14 '90s Movies That Tried (But Failed) To Launch Franchises

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Vote up the failed movie franchises you'd like to see more of.

There are lots of reasons to get excited about a film sequel, whether it's the resolution of a cliffhanger or just the chance to see some of your favorite film characters again. But as for the number of '90s sequels Hollywood did give us, there are just as many '90s sequels that never happened. For every Jurassic Park, there is a Dick Tracy. For every The Matrix, there's a The Rocketeer. For every Scream, there is a Spawn.

Blockbuster filmmaking might just be a little bit harder than we think it is. Look no further than Wild Wild West or Super Mario Bros. We may be living through the ultimate era of multimedia franchises - with Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the box office year after year - but 1990s Hollywood was just as hungry for the next big thing. So let's roll through some '90s movies that tried and failed to launch film franchises.


  • 1
    2,160 VOTES

    The Hollywood landscape in which Spawn arrived was vastly different from that of today. Pretty much every successful superhero film before Spawn that went into production had "Superman" or "Batman" in the title. The Crow managed to be a hit in 1994, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a smash in 1990, but that film had more in common with the animated series than the comic book that created the characters. Superhero films were not the big business they are nowadays.

    Upon release, Spawn was a modest hit for Todd McFarlane and company. Among 1997 features, it hauled in more money than Starship Troopers, Alien Resurrection, and the original Austin Powers. And for a comic book-based film in the 1990s, that was pretty good. Alas, the sequel languished in development hell for years. Every once in a while, fans would get a random update about the behind-the-scenes goings-on that would foster a little bit of hope, but it just wasn't meant to be. A reboot is apparently in production - maybe with Jamie Foxx to star? - but as of 2021, concrete updates have been hard to come by. Hopefully, development hell doesn't strike again.

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  • 2
    1,892 VOTES

    A clear homage to movie serials of the 1930s, 1991's The Rocketeer had a killer cast, sweet production design, and action to boot. It even garnered pretty favorable reviews at the time. Nabbing Joe Johnston to helm the picture (after Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but before hits like Jumanji and Captain America: The First Avenger) was a great choice even in retrospect. The Rocketeer seemed like a surefire hit. But it wasn't.

    The Rocketeer was supposed to kick off a franchise for Disney as the company continued to search for live-action projects that could rival the ongoing success of its animated films. But the film failed to take off at the box office and plans for a sequel were immediately shelved. Weirdly enough, a sequel of sorts did finally come to fruition with the introduction of a Rocketeer spinoff series on Disney Junior in 2019. Billy Campbell, the star of the 1991 film, even returns as the movie's protagonist, Cliff Secord. Campbell also plays Secord's son, Dave, who is the father of the newest Rocketeer on the show, Kit.

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  • 3
    2,012 VOTES

    Sylvester Stallone was one of the stars of the 1980s. Any way you slice it, the star of the Rocky and Rambo franchises was just about as famous as you can get as a Hollywood icon. But by the time the mid-'90s rolled around, his star power was beginning to fade just a bit. To get back to the top of the box office, he went all out for Judge Dredd, which had a budget that neared $100 million back in the days when that was nearly unheard of. And the results were not great.

    The film was lambasted by audiences and critics, and while $113 million worldwide is acceptable for some films, Judge Dredd's ludicrously high budget meant it needed huge numbers to make the studio any kind of substantial money and justify future installments. The film failed to launch a new franchise for Stallone to star in every few years and ended up being rebooted with 2012's Dredd, another film that failed to launch a series.

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  • 4
    1,503 VOTES

    By all accounts, The Bone Collector should've kickstarted a franchise of successful movies. The 1999 film, adapted from the book of the same name, was a box office hit that starred A-list talents like Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. How could this not spur a successful series, especially when Washington's character has appeared in 13 sequels to the original novel?

    It's hard to say. Perhaps Washington wasn't interested in reprising his role as quadriplegic forensic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme. Maybe there were behind-the-scenes squabbles in the production team that stopped a sequel from gaining traction. Maybe the lackluster critical response to the film muted any talk of continuing the series. Interestingly, The Bone Collector novel was adapted into a 2020 television series that was canceled after a single season.

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  • 5
    1,694 VOTES

    A year before playing the villainous Cal Hockley in 1997's super-smash Titanic, Billy Zane put on some purple tights to play 1930s pulp hero the Phantom. With the tagline of "Slam evil!" at the forefront of the marketing push, it was quite clear this movie wasn't trying to be anything more than a generic, campy pulp adventure. A production budget of $45 million was nothing to scoff at in 1996, and The Phantom was Zane's biggest swing at Hollywood stardom.

    Unfortunately, while the project has become a bit of a cult hit in recent years, the reaction at the time of release was far less positive. Critic and fan reaction was not what the studio was hoping for, and the domestic box office returns were pretty disappointing as well. Though Zane had signed on for multiple sequels, those never materialized, and a reboot has been rumored for years now.

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  • 6
    1,437 VOTES

    It's pretty obvious The Shadow, based on Walter B. Gibson's pulp novels and eventual radio serial of the same name, was supposed to spawn a lucrative franchise for Universal Pictures. Producer Martin Bregman spent more than a decade trying to get The Shadow off the ground. By the time he did, an A-list cast including Alec Baldwin, Ian McKellen, and Tim Curry was on board to bring this noir superhero to life.

    And though the resulting film is often remembered as a major mid-'90s flop, it did manage to gross a respectable amount at the box office for a character most often remembered for a radio serial from the 1930s. And though many critics found it wanting, it did manage to find some fans among the film elite. Famed critic Roger Ebert claimed the film did exactly what it set out to do quite well. "The Shadow is the kind of movie that plays better, the more baggage you bring to it," he wrote. "If you respond to film noir, if you like dark streets and women with scarlet lips and big fast cars with running boards, the look of this movie will work some kind of magic."

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