The Criticwire Survey: Franchises Worth Continuing Without Their Star

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by Matt Singer
August 6, 2012 9:53 AM
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"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."
Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:

Q: An unusual sequel opens this Friday: 'The Bourne Legacy,' which, contrary to its title, does not actually feature Matt Damon's Jason Bourne. So this week, I want to know: what film series would you actually want to see continued without its main character or star?"

The critics' answers:

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"I would like to see the 'Die Hard' franchise continue without John McClane. Bruce Willis made the character/franchise iconic, but now the films are at a point where the stakes reach absurd heights: the overlong fourth film lacked the claustrophobia of the first. If the filmmakers would scale back the premise and focus on a new character, they could create a tense action film that would rival Gareth Edwards' 'The Raid: Redemption.'" 

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

"I haven't seen 'The Bourne Legacy' yet, but let's face it: a series usually works because of its lead, and you mess with that at your own peril. The idea that Michelle Pfieffer's Catwoman should have her own film spent some time in development hell and came out as Halle Berry's 'Catwoman.' The more important that Johnny Depp became in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series, the progressively worse the films got. The discarded 'Alien 3' screenplay on the Internet attributed to William Gibson, which pivots away from Ripley and Newt to make Hicks and Bishop the stars, is simply awful. So while I wish Jeremy Renner well, I answer this question by saying: none of them!"

Stephen WhittyThe Star-Ledger:

"A number of novelists have done something like this, retelling a story through a peripheral character, and it puts a fresh spin on things. What would a new Bond movie look like if we just stayed in London with M and Q all the time? (Probably an Ealing comedy.) Or 'The Godfather,' told strictly from the point of view of Clemenza? (Probably something a lot more like early Scorsese.) I'd be happy to see either of those once, although I doubt I'd want to see an entire new series done that way."

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

"It feels like any time a studio exhumes a franchise to continue filling their coffers, executives come up with the silliest ideas: 'How about a third 'Ghostbusters' with a new generation?' 'Let’s make a new 'Indiana Jones' and introduce the possibility of his son -- who’s nothing like Indy, but never mind -- taking over his mantle?' So, there aren’t a ton of choices left, but I’m going with 'Back to the Future.' If it makes anyone reading this feel better, merely typing that answer is sacrilege to me. Though the trilogy as a whole isn’t consistently awesome, the 1985 original is one of my favorite films. Regarding a new movie, sure, the DeLorean gets destroyed by a freight train at the end of the third film, but we see Doc Brown ride off in a locomotive-cum-aircraft. Maybe someone in, say, 2015 stumbles upon the flux-capacitor technology, and gets entangled in a new time-travel complication. Though some may disagree, I’ve always loved the way the characters in the second film affect the events of the first from afar; something along those lines could easily happen in this reboot. Just don't put Robert Zemeckis anywhere near it; his connection to the real world has vanished in his recent work."

Craig SkinnerBleeding Cool/Hey U Guys:

"I'm sure examples from other critics will prove my memory, and indeed my imagination, to simply be failing me here but I'm unable to think of any film series with a recognizable character/star that I am particularly anxious to see at all, let alone one that would be improved by the removal of its main star. Of the sequels coming in the next few months or years, the series that have jettisoned their stars do tend to sound the most interesting and I am looking forward to seeing what films such as 'RoboCop' (director Jose Padilha being the main draw though) and 'Mad Max: Fury Road' will turn out like."

James RocchiMSN Movies:

"It's a hard question to parse -- could we, for example, just call on a change-out for Daniel Craig's Bond? But, to be honest, the idea of Cruise-less 'Mission: Impossible' films -- not that he's not awesome at running, but -- is intriguing if only because It'd be nice to have an action franchise driven, in even a base way, as a function of directorial ability for once and not star power."

