The latest installment in the "Star Wars" franchise, "The Last Jedi," opens in theaters on Dec. 15, 2017. In honor of the eighth episode in the insanely successful series of films, which launched four decades ago in 1977, Wonderwall.com is counting down our all-time favorite sci-fi film franchises. Keep reading to see where "Star Wars" ranks…
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No. 20: "Avatar"
Almost immediately after "Avatar" debuted, writer-director James Cameron promised there'd be sequels to the sci-fi action flick, which was considered incredibly groundbreaking when it first opened in theaters back in 2009. Whether or not it stands the test of time is another matter entirely, but regardless of how we feel on that subject, we have to say: We are beyond stoked that the Oscar-winning director is FINALLY set to release "Avatar 2" on Dec. 8, 2020, with three more chapters to be released between 2021 and 2025. Only time will tell if "Avatar" is truly one of the greatest film franchises in cinema history, but we're including it on this list because we'll never forget the way we felt the first time we arrived on Pandora all those years ago.
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No. 19: "Divergent"
The "Divergent" franchise, which is based on a popular series of young-adult novels, launched with a bang in 2014. The first two installments performed well at the box office, but the third chapter arrived in theaters with a whimper in 2016, performing so badly that plans for the fourth and final film in the franchise were drastically altered and then ultimately scrapped. Ouch! That said, the movies can be fun — especially if you're a fan of the books!
No. 18: "Starship Troopers"
The "Starship Troopers" franchise launched in 1997, and though it wasn't exactly a hit with the critics or at the box office, it went on to develop an extremely loyal fan base over the years. The cult franchise, which centers around a galactic war between humans and alien monsters called bugs, now includes two live-action sequels and two animated sequels, though they're far less beloved than the flick from which they were spawned.
No. 17: "Riddick"
Before "The Fast and the Furious," "xXx" and "Guardians of the Galaxy," there was the original Vin Diesel franchise: the Riddick movies, which launched with the sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black" in 2000. Vin's on-screen alter ego was so wildly popular that he went on to headline two more movies (2004's "The Chronicles of Riddick" and 2013's "Riddick"), as well as an animated film, a handful of video games and more! Are they the best movies ever? No. Are they extremely beloved by their incredibly loyal fan base? Absolutely.
No. 16: "The Matrix"
Like "Avatar," "The Matrix" was considered extremely groundbreaking when it debuted in 1999. Unfortunately, the popularity of the Oscar-winning film took a hit as subsequent installments in the trilogy became increasingly convoluted and joyless. It was an important lesson that Hollywood failed to heed: Sometimes you gotta leave things alone. (The Hollywood Reporter reported in March 2017 that Warner Bros. is in the early stages of developing a relaunch of "The Matrix.")
No. 15: "Resident Evil"
"The Walking Dead" might get the lion's share of credit for reviving the zombie-horror genre, but really, that distinction should go to the "Resident Evil" franchise, which is based on a popular series of video games. The six-film franchise debuted in 2002 and, according to Variety, may get a reboot in the near future. We've gotta be honest though — we're WAY more obsessed with Milla Jovovich's butt-kicking heroine, Alice, than with the actual movies themselves, which have varied in quality over the years.
No. 14: "Men in Black"
"Men in Black" was a tremendous success when it debuted in 1997. It was the third-highest grossing film of the year (after "Titanic" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park") and a scored a 97 percent fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The franchise reached a low point with its 2002 sequel, "Men in Black II," before regaining some ground with 2012's "Men in Black 3" — ensuring that if there's ever a "Men in Black 4," we'll be on board!
No. 13: "Ghostbusters"
The "Ghostbusters" franchise launched in 1984 and spawned a 1989 sequel, as well as several animated iterations, before scoring a complete overhaul with the 2016 all-female reboot — which will go down in cinema history as more of a win for feminism than for moviemaking. Unlike the original "Ghostbusters," the much maligned remake was fun and funny, but not especially hilarious. (To be fair, though, "Ghostbusters 2" scored a 53 percent rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.) Fortunately, the lukewarm reception for the latest installment in the series didn't temper our love for the franchise as a whole.
No. 12: "Transformers"
They're loud and dumb and occasionally incomprehensible, but the "Transformers" movies, which are inspired by a line of toys, are still extremely popular. (Sometimes, you just wanna watch sentient alien robots save the world, ya know?) The series — which launched in 2007 and survived the ouster of leading lady Megan Fox and the resignation of original star Shia LaBeouf — seems entirely immune to bad reviews and shows no signs of slowing down. A sixth film is due in 2019, and a Bumblebee-centric spin-off is scheduled for 2018.
No. 11: "The Hunger Games"
"The Hunger Games" movies might have grown increasingly dark over the course of their four-film run, which alienated some casual viewers, but diehard fans of the books were prepared. The franchise, which is based on a popular trilogy of dystopian young-adult novels, is one of the best big-screen adaptations EVER. Oh, and it also gave the world Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Thanks!
