As much as they hate to admit it, the men and women of Hollywood rely on the kindness of critics. Although their influence isn’t always noticeable, their reviews consistently sway viewer opinions. A certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can make a world of difference to a charming indie rom-com looking to break out to a wider audience, while a bigger budget production may take a hit from bad word of mouth.
Many long-standing movie franchises have received their fair share of acclaim, but rarely do they manage to come out unscathed by public opinion. Starting with the most successful series, we worked our way down the list, collecting data to find out which film franchises have the best overall ratings at Rotten Tomatoes. We opted to exclude all trilogies from our list. Instead, we chose to include longer lasting series, connected universes, and movies which share the same lead character. So instead of seeing Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man films, you’ll see all the big screen Spider-Man adaptations lumped together. 4 cinematic outings is the bare minimum for today's collection.
Although some big franchises didn't make the cut due to some poor entries in their past, they still hold a dear place with us all -- we still love you, Batman! So without further hesitation, here are the 15 Best Movie Franchises Ranked by Rotten Tomatoes Scores.
Although Star Trek is most fondly remembered as the television series which introduced audiences to the final frontier, the franchise has also been the topic of thirteen films, some more memorable than others. Beginning in 1979, a full decade after the original series ended, Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit theaters to middling reviews. Still considered divisive today, the William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy-starring picture was criticized for being too dialogue-heavy and largely forgettable.
Three years after the first movie, the cast would get things right with the follow-up effort, The Wrath of Khan. Featuring a memorable nemesis and a theme of vengeance, the second film proved to be a fan favorite, surpassing its predecessor in almost every way. Over time, more Star Trek films would make their way to the big screen, featuring the casts of the original series as well as The Next Generation. In 2009, J.J. Abrams would successfully reboot the movie series, exceeding expectations and giving the franchise its best-reviewed film yet. Today, the Enterprise continues to light up the blockbuster season as a new generation of viewers embraces the rich history of one of the most influential franchises of all time.
By far the longest lasting franchise on our list, the debonair 007 agent James Bond has rocked the big screen for over five decades with six different actors playing the role. First hitting the big screen in 1962 with Dr. No, the series has proven to be largely bullet-proof despite critics giving mixed reviews to several of its outings. Although the first movie remains the highest rated according to Rotten Tomatoes, not all of them have fared as well. Considered absurd by Bond’s standards, the Roger Moore-starring A View to Kill comes in at an underwhelming 36% with its over-the-top plot involving on mad industrialist’s plan to destroy Silicon Valley. In fact, Moore’s Bond career is tragically the least exhilarating, with the three lowest rated films in the series all coming from the oldest actor to play the part.
With Daniel Craig now making a name for himself as the iconic British spy, the 007 franchise has been effectively brought into the 21st century. Although the word is still out on whether Craig will reprise his role for a fifth consecutive Bond film, there’s still a bright outlook for the franchise, as many hopeful actors continue to be linked to the part.
With four different actors taking on the role of CIA consultant Jack Ryan over the course of five years, this Tom Clancy franchise may not be the most consistent series on our list, but it’s certainly not the dullest. Relatively unknown at the time, Alec Baldwin was the first to be cast as Ryan, bringing confidence and intelligence to the part in The Hunt for Red October. Soon afterward, Harrison Ford took over, continuing the series in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger before being replaced by Ben Affleck in the rebooted Sum of All Fears.
Set in a fictional universe apart from the rest of the films, the newest Jack Ryan picture Shadow Recruit follows a young version of the character (played by Chris Pine) as he uncovers a financial terrorist plot in post-9/11 America. The film would ultimately fail to make an impact, resulting in yet another failed relaunch of the franchise. Now with John Krasinski set to play the role in his own television series, the CIA operative will look to make a name for himself once again as fans keep their fingers crossed for a more refreshing spin on the character.