Andrew RobinsongmanReviews:

"That's a tough one to answer for the main reason that not many properties lend itself to the 'Bond' or 'Bourne' model wherein people are so easily interchangeable. One film franchise that I would love to see continued is 'TRON.' With the sequel, we got a whole new slew of characters who made the world more deep, but definitely not better. The idea is based on the fact that when you throw in enough writers you can create a relatively enjoyable sub-story that has nothing to do with previous characters and it will remain just as entertaining as the other films. Since this world isn't entirely about one character's achievements it could work. It would help a lot to make sure Daft Punk still does the score for the films, I'm sure that's 90% of the reason why I liked 'Legacy' to begin with, that and Michael Sheen playing a crazy digitized version of David Bowie."

Katey RichCinema Blend:

"The first thing that comes to mind is the 'Harry Potter' film series -- the movies themselves have never been that incredible, especially compared to the book, but the world of Hogwarts is so rich I'd happily watch more movies about other students at the school, with Ron, Hermione and Harry nowhere in sight. The fact that this seems distinctly possible given how much money the other films made makes me genuinely excited."

Tony NunesDreaming Genius/Fangoria:

"You have to hear me out on this one. I'm a huge 'Star Wars' nerd. The 'Star Wars' Universe, as created from the movies, books and TV shows is absolutely massive. I would love to see Lucasfilm (sans Lucas as anything but Exec. Producer) continue with the backstories and histories of some of 'Star Wars'' most interesting, and often minor characters. There are rumors of a TV series in the works, and a new video game that looks promising, but single movies on say, the Bounty Hunters or post Rebellion universe could also be great if done right. Forget centering the stories on the Skywalkers (where the prequels failed), and try a more focused approach on a handful of characters people know little about. Just take a look at what Disney is doing with Marvel, taking chances with lesser known heroes like 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' The interlacing between Disney's Marvel films has thus far been brilliant. A similar approach is perfectly suited for the 'Star Wars' Universe as well."

Jana J. MonjiThe Demanders/Pasadena Art Beat/Examiner.com:

"The movie series that I would most like to see continued without its main character and star would be the 'Mission: Impossible' series. I liked the original TV concept of a team of super-spies working together to do the nearly impossible, but the movie franchise seems to be less about teamwork and more about showboating with as splashy and as many action sequences as possible. I liked the cerebral mind-game aspect of the original series. I'm with Greg Morris (Barney Collier), Martin Landau (Rollin Hand) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps) who all express displeasure over the transformation of this brand name. There was no need to sully the memory of the original series to resurrect the brand for a movie series. Why not make up new characters and a new situation instead?"

Scott MeslowThe Atlantic:

"I'm a huge fan, so it pains me to say it, but it's long past time for Arnold  Schwarzenegger to bow out of the 'Terminator' franchise. The first two 'Terminator' films managed to use Schwarzenegger's limited range (and innate roboticism) perfectly. The Austrian bodybuilder was utterly convincing as an unthinking killing machine, and even more effective as John Connor's reprogrammed protector in 'Terminator 2.' But 'Terminator 3' was a dumb, cynical retread of the second film, and a bored-looking Schwarzenegger phoned it in harder than anyone. And even if Schwarzenegger found the passion to star in another 'Terminator' film, he has a new problem: the passage of time. The actor is clearly in his mid-60s, which would be fine if his character wasn't an ageless robot. The fourth film, 'Terminator Salvation,' attempted -- and failed - to solve the age problem by grafting a creepy, unconvincing Schwarzeneggerian mask onto the face of bodybuilder Roland Kickinger. After two bad films, I'd normally be content to let the series rest in peace. But Fox's underrated TV series, 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' showed that there are plenty of compelling 'Terminator' stories left to be told. They just don't include the series' most iconic star."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"I mulled this over for days and couldn't come up with an answer that really satisfied me. Here's the best I've got: I'd like to see the 'Ghost Rider' series go on without Nicolas Cage. I didn't like either of the 'Ghost Rider' movies (the second one was particularly awful), but I think an entertaining movie could be made from this material. Nicolas Cage was never a good choice for the character, in my opinion. It just gives him an excuse to do his usual watch-me-go-crazy schtick, which is tiresome and, quite frankly, beneath his talents. I say, get a good script and then give the part to an actor who will bring something dangerous and unexpected to it. Someone like Michael Fassbender."

