Horror has been a steady moneymaker almost since Hollywood’s early days, and one of the reasons it’s served so well as a genre for so long is the potential for seemingly endless sequels built on brand recognition for characters and actors. If you’re producing a fast-paced, relatively cheap horror movie about a monster or maniac, and that movie is making money, you can pull that costume back out of storage and come up with some other storyline to keep it going and making it more Money.
But it’s not sheer commercial potential that has seen certain horror franchises rise from the dead decade after decade. In many cases, really strong creativity emerges in horror sequels when filmmakers know they have a built-in audience and can really start playing with some new ideas somewhere along the way. Sure, sometimes the sequels all seem to bleed together, but the right franchise never fails to hold fans back because it simply refuses to stop experimenting and evolving no matter how many roadblocks arise along the way.
There are many, many franchises scattered throughout horror history, but if you’re looking for the ones that have had the biggest impact on the genre and left the greatest legacy, look no further. From fundamental horror classics to modern day trailblazers, these are the greatest horror franchises of all time.
Universal Monsters (since 1931)
To be clear, there was probably nobody at Universal Pictures walking around talking about crossovers and continuity in 1931 as the studio prepared to roll out the double whammy of Dracula and Frankenstein. They were just hoping to make some interesting monster movies based on classic works of literature that would make some money. In both films did To make money, they made a few more monster movies, and then a few more, until finally Universal Monsters became a brand that is still recognizable among moviegoers almost 100 years later. Even if you’ve never seen the movies, you know what Frankenstein’s monster looks like, and Dracula and the Black Lagoon Creature. They’re just so iconic, and Universal ended up capitalizing on that iconography to build a franchise that included team-ups, crossovers, and even horror comedies to change the tone. It’s such a big brand, packed with so many unforgettable films, that even a discarded shared universe concept couldn’t stop them. It’s 2022 and we have more Universal Monsters movies to look forward to. This is a franchise that just won’t stop.
The Living Dead (1968-2009)
If you want proof of George A. Romero’s enduring power Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, just turn on the TV. Whether we’re talking about reruns of other zombie movies or the continued success of the Walking Deadit pretty much all harks back to a small 1968 independent film that quickly became a ubiquitous horror classic, rather than spawning just one two a series of sequels thanks to co-writer John Russo Return of the Living Dead Series. To make things even more impactful, Romero made two sequels that are arguably just as important to the horror story Dawn of the Dead and day of the Deadto ensure Romero and his ghouls shuffle through our nightmares forever.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill took $300,000 from a producer and set out to make a no-nonsense film about a killer stalking babysitters in a Midwestern town. What emerged was a cult hit that soon became one of the highest-grossing films of all time and spawned a media empire. Right now we’re living in the afterglow of the mega-influential’s 13th feature film Halloween franchises, not to mention the toys, books, comics, and other connections we’ve gotten along the way. The story may be over for now, but Michael Myers and Laurie Strode will continue to cast a long shadow over the horror story, and we know that because a spinoff movie, a remake, and not one, but three different reboots of the continuity haven’t slowed that down franchise down.
extraterrestrial (since 1979)
Alien is a perfect, self-contained journey of cosmic terror, and we know this because it’s taken seven years for anyone to come up with a convincing sequel. When the time finally came, Foreigner, James Cameron proved that Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror masterpiece could be tweaked and adapted in all sorts of ways, and the result is one of the most recognizable names in two distinct genres. All you have to say is a single, relatively vague word, and people will know you’re talking about Ripley the Xenomorph and a series of sequels that will soon follow with a new TV series and maybe more movies.
Friday the 13th (1980-2009)
The story goes that producer Sean Cunningham saw the success of Halloween and set out to make some money with another slasher film based on another infamous day of the year. Well, it may have started that way, but in the years since Friday the 13th has evolved into a completely different beast, a monster of a franchise that has taken its main villain to hell and back (literally) and even space. Things have been in limbo for more than a decade at this point as various key parties figure out the rights to the original concept, but hope remains forever that Jason will put his mask back on. In the meantime, we haven’t stopped rewatching the original hockey mask movies.
A nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
Though its big-screen incarnations have been dormant for more than a decade at this point, Wes Craven’s classic supernatural slasher tale and its sequels still haunt our nightmares. Building on a killer concept and a hilarious alternative to silent stalkers in the slasher cinema of the time, the original A nightmare on Elm Street quickly became a horror staple, and the mythology Craven developed in the first film soon proved ripe for further exploration. Over the course of a decade, the original series reinvented itself and Freddy remained so popular that we eventually got a crossover starring Jason Voorhees and a somewhat divisive remake. Now we just have to wait and see if all our dreams dream of more nightmare Movies will come true one day.
Child’s Play/Chucky (1988-present)
If Wes Craven popularized the slasher Who Talks Back starring Freddy Krueger, Don Mancini took the torch and ran down the street screaming with it as he created Chucky. With child’s play In 1988, Mancini, director Tom Holland and star Brad Dourif created an instantly recognizable new horror villain, and then at one point Mancini decided he would never let go of his creation and would go on and on insane with it for years. Almost 35 years and a hit TV series later, Chucky is still killing.
The original Scream Film is a horror classic for its ability to simultaneously deconstruct and expand on slasher film tropes, tearing horror films apart while still giving us something genuinely scary. It could have stopped there, and we could have moved on to a bunch of red sequels that only existed because the first film was so successful. But Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson and the amazing ensemble cast didn’t stop there, and 25 years later we’re still getting fresh, exciting takes on it Scream Formula in a franchise that is constantly evolving alongside the rest of the horror scene.
Seen (since 2004)
Seen is a great standalone horror film with an amazing hook and a concept that never fails to deliver twists and turns. Eight sequels (and counting) later, and we’re still following the exploits of Jigsaw and his followers through one elaborate deathtrap after another. While not all sequels are created equal, the franchise is now legendary for its influence on the horror scene of the 2000s and 2010s, helping launch the careers of genre icons like Leigh Whannel and James Wan. We’re still feeling the effects of this series, and it’s not over yet.
The incantation (2013-present)
Anchored by James Wan’s filmmaking artistry and the star power of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, The incantation began as a standalone haunted house film based on a true story and grew into a pop culture juggernaut. It’s such a successful franchise that a single spin-off has spawned its own three-movie series, and there’s no end in sight to the potential for more stories from Ed and Lorraine Warren’s case files. The original film’s box office staying power and its ability to produce so many more potential scary films is testament to the fact that entire horror universes can still be built, and the impact of its success still reverberates through the genre.
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