Starting in 2000 with X-Men and still going strong today, Fox’s mutant franchise has become the seventh highest-grossing series in box office history. Putting a spin on Marvel’s other cinematic universe, the X-Men films have shown flexibility in their timelines since Days of Future Past, making a concerted effort to display different films in the past, present, and future, keeping the series' cast of characters evolving from one story to the next.
For seventeen years, Hugh Jackman remained the headlining star of the X-Men films, appearing as Wolverine in nine separate movies. With Logan, the clawed mutant delivered a satisfyingly devastating end to a beloved character. Now in the wake of Jackman’s departure, new stars have arisen to take his place. With the second Deadpool on the horizon as well as exciting casting news regarding the New Mutants movie, Fox’s saga will continue to expand into uncharted territories. There’s no news yet on whether we’ll ever see another Wolverine or if any other characters from the franchise will be recast. Luckily, with so many unexplored options still up for grabs, Fox has set itself up for many sequels, prequels, and spin-offs in the years ahead.
In 2002, Matt Damon went from the serious dramatic actor of Good Will Hunting to the big screen’s latest and greatest badass. Appearing as Jason Bourne, the rogue agent with amnesia caught in a clandestine conspiracy involving the CIA, Damon became the ultimate fighting machine, taking out enemies with little more than household items and some top-notch choreography.
Although the first three Bourne films were applauded for their rough and tumble approach to the espionage genre, the same could not be said for the last two entries. For the fourth film, Damon debated returning to the role. Instead, Jeremy Renner would get the call to star as Aaron Cross, another agent affected by Bourne’s actions in the spin-off film, The Bourne Legacy. Although Renner brought an intensity to the role, he never reached the same heights as Damon, making for a valiant but unrewarding effort. Unfortunately, Damon’s return in the 2016 follow-up Jason Bourne wouldn’t fare any better, appearing formulaic without adding much to its predecessors. Still, even with their downsides, there’s plenty of fun to be had with the Bourne films, making the franchise an action-packed crowd-pleaser with more highs than lows.
Taking the top spot in our espionage movie category, Tom Cruise knocks off the likes of Matt Damon and Daniel Craig as the world’s most renowned secret agent. Working under the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), Ethan Hunt is an elite talent trained in hand-to-hand combat as well as many stealth tactics. Tasked with the most covert jobs imaginable, he and his crew face insurmountable odds as they deal with sensitive international missions on a daily basis.
Well known for doing his own stunts, Cruise impresses throughout the Mission: Impossible franchise by keeping each action sequence as authentic as possible. He does so by participating in crazy feats like scaling the 2,722 feet high Burj Khalifa and hanging onto the side of a four-engine turboprop plane while it takes off. At 54 years old, the veteran star isn't slowing down, and has already signed on to reprise his role for a sixth consecutive film. Although the M:I series hit its critical low point with the second installment, it’s been nothing but high notes since. Bringing in scores of 94% and 93% for the last two films, Cruise continues to be a box office draw who can carry a franchise.
Swinging his way into cinemas in 2002, Peter Parker has become one of the most recognizable characters on the big screen over the past fifteen years. Sharing company with Bruce Wayne, the web-slinging superhero has been the star of three separate live-action film series, each starring a different variation of the character. Although audiences have only gotten a brief preview of the Tom Holland version of Parker in Captain America: Civil War, the hotly anticipated Spider-Man: Homecoming promises to be another exciting addition to the MCU.
To date, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy remains one of Marvel’s greatest page-to-screen adaptations. The Tobey Maguire-starring series hit its high mark with Spider-Man 2, showing off one of the finest villainous roles with Alfred Molina’s turn as Dr. Otto Octavius. After failing to reach a deal for a fourth Raimi-directed Spider-Man film, Sony rebooted the series with Andrew Garfield in the lead role. Although The Amazing Spider-Man did reasonably well with critics, the same could not be said for the second outing. Still, the hero remains a fan favorite, and despite some lows, the wall-crawler is still a major box office draw.