James McCormickCriterion Cast:

"I was thinking of tons of action franchises that could possibly go on without the central star, but even though 'Die Hard' continues with John McClane and might not be as good as it used to be, I still wouldn't want a McClane-less 'Die Hard' series. I thought of the new 'Dark Knight Rises' and how they could possibly continue it with Joseph Gordon Levitt's character, but then again that ship has sailed. So I went outside the box and thought of a trilogy of films where I do love the central characters but I do love two of the other characters we see and only hear about the aftermath of their travels. I'm looking at you, 'Harold and Kumar' series, and the characters of Goldstein and Rosenberg that I wish we had a separate series of films or a continuation of in general featuring the both of them. Played by David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas, I thought they had a lot to offer and wish they would have had their own former TV star to meet up with, like Willie Aames from 'Charles in Charge' and 'Bibleman.' Make it happen and I'll be there, first in line, ready to buy some sliders for a friend who accompanies me."

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"I'd be curious to see another film from 'The Matrix' franchise that doesn't involve Keanu Reeves or Neo. Hell, I might go a bit further and say replace The Wachowskis as well and get a completely new perspective. Anything to get back to the intriguing world of the original and away from the pointlessness of the two sequels."

Scott MacDonaldToronto Standard:

"I've often wished the 'Mission: Impossible' franchise had someone -- anyone -- other than Tom Cruise in the lead. The series is supposed to be about a whole team of super-agents working together, but because Cruise is pretty much the exact opposite of a team player, he gets to do all the cool stuff while the supporting cast is relegated to feeding him instructions via ear piece or manning the helicopter. Lame! Plus, Tom just gives me the willies."

John LichmanFreelance:

"One of the most amusing things I've watched recently was the end(s) of 'Savages.' Not because of what may or may not happen, but that one of the lingering scenes only has two shots of Benicio Del Toro that speak more about his character than all of Selma Hayek's wigs or Taylor Kitsch's 'wargasms.' But that got me thinking -- along with the current Bastards of Hitch series at 92YTribeca in New York -- about 'The Game' and how ripe it is to go further into Consumer Recreation Services. Today, audiences seem to be moving closer and closer to how fictional corporations work, from the hunting club in 'Hostel' to the worldwide conspiracy from 'Cabin in the Woods.' It may not work as a film series, per se, but as an episodic mixture of 'Leverage' with a reality-show standard of 'so what does happen if he shoots at his brother? Oh, of course, he'll leap through the glass ceiling.'"

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

"One of my favorite aspects of Mike Leigh's filmmaking style is that he invents entire lives for every character in his films, and then strips away until he finds a screenplay within them. The result is that you get the sense of greater narratives in every pocket of his frames. I would love to see a 'sequel' (which I use loosely) to 'Naked' following the security guard that spends a strange night with Johnny. We get hints at his larger world -- his dream cottage, the woman he stares at every night -- and I feel there's an entire movie buried under there that Leigh could investigate for another examination of human kindness and desire. Of course, Leigh's filmmaking is also based on the fact we never see that larger life, so the entire idea might be quite vain."

Adam KuntavanishNext Projection:

"I could actually see the universe of 'Mission: Impossible' sustaining itself without its flagship secret agent. While a likable physical presence in 'Ghost Protocol,' Tom Cruise has increasingly paled in comparison to his co-stars, whether fellow agents like Simon Pegg and the stalwart Ving Rhames or villains like Philip Seymour Hoffman. The most recent edition of the franchise is especially buoyed by his surrounding ensemble, and so terrific spy thrills, stuntwork, and team chemistry, especially if helmed by more action auteurs on the level of Brad Bird, easily could be imagined without Ethan Hunt."

Eric KohnIndiewire:

"Well, Gotham City is fertile ground for any number of grim dramas drenched in its noir atmosphere. So there's that commercial opportunity. On a more ambitious level, perhaps Richard Linklater could extend the chatty existentialism of 'Before Sunrise'/'Before Sunset' by following relatives or friends of the would-be lovers from the existing movies? Surely they haven't only conversed with each other with such meandering profundity, so it would be an equally daring feat to refocus the series on some of the other people from their world with the capacity to talk endlessly about... well, everything. The great thing about those movies is that they contain a discourse that feels quintessentially human, so a lot of the dialogue has a universal ring to it."

