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Franchise Report Card: From Marvel to DC to the Dark Universe, Grading Hollywood’s Big Series

In Hollywood, a studio is only as strong as its franchises. That’s bad news for a number of players. Recent months have not been kind to a number of major film series, as sequels to “Transformers,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Alien” have sputtered to the box office, and attempts to spawn new franchises, such as the Dark Universe, have collapsed. Some properties, particularly those in the DC Comics and Marvel realms, have emerged from the box office blood sports unscathed, but they remain exceptions to the rules.

Through the first half of 2017, here’s a look at which major series are still going strong and which franchises have spawned their last sequel.

ALIEN
State of the Franchise: After four decades and seven films, this extraterrestrial chiller may have offered up its last chestburster with “Alien: Convenant.” So far the film has earned a little more than half of what its predecessor, 2012’s “Prometheus,” racked up…and that film was considered a disappointment.
Grade: C

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
State of the Franchise: Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele are still smoldering. Many predicted that the guilty pleasure wouldn’t evoke the same kinky fun as the series progressed, but “Fifty Shades Darker,” the second chapter in the trilogy, earned an impressive $378.8 million globally. That’s a far cry from the first film’s $571 million haul, but stands as a solid result given the critical drubbing and the fact that, you know, these films are based on glorified “Twilight” fan fiction.
Grade: B

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
State of the Franchise: Time to put Captain Jack Sparrow in dry dock. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” will be the lowest grossing film in the series since the the first film sailed into theaters 14 years ago. Worse, with a budget of $230 million, the franchise needs a lot of treasure to make it worth putting the Black Pearl on the high seas again. Oh, and Depp’s off-screen hijinks don’t make the idea of more Pirates films all that appealing for Disney, the studio behind the series.
Grade: C-

TRANSFORMERS
State of the Franchise: Thank God for China. The Middle Kingdom swung to the rescue last weekend after “Transformers: The Last Knight” stumbled to a $69.1 million domestic opening. In China, it was another story — the film’s massive $123 million launch is one of the country’s best ever. It could even ensure that we haven’t seen the last of Optimus Prime.
Grade: B-

WOLVERINE
State of the Franchise: In transition? Hugh Jackman ended his run as the man of adamantium on a high note; “Logan,” his bloody, R-rated sendoff  to the character that made him a star, earned raves and big box office. Fox would dearly love to see Jackman don the claws for another adventure. Otherwise some other up-and-coming up actor will have the unenviable task of trying to put their own spin on Wolvie.
Grade: A (if Jackman returns), B (if they have to reboot).

DARK UNIVERSE
State of the Franchise: Remember the Hindenburg? It’s an apt visual metaphor for how “The Mummy” went over with summer crowds. The film’s failure puts the fate of Universal’s planned interconnected universe of monster movies in jeopardy.
Grade: D

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
State of the Franchise: Still the king. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” might not have been as critically beloved as numero uno, but with $851.4 million and counting in global grosses, the superhero series is a juggernaut. Plus, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the first wall-crawler movie that Marvel has produced, is earning raves and looks like a winner. All that and there’s another Thor movie hitting theaters in November. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Grade: A

FAST AND THE FURIOUS
State of the Franchise: Nothing’s wrong under the engine. “Fate of the Furious” may not have equaled the grosses for “Furious 7,” but with more than $1 billion in ticket sales, Dom and the “family” are showing few signs of slowing down.
Grade: A-

LEGO
Until about a week ago, “Lego Movie” creative duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were in about as enviable a position in Hollywood as anyone. But we live in a post-”Star Wars”-spinoff-drama world. “Lego Batman” earned less than the first movie, and time will tell if the coming installations will be able to recapture the madcap spark of the original.
Grade: B

CARS
“Cars” has never been the most box office-friendly of the Disney-Pixar franchises, but the latest release, “Cars 3,” saw the lowest opening of the series yet. A fourth installment has yet to be announced, suggesting that the studio is hitting the brakes on the ongoing saga of Lightning McQueen. Don’t count on the series being relegated to the scrapyard, however. Even a rough day out for Disney is better than most, and there are, after all, still toys to sell.
Grade: B-

DC COMICS
Making money has never been an issue for DC Comics movies (thanks to a seemingly insatiable fanbase with … arguably too much loyalty). Yet, until “Wonder Woman” hit theaters in June,  the franchise couldn’t seem to find its creative footing. “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” was too dark, “Suicide Squad” was completely incoherent. The next few releases, a group that includes “Justice League” and “Aquaman,” will be crucial. If they build on”Wonder Woman’s” success, DC could rival Marvel. If they fail to capture the same spirit of adventure,  fanboys and fangirls may lose faith in these costumed heroes.
Grade: B+

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