The Marvel Cinematic Universe can’t hold a candle to The Land Before Time. There are movies that under normal circumstances would come and go, and barely be remembered — but these decided to stick around a little bit longer. Gizmodo has collected some of the strangest films to spawn full-fledged franchises.
Here are our picks of the most baffling movie sagas to come out over the past few decades. Some of them ran for a few years, others lasted decades. A few of the titles on here are still going strong.
The Swan Princess
The Swan Princess series is so big, it could have its own recap podcast. The failed 1994 animated film from former Disney director Richard Rich has spawned a whopping nine direct-to-video sequels over the past 25 years through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. In both traditional and CGI animation, that’s included The Swan Princess: The Mystery of the Enchanted Treasure, The Swan Princess: Princess Tomorrow, Pirate Today, and The Swan Princess: Royally Undercover. PS: they’re still going! In 2020, they released The Swan Princess: Royal Wedding. It’s the box office bomb that will never die.
The Scorpion King
The Mummy’s spinoff is officially a bigger franchise than the one it came from. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s 2002 The Scorpion King was followed by three direct-to-video sequels, released between 2008 and 2015. Two actors followed Johnson in the lead role of Mathayus, and other featured cast members have included The Incredible Hulk’s Lou Ferrigno and the effervescent Billy Zane.
The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Haunting is a timeless American folk tale that’s spawned several books and is part of The Conjuring universe. But what folks may not know is that the ongoing saga that started with 1979’s The Amityville Horror now features 28 movies (not including The Conjuring films). The list includes direct sequels to The Amityville Horror, franchise reboots, and standalone spinoffs. There are a lot of frights to go around.
Sean Connery’s dragon may have been the “only one,” but that doesn’t mean Dragonheart was. There have been five movies in the Dragonheart series so far, the most recent being 2020’s Dragonheart: Vengeance.
In the Name of the King
In the Name of the King: A Dragon Siege Tale is one of those movies no one remembers… and yet notorious director Uwe Boll kept right on making them! There were three in total between 2007 and 2014, which makes this one the smallest series on this list. But the third one, In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission, stars Dominic Purcell from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow so that means I automatically had to include it.
The Land Before Time
I’m pretty sure most people reading this know that Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time has had some direct-to-video sequels. What I don’t think people realise is just how many there are — there are 14 movies in the series, all of them (save for the first) being full-fledged musical adventures. The franchise initially ended in 2016 with The Land Before Time XIV: Journey of the Brave, but there’s apparently a 15th movie in the can called The Land Before Time XV: Journey to Sharptooth Mountain. No word when it’s set to come out, but if you want to know literally every detail about it check out the wiki. It’s wild.
A Cinderella Story
A Cinderella Story was a 2004 modern — and non-magical — retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale starring Hilary Duff as our sneakers-clad heroine and Jennifer Coolidge as the greatest Cinderella stepmother ever (I will not be taking questions at this time). Since then, we’ve gotten five more Cinderella stories. The most recent release, A Cinderella Story: Starstruck, came out less than a month ago and stars the actor who played young Snow White in ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Bailee Madison.
Clifford the Big Red Dog has nothing on Beethoven, a giant St. Bernard dog who wreaked havoc in eight movies between 1992 and 2014. Most of the films are about a big boy who does stupid shit, so normally that wouldn’t qualify for this list. However, 2011’s Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure added Santa Claus, elves, and the North Pole so hell yeah Beethoven is a magic dog now.
Children of the Corn
Of all the Stephen King properties, freaking Isaac is the face that launched a thousand sequels. Children of the Corn — not to be confused with Sharks of the Corn — was a 1984 horror film starring Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as travellers who find themselves trapped in a town with prone-to-murder children led by a religious zealot named Isaac. There have been 11 movies in the series, which include sequels, prequels, and soft remakes. The most recent was 2020’s Children of the Corn prequel, which garnered some controversy because it was filmed in Australia during the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals.” In 1998, Eddie Murphy did just that in the smash hit Dr. Dolittle (based on Hugh Lofting’s stories, which had already been adapted into a 1967 Rex Harrison comedy). The Murphy movie garnered a sequel a couple of years later, which was followed by three direct-to-video movies. In one of them, a teenage Dr. Dolittle is tasked with helping the dog of the President of the United States. It’s called Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief. That’s so ridiculous but also genius.
The Snow Queen
The Snow Queen was a 2012 animated film that, yes, is based on the same story as Disney’s Frozen but stands in a league of its own as one of the most popular animated films to come out of Russia in decades. There have been four movies in the series, all centering around the sibling pair Gerda and Kai. Their plotlines are a little weird at times, but the animation is pretty impressive.
An American Tail
Another Don Bluth classic, An American Tail was a parable about the American immigrant experience told through mice. Most fans know about the sequel, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, but you might be surprised to learn there were actually two more movies in the franchise — as well as a 13-episode TV series on CBS. None of them were standouts, but at least they weren’t as bad as the sequel to The Secret of NIMH.
Silent Night, Deadly Night
There’s a reason Christmas is considered the deadliest holiday in the horror film pantheon: because of movies like this. Silent Night, Deadly Night was a 1984 slasher film about a young man who murders a bunch of people while disguised as Santa Claus. It was pretty controversial at the time, which may have prompted its cult status and popularity. It spawned four sequels through 1991 — two of which, like Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker, serve as standalone stories with little connection to the original film. A reboot is currently in development and set for 2022, though no word how the covid-19 pandemic has impacted things.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tremors… mainly because my husband is such a huge fan. The 1990 monster horror-comedy has become a decades-long series, with seven films and counting about the many life stages of Graboids (not least of which include creatures literally called “Arse-Blasters”). Kevin Bacon starred in the first film — as well as the failed Syfy series that never made it past pilot stage — but co-star Michael Gross has graced every subsequent film as survivalist Burt Gummer. Well, or Burt’s ancestor. It’s complicated.
Finally, we come to the biggest (and perhaps darkest) series, rivalling The Land Before Time in terms of sheer reach and popularity. That’s right: the movie about a dog named Buddy that can play basketball has one of the biggest modern movie franchises. There’s the main Air Bud series, which came out between 1997 and 2003 and has our athletic Golden Retriever tackling soccer, baseball, and, yes, even volleyball. Then there’s the even more successful Air Buddies spinoff series, about Buddy’s puppies, which has seven films (and counting) and two Christmas-themed spinoffs. Unfortunately, Air Bud’s legacy is as tragic as it is long-lasting. I won’t go into details here, suffice to say it involves a lot of dogs dying.