These days, if you watch a movie in a theater, you really only have a choice between two types of movies: films that come from an existing franchise, and films that come from a beloved franchise.
Franchise movies are now the norm. They drive the film industry. Terms like "IP" and "reboot" frequently pop up in articles and conversations, and as long as the money keeps rolling in, there won't be an end to it.
You might be getting sick of the franchise oversaturation in cinema, but there's no denying the fact that most people love what they love and they're dying to watch more of the same.
Of course, not all movie franchises are made equal. Here are our picks for the best movie franchises of all time and why they stand out.
15. The Muppets
The Muppets may not have the flashiest movies, but they have feel-good movies that have their own unique charm.
All of them, including The Muppet Movie, follow a very specific formula that fans have come to expect: the Muppets face a conundrum (as do Kermit and Miss Piggy), and they solve it by pulling off a show.
But the formula isn't a problem because the Muppets are naturally charming. How else would the franchise be so successful with eight movies under its belt?
From reunion pieces like The Muppets and Muppets Take Manhattan to rollicking adventures like The Great Muppet Caper and Muppets Most Wanted, the Muppet movies are joyous fun.
Of all the sports movie franchises that ever were, there's one that always comes to mind first: Rocky.
The first entry of the series—a 1976 boxing drama—was an instant win with audiences, critics, and award bodies. Since then, it's been impressive to see how Rocky Balboa would evolve and progress.
Rocky has become the template for every underdog sports movie. And despite loose cannons like Rocky IV and Rocky V, there are winners like Rocky Balboa along with the spin-off films Creed and Creed II. Regardless, Sylvester Stallone will always fly.
13. Ip Man
Of the many martial arts movie franchises, there's one that stands above the rest yet remains underrated by many: Ip Man.
Ip Man chronicles the life of a grandmaster martial artist (played by Donnie Yen) who practices Wing Chun and eventually teaches Bruce Lee. Each of the four movies center on a specific historical period.
The first Ip Man involves Ip Man's struggle during the Sino-Japanese War. The second involves Ip Man adapting to a British-occupied Hong Kong. The third sees Ip Man teaching the legendary Bruce Lee. The final film tackles themes of racist discrimination.
12. How to Train Your Dragon
While this franchise started off being based on a children's book, the How to Train Your Dragon movies evolved to become more mature.
The first film of the series could have easily been nothing more than a gimmicky Viking family adventure with popping 3D effects—which it is—but it took its characters and worldbuilding to impressive heights.
What's great about this trilogy is that the characters in this coming-of-age quest actually age. As they do, the stakes and themes also grow with them in the second and third films.
With an equally strong TV franchise, the How to Train Your Dragon movies are one of DreamWorks Animation's precious crown jewels.
11. Planet of the Apes Prequels
There have been three runs of Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes in cinema history. Of them, the rebooted prequel series is the one that wins out, even over the legacy of the original 1986 sci-fi classic.
The trilogy centers on the evolution of Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) as the leader of the apes. It starts with the chimpanzee rise after a medical experiment goes awry, then moves toward a widening gap between apes and humans, then full-out war.
With its consistently great execution, the Apes trilogy stands mighty.
10. John Wick
John Wick came out as a cult hit for action fans. While it isn't as large as other action movie franchises, it's a refreshing take on assassins—and it quietly started Keanu Reeves' resurgence as a bona fide star.
Thanks to its popularity and reception, John Wick spawned two strong sequels, other spin-offs, and an upcoming fourth movie.
The success of John Wick was unexpected, but it can be boiled down to several factors: sleek yet stylized action, clean camera editing, no heavy dependence on CGI, its elaborate universe of assassins, and Reeves.
9. James Bond
As one of the longest running franchises in movie history, James Bond is undoubtedly a cornerstone for cinema.
No secret agent, clandestine spy, or megalomanic villain in cinema would stand as strong as they do without the foundation and influence set by Agent 007. Everybody wants to be James Bond and share in his experiences saving the world.
So far, this franchise based on Ian Fleming's novels has pumped out 25 canon movies that include six different Bond actors, countless Bond gadgets, countless Bond villains, countless Bond girls, and the iconic Bond theme song that everyone knows.
