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World Poll 2019 — Part 4
Continuing with the focus of my previous world polls, this list collates a representation of the year’s franchise movies. With this contribution, my objective is to document notable examples of franchise entries. It’s been a big year for Hollywood franchising: Black Panther (2018) was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar; two notable franchise sagas – the “Infinity Saga” (Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU) and the “Skywalker Saga” (Star Wars) – reached climactic conclusions; Avengers: Endgame (2019) broke the all-time box-office record; and New Hollywood darlings Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola chimed in to declare franchise movies “not real cinema”.
These highlights reveal that, like it or not, franchising is now the dominant production logic of contemporary Hollywood. Nonetheless, the notion of cinephilia is rarely associated with franchise blockbusters and franchise-literate audiences are all too often inappropriately disparaged by film critics – this needs to change. With this poll I reflect on what defined the highs and lows of franchise output in 2019 and document my year of appreciating franchise cinema. This list is ordered based on release date.
1. Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2019)
Captain Marvel is the twenty-first entry in the MCU and perhaps one of the most important stories in the culminating journey to Avengers: Endgame (2019). Set amongst dial-up internet and the Blockbuster Video stores of the 1990s, this is a prequel origin story that explores the nature of memory, identity, and superpowers both within the storyworld and in our own understanding of the MCU thus far.
2. Shazam (David Sandberg, 2019)
Based on the character originally known as Captain Marvel (different to the Marvel character above), this year’s Shazam marks the first time this character has returned to the cinema screen since laying claim as the first costumed comic book superhero adaption with The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941). Following the promising Aquaman (James Wan, 2018), Shazam reinforces the compelling strategy shift in the DC franchise as it tries to set itself apart from the shared universe strategy of the MCU.
3. Avengers: Endgame (Joe and Anthony Russo, 2019)
The movie that finally declared “Avengers Assemble!” with full force. Eleven years and twenty-one movies in the making, Endgame was the blockbuster event of the year; indeed, considering it also surpassed Avatar (2009) as the highest grossing movie of all time, it might be better described as the entertainment event of the decade.
4. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Michael Dougherty, 2019)
Officially the third entry in the “MonsterVerse” franchise, following Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014) and Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017), King of the Monsters awakens its source material to introduce more kaiju (ahh, “Titans”) to this rather wacky storyworld which King Kong and Godzilla somehow both inhabit.
5. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Simon Kinberg, 2019)
With Disney’s official acquisition of 20th Century Fox in March 2019, and the subsequent return of the X-Menproperty to Marvel, Dark Phoenix is more of a tragic goodbye to the licensing legacy of Fox’s X-Men than a compelling franchise entry.
6. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Jon Watts, 2019)
The epilogue to follow Avengers: Endgame and the true conclusion to the “Infinity Saga”, Far From Home took Spider-Man on a high school field trip to Europe, where the line between superheroism and teen life becomes complicated by fake news and special effects. The second Spider-Man movie to be co-produced through an agreement between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures, this entry leaves Spider-Man at a complicated crossroads between the two studios.
7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (David Leitch, 2019)
A spin-off to the successful Fast & Furious franchise, Hobbs & Shaw teams-up Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham for a gloriously silly action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously. While this entry doesn’t do much for the franchise in terms of the interesting plot sequencing of previous instalments, the last time the Fast & Furiousfranchise went on a silly tangent without its core “family” it gave us Tokyo Drift (Justin Lin, 2006) and the beginning of a fascinating plot structure.
8. Joker (Todd Philips, 2019)
Director Todd Philips boasted that Joker is a “real movie disguised as a comic book movie,” as if that somehow means that comic book movies are not “real movies” (whatever that means). This movie sparked a lot of debate about the presentation of its subject matter and the meaningfulness of its cinematic allusions to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982). But as a comic book franchise movie, I consider Joker reveals the potential for different tonal and stylistic adaptations of comic book characters.
9. Terminator: Dark Fate (Tim Miller, 2019)
I fell asleep during this movie. It happened sometime in between time-travelling and someone saying, “I’ll be back” – I also remember Arnie talking about the texture of drapes. I would usually blame my snooze on the lounge seats at the cinema or the late screening time, but honestly this was the weakest movie of the year. Still, I list it here because it’s an important example of a formal failure in the franchise’s logic. If the mythos of the Terminator franchise must indeed be defined by a temporal loop and an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger, then maybe this isn’t the right property to keep developing.
10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (J.J. Abrams, 2019)
The final episode in the “Skywalker Saga”, The Rise of Skywalker reflects the difficulty of ending a long-running story while negotiating the passions and conflicts of multiple generations of fans. While The Last Jedi threw the lore out with the lightsabre as it decentralised the Skywalker name, this final instalment in the nine-episode saga buries the Skywalker legacy in sand as it is simultaneously reborn.
Other notable releases: Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Mike Mitchell, 2019), John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski, 2019), Men in Black: International (F. Gary Gary, 2019), Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, 2019), Rambo: Last Blood (Adrian Grünberg, 2019).