Riding on the coattails of franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight, The Hunger Games became the next young adult story to successfully transition from book to screen. Tapping the wildly talented Jennifer Lawrence to play Katniss Everdeen, the star survived the 74th Hunger Games while the world watched from home. The dystopian-themed sci-fi fantasy depicted a world divided into districts where the wealthy succeed and the lower class are forced to kill. Over the course of four films, Katniss would battle the totalitarian government and work to overthrow the ruthless President Snow as she restored balance to the country of Panem.
A risky subject matter for young adults, The Hunger Games became a global phenomenon with its gladiator-like main event. Although the films’ reviews would decline as the franchise shifted from the deadly games of the first two outings to the more centralized plot involving the war of Panem, the series never skipped a beat. The final book, Mockingjay, would prove to be the least popular among critics. Split into two films, the adaptations of that novel would only reach a 65% and 70% score respectively, but would still prove to be a good time at the theater nonetheless.
Few trilogies has ever been more critically lauded than the Lord of the Rings series. Amassing a total of seventeen Academy Awards in its time, The Return of the King took home the top honor for Best Picture, making it a rare moment where critics and audiences both agreed on the prestigious prize. Of course, Peter Jackson would not stop there. Nine years later, the director returned to Middle Earth again for the Hobbit trilogy, and while those three films were less admired by critics, they were still largely applauded by the fans.
Taking a look at the review aggregator’s breakdown of both Middle Earth trilogies, it’s clear that there’s a clear drop in quality between the LotR and Hobbit films. One reason may have been Jackson’s unpreparedness going into the Hobbit movies. The director admitted in a behind-the-scenes featurette for The Battle of the Five Armies that he never truly had a clear vision for the second trilogy. The lack of focus was felt by the critics, who awarded the last film of the Hobbit trilogy a 59% rotten rating, a stark contrast to the LotR’s final installment, which would walk away with a 95% approval rating.
Given their popularity, exponential box office results, and cross-promotional platform as a leader in toy sales, theme park rides, and pretty much anything else you can think of, it may appear as a shock that the Star Wars movies landed at only the number six slot. Unfortunately, as we stated earlier, even the greatest series aren't perfect, and for George Lucas’ greatest creation, the biggest blemish lies in the prequels.
Although they’ve been largely panned since The Phantom Menace hit theaters in 1999, the truth is that none of the Star Wars films were completely denounced by the public. Currently, Episode I sits at a 55% RT rating, making it divisive. It’s successor, Attack of the Clones, is actually fresh at 65%, conflicting with the audience who gave the same film a less friendly 57%. Apart from the two biggest misfires, every other film in the series fared well, with The Empire Strikes Back crowned as the greatest. Despite the poor on-screen chemistry of the prequels, the Star Wars saga is still widely regarded as the best the big screen has to offer, and with Disney taking over the reigns, it appears the series will only continue to improve.
Clocking in at 15 films with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has set the new standard for the shared movie universe. Beginning with Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has stuck to its formula of churning out top-notch superhero origin stories with character-driven narratives. Since Tony Stark’s debut, fans have been treated to many standalone films, but the pinnacle of the MCU’s success continues to be the Avengers films. Bringing together many years of world-building, audiences were rewarded with two blockbusters that combined multiple films together unlike any other movie in history.
The MCU remains a rare phenomenon on our list not just from a conceptual perspective, but also from a critical perspective. As one of the longest-standing franchises in terms of quantity, what’s particularly extraordinary is that it has yet to deliver a negatively reviewed film. Currently, The Incredible Hulk is the lowest rated entry with a 67% Rotten Tomatoes score. Although many might agree that the Hulk’s film was a weak link, few would call it outright bad. From there, all the other films have improved in quality (according to the Tomatometer, anyway), proving that this shared universe is years ahead of the competition.