Glenn KennyMSN Movies/Some Came Running:

"Any and every title in the various 'Rocco' series would be entirely more palatable without the presence of Rocco Siffredi, IMHO."

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"I have no way to answer this question but I will say that when deciding something like this you move from being a fan to being a creator. It seems nowadays we have forgotten this distinction and allowed the moaning of fans to decide issues in major blockbusters. Can bloated blockbusters withstand the trend? Can the power be snatched back from the nerds? Only time will tell."

Jordan HoffmanScreenCrush:

"I think the three 'Mad Max' movies are very enjoyable, but I don't hold them so sacrosanct that they can't be tinkered with. Could be a good (ahem) vehicle to launch a new talent."

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

"I'd have to vote for 'Rambo,' just so we could all finally see the Hollywood action version of 'Son of Rambow.'"

Bill GrahamCollider/The Film Stage:

"It might be obvious, but I think quite a few people wouldn't think of it: 'Star Wars.' If they could bring to life 'Shadows of the Empire,' I would be ecstatic. By now, George Lucas' baby has grown to include hundreds of books, a few dozen games and countless comics as well as an excellent animated TV show. There is a wealth of quality stories not featuring Luke, Han, Leia, and Anakin. But can I make a request? Lucas doesn't direct or write it. Another possibility: 'The Incredibles.' I would love to see some of the other characters come out of hiding after the main characters have made it okay for superheroes to be in the public again."

Jessica ElgenstiernaThe Velvet Café:

"'Mission Impossible.' Tom Cruise climbed the skyscrapers beautifully in 'M:I-IV,' but I think it's time for him to move into the next part of his career. The series will do just fine without him. As far as I understood it they have everything arranged to let Jeremy Renner take over should Cruise decide to quit. Just go ahead and do it!"

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

"Tyler Perry clearly didn't have his head in the game with 'Madea's Witness Protection.' He's obviously imagining a future film career for himself that doesn't involve wearing a fat suit and a housecoat (He may be the only one who doesn't think he's been miscast in the upcoming 'Alex Cross'). But before this latest one, the Madea movies were actually getting better and better, with 'Madea's Big Happy Family' the funniest of the bunch to date, so perhaps Perry can just write and direct future installments with a different actor taking on the iconic lead role. I nominate Denzel Washington."

Mark DujsikMark Reviews Movies:

"So many successful franchises depend on their cast or star, so replacing them/him/her is a tricky proposition. Most of the time, we'd be discussing what franchise to reboot, and we have plenty examples of how that can be disastrous. Since it seems an absurd thing to do, I offer that someone bring back 'The Naked Gun' series. The late Leslie Nielsen and his perfected deadpan delivery are, of course, irreplaceable, but if one is going to do something silly like resurrect a franchise after the exit of its star, why not make it one that reveled in the ludicrous? We should keep David Zucker as far away as possible, though, since he's gone -- how to put this nicely -- a little cuckoo (Evidence: 'An American Carol'). Obvious alternate choice (SPOILER WARNING for 'The Dark Knight Rises'): A 'Robin' movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 'natch."

Steve DollarWall Street Journal/GreenCine Daily:

"'The Hangover.' I hate the series so much -- it's so brutally unfunny -- that I'd love to see Zach Galifianakis cannibalize Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms in the inevitable 'bath salts horror' set-up that I can only pray is the gimmick for 'Part 3.' 'Part 4' begins when a nerdy lawyer cousin (Andy Samberg) manages to liberate Zach from the mental institution where he's been incarcerated... only his cellmate Butch (The Rock) also manages to get loose. Mayhem ensues."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"I wouldn't be opposed to seeing the 'Mission: Impossible' series continued once Tom Cruise is out as Ethan Hunt. I have no problem with Cruise, but I think the concept of the 'M:I' films and the spy genre is more of the draw for me than continuity with Hunt's character. Like the 'Bourne' series, 'M:I' would benefit from a good excuse for having many more characters lined up in 'the program.'"

