious, and shockingly dark in all the right places. I even really like the remake as it is.
Favorite Records: Again, I’ll watch any of them in a heartbeat, but the best for me are Child’s Play 2, Cult of Chucky, and of course the immensely satisfying 1988 original.
The hardest to enjoy: While I like it a lot, the 2019 remake is easily the only one of these that you can delete from the universe and it wouldn’t bother me too much.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
Number of entries: 9. One of those movies is Freddy vs. Jason. I in the morning counting this movie and not the Alien vs. Predator earlier for Alien because FvJ seems to share some continuity (such as it is) with the main A Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Seriously? All of them? Nothing reasonable about it. Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced me to horror and made me a lifelong fan. No other film series has had such an impact on my life, and no other film series from top to bottom feels like comfort food to me. Some of them are a little harder to like than others, but there isn’t a completely terrible entry in the group. Yes, that includes the remake.
Who knows if we’ll ever get more. It seems inevitable, and there are occasional rumblings of a new activity on a similar idea, but no one has come close to Son of 100 Nerds since 2010.
Favorite Records: Another series I’ve ranked in the past, Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street is naturally the best of the bunch by a pretty wide margin. However, if I’m picking the evening’s entertainment, the execution of parts 3 to 5 is a largely enjoyable trilogy of mostly connected stories.
The hardest to enjoy: We’re betting on the remake again. I actually made an argument for the better qualities of the 2010 misfire (no, really) in a past Make the Case. However, if I were to watch this entire series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is the one I would briefly consider skipping.
But I will not do it. Because it’s Freddy. It’s a bit silly.
READ THE FOLLOWING: Ranking the films of Disney’s Renaissance era from worst to best
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