How will Prometheus and Madagascar 3 affect their series' overall reputations?
Summer is the season when Hollywood most indulges its sequel-and-prequel fixation: Nearly every other week between May and September this year will see some old film franchise getting revived. That's especially true this week, when Prometheus, Ridley Scott's maybe-prequel (spoiler: definite prequel) to Alien, and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, hit theaters. Do new films like these—and recent works like The Avengers and Men in Black 3—help or hurt their respective franchises' long-term "greatness"?
It's our theory that to be considered "great," a franchise can't just sell tickets or please critics—it needs to do both. So, in November 2010 (for the seventh Harry Potter film) we compiled a list of the 50 greatest film franchises films of all time, weighing financial and critical success equally. Here's how we did it:
1. To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released. We then ranked each franchise by its average commercial gross
2. To determine critical success, we ranked the franchises by the average Rotten Tomatoes' critics' score for their films.
3. We then found the average between the commercial and critical rankings for each franchise and then ranked by those averages.
So taking into account recent critical and commercial success for film franchises, how do Alien and Madagascar rank?
When we first compiled this list in 2010, Alien ranked as the No. 47 franchise. The initial trilogy was rapturously received by critics, and the three films were bona fide box-office juggernauts. The first Alien even scores a perfect 100 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Later entries like Alien vs. Predator, however, were critical duds, dragging down its ranking. As new franchises released their third installments—the benchmark for inclusion in our countdown—Alien was nudged off the Top 50. Prometheus currently has a solid 76 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Indie Wire calling it "an unquestionable good time, one of the best big-screen science fiction accomplishment since Avatar." A shrewd marketing campaign revealing a series of exhilarating trailers has ramped up excitement for the film's release as well; it could be the series' highest-grossing installment.Together, the franchise could surge back into the Top 50, much as the well-received, surprisingly profitable release of Fast Five catapulted The Fast and the Furious franchise's ranking last year.
MORE ON MOVIES
Madagascar, meanwhile, stands a solid shot at debuting relatively high on our countdown once Europe's Most Wanted hits theaters. Family-friendly franchises like Toy Story, Shrek, and Madagascar are almost guaranteed box-office success, particularly when reviews are so good parents don't mind carting their kids to the film. Toy Story and Shrek currently rank in the Top 10 of movie franchises, with Ice Age, Home Alone, and The Santa Clause also appearing in the Top 50. Both previous Madagascar installments grossed more than $180 million at the domestic box office, and each entry scored higher on Rotten Tomatoes than the previous, with Europe's Most Wanted currently at an impressive 80 percent "fresh" -- "like Toy Story 3, the Madagascar gang just gets better with time," says Pete Hammond at Box Office Magazine. Reactions like that could catapult the franchise ahead of Ice Age into the Top 25.
This past year has proved that releasing another installment of a franchise is a risky move. It can pay off handsomely; the thrilling Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol was by far the best-reviewed of the Ethan Hunt franchise and out-grossed M:I 3, launching the franchise from No. 19 to No. 15 on the current list. The by-all-counts disappointing American Pie revival American Reunion, on the other hand, saw the franchise dip from No. 36 on the original list to No. 44 on the updated rankings. Expect more movers and shakers once the third installment of Men in Black and The Avengers finish up their box office runs, and Prometheus and Madagascar 3 shake up their respective franchises' rankings.
Read a fuller analysis, posted when the seventh Harry Potter film hit theaters: "The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time." The gallery in this post has been updated to reflect current rankings.