Sparked by the best-selling book series of all time, the World of Wizardry came to life in 2001 with the film adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Stone. For a decade, viewers watched as Harry, Ron, and Hermione grew from young Hogwarts students to capable wizards, culminating in the epic conclusion of the Second Wizarding War where Harry finally faced off against Lord Voldemort. Now nearly six years since the release of The Deathly Hallows - Part 2, J.K. Rowling’s franchise is still rolling, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them launching a new prequel series.
As a series that grew with its actors, critics agreed that the Potter franchise became better with age. After many years of anticipation, the final battle between Harry and Voldemort could have easily disappointed, but instead, The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 would prove to be the most fully realized film of the series, giving a proper ending to its characters without wasting time on meandering plot points. With a 96% rating, the final movie is rated considerably better than Fantastic Beasts, which would prove to be the franchise’s lowest film at 73%. Despite the comparatively slow start, overall, this is one world with a lot still left in the tank.
A death-defying boulder chase, a fight on top of a military-grade tank, and a miraculous refrigerator capable of withstanding a massive nuclear explosion - Indiana Jones has been at the center of some of the most thrilling action sequences ever put to film. As fans await news on the fifth entry in the franchise, the bad taste from 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still lingers. Apart from the atrocious aforementioned “nuke the fridge” scene, the fourth film disappointed with bad CGI effects and a poorly written plot. Still, the movie received a 77% Rotten Tomatoes score, making it a not so abysmal low point for critics.
Although the latest entry fell short of expectations, there’s still plenty to be happy about with Indy. The philandering archaeologist cranked out three timeless classics in a row with certified fresh ratings. Although Raiders of the Lost Ark remains the series' brightest star, its follow-ups weren’t too shabby either. The Temple of Doom added a touch of mysticism to the films, while The Last Crusade added a lighter, funnier tone with its father/son story arc. Now thirty-six years removed from the first movie, this is one movie franchise that remains as captivating as any of the most recent big screen blockbusters.
Although not traditionally connected like other franchises on our list, the seventeen films of Pixar have been theorized to share the same universe. Known as the “Pixar Theory,” this shared universe follows an intricate timeline beginning with the prehistoric setting of The Good Dinosaur and culminating in a future where the animals of the Earth have evolved into the monsters seen in the Monsters Inc. films. Although this convoluted idea has been rejected by some of Pixar’s employees, the connection continues to be hinted at with countless Easter eggs scattered throughout each movie.
Redefining the animation genre in 1995 with Toy Story, Pixar has blown up the box office with its family-friendly stories about anthropomorphic rats, cars, and robots. Currently, Cars 2 is the lowest rated film from the studio, holding a Rotten Tomatoes score of 39%, the franchise’s lone rotten review. Out of seventeen films, twelve sit at a rating of 92% or higher, with the first two Toy Story movies both bringing in a perfect 100%. It’s a rare accomplishment that one studio can bring such high praises for more than two decades, but with many years still ahead, Pixar seems to only get better with time.
Although it has considerably less films than the number two entry on our list, George Miller’s Mad Max franchise is quintessential viewing for anyone seeking a high-octane franchise. Set in an apocalyptic wasteland experiencing societal collapse, the series follows Max Rockatansky as he drifts through the barbaric remains of Australia after the murder of his wife and child. The films would catapult the career of Mel Gibson, making him an international star. Thirty years after the release of the third film Beyond Thunderdome, Miller chose to revisit his world with Fury Road, recasting the lead role with Tom Hardy.
Although Fury Road proved to be the critical darling of 2015, it’s still up for debate whether the film is truly better than The Road Warrior, the second installment of the franchise. Both films share similar ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, bringing in nearly perfect scores. While Fury Road is arguably the nuttiest, most visceral movie of the franchise, The Road Warrior holds a dear place as a full throttle, B-movie masterpiece that tops its predecessor in almost every way imaginable. There’s not a dull moment to be had with Miller and his apocalyptic creations, making this gut-punching series one hell of a ride.
So does the Tomatometer have it right? Are there any franchises that were passed over here that you think deserve a spot in the top 15? Let us know in the comments.