by Michael Nadeau
In case you’ve been under a rock on Tatooine for 2016 (actually, that sounds like a good deal), Star Wars is back with the “steal the Death Star plans” film, Rogue One. It’s just the latest entry in a series that’s made over six billion dollars worldwide. It’s the 600-lb. space gorilla in a crowded world of moneymakers. But what franchises make up the rest of that galactic zoo? Here’s our list of ten of the biggest sci-fi movie franchises – and their strongest and weakest entries.
1. STAR WARS (8 films, $6.4 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: One could make a convincing argument for last year’s The Force Awakens, but we have to go with the epically dark and supremely well-constructed The Empire Strikes Back as the best in the entire series. So far.
LOW POINT: You could cast a vote for the entire prequel trilogy, but The Revenge of the Sith’s last hour works remarkably well. Instead, let’s go with Attack of the Clones. The Phantom Menace, at least, had a fine lightsaber duel. Clones gave us goopy scenes of the Anakin-Padme romance. Gag.
2. TRANSFORMERS (5 films, $3.8 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: The original Transformers does have its charms, however slight. At this point, the franchise hadn’t been completely overwhelmed by explosions
LOW POINT: 2014’s Age of Extinction took crass product placement, mailed-in acting, and eyeball-melting, brain-shredding visual effects to astounding levels. Despite its $1.1 billion box office gross, the film was critically panned.
3. JURASSIC PARK (4 films, $3.7 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: Two decades later, Steven Spielberg’s masterful Jurassic Park remains the gold standard for sci-fi novelization adaptation – intricately plotted, full of adventure and packed with memorable scenes.
LOW POINT: It’s mystifying why Jurassic Park III even exists. If you can remember anything of that movie beyond the flying dinosaurs, I’ll buy you a raptor.
4. STAR TREK (13 films, $2.8 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: Easy choice here. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a profoundly brilliant space opera with one of the most devastating – and memorable – endings in blockbuster movie history.
LOW POINT: As a monumental William Shatner vanity project, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is just as bad as you’d expect.
5. TERMINATOR (5 films, $1.8 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: James Cameron’s original The Terminator doesn’t boast the same special effects as its sequel, but the first installment of the franchise has an even more memorable heartbeat at its core. A legendary film.
LOW POINT: Rise of the Machines and Salvation aren’t great, but their middlingness holds up well next to the convoluted misfire that was Genisys. Its failure looks to have killed the franchise for a while.
6. MEN IN BLACK (3 films, $1.7 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: The original Men in Black, bolstered by Will Smith’s charm, Tommy Lee Jones’ gruff spirit and Barry Sonnenfeld’s spirited direction, is a delightful and hilarious sci-fi flick.
LOW POINT: The film’s sequel, Men in Black II, turned out to be a clunky, mirthless whiff of a film, with a barely-there Jones and Smith trying hard to replicate their initial chemistry.
7. PLANET OF THE APES (8 films, $1.7 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: In one of the most surprising resurrections in film history, Rise of the Planet of the Apes sparked the reboot series in a brilliant, timely and heartfelt fashion.
LOW POINT: Remember what I said about Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Well, the exact opposite goes for Tim Burton’s Mark Wahlberg-starring version from 2001. Yikes.
8. THE MATRIX (3 films, $1.6 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: This one’s easy. Even viewed now, the richly themed and dazzlingly beautiful The Matrix is a stunner of a film.
9. INDEPENDENCE DAY (2 films, $1.2 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: The original Independence Day is as pure fun as popcorn entertainment gets and is – along with Jurassic Park – the best of the mid-1990s summer blockbuster fare.
LOW POINT: As hollow as the first one was hearty, Independence Day: Resurgence is one of the weaker of the modern, blockbuster craze.
10. ALIEN (5 films, $1.1 Billion)
HIGH-WATER MARK: Cheating a little by naming two here, since they’re so dissimilar. Ridley Scott’s original Alien is a master class in terror, while James Cameron’s sequel Aliens is pure, exhilarating suspense with subtle satirical notes. It’s impossible to decide between the two.
In the spirit of all that is sci-fi and in honor of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Passengers, feel free to share your favorite sci-fi series in the comments below.