No. 10: "Planet of the Apes"
The "Planet of the Apes" franchise debuted to rave reviews back in 1968. It spawned four sequels of varying quality during the '70s before getting the reboot treatment in 2001 with a poorly reviewed Tim Burton-directed flick starring Mark Wahlberg. Then the series of films experienced a seismic shift with a trilogy of prequels that kicked off in 2011. The first two installments both earned Oscar nominations and the third chapter, 2017's "War for the Planet of the Apes," is expected to do the same.
No. 9: "Predator"
The "Predator" franchise started on an extremely high note with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role back in 1987. (The action-thriller even scored an Oscar nomination!) But then the 1990 sequel tanked with critics, scoring a pathetic 28 percent rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes. By the time the first of two "Alien" crossovers ("Alien vs. Predator" and "AVP: Requiem") arrived in 2004, the franchise had settled comfortably into the so-bad-it's-good category. (The series then got a slight boost with 2010's decently reviewed "Predators," and now another installment is due in 2018. Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown and Thomas Jane are among the star-studded cast.) Which brings us to the "Predator" companion series…
No. 8: "Alien"
The Ridley Scott-directed thriller "Alien," in which Sigourney Weaver starred, debuted to rave reviews in 1979 and went on to win an Oscar for best visual effects. Its 1986 sequel, "Aliens," performed equally well with critics, but it's been hit or miss ever since. Diehard fans of the franchise may have loved 1992's "Alien 3" and 1997's "Alien Resurrection," but they didn't exactly win over many newcomers — nor did the two "Predator" crossover films. Then came two divisive prequels: 2012's "Prometheus" and 2017's "Alien: Covenant." The saving grace of both films, which were beautiful but convoluted, were exceptionally strong performances from leading man Michael Fassbender.
No. 7: "The Terminator"
"The Terminator," which scored a perfect 100 percent fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, gave us some of the most quotable lines of dialogue in cinema history, one of the most interesting and complex heroines to ever appear on the big screen and one of our favorite action stars EVER (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Its 1991 sequel was equally beloved, though 2003's "Terminator 3 – Rise of the Machines" failed to make an impact. A short-lived series, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, aired on FOX in 2008 and 2009 and since then, it's been a revolving door of attempts at rebooting the franchise, with 2015's "Terminator Genisys" performing even worse with critics than 2009's "Terminator Salvation." Fortunately, director James Cameron has announced plans to take another stab at the franchise, so our hope for a repeat of that perfect 100 rating has been restored!
No. 6: "Back to the Future"
It's been almost 30 years since the final installment in the "Back to the Future" trilogy starring Michael J. Fox debuted in 1990, and it's still tremendously popular — for good reason! The first two installments are Oscar-nominated films, and the original "Back to the Future" even won the Academy Award for best sound effects editing back in 1986. (As for all the cowboy stuff, let's not go there.)
No. 5: "X-Men"
The "X-Men" franchise debuted in 2000 and hasn't stopped cranking out movies since. Though there have been plenty of low points in the ever-expanding series of films (2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," 2009's "X-Men Origins – Wolverine," 2016's "X-Men: Apocalypse," etc.), the good has far outweighed the bad. "Deadpool," for example, earned raves for its hilarious X-Men-adjacent plotline when it debuted in 2016, while 2017's "Logan" scored a 93 percent fresh rating with critics for its dramatic farewell to Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Here's hoping all THREE X-Men movies set for 2018 ("The New Mutants," "Deadpool 2" and "Dark Phoenix") are more in line with those two films!
No. 4: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest grossing movie franchise of all time, and it's got all your sci-fi bases covered. Whether you're into rich dudes with high-tech robotic suits, scientists who've been genetically engineered to transform into giant green monsters, ex-cons who can shrink down to the size of an ant or ragtag bands of humanoid aliens who guard the galaxy, there's a sci-fi-influenced superhero for you. (The expansive series of films — which include the "Avengers" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies — only ranks so low on this list because when it comes to characters like Doctor Strange, we're pretty sure magic is more at play than science.)
No. 3: "Jurassic Park"
There are few movie franchises that have simultaneously brought as much wonder and terror to viewers than "Jurassic Park." The first film debuted in 1993, won the hearts of even the most hardened critics, went on to become the top-grossing movie of the year and then took home all three Oscars for which it was nominated. The next two installments struggled to live up to their predecessor in terms of quality, though they still performed well at the box office. And then 2015's "Jurassic World" debuted, proving this franchise was far from through. The sixth installment in the series, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," is due in 2018.
No. 2: "Star Trek"
The first "Star Trek" movie debuted in 1979, 10 years after "Star Trek: The Original Series" went off the air. The seventh film in the franchise, 1994's "Star Trek Generations," switched the focus from Captain Kirk's crew to Captain Picard's gang, the characters who inhabited the USS Enterprise on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" from 1987 to 1994. The "Next Generation" cast starred in three more films before "Star Trek" got the reboot treatment with Chris Pine taking over the role of Captain Kirk from William Shatner. All three installments in the new trilogy have performed extremely well at the box office and with critics. We expect this franchise to live long and prosper for many years to come!
No. 1: "Star Wars"
No surprise here! "Star Wars" isn't just the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time. It's one of the greatest movie franchises in cinema history, period. With nine films over the course of 40 years and even more currently in production, it's won fans of all ages across every corner of the globe and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon — if ever! Clearly, the Force is strong with this franchise.