Everyone makes mistakes and even some of the most beloved movie franchises have taken the occasional misstep. Sometimes these dips in form are a mere stumble before a course correction but others take a fall so severe that it seems the whole series will be crippled irrevocably.
But, every now and then, a movie franchise makes such an astonishing return from a career-threatening injury that it can only be called a “comeback” (even though we’re always being told not to call it that).
These are our top picks for the movies that gallantly pulled their franchises back from the brink:
5. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
After Brett Ratner’s misjudged X-Men: The Last Stand had seemingly lived up to its name for the main barrel of the X-Men cinematic canon and the risible X-Men Origins: Wolverine had virtually finished the franchise off permanently, there was plenty of eye-rolling and SMH when Fox announced they were giving the series a (sort of) reboot. However, the dream team of director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman pulled off the near-insurmountable challenge of not only reviving the X-Men Cinematic Universe but also producing the best chapter in the series so far.
Vaughn and Goldman were fresh off deconstructing the entire superhero genre with the subversive Kick Ass but decided to play it straight here as they re-introduced the X-Men in a fresh-faced form. X-Men: First Class reveled in its 60’s settings and Vaughn had a glorious handle on the genre conventions and stylizations of the era.
Ironically, by going back to the Mutants’ origins they brought the franchise in line with the Golden Age of the Comic Book Movie by eschewing the slightly self-conscious nature of the previous X-Men films, reflecting that the genre was no longer ashamed of its pulpy roots. While it couldn’t quite overcome the endemic problem that has plagued the franchise entire of getting the whole cast of the ensemble piece to commit (*cough* January Jones); X-Men: First Class was so much perfectly paced fun, it single-handedly turned around the fortunes of the X-Men series leading to the colossal box-office success of Brian Singer’s Days of Future Past three years later (before he went and f*cked it all up again with Apocalypse).
4. STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
When Disney secured the rights to the Star Wars Universe from George Lucas in 2012 for a cool $4 billion, many eyebrows were raised as to whether the movie franchise had any mileage left it in after the irrefutably terrible prequels. But three years later, the drinks were on the House of Mouse in the Mos Eisley cantina when JJ Abrams gave us the first of a new trilogy, The Force Awakens.
To date, Star Wars Episode VII is the third most successful film of all time but most importantly, the fans loved it (mostly). With The Force Awakens, Star Wars had re-captured the magic of our childhoods by sprucing up the 1977’s A New Hope template in the post-Empire galaxy with a fresh lick of paint and bags of personality. Yes, it was never going to win any prizes for originality and the pace was so breathless that the plot bordered on nonsensical at times, but The Force Awakens brought a previously unseen level of emotion (Han’s sacrifice) and angst (Kylo’s vicious tantrums) to proceedings.
The Force Awakens birthed a new era in the Star Wars Universe and paved the way for the brilliant Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a year later. That The Last Jedi is almost certainly this year’s most anticipated movie, is only further evidence of just how much of a game changer for the previously ailing saga Episode VII really was.
3. CASINO ROYALE (2005)
There were several of 007’s cinematic outings that could have made this list: Roger Moore’s first outing as the world’s least secret agent in Live & Let Die freshened up the franchise with pop-culture savvy after the series had seemingly gone stale in Sean Connery’s Diamonds Are Forever; Timoty Dalton managed to get Bond taken seriously again in The Living Daylights (by far the most underrated Bond film) after Roger Moore’s tenure had descended into self-referential kitsch; while Pierce Brosnan’s version of 007 in Goldeneye made the British agent relevant again in a post-Cold War world. It is Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond, though, that faced the biggest challenge.
2002’s risible Die Another Day –Brosnan’s last stint in the role- was so poorly received and derided by critics and fans alike, there were well-founded concerns that the Broccoli family’s lucrative franchise would be surplus to requirements in the 21st century. This wasn’t helped by The Bourne Identity being released mere months before with Matt Damon’s amnesiac super-agent appearing to have usurped Bond, James Bond in a world still reeling in the aftermath of 9/11.
And when it was announced that the rugged Craig would be filling the role in 2004, fans just straight up lost their shit on the internet. They decried the decision with mocked-up posters declaring to the Layer Cake star “You’ll Only Play Him Once” (see what they did there?) and other such short-sighted jibes. But Casino Royale called their bluff and it quickly became the most successful Bond film at the box office as well as being heralded by critics and fans as the best Bond in years, if not decades.
Our very own Marcus McNeal has written a great article charting the transformative effect of Casino Royale on the character of James Bond and the franchise itself. Suffice to say that this reboot of 007 led to the franchise becoming the most financially successful series of all time. Although the Bond films have been somewhat hit and miss since –Quantum of Solace and Spectre both flattered to deceive whereas Skyfall is arguably the finest entry in the series to date- Casino Royale proved that there are few more adaptable movie franchises than Bond.
2. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
It seems almost hilarious in hindsight but hopes were not high for Batman Begins back in 2005. The Bat’s reboot was being handled by the then relatively inexperienced British director, Christopher Nolan, who had only helmed indie dramas Memento and Insomnia with budgets that barely made it into 8 figures. The precocious Brit simply didn’t seem to fit the requirement of the heavyweight visionary who would be needed to dust the Batman franchise off after it was left for dead by Joel Schumacher’s high-camp Batman Forever and the infamously awful Batman & Robin.
Over a decade later, Nolan’s vision for Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego still looms large over the superhero genre as a whole, while he himself is arguably the biggest name in filmmaking in modern Hollywood. Of course, some of that can be attributed to Begins’ 2008 successor, The Dark Knight, but it is undoubtedly the first outing for Christain Bale’s Caped Crusader that laid the foundations for such highfalutin achievements, all while redeeming the series as a whole.
Batman Begins was filled to the brim with hitherto unseen reverence and passion for the comic book source material with critics and audiences loudly applauding its commitment to verisimilitude. While Begins may feel like a far more traditional comic book movie than its debatably superior scion, it still remains the tightest and most efficent renditions of Batman to date and was the progenitor for the Caped Crusader to become one of the most popular and celebrated icons in modern culture.
1. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes may not be the best film on this list but it certainly faced the biggest obstacles in convincing audiences of its worth. After the celebrated original series of Apes movies had dwindled both in quality and appeal in the early 1970’s, the franchise then took a knockout blow from Tim Burton’s attempt to revive it in his wretched and nonsensical remake in 2001.
Again, a comparatively inexperienced director in the shape of Cloverfield‘s Matt Reeves was handed the daunting task of resurrecting the sci-fi franchise in the shape of a prequel charting the beginnings of our planet coming to belong to super-intelligent simians. The young director was facing odds of slim to non-existent of delivering even a semblance of a decent picture and even that result would have surpassed the low expectations that were placed on the project.
So, for Reeves to end up producing not only an excellent and thoughtful film that thrived just as much on its storytelling as it did on its astonishing CGI effects in bringing the harbinger ape, Caesar, to life, but also revitalized a series that has gone from strength to strength in the two following installments, is nothing short of a modern cinematic miracle. With the latest installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, being released in theaters imminently and is looking set to be one the best film of the summer (check the site and our YouTube channel for our full video review tomorrow), just goes to show what incredible feat was achieved with Rise of the Planet Apes in bringing this long gone franchise back to life.