The Most Durable Film Franchises of All Time

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Tomorrow marks the release of The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest installment of the surprisingly robust franchise that began way back in 1968 and has withstood five original sequels, a television series, a cartoon series, comic books, and a Terrible Tim Burton Remake™. (Between Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Alice in Wonderland, the Terrible Tim Burton Remake™ has proven a fairly stable subgenre, but I digress.) Though its 40-plus year run makes Planet of the Apes quite a long-running series, its meager seven films (so far) is dwarfed by several other, far more durable film franchises. We’ve collected a few of our favorites after the jump; check ‘em out, and add in your own long-running favorites in the comments.

Sherlock Holmes

FIRST APPEARANCE: Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: The forthcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows TOTAL FILMS: 200+ MVP: Though Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes was far and away the highest-grossing Holmes film, respect must be paid to the great Basil Rathbone, who played the master detective (to Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson) in 14 films between 1939 and 1946. FOOTNOTE: According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Holmes is the all-time “most portrayed movie character,” played by more than 70 actors in the 111 years since his first appearance.

Dracula

FIRST APPEARANCE: Nosferatu (1922) — this unofficial adaptation featured Max Schrek as “Count Orlok,” but c’mon, everyone knows it’s Dracula. MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Two Dracula films are slated for release next year: Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, and Hotel Transylvania, an animated film with the role voiced by Adam Sandler. (Guess which one we’re more excited about!) TOTAL FILMS: 200+ MVP: Though he only played him twice on-screen (in the original 1931 Universal Dracula and the 1948 spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), Bela Lugosi is still the iconic Dracula — elegant style, minimal make-up, and his mesmerizing (natural) voice. That said, those Hammer films with Christopher Lee as Dracula are awfully good. FOOTNOTE: Among the other actors to play the role: Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, Udo Kier, John Carradine, George Hamilton, Gerard Butler, and Leslie Nielsen. Oh, and don’t forget Charles Macauley, sinking his teeth into William Marshall in the best/worst of them all, 1972’s Blacula.

Wong Fei-Hung

FIRST APPEARANCE: Huang Fei-hong Zhuan: Bian Feng Mie Zhu (1949) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997) TOTAL FILMS: 85+ MVP: Just about anyone who’s anyone in Asian action cinema (Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung) has, at one time or another, taken on the iconic role of the Chinese physician/martial artist/folk hero, but Kwan Tak-hing played him in over 75 films between 1949 and 1981. No actor has ever played the same role as many times. FOOTNOTE: Think you’re productive? Kwan Tak-hing appeared in 25 Wong Fei-Hung films in 1956 alone.

Tarzan

FIRST APPEARANCE: Tarzan of the Apes (1911) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Tarzan II (2005), the direct-to-video sequel to Disney’s 1999 feature (which also inspired the Broadway musical) TOTAL FILMS: 60+ MVP: Starting with 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man, Olympic swimmer-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller played Tarzan in a total of twelve films (ending with 1948’s Tarzan and the Mermaids) and defined the role on screen. FOOTNOTE: The 1984 film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was a prestige picture that attempted to return the story to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. It marked the film debut of Andie MacDowell — whose entire role was post-dubbed by Glenn Close due to MacDowell’s Southern accent.

Charlie Chan

FIRST APPEARANCE: The House Without A Key (1926) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981) TOTAL FILMS: 48 MVP: Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) marked the first appearance of Warner Oland in the role of Earl Derr Biggers’s Chinese-American detective; the Swedish-born actor played the role in a total of 16 films, which were among Fox’s highest-grossing pictures during the Great Depression. FOOTNOTE: A new, updated take on the character has been in various planning stages since the mid-1990s; IMDb lists a 2011 Charlie Chan as “in-development,” but who knows when we’ll actually see it. Maybe they’ll cast an Asian actor this time!

Zorro

FIRST APPEARANCE: The Mark of Zorro (1920) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: The Legend of Zorro (2005) TOTAL FILMS: 40+ MVP: In the Spanish swashbuckler’s first two film appearances (The Mark of Zorro and 1925’s Don Q., Son of Zorro), the great silent star Douglas Fairbanks set the table for all future Zorros — including the iconic costume (black clothes, black mask, and round hat), which were not described in Johnston McCulley’s original Zorro story, “The Curse of Capistrano.” FOOTNOTE: Batman creator Bob Kane frequently acknowledged the debt he owed Zorro for the creation of his own masked avenger, and The Mark of Zorro (presumably the more-contemporary Tyrone Power version) is the movie that young Bruce Wayne sees with his parents just before they’re murdered.

