My relationship with movie franchises seems to get weirder, even self-contradictory, as time goes on. I’m not opposed on principle to sequels, or reboots/remakes for that matter. My feelings about franchises in particular varies from one series to the next. Some franchises are so deeply entrenched in my good graces, or are simply respecting unique/minimal expectations, it’s almost impossible for me to get sick of them. Others have a much shorter lifespan.
I’ll just say I don’t mind revisiting characters and worlds I like every couple of years. I’ve gathered together 7 movie franchises I like to the point where every single chapter has some sort of entertainment (or deeper) value to me. Yes, every single one. That gets severely tested with some of these franchises.
Some of the franchises for this ranked list have been ranked in greater detail by me, but most haven’t. If we’re all really lucky, I’ll get to those someday.
7. The Howling (1981-2011)
Number of entries: 8
Seriously? You like all of them? I do, although the whole purpose of this month’s column does run into a little trouble 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 substantial, but generally you’re veering between low budget efforts you can at least admire for ambition, or stuff that sits firmly in the so-bad-it’s-good category.
The Howling series as a whole currently sits in developmental hell. There was a sequel/reboot in 2011, which I watched just 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 couple of years.
Favorite entries: The first one is directed by Joe Dante, so look for his profound appreciation for what makes these sorts of films work, combined with his sense of humor and enthusiasm. Include performances by Dee Wallace and several genre legends, and it’s a good time.
Beyond that, when we start dealing with the endlessly bizarre 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 need to see any other movie ever to “enjoy” The Freaks.
Hardest one to enjoy: III and IV are pretty damn bad, but nothing comes close to the completely and unfortunately forgettable 2011 reboot.
6. Phantasm (1979-2016)
Number of entries: 5
Seriously? All of them? All of these justify a marathon for one or several reasons. Five entries is pretty good for a series that wasn’t afraid to get seriously weird with its plots, to the point of only casting half-a-glance at things like continuity. That can make for a disconcerting viewing experience for some, but I don’t mind.
It’s not looking good for Phantasm 6 either. With the death of star Angus Scrimm, and given the advancing ages of the rest of the cast, that’s probably for the best. Ravager ends this franchise on a beautiful, odd, and uniquely defiant note. It’s a story about friendship of all things.
Favorite entries: I know the relatively big budget 1988 Phantasm II isn’t a favorite among fans, but the one-two punch of that with the first film is something nostalgic that I just can’t say no to.
Hardest one to enjoy: III is arguably the shakiest of the series. The various threads and characters don’t quite connect to the convoluted plot, but it’s more often than not a lot of fun anyway. Even the Home Alone-themed shenanigans.
5. Universal Classic Monsters Franchise
Number of entries: The number of Universal Classic Monsters movies can vary, depending upon which eras and films you include, but many fans seem to agree the definitive classic era runs across 41 movies from 1931 with the English and Spanish Dracula films to 1956 with The Creature Walks Among Us.
Seriously? All of them? Yeah. Some of them are a little harder to remember offhand than others, but this will keep you busy and mostly entertained if you want to do something wild this year.
You could say the Universal Classic Monsters era formally came to an end in 2023 with the death of the Creature actor, the great Ricou Browning. These are some of the most iconic movies ever made. Their visuals alone still connect them to modern audiences. Reboot/reimagining efforts from Universal have been mixed to say the least. Nothing will ever hit like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff though, and that’s okay.
Favorite entries: We could be here all day on the best Universal Classic Monsters movies, so I’ll be quick and just say cinematic entertainment doesn’t get much better for me than Bride of Frankenstein, Lugosi in Dracula, or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Hardest one to enjoy: As pretentious as it is ludicrous and somehow also drab, the stunning failure of the 2017 Tom Cruise vehicle The Mummy brought to an end Universal’s awful-sounding Dark Universe franchise plans. The upcoming 2023 Renfield with Nicholas Hoult and Nicolas Cage as Dracula is allegedly going to reboot the Dracula series. Maybe more.
4. The Exorcist (1973-Present)
Number of entries: 5 are currently available. A direct sequel to the 1973 original from Halloween 2018 trilogy director David Gordon Green is scheduled for an October 2023 release. Two further sequels to that film will follow, presumably if the former is a hit. There’s also 2 seasons of a TV show, but we’re technically not including that in this discussion.
