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14 Movie Franchises That Almost Died, Then Came Roaring Back To Life

Updated February 22, 2021 1.5k votes 192 voters 11.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the franchises that totally deserved their late-stage revivals.

Some movie franchises only have one good movie to begin with, others have wildly fluctuated in quality over decades of storytelling, and sometimes a consistent and popular title suddenly falls off when a critical or commercial dud causes a franchise to jump the shark. Sometimes that kind of failure is enough to prompt a studio to invest a lot less time and money in the property and redirect its resources elsewhere, in some cases scrapping all plans for the IP's future installments and never speaking of it again.

Except, more often than not, it comes back. And sometimes a movie series just needs that one big movie to revive it. Studios are not shy about milking a franchise for all it's worth - through good movies and bad - but there's no secret formula for making an increasingly irrelevant franchise relevant again. For some franchises, years after being labeled "done" and left creatively dormant, one particular entry - a full reboot with a new aesthetic direction, a sequel that recreates the original magic, or an entirely new character to focus on - will revitalize the brand, restoring its former glory. And sometimes that cycle will repeat itself endlessly. This list takes a look at the franchises that almost died but, thanks to one movie that came along at the right time and reached the right audience, came roaring back to life.

Remember to vote up your favorite, and most deserving, franchise revivals.

  • 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome wasn't exactly what audiences wanted from the third entry in the Mad Max franchise. In the years that followed, George Miller worked toward getting a fourth film made to satisfy both the fanbase and his desire for redemption. However, pre-production issues and a complicated economic landscape made that impossible - so impossible that Miller considered turning Mad Max: Fury Road's story into an animated movie.

    Thankfully, the studio eventually moved forward with the live-action version once it found its lead in Tom Hardy. Not only is Fury Road considered a masterpiece by many (even getting nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars), but a sequel and spinoff are also in the works. That is the definition of a movie that brought a franchise roaring back to life. What had been largely a relic of the 1980s suddenly had contemporary relevance - and not just because the studio decided to take advantage of its IP, but because the original creator of Mad Max revitalized the story himself.

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  • 6

    Unbreakable (Revived By 'Split')

    Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis as a reluctant, self-doubting superhero and Samuel L. Jackson as the secret villain who awakens his own would-be rival, explored the idea of superheroes in the "real" world long before Watchmen or The Boys were ever adapted. It is easily one of M. Night Shyamalan's best films. As far as anyone knew, it was just a standalone film. Then, 16 years later, Split, marketed as another standalone film (owing largely to Shyamalan's tendency toward secrecy), was revealed to be a sequel to Unbreakable in its final moments.

    Split's success paved the way for the trilogy-capping Glass, which brought Willis, Jackson, and James McAvoy's superpowered characters together onscreen. While Glass wasn't as well-received as its two predecessors, Unbreakable or Split, the latter can still be credit with both reviving and (arguably) birthing a franchise.

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  • The only similarities between what the Fast & Furious franchise is today and what it was with 2001's The Fast and the Furious lie with its cast. This is probably why 2 Fast 2 Furious (with Paul Walker still in the cast) did well at the box office; however, the third installment, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, spun the series off with a new cast and it tanked. Without Walker or Vin Diesel, it seemed like it had run its course.

    To save the franchise, producers basically had one choice: Bring back the series' signature duo and try to recreate its early but short-lived popularity. That they did; Fast & Furious brought back not only the two stars, but much of the rest of the original cast as well, effectively picking up where everything left off in 2001. The rest is history, as its success paved the way for a franchise that has become not only a global smash, but also an increasingly elaborate one involving espionage, absurdly bombastic stunts, and - perhaps, eventually - outer space.

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  • 8

    Rocky (Revived By 'Creed')

    If there's one movie series that seemed to have milked its possibilities dry (and then some), it’s the Rocky franchise. Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in the original film back in 1976, and was its driving force up through the mid-aughts. However, 1990's Rocky V was a critical and commercial disaster that lacked the heart of the original and the spectacle of its sequels. Sixteen years later, Stallone returned with Rocky Balboa, giving the Italian Stallion the swan song he deserved. As far as Stallone was concerned (and everyone else), that was all she wrote. 

    Fresh off the acclaimed indie feature Fruitvale Station, director Ryan Coogler, inspired by memories of watching the Rocky movies with his father, pitched the idea for a spinoff in which the Philly slugger came out of retirement to train his late friend and former rival’s son. Creed earned Stallone his second Oscar nomination (for playing the same role) and the Rocky franchise passed its torch to a new generation. Moving forward, the franchise no longer needs Stallone - it has Michael B. Jordan.

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