Who are the Long Runners?
Last month, during the Christmas spending frenzy, I alerted my sister to a prospective birthday present for her husband. My brother-in-law (Happy Birthday, Will!), is a James Bond fan, and during one of their Christmas blowout sales, Amazon was offering a Blu-Ray box set of the entire Bond franchise for a great price. This was almost exactly the same set (including the packaging) that was released last year except this time it included the most recent Bond film, Skyfall. Amusingly, the previous set was also still available, but was not on sale, which meant on that day you would have paid an additional $75 to not have the most recent film in the series. You’ve gotta REALLY hate Skyfall to do that.
This did get me to thinking, though. Bond has appeared in 23 canonical films, plus two other non-official movies (including the original version of Casino Royale which I’ve never seen but which, according to my mother, was bad enough to convince her not to watch another Bond film for over two decades). That’s a pretty long run. But is it the longest run? I’m going to try to answer that question – what is the longest-running (in terms of the number of installments) franchise in movie history?
Now I’m not going to count things like the endless remakes of A Christmas Carol or The Wizard of Oz, none of which have anything to do with each other. No, a true franchise has to have some sort of official nature to it – the same copyright holder, the same producer, the same continuity, or some scrambled combination thereof. So who are the true long runners?
Action movies are the obvious place to start. Die Hard is at five and Rocky made it to six movies, but that’s amateur hour compared to Bond. Not counting old serials or direct-to-DVD animated films, we’ve had six Superman movies (four with Christopher Reeve, one Brandon Routh and one Henry Cavill so far) and eight Batman (one Adam West, two Michael Keaton, one each for Kilmer and Clooney and the Dark Knight Trilogy featuring Christian Bale). However, I think one could convincingly argue that these are different continuities, and therefor different franchises. In fact, Man of Steel is supposed to be the launch point for a DC Cinematic Universe, which will hopefully be a franchise of its own.
Since we’re talking about the cinematic universes, though, let’s look at Marvel. They’ve had seven movies so far (Iron Man, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World), and with the intention of adding two more a year (including scheduled 2014 releases Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy), they could theoretically pass Bond by 2021 or so, depending on how many more Bond movies are made in the interim. Of the other Marvel franchises, those not part of the MCU, the only one close is the X-Men, with six films so far (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine) and a seventh (X-Men: Days of Future Past) coming out this year.
Again, none of this is getting close to Bond territory. Let’s move on to the world of science fiction. Star Wars has had seven theatrical releases (people often forget, perhaps deliberately, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie that preceded the cartoon show), plus two made-for-TV Ewok movies and the staggeringly bad Star Wars Holiday Special. I think we can agree not to count those. Depending on how we want to count the two big 20th Century Fox sci-fi franchises, we may have a winner. Four Alien movies, plus two Alien Vs. Predator movies, plus the Prometheus prequel equals seven. We could theoretically add the three Predator movies as well, though, if we want to count them all as the same continuity. That’s ten. But not so fast! Star Trek moves into the second-highest spot compared to Bond with 12 movies – six featuring the original cast, four with the Next Generation crew and two from the most recent reboot. Still, twelve compared to 23? We can do better than that.
How about horror? Horror franchises go a long way, and now that we’ve reached a point of remaking the originals and making sequels to the remakes, it could go even further. Freddy Krueger starred in six solo films, a film in which he battled Jason Voorhees, and a weak-sauce remake. Not good enough. Jason? He had ten solo movies, the versus film and an adequate remake – twelve. Tied with Star Trek. How about Halloween? Without debating the relative merits of any of those movies, and even if we include the Michael Meyer-less Halloween III and the remake and its sequel, we’re still only at ten. Can nobody approach Bond? Nobody?
Wait a minute, though… we’re forgetting somebody. We’re forgetting somebody big. We’re forgetting somebody really big.
We’re forgetting Godzilla.
The King of the Monsters has appeared in three different series of Japanese films, all of which technically have different continuities, but can easily be considered part of the same franchise. The original Godzilla movie was released in 1954, and for the next 21 years the films followed a continuity in which he slowly evolved from an enormous monster to a sort of giant superhero that protected Japan from other enormous monsters. This era, the “Shōwa” period, included fifteen movies all on its own. It’s already taken the number-two spot from Star Trek.
Godzilla returned in 1984 with The Return of Godzilla, which ignored all of the movies after the original and was more sci-fi oriented, digging into the genetic nature of the creature and even giving him an origin. This franchise, known as the Heisei series, lasted for six more films bringing us up to 22, just one short of Bond.
But we’re not done yet. Beginning in 1999 we got a series of six movies, collectively known as the “Millennium Series,” which were mostly-self contained. There was little actual continuity between the films, and even Godzilla’s height tended to vary wildly from movie to movie. Still, the films went on until 2004, ending with 28 movies in the “official” Godzilla franchise.
And this is not counting any of the American Godzilla films, which include the 1956 Godzilla: King of the Monsters (made largely from cutting scenes from the original Japanese film with scenes of Raymond Burr reporting on the attacks), the incredibly bad 1998 Roland Emmerich remake (which was actually mocked in one of the installments of the Millennium series), or the upcoming Godzilla film directed by Gareth Edwards, scheduled for release this May, which I’m actually really excited about.
So depending on how you want to count it, Godzilla has racked up either 28 or 31 movies, and even more if you start counting his enemies and allies who went on to star in spin-off films of their own. So there you have it, my friends. Godzilla is not only king of the monsters, but the king of the movie franchise as well.
Hmm? The official Disney Animated Canon, which is up to 53 films so far, and which tends to add a new movie every year? Including this year’s Big Hero 6, which is also coincidentally based on a Marvel comic, but is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The franchise which gave us the Disney princesses, Winnie-the-Pooh, Wreck-It-Ralph, and the unforgettable drama of Home on the Range? And even though most of them are not, technically, in continuity with one another, they are considered a single collection by fans and cinemaphiles alike?
Geez, could Godzilla really be toppled by a mouse?
Aw, I’ll let you guys fight it out.
Posted on January 21, 2014, in Geek Punditry and tagged A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, DC Cinematic Universe, Disney, Friday the 13th, Godzilla, Halloween, James Bond, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Predator, Star Trek, Star Wars. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.