Seriously? All of them? While The Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the most infamous sequels ever made, it’s still a movie I would say entertains me. Sometimes that’s in simple wonderment over the choices everyone involved made, but that’s always better than being bored, so yes, I like them all.
Favorite entries: I’ve ranked the Exorcist franchise before, and that ranking holds up today, but I’ll say again that The Exorcist III is not only my personal favorite in the series, but one of the best horror films ever made, period.
Hardest one to enjoy: I’m tempted to be a jerk and say the upcoming 2023 film from David Gordon Green, as I mostly disliked his Halloween efforts, but we’ll stick with what’s actually out and say the 2004 Renny Harlin version of the prequel movie (the 2005 original version by Paul Schrader is better) is the dullest of the set.
3. Alien (1979-Present)
Number of entries: 6. We’re not counting the Alien vs Predator movies or the upcoming TV series. That leaves the four films of the original series run centering on Ellen Ripley, and two movies for Ridley Scott’s probably-unfinished prequel trilogy.
Seriously? All of them?Covenant is kind of a bummer, but I even love Alien Resurrection and Alien 3, two movies that are at best divisive among fans of this series. I have virtually no issues with either. The overall story arc of Ripley is compelling to me, and it’s four banger performances from national treasure Sigourney Weaver. Every entry has either a unique take, one or more good performances, some great visuals and production design, or all of these qualities.
Favorite entries: I don’t think anything will ever top the claustrophobia and pacing of 1979’s seminal classic Alien, but I’m rarely bored with these movies. You can put on any of them and I’ll be pretty happy.
Hardest one to enjoy: I think we all know the answer to this is Alien: Covenant. It’s not a complete wash for me, but this is mostly a less-interesting retread of Prometheus.
2. Child’s Play (1988-Present)
Number of entries: 8. We’ve got the 7 movies of the original series, which now lives on in the form of the absolutely brilliant TV series Chucky. There’s also a remake, which a lot of people have seemingly decided to pretend didn’t happen.
Seriously? All of them? Oh, you bet your Good Guy sneakers I do. I’ve ranked the Child’s Play franchise before, but this is one of the few franchises where I do not have to make any effort whatsoever to enjoy whichever Child’s Play movie you decide to throw on. Every last one of these movies is fun, creative, hilarious, and shockingly dark in all the right places. I even like the remake quite a bit, for what it is.
Favorite entries: Again, I’ll watch any of these at the drop of a hat, but the best ones for me are Child’s Play 2, Cult of Chucky, and of course the intensely satisfying 1988 original.
Hardest one to enjoy: While I do like it a lot, the 2019 remake is easily the only one of these that you could erase from the universe, and it wouldn’t bother me too terribly much.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
Number of entries: 9. One of these films is Freddy vs. Jason. I am counting that movie, and not the Alien vs. Predator series earlier for Alien, because FvJ seems to share some of continuity (such as it is) with the mainline A Nightmare on Elm Street series.
Seriously? All of them? Nothing reasonable about this. Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced me to horror and made me a lifelong fan. No other film series has had that kind of impact on my life, and no other film series top to bottom feels like comfort food to me. Some of these are a little harder to like than others, but there is not a completely terrible entry in the bunch. Yes, that includes the remake.
Who knows if we’ll ever get more. It seems inevitable, and there are rumblings of new activity on such an idea every once in a while, but no one has gone near the Son of 100 Maniacs since 2010.
Favorite entries: Another series I’ve ranked in the past, the Wes Craven original A Nightmare on Elm Street is naturally the best of the bunch by a pretty wide margin. However, if I’m choosing the entertainment for the evening, running parts 3 through 5 represents a largely agreeable trilogy of basically connected stories.
Hardest one to enjoy: Once again, we’re picking on the remake. I’ve actually made an argument for the 2010 misfire’s better qualities (no, really) in a past Make the Case. Nonetheless, if I’m going to watch this whole series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010 is the one I’ll briefly consider skipping.
But I won’t. Because it’s Freddy. It’s a little silly.
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