Fantastic Franchises and When To End Them


Sean Etter, Editor-In-Chief


Harry Potter. Star Wars. Assassin’s Creed. Call of Duty. These are just a few of the long-running entertainment franchises that have engaged audiences for years — and made quite a profit, as well. They’ve been around for so long and have so many installments — which seem to keep coming — that it seems like they will never end. But that’s where my question comes in: when should such long-running and beloved franchises finally throw in the towel and end?

I’ve wondered this in passing before, but I really started thinking hard about it a lot recently with two brand-new installments to a series I believed to have ended years ago. The Harry Potter franchise has recently been revived by the releases of two new installments, the prequel movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and the UK-based stage play and subsequent novelization Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I was, and still am, skeptical of these two new installments. The seventh and previously final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007, and the second part of its movie adaptation was released back in 2011, effectively ending a series that had captured the hearts of many, my own included, for over a decade. It was a perfect ending and farewell to a cast of characters and a world of magic that many had come to love, one that I won’t spoil here for those of you who haven’t yet seen or read it. But it was just that — an ending. The story couldn’t go on forever and, like all good things, it had to come to end.

Or did it?

I’ll admit, at the time of this writing I’ve yet to read The Cursed Child nor have I seen Fantastic Beasts; however, their releases rub me the wrong way. Neither of the new installments further the plot of the original story; Fantastic Beasts takes place long before Harry or even Voldemort attended Hogwarts, and The Cursed Child is a new story focusing on Harry’s children, not the titular “boy who lived.” I will also admit that both new installments have been earning praise from critics and fans alike. However, this had got me thinking: when is it time to end a franchise?

For starters, there’s continuity. What pulls us into these worlds are the stories that they hold, from tales of Jedi Knights to modern-day witches and wizards living in secret. When kept to a relatively simple number of installments, like a trilogy (Harry Potter is the exception, containing 7 books and 8 movies), it’s easy to keep track of characters and events in the story. Look at the original Star Wars trilogy. In three movies, viewers can easily keep track of the story as the Rebels battle the Empire while keeping track of how the three core characters, Luke, Han, and Leia, grow over time. The story and characters were clear, concise, and therefore easier for the average moviegoer to get invested in the story. In contrast, look at the Kingdom Hearts videogame franchise, a very successful and beloved game series by Disney. When there was only the first two games, the story was relatively simple and followed three core characters in a fairly simple story about fighting off the forces of darkness trying to destroy the many different Disney-themed worlds. However, the series has had so many installments full of various sequels, prequels, and spinoffs, with so many new characters and stories, that it has become one of the most complicated and hard to explain plots of all time. I’ve played every game and even I can’t explain the series without at least an hour of your time. My point is, once a franchise starts having a large number of installments, a simple story can become impossible to tell, and this can and does scare potential newcomers to a franchise away as they are intimidated by the large number of installments necessary to understand that plot.

My next point is that, in some cases, quality decreases over time. I’ll admit that there are a good number of exceptions to this statement: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the highest praised installments in the franchise (and my favorite), and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has received generally positive reviews. But I want to look at two specific franchises here: the Fast & Furious movies and the Assassin’s Creed videogames. To be fair, both series are widely loved and entertain very strong fan bases. However, if you look at critical and general consumer reception of both series, the numbers have dropped as time has gone on. One criticism of the Fast & Furious movies is that, as more installments were added and the series drifted away from street racing to adrenaline-fueled action movies, the quality has decreased. There’s more use of CGI and ridiculous and outright impossible stunts that add a certain cheesiness to the films. As for Assassin’s Creed, the games have recently suffered a considerable drop in quality and rise in negative reception. Once a highly regarded series with the first four installments, the games began to go sour with fans after Assassin’s Creed III (the fifth installment) carried a lackluster story and glitchy, unresponsive gameplay. Things did pick up with the next game, Black Flag, but the seventh game, Unity, is regarded the worst game in the series and of 2014 as a whole, with game breaking glitches, terrible controls, and a lame story. What was once a highly regarded series now has a split fan base where you either hate the series or you love it, and the fact that this happened as the series was around longer shows that time might play into the quality and reception of a series.

My last point is about the loss of the magic held by the worlds we come to love. Admit it, when people first watched Star Wars: A New Hope or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, they were awestruck and captivated by these fantastic never-before-seen worlds full of magic and mystery and brand new ideas. But what about now? Seeing Fantastic Beasts, are viewers really expecting new magic to blow their minds, or are they just coming to expect the magical tropes of Potter’s world? Is seeing a character fly on a broomstick and firing off magic spells as captivating as it once was? What about Star Wars? Seeing Master Yoda lift Luke’s X-Wing out of a swamp with the force was mind-blowing the first time. Did seeing Rey in The Force Awakens or a young Anakin Skywalker in the prequels inspire that same powerful awestruck feeling, or was it something we’d all seen before? It’s important to understand that this isn’t always the case – I was still captivated when Rey used the force and I still love seeing Harry Potter’s magic brought to life on the big screen. Besides, new fans have never seen these feats before and their minds are equally as blown when they first witness the onscreen magic as we once were when we first witnessed it. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that for some people the magic does fade away eventually and they lose interest in a world they once loved.

I’m not saying that all of these franchises need to end immediately. In fact, some of the most recent installments of these franchises have been regarded has some of the best movies in their respective series. The point that I am trying to make is that, while many people adore these franchises and wish they could go on forever, all good things must eventually come to an end, or we risk losing what made these worlds special to us in the first place.