FIVE FRANCHISES THAT WON’T DIE

in
December 21, 2012

While final box-office receipts aren’t in yet, this year’s top 20 will likely include nearly a dozen sequels, tie-ins or franchise movies.

Whether “Twilight” or “Madagascar” will still be hot in 10 years remains an open question; but five franchises currently seem stronger than ever -- even after many decades:

JAMES BOND. When Ian Fleming died in 1964, having penned 13 Bond books, few could have imagined where this series was headed. Six other authors have taken up the mantle, producing nearly 30 novels. And that doesn’t include Charlie Higson’s excellent “Young Bond” series or Kate Westbook’s “Moneypenny” thrillers.

On screen, Bond is in his 50th year. Well on its way to a billion dollars worldwide, “Skyfall” is now the series’ top grosser; it recently beat “Avatar” for the all-time No. 1 box-office spot in Great Britain. “Skyfall” star Daniel Craig -- the sixth actor to play 007 --- has signed on for two more installments.

STAR TREK. At least Bond was popular in his first incarnation; the original “Star Trek” TV series limped through three sparsely watched seasons in the late sixties. Then, in ensuing decades, it suddenly exploded, giving birth to five more series, 12 feature films and hundreds upon hundreds of paperback books.

“Trek” fans were recently excited by the first trailer for that 12th film -- “Star Trek into Darkness,” J. J. Abrams’ follow-up to his 2009 big-screen reboot. The preview reveals at long last that, yes, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the villain -- though there’s no confirmation of rumors that he’s playing long-time “Trek” baddie Khan Noonien Singh. I’ve also heard rumors of a seventh TV show, tentatively titled “Star Trek Federation” and set in the 31st century. “Into Darkness,” returning Abrams’ cast from 09, is set for March 2013.

SHERLOCK HOLMES. Now in his 125th year, Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiendishly clever sleuth is burning up the screen. Fans of Britain’s super-smart “Sherlock” update, starring Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, were disappointed to learn that season three has been postponed; perhaps they can take solace in “The Hobbit,” which features both actors (Freeman has the lead) -- or in CBS’s brand-new “Elementary,” yet another modernization, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu (as Dr. Joan Watson!). And don’t forget the recent Robert Downey films, the pair of which netted over $1 billion worldwide.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Holmes as the “most-portrayed movie character,” with more than 70 actors in 200-plus films. These include John Barrymore, Peter Cushing, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee and Frank Langella, with special kudos to Jeremy Brett (in the British TV series from 1984-94) -- and of course Basil Rathbone, inimitable in 14 Holmes pics during the 1930s and 40s.

Two little-known faves of mine are “Murder by Decree” with Christopher Plummer (Holmes pursues Jack the Ripper) and “The Seven Percent Solution,” where Nicol Williamson teams with Robert Duvall (as Watson) and Alan Arkin (as Sigmund Freud).

PSYCHO. Hitchcock is still as steaming-hot as a comfy motel shower. Two recent films examine his personal life: HBO’s “The Girl,” about his relationship with Tippi Hedren, and “Hitchcock,” about “Psycho” -- with Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as his wife and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh.

Meanwhile, the classic 1960 shocker as inspired three sequels (“Psycho II” is a decent little sleeper), a shot-for-shot remake (1998) and 10 full-length book studies; on top of that, A&E just announced a 10-part “prequel” series about Norman Bates’ childhood. Entitled “Bates Motel” and slated for March, it stars Freddie Highmore (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) as Norman and Vera Farmiga (“The Departed,” “Up in the Air”) as Mother Bates.

“A CHRISTMAS CAROL.” Impossible to list all the adaptations of Dickens’ 1843 classic. It’s been done on stage, on the radio, as an opera, ballet and musical, on big screen and small, and recently as an award-winning graphic novel.

At least 20 feature films are joined by dozens of TV versions, including adaptations for the Flintstones, Dr. Who, “The Odd Couple,” Looney Tunes, “Family Ties,” the Smurfs, the Jetsons, “Sanford and Son,” “The Six-Million-Dollar Man” and “Sesame Street” -- with Oscar the Grouch as Scrooge, of course.

The old skinflint has also been played by Patrick Stewart, Rich Little, Albert Finney, Tim Curry, George C. Scott, Jim Carrey, Daffy Duck, Jack Palance, Bill Murray, Michael Caine, Kelsey Grammer, Walter Matthau, Basil Rathbone and Vanessa Williams (as “Ebony Scrooge”!) -- though Alastair Sim’s 1951 version is surely the best. About a dozen adjunct novels have been penned as well -- mostly sequels (check out Louis Bayard’s clever “Mr. Timothy”).

And don’t miss Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s current stage version, playing four weekly shows through Dec. 29.

Got a favorite still-strong franchise I missed? Drop me a line: changsmith2@msn.com.