Movie Franchises. Some we love (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and some we hate (Transformers). Some start well and fall apart (Alien) and some are so maddeningly inconsistent that we must make our minds up on a case by case basis (Star Trek). It is my belief that we fall in love with franchises when we are children, when we have endless patience for exploring the lengths and depths of new worlds and characters, even when the movies themselves grow increasingly shallow and poorly constructed – just look at the straight-to-DVD Disney sequels of the nineties and noughties.
That aside, there are a number of kid-friendly movie
franchises which have multiple solid entries in their portfolio. The very best
of these are the ones which appeal to adults and kids alike, either as we grow older
and enjoy the nostalgia or take children of our own to the cinema. So, to
celebrate where our (or at least my) love of movie franchises began, I’ve
compiled a list of the Top 10 movie franchises which are appropriate for all
The Rules: There are a few caveats as to how I categorised and ranked these franchises.
– There must be at least three movies in the franchise.
– All the movies in the franchise must be rated PG, G or U (though I’ll allow one 12A exception if there are already three movies which are PG, G or U)
– The franchise must be reviewed as a whole, so a brilliant first movie may not make up for a batch of lousy sequels.
Now we have that out of the way, on with the list:
10. Spy Kids
Movies: Spy Kids (2001), Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003), Spy Kids 4D: All The Time in the World (2011)
Iconic line: Do you think God stays in Heaven because he too lives in fear of what he’s created?
Alright, alright. I know they’ve aged badly, and the
special effects are not nearly as impressive as they once were. The acting is
cheesy, the sets are bizarre and the premise comical. However, I couldn’t make
a list about my favourite kids’ movie franchises without giving a shout-out to Spy Kids. If you let yourself relax and
don’t take them too seriously, you’ll understand or remember exactly what’s to
love about it. Packed with inventive gadgets, colourful characters and a
surprisingly star-studded cast, the Spy
Kids movies are light-hearted, low-budget espionage at its most
melodramatic. Plus, this iconic line is one of the greatest and most
philosophical in children’s movie history. Just don’t watch the fourth one. Honestly,
9. The Chronicles of Narnia
Iconic Line: Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.
Movies: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010).
Based on the beloved series of books by author C. S. Lewis, adults and children alike were excited and intrigued to learn The Chronicles of Narnia were making the leap to the big screen. Using similar techniques to The Lord of the Rings to bring the mythical creatures and mystical world to life, we were more than happy to step through the wardrobe with the Pevensie children. Though they perhaps never quite lived up to the complexities and magic of the books, and we were only ever presented with three of the seven stories, the cinematography is memorable and occasionally breath-taking, alongside admiral performances from Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and its four young protagonists.
8. Despicable Me
Movies: Despicable Me (2010), Despicable Me 2 (2013), Minions (2015), Despicable Me 3 (2017),
Iconic line: It’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!
The original Despicable
Me movie released in 2010 by Illumination Entertainment was a surprise
delight. It introduced us to a clever subversion into the qualities which we
typically associate with villains in animated film, endeared us to three
intelligent, spunky children and their reluctant adopted father, and amused us
with the antics of the bizarre Minions. Personally, I was not nearly as
impressed with the movies that followed the initial venture, but there is
clearly something about these movies which refuses to be ignored. As of 2019,
all three of the Despicable Me sequels/spin-offs
are in the Top 10 Highest Grossing Animated Movies of all time, a feat which is
unmatched by any other animated franchise.
7. The Lion King
Movies: The Lion King (1994), The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998), Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata (2004)
Iconic Line: Long live the King.
The Lion King is undoubtedly one of the greatest animated movies of all time. Loosely based on the Shakespeare story of Hamlet, the 1994 Disney film gave us staggering visuals, a climactic Elton John score and one of the most vicious villains of all time in Scar. These elements are not present in the sequels, which is why this franchise does not make its way further up the list. However, Simba’s Pride, despite less impressive animation, music and villains, does have its memorable moments. There is greater moral ambiguity to all our characters, moving away from the typical Disney tropes, and a few of the songs are catchy enough to inspire a sing-along. Hakuna Matata is also entertaining enough, following fan-favourites Timon and Pumbaa through the timeline of the original movie. Safe to say, the first film is the clear standout, but its sequels do not mar its reputation.
6. Indiana Jones
Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Iconic Line: He chose … poorly.
The 2008 disappointment that was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is sadly most people’s recent memory of this franchise. Even with its influence, however, the Indiana Jones movies would probably still rank here on my list. Indiana Jones is a balanced hero, both an intelligent professor of archaeology and daredevil whip-wielding explorer, flawed but ultimately moral and altruistic. There is a blend of histories and mysteries, action and comedy, snakes, insects and Nazis. With Harrison Ford in his late thirties and forties for filming, he inspired more than children to live their own adventures, and the movies are as entertaining now to those who saw them on their cinema openings.
5. How to Train Your Dragon
Movies: How to Train Your Dragon (2010), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014), How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (2019)
Iconic Line: Everything we know about them is wrong.