Michael DaltonMovie Parliament:

"The film series I would want to see continued without its main character or star, would be 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' While Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow received much love and acclaim, surely I am not the only one who now finds it a depressing waste of a fine talent. The 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series still has much potential, but despite its previous installment grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, it needs revitalizing. In continuing without Jack Sparrow and without Johnny Depp, the series would pave an entire new road for itself and perhaps go some way towards replicating the fun of its first film. In getting rid of the more comedic Jack Sparrow character, they could perhaps heighten the more gothic/horror aspects and go into slightly darker territory. Or, if they wanted to simply find a Jack Sparrow 2.0 (As Aaron Cross seems to be a Bourne 2.0), I could see Russell Brand as a suitable and interesting replacement. Ultimately in continuing without Johnny Depp, there are more opportunities for one of the most talented actors of his generation to actually play characters rather than personalities and a chance for a now repetitive and stale series to reinvent itself or rediscover what made it popular in the first place."

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

"I would love to have a dozen sequels and spin-offs to Mike Judge's 'Idiocracy.' Each new installment could reveal another part of the world dumbed down to catastrophic proportions. This would be a great idea not only for comedy possibilities but I believe something artistically important could be achieved. Really. Think about it."

Christopher CampbellDocBlog

"I’m actually quite interested in film franchises continuing without original stars, even if I’m still disappointed with Steve Guttenberg for leaving the 'Police Academy' series 25 years ago. Of course, I’m likely in the minority in my appreciations for 'Terminator Salvation,' 'Teen Wolf Too' and 'Smokey and the Bandit 3.' I am also down for Jeremy Renner taking over the 'Mission: Impossible' series if that happens, though it’s weird that he’s the chosen successor in two franchises. The idea works best if you have a fleshed-out universe with spin-off potential, which is why 'Star Wars' has done so well in multiple media with numerous central characters. You could see something similar happen with the world of 'Harry Potter.' Maybe Renner can star in a tale of what the wizarding world is like here in America. Or, maybe when the big heroes of 'The Avengers' get tired Renner’s Hawkeye can take the lead for a 'West Coast Avengers'-focused series. Basically, Renner should just spin-off every film series. Maybe he’s also perfect for the long talked about 'Police Academy' reboot."

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

"Okay, here's what we do: hire Wim Wenders and remake 'Die Hard' from the point of view of the Gruber family. We ask (allusively, through visual metaphor and a heavy use of cultural signifiers) why the men of the Gruber family are driven toward massive reserves of heavily defended cash like moths to flames. The concurrent need to cloak each act in the guise of a terrorist attack is also explored, and hinted to be a manifestation of materialist guilt. John McClane (who never appears fully in frame) is more of a symbol of the futility of desire than an action hero. Each movie in the franchise features a new Gruber and a new heist, invariably foiled by the unseen (until it's too late) McClane. Anyone who doesn't want to see 'Die Hard' rebooted in German and repurposed as a fable that takes an almost sensuous delight in fatalism, well, yippie ki yay, saftsack."

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

"I know it wasn't particularly well-received in some quarters, but I really loved the idea of Scorsese's now-seemingly abandoned plan to continue his 'The Departed' with the focus being on the one surviving member of the original ensemble, Mark Wahlberg's foul mouthed Staff Sergeant Dignam. I've also long hypothesized over a potential series of films revolving around the amateur sleuths on the fringes of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Shadow Of A Doubt,' Herbie Hawkins and Joseph Newton. What I'd give to see a Charters and Caldicott-style spinoff series following the two as they traverse America solving crimes ala Jessica Fletcher or Lieutenant Columbo."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on August 6, 2012:

The Most Popular Response"Moonrise Kingdom"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes"Beasts of the Southern Wild,"The Dark Knight Rises," "Killer Joe," "Klown,""The Imposter," "Ruby Sparks."

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