10 Unexpected Long-Running Film Franchises

As we roll into another summer movie season, we are face another onslaught of sequels, prequels, threequels seventh-quels. (Seriously, is there a good quel name for any edition higher than three?) The summer X-Men marks its seventh entry with X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers adds a fourth with Transformers: Age of Extinction, and The Expendables moves into trilogy territory with its third film. Then previous hits, 21 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon, Sin City, Think Like a Man, return with sequels, putting them in position for franchise territory.

While it’s no surprise that studios push franchise films. They are easy money with a guaranteed audience, almost-certain box office win and tons of merchandising buy-ins. However, it’s always a surprise when a film transitions from a standalone project into a series that runs past its concept or believability. For instance, who would have thought there’d be seven successful The Fast and the Furious entries let alone the original one to hit the big screen? But that series is not Hollywood’s only unexpected long-running franchise.

Seriously, some of the series on the list still have us wondering who is going to see these in theaters…

American Pie

The year was 1999 and Jason Biggs had sex with a pie. That’s all it took to be a hit and rake in over $230 million at the box office. Needless to say, the film spawned three direct sequels that followed the highs and lows of high school teens growing up, becoming less funny and the tragic trajectory of Tara Reid’s career. In addition to the sequels, four franchised spinoffs were produced. Eugene Levy deserved so much better.

Total Entries: 8

Bring It On

At the height of teen comedies, Kirsten Dunst starred as a spunky cheerleader in the fiercest high school comedy since Clueless. The movie proved to be a massive success in a time when just about anything was getting a sequel. There have been four direct to video sequels since the movie first premiered in 2000.

Total Entries: 5

Die Hard

The action film about terrorists holding a group of party-goers hostage hauled in over $140 million in 1988. The studio quickly put a sequel starring Bruce Willis into production. As of 2013, there have been four total installments making it one of the longer series (over time) on the list. Even though Willis is almost 60, he’s still committed to returning for a possible sixth film.

Total Entries: 4

The Fast and the Furious

Originally a standalone story about a cop who goes underground as a street racer in order to infiltrate a crime ring, Fast & Furious has turned into a billion dollar franchise with six films since 2001 and a seventh on the way. Though, the series hit an unexpected wall when Paul Walker died in a horrific car crash. With his character set to be retired, the series has the ability to continue on for an eighth or ninth installment.

Total Entries: 6 with a 7th due next year

Ice Age

While there have been several long-running animated film series, nothing has been more prolific than Ice Age. The film about the prehistoric times when the Earth was covered in ice has spawned four sequels since it first bowed in theaters in 2002. The multiple entries have meant fat paychecks for voice actors, Ray Romano, Dennis Leary and Chris Wedge, who have shared their vocals for every installment.

Total Entries: 4 with a 5th on the way

The Mummy

While horror movies tend to lend themselves easily to long-running franchises, The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser, was more of an action adventure, Indiana Jones farce that produced two direct sequels and a three spinoff films starring The Rock as the Scorpion King. The films also produced two video games, which almost seems like the reverse direction for films of this nature. But then again, Prince of Persia was bombtastic.

Total Entries: 6

Pirates of the Caribbean 

It shouldn’t be all that shocking that a Jerry Bruckheimer film has been turned into a series. In the case of Pirates, starring Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, the film was a surprise hit. Based on a Disney ride and panned by critics, the film shouldn’t have amounted to anything. But one Oscar nomination and four installments later, Depp is set to return as the dopey pirate in the 2016 edition, Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Total Entries: 5

Revenge of the Nerds

What’s surprising is how many comedies continue to spawn sequel after sequel. Though, Nerds may have set the precedent with three sequels (two of them made for TV). Comedy never looked to geeky or made so much, hence why the studio kept producing more.

Total Entries: 4


When Rocky debuted in theaters, several things happened: Sylvester Stallone became credible, earning two Oscar nominations, and the world of boxing films was forever changed. Nothing could top the mammoth film that Rocky became. Because of its legion of fans, five direct sequels were produced — the last one debuting in 2006. Sadly though, the shine and stamina of Stallone began to fade by film three. With Stallone punching his AARP card, the franchise is attempting to refresh it a spinoff starring Michael B. Jordan as Apollo Creed’s grandson.

Total Entries: 6 with a rumored 7th

Step Up

The first film, starring Channing Tatum and future wife Jenna Dewan as “opposites attract” dancers who are paired together, was an unexpected hit making $119 million at the box office. Since its initial release in 2006, there have been four additional films, including Step Up All In, which hits theaters in August of this year.

Total Entries: 5

This list does not take into account horror films (Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Saw all have had a number of installments), films based on TV shows (Mission: Impossible, Star Trek) or films based on book series (hello, Harry Potter). Those franchises are expected to run beyond the typical trilogy set, which has luckily stopped films like Toy Story, The Hangover, and Back to the Future from making anything else that might ruin what love remains for those series.