“Carry On….”

FIRST APPEARANCE: Carry on Sergeant (1958) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Carry on Columbus (1992) TOTAL FILMS: 31 MVP: Though the “Carry On” series remains all but unknown in the States, these spoofs of British life, government, and cinema were incredibly popular in the UK. A 2008 poll by the Daily Mirror found the most popular entry in the series (with more than a quarter of the vote) was the 1969 effort Carry On Camping, the seventeenth entry in the series. FOOTNOTE: The tenth film of the franchise, Carry On Cleo, was a parody of the budget-busting 1963 Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — and was actually shot on that film’s abandoned sets after the production moved to Rome.

Django

FIRST APPEARANCE: Django (1966) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) TOTAL FILMS: 30 (official releases, anyway — rumor has it that there were over 100 unofficial sequels) MVP: The great Franco Nero starred in Sergio Corbucci’s original 1966 “spaghetti Western” as the title character, a coffin-dragging drifter and gun-slinger. He returned to the role over 20 years later, for 1987’s Django Strikes Again. FOOTNOTE: If you’ve read any movie blog at any point in the last year, you may have heard that Quentin Tarantino (an unabashed fan of the series who appeared in Takashi Miike’s batshit-crazy 2007 Sukiyaki Western Django) is currently in preproduction on Django Unchained, a melding of the spaghetti Western and the plantation melodrama, starring Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kevin Costner. But there’s that info, in case you’ve been hanging out under a rock.

Godzilla

FIRST APPEARANCE: Gojira (1954) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) TOTAL FILMS: 29 (counting the 1998 American version) MVP: The original cycle of Godzilla films (the so-called “Showa series”) included fifteen films from 1954 for 1975; these films, with their rather inventive dubbing and model work, are what tend to leap to mind when conjuring up the image of the giant monster. FOOTNOTE: The US release of the original film (called Godzilla, King of the Monsters!) intercut new scenes with Raymond Burr (TV’s Perry Mason) to make the film more palpable to American audiences. In 1984, Roger Corman’s New World Pictures grabbed domestic rights to Toho’s The Return of Godzilla and did the same thing all over again — even getting Burr to reprise his role as reporter “Steve Martin.”

Hercules

FIRST APPEARANCE: Hercules (1957) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: The upcoming Immortals, as “Heracles” TOTAL FILMS: 28 MVP: Though Disney, the Three Stooges, and Popeye have all taken on the son of Zeus, the most famous cinematic representation of the Greek demigod is the series of 19 Italian “sword and sandal” epics, which began with the 1957 film (starring Steve Reeves) and concluded with 1965’s Hercules, the Avenger. FOOTNOTE: The horrifyingly unfunny 1969 spoof of that cycle, Hercules in New York, starred “comedian” Arnold Stang and a 22-year-old muscleman in his film debut in the title role. To match his co-star, he was billed “Arnold Strong,” and his thick Austrian accent was dubbed. And thus, the cinema was introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

James Bond

FIRST APPEARANCE: Dr. No (1962) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: An as-yet-untitled new Bond film, directed by Sam Mendes with Daniel Craig returning, is in pre-production and slated for release in November 2012. TOTAL FILMS: 24 (including the “unofficial” 1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) MVP: There was a long time where this was an actual argument, we’ve all come around to Sean Connery, right? FOOTNOTE: Contrary to popular belief, George Lazenby was not fired from the series after his single outing in the role (1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service); he quit the role, on the advice of his agent. Smart!

Debbie Does Dallas

FIRST APPEARANCE: Debbie Does Dallas (1978) MOST RECENT APPEARANCE: Debbie Does S&M (2005) TOTAL FILMS: 20 MVP: Hey, porn movies need franchises too. But we’re purists; the original 1978 Bambi Woods-starrer, one of the most recognizable titles of the so-called “Golden Age of Porn,” is still the best. Um, or so I’m told. FOOTNOTE: That first 1978 film is neither set in Dallas, nor does it feature Debbie engaging in “relations” with anyone from the city, or even the Dallas metro area. Boy, if you can’t trust porn titles, who can you trust?