The spy is one of the most popular movie characters ever, and his movies—both good and bad—are pure escapist fun.
8. Mission: Impossible
In the realm of movie spies, James Bond is just barely surpassed by Ethan Hunt. The Mission: Impossible franchise tops one after the other with its stunts and scope. While it started as an adaptation of the Bruce Geller TV series, it evolved to become Tom Cruise's brainchild.
The first two movies struggled to find their footing in the action film landscape, but it took off when J.J. Abrams and Simon Pegg's Benji arrived and energized the franchise.
7. Harry Potter
What's there to say about this global franchise based on globally bestselling novels that hasn't already been said?
When it comes to fantasy movies, no discussion is complete without mentioning Harry Potter and its influence. Many fans and critics, whether young or old, have witnessed "The Boy Who Lived" survive school and defeat the greatest evil of his age.
This decade-long series of movies touched an entire generation in ways no other movie franchise has done, and its characters—from the popular Hermione to the underdog Neville—endure to this day.
Spider-Man is quite possibly the most popular superhero in the entire world. And yet, it took a brand new millennium to fully realize his cinematic potential.
After the release of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man back in 2002, this superhero from Marvel Comics gained that fighting chance—and after several reboots and disputes with Sony, he's now shining in the limelight.
There have been three live-action trilogies so far. The Sam Raimi trilogy starring Tobey Maguire is a classic. The Marc Webb trilogy starring Andrew Garfield is a mixed bag. The Tom Watts trilogy starring Tom Holland is a worldwide success.
5. Indiana Jones
The character of archaeologist Indiana Jones was Steven Spielberg's way to honor serial film adventures.
Equipped with a bigger budget that allowed him to go to exotic locations and execute mind-blowing set pieces, Spielberg made an astounding mark on cinema by creating this incredible movie franchise and its starring action hero in Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greats with a memorable adventure that's worth rewatching. Temple of Doom pushes the envelope with its PG-13 content. Last Crusade is elevated by a great turn from Sean Connery. Even Crystal Skull has its moments!
4. Marvel Cinematic Universe
In terms of box office success, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the franchise that ends all franchises.
What's impressive about this huge franchise is that its connections to other Marvel movies started as an in-joke. But after The Avengers in 2012, the crossover appeal proved to be a winning bet for eager audiences.
With 27 movies (and counting), the MCU has cemented its status as a lengendary Disney IP. It's now impossible to imagine what the world would be like without the impact of this franchise, its characters, and its lasting influence on mainstream appetites.
3. Mad Max
Most movies that are set in post-apocalyptic worlds owe their influence to the Mad Max movies.
Each of the movies in the franchise offers a distinct take on dystopian sci-fi, from the vengeful grit of the first Mad Max to the dangerous frontier of Road Warrior, to the lost hope of Beyond Thunderdome, to the war-hungry destruction of Fury Road.
At the center of it is Max Rockatasky, a police officer who witnesses the murder of his family and the fall of civilization. From one film to the next, he crawls his way out of viciousness to survive, making for grand action sequences and intriguing post-apocalyptic worldbuilding.
2. The Lord of the Rings
Having earned its spot among cinema's greatest films, The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy series that remains impactful and essential viewing for anyone—even those who don't care much for fantasy.
And while The Hobbit prequel series might have some rewarding moments among its disappointing faults, we're strictly focusing on Peter Jackson's incredible adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's main novel.
The original trilogy follows the quest of Frodo Baggins to destroy the One Ring, supported by a strong fellowship of allies. Each film is executed with wondrous scope and thematic storytelling, and it's no overstatement to say that The Lord of the Rings defines epic.
The winner for the best movie franchise goes to the Caped Crusader himself: Batman and his decades-spanning movies.
Batman has a long-standing history in cinema, with each iteration of the character being a unique take on the DC legend and his real-life identity Bruce Wayne. While the franchise has some low points, in the end Batman is still the Batman we know, follow, and adore.
There have been nine cinematic interpretations of Batman so far, but they all adhere to the same formula: Gotham City's crime rises, Batman steps up, and he runs into a foe who tests his morals. Each movie delivers that template, but they all deliver noteworthy results.