There are scores of failed franchises, but how often does it happen mid-story? Trying to build a series out of a character like Iron Man or, less successfully, Jonah Hex is one thing, but an even bigger gamble is when you’re trying to start a story that has future chapters. What if “The Fellowship of the Ring” had been a major bomb and the remaining two installments, despite having been filmed simultaneously, had been left to rot on a hard drive? What if “The Hunger Games” had tanked and it forever ended on a cliffhanger? What if the first “Star Wars” wound up merely ending with the baddies defeated and our heroes getting medals.
Well, such things have happened, time and again. Here are some cases of failed franchises that ended mid-stride, almost mid-sentence — stories that will remain forever untold, at least on film.
‘The Golden Compass’ (2007)
Philip Pullman’s beloved “His Dark Materials” books were the author’s secular answer to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. (More on that in a bit.) As it happens, that materialism — Pullman is a very vocal atheist — is what got the movies in trouble. At first fans of the book thought that the big budgeted film of the first book would sand down its anticlericalism, particularly its depiction of villains clearly modeled on the Catholic Church. Then, even when the filmmakers did sand that down, it was attacked by members of the “Catholic League,” which is really just one sweaty guy, William A. Donohue, with good connections who goes on TV and rants and rails and calls for boycotts on things like “Dogma” and “Angels & Demons.” Sometimes his censorship works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But for “Compass,” his campaign was a big hit: audiences largely stayed away, and only readers will know what happens to plucky, daemon-accompanied Lyra after film’s end. Luckily, a BBC TV version is in the works.