How Are the Major Movie Studios Faring in the Franchise Wars?

A breakdown of the biggest movie franchises by studio.

Most Powerful Film Franchises in Hollywood
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ looks to continue the MCU’s winning streak. Courtesy Marvel

Thor: Ragnarok hits theaters on Friday, Justice League follows a few weeks later and Star Wars: The Last Jedi is right around the corner. These are all highly anticipated entries in arguably the biggest franchises in all of film, making these next few months very important for the slumping movie business. Moonlight and La La Land may be Oscar-worthy endeavors, but no studio survives on the big stage without a successful blockbuster franchise or two. That’s why you’ve seen studios snapping up IP titles like free samples in recent years.

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So in this war torn Hollywood landscape where no battle strategy is complete without at least a couple potential trilogies, which studios are flexing impressive arsenals and which are falling behind in the arms race? Here’s a look at how the big six studios are faring.


Biggest Franchise: Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
Films: 16 (not including Thor: Ragnarok)
Box Office: $11.7 billion

Credit Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige for being the first to successfully take what was on the pages of his comic books—a shared continuity with main characters from different stories interacting with one another—and applying it to the big screen. With a producer-driven model and a set formula in place, the MCU has become the most consistent and financially sustainable franchise in all of entertainment. The success of The Avengers series has trickled down to more niche properties like Ant-Man and Doctor Stranger and proven the MCU brand to be the ultimate superpower. But one lingering concern is how the franchise will continue after the fourth Avengers film, which will mark the end of most of the main cast’s tenure.

Other Franchise Assets: Lucasfim’s Star Wars is a biggie, obviously. The two installments released under the Mouse House banner have combined for more than $3 billion at the box office and The Last Jedi is going to pile on to that total. Even without the galaxy far, far away, Disney is sitting pretty with the four-quadrant gold mine that is Pixar. Overall, no studio is as well set up franchise-wise.

Warner Bros.

Biggest Franchise: Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Films: 9
Box Office: $9.5 billion

The Harry Potter series spanned eight blockbuster films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them scored $814 million worldwide and set up four planned sequels and The Cursed Child is sure to make its way from Broadway to the silver screen at some point. WB is really squeezing everything they can out of J.K Rowling’s imagination and it’s working. There are so many corners of the Wizarding World to be explored that this franchise could theoretically continue forever.

Other Franchise Assets: The DC Extended Universe has had a rocky start creatively, but has earned $3.1 billion across four films with Justice League en route. Even if the DCEU is never the preferred comic book flavor of fans, WB already has plans in place to diversify its superhero content and maximize brand potential. Elsewhere, The Conjuring franchise has proven to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck series in film and both Godzilla and Pacific Rim are getting sequels. All in all, WB is in a strong position within the market.

Universal Pictures

Biggest Franchise: The Fast and Furious
Films: 8 (and counting)
Box Office: $5.1 billion

We don’t get it either. The Fast franchise can admittedly be fun and enjoyable in an empty-headed kind of way, but one of the biggest movie series ever? How did we get here? Universal is going to ride this Vin Diesel-fueled franchise until the very end, with two more “saga” entries planned and a spinoff featuring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters getting underway soon. Regardless of our opinion of the series, we have to give credit to Universal for not only leveraging the ever-growing Chinese box office to consistently make a killing overseas, but for also competing in the franchise wars without a superhero title. Well played, Universal, well played.

Other Franchise Assets: Family-friendly animation is such a killer as evidenced by the Despicable Me franchise’s $2.7 billion take so far. The plucky Pitch Perfect series is set to end with a threequel in December after outperforming expectations. Jurassic World took full advantage of our love of nostalgia to wrangle $1.6 billion and immediately greenlight a sequel. And then there’s always the possibility that the studio’s monster movie Dark Universe gets back on track, but that’s about as likely as encountering a real Frankenstein. As long as crazy car stunts and dinosaurs remain cool, Universal is going to be just fine.

20th Century Fox

Biggest Franchise: Avatar
Films: 1 (and counting)
Box Office: $2.7 billion

Technically, Avatar isn’t yet a franchise as there’s still just one film. But that one film is the highest-grossing movie of all time, so we’ll let it slide. It’s been eight years since James Cameron took moviegoers to Pandora, which begs the question of if audiences are even still interested? FOX (FOXA) sure is hoping so as the studio is reportedly investing $1 billion into Cameron’s four sequels. We’re not sure if this is the best idea as the novelty of 3D has worn off and Avatar‘s non-visual quality was suspect. Consider this one of the biggest risks on this list.

Other Franchise Assets: The X-Men franchise now spans 10 films with nearly $5 billion at the box office to show for it. While the main franchise is growing staler by the sequel, Fox has smartly begun branching out into other genres. Deadpool was an action comedy, Logan was a neo-Western and the upcoming The New Mutants is a straight-up horror film. This breathes some new life into Fox’s superhero properties and helps to keep things fresh. Elsewhere, Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, the How to Train Your Dragon series and Ice Age have managed to stick around for years on end and Kingsman has been a solid adult-oriented hit. Fox is in a solid position, even if it’s not breaking records.

Paramount Pictures

Biggest Franchise: Transformers
Films: 5 (and counting)
Box Office: $4.3 billion

Paramount (PARA) is in trouble if Transformers continues to be its biggest franchise. Interest in the series has waned considerably, with June’s Transformers: The Last Knight falling nearly 50 percent in worldwide gross compared to 2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. Then there’s the critical reaction to consider, as the last two films in the series have failed to crack 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The studio is hoping a younger-skewing Bumblebee spinoff starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena will help to revitalize the numbers, but we’re skeptical.

Other Franchise Assets: The Mission: Impossible series continues to be a consistent money-maker with 2015’s Rogue Nation earning $682 million worldwide and a sixth installment arriving next summer. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has proven to be more enduring than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Unfortunately, the Star Trek franchise has seen diminishing returns and we don’t have high hopes for the Terminator reboot/sequel/whatever that’s being cooked up.


Biggest Franchise: Spider-Man
Films: 6
Box Office: $2.8 billion

The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t work. At all. It was terrible. So with its tail between its legs, Sony went back to Marvel and were immediately gifted with arguably the best Spider-Man of all in Tom Holland. He was a scene-stealer in his extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War and we’d argue that Spider-Man: Homecoming, not Wonder Woman, was the best superhero film of the summer. With a connection to the MCU, Spider-Man is poised to keep the money flowing over at Sony, which has given them the confidence to move forward with the hyped Venom spinoff starring Tom Hardy (so many Toms).

Other Franchise Assets: Sony’s four James Bond features grossed north of $3 billion and helped reinvent the character for modern audiences. However, the rights to 007 are up for grabs and it’s no guarantee that Sony reacquires them, which would be a blow to their bottom line reputation. Outside of that, The Equalizer franchise and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo revival don’t inspire much confidence. Of all the studios on this list, Sony appears to be in the worst position when it comes to franchise filmmaking.

How Are the Major Movie Studios Faring in the Franchise Wars?