How to Train Your Dragon
has released its third instalment, titled The
Hidden World, this year to favourable reviews after the enormous success of
its first two outings. The animation quality is the finest that DreamWorks has
to offer, with beautiful attention to detail. The movies boast sensitive
portrayals of disability as many characters and animals have rudimentary prosthetic
limbs, and there is a wonderful message against prejudice and towards education
and understanding. At the same time, there are several hilarious moments, there
is a great deal of grounded character development and the plot is exciting and
action-packed throughout. It is playful enough to amuse children and emotionally
rich enough to satisfy adults. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy these
Movies: Shrek (2001), Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), Shrek Forever After (2010)
Iconic Line: Ogres are like onions.
Of course, Shrek had
to make an appearance. This franchise turned the typical Disney-esque story on
its head, transforming a monstrous ogre villain into our unlikely hero, a beautiful
imprisoned princess into a sassy, yet still very much so feminine, martial
artist, and a conventional Prince Charming into a smarmy, spoiled brat who
needs his mummy. The fairy-tale creatures we all know and love from our
storybooks are all brought to life with character traits and hidden motivations
that we never anticipated, the action sequences are dramatic and thrilling, the
love story one of the most relatable, genuine and enjoyable in animated movie
history. The pop culture references and familiar soundtrack keep the film
off-beat and fresh, although they may now be dating the films. While the series
dipped in quality during its third outing, I enjoyed the ambition of Forever After, and Shrek 2 may well be the best sequel to an animated movie. Plus,
this cast of voice actors is unparalleled.
3. Star Wars Original Trilogies
Movies: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983).
Iconic Line: Use the force, Luke.
The Star Wars films were such box-office smashes because of how they appealed to adults and children alike, igniting imagination everywhere as we studied the history of a galaxy far, far away. Aliens, spaceships, Jedi, Sith, light-sabers, storm-troopers and the force: Star Wars is such a staple of modern culture even now that you can know thousands of plot elements and characters before ever sitting down and watching it. If I were only ranking the original trilogy, it may have pushed its way even higher up the list, but sadly the uneven prequels do let the side down, particularly Episode II. I’ve not included the recent entries since their trilogies cannot be evaluated without the final components (Episode IX due December 2019) and they are all rated 12A, assuming their audience to be the children who watched Star Wars in the seventies and eighties now all grown up. Nevertheless, Star Wars continues to hold its power over the general public, drawing us back to the home movie system and cinema time and time again.
2. Back to the Future
Movies: Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Iconic Line: Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
This eighties trilogy still holds up. Marty McFly and Doc
Brown’s adventures through time are, ironically, timeless classics. Outside the
obvious use of a time-travelling DeLorean, the real suspension of disbelief nowadays
comes from when, in the second film, Marty travels to the distant future … of 2015.
While we are all disappointed that Hoverboards are not quite the reality we
were promised by these flicks, there is so much here to enjoy: the multi-roleplay
of characters across numerous decades and timelines, the alliance between charming,
charismatic Marty and the quirky, inventive Doc, and the consistent humour and diligence
to adhere to the constructed time-travel logic. I first watched these when I
was five or six and still sit down around once a year to watch the trilogy, never
tiring of its antics. An absolute winner.
Honourable Mentions: And before we get to number one, here are a few that didn’t quite make the list, usually because the first movie isn’t great enough to pull up the sequels.
Night at the Museum: offers an insight into historical figures for adults and kids alike but are increasingly thin on plot, making them feel like one long skit.
Home Alone: love the first one, like the second one, the less said about the rest the better after they replaced all the cast.
The Santa Clause: entertaining enough to have on in the background over the Christmas holidays.
Ice Age: I enjoyed the first couple then it lost me, and I don’t feel they quite have the same appeal to adults as they do for children.
Madagascar: I enjoyed the first one but wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the sequels as caricatured characters became grating and overused.
Drum roll, please. The number one best movie franchise
for kids of all ages is …
1. Toy Story
Movies: Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010).
Iconic Line: To infinity and beyond!
It had to be Toy Story.
Somehow the creators have managed to gift us three films which are of
near-equal standard to one another. The animation was pioneering, the
characters flawed and fleshed out, the plots all vastly different from one
movie to the next, exploring different aspects and challenges which face the
toys in a world where they come to life. Somehow the introduction of new
characters in each sequel is never overwhelming or unnecessary but enriches the
environment of those we already know and love. The voice actors are outstanding,
boasting names like Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Don Rickles. The
animators are unafraid to put our characters in real jeopardy and push their
negative traits to their maximum, forcing us to recognise that even people we
love are not perfect and that’s okay. There is endless space for creativity as
there are thousands of different kinds of toys, some verbal and some non-verbal,
some anthropomorphic, some vehicles, one literally a walking Etch-a-Sketch. Each
movie packs an emotional punch and hundreds of tiny life-lessons to carry with
us always. My only hope is that Toy Story
4 due for release later this year is able to maintain this standard; it’s
not going to be an easy task!
And that’s my list! As always, I’d
love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of these movies and my ranking? If
you enjoyed this list, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker,
or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for
access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!