Kicking off our franchise kings list, is an actor that has one of the best records for creating or being part of enjoyable and enduring franchises like no other. Many of his 'solo' efforts have also achieved cult status, some for good reasons and some not so much, but if ever you wanted to see a 'poster boy' for franchise supremacy, Sly is definitely one of the top kings.
Born in 1976, the Rocky franchise was the first of Stallone's franchises and is arguably the most popular of them all. It tells the story of Rocky Balboa a.k.a. The Italian Stallion, a small town boxer, part time debt collector who lives in the slums of Philadelphia. Through a chain of events, Rocky finds himself in a position to fight for the heavyweight title of the world and what follows is the tale of an underdog fighting in both the ring and in life to make something better of himself. Made for $1,000,000 and written by Stallone himself, Rocky went on to gross $225,000,000 at the box office and also went on to win 3 Oscars, including the Best Film category. The film spawned miss-and-hit sequels in the forms of Rocky II, III, IV, V and Rocky Balboa and then became a spin-off franchise in the form of Creed. Creed has also birthed a sequel and looks like it may bare the same fruit as Rocky.
Based on the 1972 novel First Blood by David Morrell, John J. Rambo is a former Special Forces Green Beret, who has returned to America to no fanfare or any general 'welcome home'. In fact, Rambo and other U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam have returned to the very opposite and with this vilification coupled with PTS, John has been led into hard times. In not being able to adjust to civilian life, Rambo turns nomad and travels the U.S. looking for his Vietnam buddies. However it is revealed early on in the first film First Blood (1982 ) that the war for some of the soldiers that did return home still goes on, as his first find leads to the notification of a comrades death, courtesy of agent orange. In looking for a diner in a small town, Rambo is approached by a sheriff who takes an instant disliking to him and tries to make sure he steers clear of his small peaceful town. After being personally escorted to the town's outer limits by the sheriff, a peacefully defiant Rambo, turns right back around and heads straight back into the town where he is eventually arrested by the same sheriff. Treated unfairly and harshly within the police station, the combined actions of the sheriffs, lead to Rambo having a Vietnam prison-camp torture flashback and he is triggered into survival mode. Taking out all the sheriffs (not fatally) and fleeing, he sets off into effect one hell of a manhunt, where the odds are actually in his favour because he is that much of a badass. All the Rambo films have something to say about the consequences of war, war crimes and politics, but none of them dwell on the facts or are too preachy. First Blood cost $15,000,000 to make and grossed $125,000,000. It spawned Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, John Rambo and Last Blood which is in post-production.
The Dirty Dozen movies were a popular form of action drama in their hayday and the formula has been copied many times for cinema and TV. And so in the premise of an ensemble cast being put together, from bonafide action stars, the idea of The Expendables was a major selling point, even before the movie was made. To this day, the casting choices and speculation for each approaching sequel probably remains more important than the story itself, as admittedly, off the top of my head, I can only really remember the story for The Expendables III, but I can remember which action stars were in each movie. In The Expendables franchise, we would come to see some of the biggest, mainstream, cult and underground action stars of the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and present day, all come together to be both a force of evil and good and duke it out amongst themselves. These major action star mash-ups have now spawned countless worldwide wishlists of action heroes people would like to see mixing it up and are they are still being drafted today - including an all female proposition. The Expendables was made for $80,000,000 and grossed $274,500,000, leading to Expendables 2, 3 and a 4th that is in pre-production.
Ray Breslin is a top security expert who exposes the flaws of supposed top secure facilities. He does this by being genuinely incarcerated and then breaking out from them. In his toughest assignment, he is double-crossed and left inside the most dangerous, formidable incarceration unit in the known world and has to use every skill he has acquired. Where as the first Escape Plan came out to good reviews and grossed $137,300,000 against its $54,000,000 budget, Escape Plan 2: Hades came out to poor reviews and an abysmal box office. Costing $20,000,000 to make, the sequel only grossed $16,000,000 and went straight to DVD. Escape Plan 3: The Devil's Station was already in pre-production when the second was being filmed and so it's interesting to see where they will go.
LEGACY: When audiences want to see your characters 38-42 years after they first arrived, you know you have created or been part of an enduring franchise. Countless imitations, pop-culture references and films that have been inspired by Rocky and Rambo in particular are too numerous to mention. But just how many films are there in existence, where we see where a lone warrior who was a military vet of some kind, with one helluva skill set come out and take out some mass of bad guys? That premise alone in characterisation is probably one of the most used in action cinema. Then with Rocky, every boxing film can't help but borrow a little something from his story, don't forget, even Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull comes after Rocky and films that came before are hardly celebrated or remembered beyond the generation that was around too see them at the time.
TDD, RC & IK talk: