It was the pre-teen fantasy film shot heard round the studio boardroom. Many had initially dismissed JK Rowling’s rapid readership as a fad, then watched as billions of books were lapped up by an otherwise ADD-addled audience. Soon, no one could ignore the cultural uproar. By 2001, Warners was ready to step in and make the fledgling franchise into films. The author herself argued for some amount of creative control and the bucks behind the bestsellers spoke loudly. Keeping the cast British and working with the studio to secure the right director, Chris Columbus was approved and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed ...and the Sorcerer’s Stone for US wee ones) hit theaters. It became a worldwide phenomenon.
With each books release, another adaptation was approved. Soon, Warners was sitting on a major marketing goldmine, titles raking in hundreds of millions in cold hard kid vid cash. Naturally, those left out began to frantically search bookshelves for the next sure thing. Along the way, they stumbled into a few good ideas (Lemony Snicket, The Books of Ember). Sometimes, they just stumbled (Twilight). Whatever the case, it’s been nine years since a certain boy wizard captivated commercial crowd, and with rare exception, none of the Harry Potter wannabes have equaled his haul. In many cases, it’s not hard to see why. In others, the misstep speaks to something much more prevalent in Tinseltown - a lack of originality.
In celebration of the long goodbye which is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, we look back at ten sure fire franchises that, in all but one instance, came up substantially short - including what many still think is the most viable of the bunch:
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
One of the first attempted cash-ins on the children’s lit craze, both Paramount and Nickelodeon saw substantial dollar signs in this Edward Gorey inspired dark comedy. They even had the hugely successful funnyman Jim Carrey as the infamous Count Olaf. Unfortunately, the filmmakers jumped the gun a bit, incorporating three of the many books into the initial movie, making things seem relatively singular instead of serial. While a hit, the payout wasn’t big enough to warrant a return…yet. (Continuation Possibility? Possible)
The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)
Someone over at the CS Lewis estate clearly has compromising photos of many in Hollywood’s studio elite. How else can you explain the greenlight to continue this underwhelming franchise, especially when Disney already dropped it post-Prince Caspian‘s failure? Well, Fox clearly feels differently - the dreadful looking Voyage of the Dawn Treader is ready to hit theaters this December. We know Biblical allegories are supposed to be dull, but come on! (Continuation Possibility? Apparently So)
There is nothing worse than misplaced praise and no undeserving writer got more of it than teenage scribe Christopher Paolini. The precocious 15 year old, working within the confines of his wholly created Inheritance Cycle, tried to do the same thing for sorcerers and dragons that Rowling did for wizards. He somehow managed three bestsellers (he is now working on a fourth) before the big screen version of the first tome proved how pathetic these stories really were. (Continuation Possibility? Doubtful)
The Golden Compass (2007)
With an all-star cast (new Bond boy Daniel Craig, Oscar dame Nicole Kidman) and a beloved source (Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy), there was a lot of hope for this retro-futuristic fantasy’s motion picture prospects. Then controversy set in when the anti-church element of the narrative was seemingly amplified by the movie. Even worse, the film was less than faithful to the original works, meaning fans stayed away in droves. (Continuation Possibility? Doubtful)
The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (2007)
Based on the second book in Susan Cooper’s ‘70s series, this motion picture interpretation bears little resemblance to the original Norse and Celtic influenced effort. Introducing different characters and significant plot changes (all to make the story more “Potter” friendly), Fox-Walden tried to force the film on underage audiences via relentless advertising. It didn’t work. Even on home video it feels cobbled together and mythologically incomplete. Instead, the movie was deliberately rejected by the proposed wizard-oriented demo. (Continuation Possibility? None)
City of Ember (2008)
Perhaps it was too smart for audiences expecting the same old kiddie crap. Maybe Gil Keenan was too serious in his approach. Whatever the case, audiences avoided this otherwise compelling take on Jeanne DuPrau’s Book of Ember series, believing the post-apocalyptic tone and sad survivalist atmosphere was just too much of a downer. Unfortunately, they missed a wonderful family film - as well as a chance to see more of DuPrau’s tomes hit the big screen. (Continuation Possibility? None)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Talk about having little faith in your origin material. Nickelodeon, already burned by a lack of Lemony Snicket replay value, took the first five books in Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s fairy series and streamlined them, turning what was a complicated interwoven work of magic and imagination into a typical CG adventure tale. Critics didn’t appreciate the obvious pandering and audiences failed to find much worth celebrating. Instead of a series, this title now feels like a failed one-off. (Continuation Possibility? None)
Just call this Potter for the pre-pubescent and old maid crowd and be done with it. Anne Rice could only wish that some of Stephanie Meyers romanticized vampire hokum would rub off on her famed fiend Lestat. As one of the most undeservingly popular film series ever, this dreary, drippy combination of Harlequin romance and horror “reinvention” sure gets desperate female butts in the seats. Of course, money is never a accurate measure of a movie’s value. While they generate the greenstuff, they are artistically awful ATMs. (Continuation Possibility? Are You Kidding???)
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)
In a desperate attempt to coattail two successful film franchises, Universal glommed onto this combination of Twilight and Potter and produced one weird wannabe mishmash. The tone jumped around a lot, combining thrills with awkward bits of comedy, and the random introduction of characters seemed to suggest a series already established and raring to go. In the end, nobody - not Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team Couldn’t Care Less - was interested. (Continuation Possibility? Doubtful)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
After leaving the Harry Potter films to take on other creative challenges, Chris Columbus was lured back into the wannabe wave with this weird combination of Greek myth and geek nerd tweenage adventure. While the epic elements were all in place, the film suffered from some poor casting choices and a lack of legitimate interest in the source. While the results were viewed favorably by some, it seems clear that a different “direction” might be the only thing to save this proposed franchise. (Continuation Possibility? Doubtful)
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