Stillborn Franchise

"Probably the most damning evidence against this movie is that they're going right to rebooting the film franchise. It committed movie-suicide in only one installment."
— from The Agony Booth's Hulk recap

So the Hollywood marketing machine is hyping a movie as the next big thing in the industry. The producers are so confident that they have already announced the comic book adaptation, action figures, the flamethrower and plans to make a trilogy.

However, when the work is actually released, it flops and kills the plan to make more out of it. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • An adaptation that pisses off the fans of the original source and fails to capture mainstream interest.
  • A niche property being shotgunned into a multimedia cash cow even though not many are interested in it.
  • Something that just plain sucks.

In some cases, the start of a stillborn franchise may actually be critically and/or even financially successful, but complications (such as the creators parting ways with the production company and losing the rights, or the creative team focusing on other projects) prevent sequels from being made.

On top of the actual Word Of God from the creators about their plans and the natural law that forces executives to milk anything they spent a lot of money on, there are also several common hints to their intentions that affect the work in various places:

Compare and contrast with Franchise Killer where an already vibrant franchise is ended by a later bad entry. Another installment might be planned but end up being a victim of Development Hell. Often overlaps with Orphaned Series. See also Genre-Killer, Creator Killer, and Stillborn Serial.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Martian Successor Nadesico was planned to have a trilogy of movies to tie up loose ends, along with a video game to explain how things ended up that way. The Prince of Darkness bombed quite badly, and no more effort has been put into the series. A video game that covers the events between the series and The Prince of Darkness was released, but in Japan only.
  • Great Dangaioh’s performance was bad enough to have the show get cancelled and leave things hanging in episode 12 (out of a planned 26). This effectively ensured that the Dangaioh series as a whole would never get a proper ending (let alone resolve the OVA's events).
  • In the world of BD sales, the general chance of a series getting a second season is often called the "Manabi Line", where they must pass a certain amount of BD sales per volume (at least 2900 units) to warrant the hopes of getting a second season, failing to do so will result in a stillbirth adaptation.
  • Sonic The Hedgehog The Movie was supposed to be a full-fledged anime series, but only two episodes were released because the franchise's popularity in Japan is lower than it is elsewhere.
  • Techno Police 21C from Studio Nue was going to be a TV series about a team of 3 policemen and 3 human-sized childish prototype Tin Can Robots fighting crime in the year 2001.note  After some 4 years of Troubled Production they managed to make an 80-minute pilot. And repurposed it as a theatrical movie. Which wasn't very successful.

    Comic Books 

     Eastern Animation 
  • The 1999-2000 Russian animated series Adventures in the Emerald City was supposed to be an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz novels. They only got to producing four episodes, adapting the first two books, before the budget ran out and they were unable to secure more funding.
    • This might be because the Russians are more familiar with the literary translation by Alexander Volkov than the original novel. In fact, Baum's sequels didn't get the same treatment from Volkov as the first novel, as Volkov went on to write his own sequels to the translation, unrelated to Baum's sequels except for the occasional magical artifact or substance.

  • Steelflower by Lilith Saintcrow was supposed to be the first book of a trilogy according to the back cover. Unfortunately, the e-book was heavily pirated, making writing the other two books a poor investment according to the author.

     Live Action TV 
  • Saban's Masked Rider, an Americanized adaptation of Kamen Rider Black RX and one of several Saban projects hastily compiled to cash in on the success of Power Rangers. The result was so painfully homogenised that Kamen Rider creator Shotaro Ishinomori forbid any more American adaptations of his work. This ban would persist until 2009, when Kamen Rider Dragon Knight was developed as a series much closer in spirit to the original source. Dragon Knight itself suffered from this as well. Poor toy sales and ratings (partly due to Screwed by the Network) plus financial troubles with Adness Entertainment meant that any possible follow-up adaptation was dead. It didn't help that the final two episodes didn't even air on TV, only online.
    • Subverted Trope: Masked Rider was based on what was at the time the final Kamen Rider series. Kamen Rider Kuuga didn't appear until 2000, five years after Masked Rider. As such, it was never going to lead to a franchise anyway.
  • After having a semi-successful series in the seventies, there have been multiple attempts to adapt the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series onto the screen, often as a TV series. Both had a limited 13-episode Canadian adaptation in 1995, but both were quickly cancelled (many feel the biggest factor working against them was the half-hour format, which just doesn't give enough space to set up a good mystery). This happened to Nancy again in 2002, with a made-for-TV movie that would function as a backdoor pilot if ratings were good enough. It wasn't, and after the flop of the 2007 Nancy Drew movie starting Emma Roberts, it might be safe to say that live-action adaptations of both series are pretty much dead in the water for the foreseeable future.
  • In 2008, the BBC released a series of drama pilots all at once with the intention of choosing the most popular one to make into a full-length series. This led to several instances of the trope:
    • The Things I Haven't Told You, a mystery drama. It was supposed to, unsurprisingly, contain lots of secrets and stuff that would be released throughout the show's entire prospective run. As an episode in its own right, it made very little sense, but the viewers that found it compelling were very disappointed (not to mention confused/angry/frustrated) when Being Human was made into a series instead.
    • Phoo Action, a futuristic comedy about a mismatched crime-fighting duo trying to stop mutant terrorists from turning Princes William and Harry into mutants. It was commissioned for a series and a franchise planned around it (it was already based on an existing comic strip), but cancelled before shooting began when the BBC decided the show wasn't going to achieve its "creative ambitions."
    • Dis/Connected, about a group of high schoolers discovering that each played a role in a classmate's suicide. Initially touted as a rival to Skins and ambitious talk about its future, but its ratings were too low to justify a full series.
    • In 2010 the BBC aired another pilot called Lizzie and Sarah about two abused wives who go on a murder spree. It was to have been the last of six stand-alone TV movies in a planned series, with a possible second series to follow, and expected to be a hit Black Comedy following in the footsteps of shows like Nighty Night (whose star, Julia Davis, wrote and performed in Lizzie and Sarah). It aired in a very poor time slot and was ultimately not commissioned, despite complaints from fans and support from other comedians such as Simon Pegg.
  • The 2002 made-for-TV version of Carrie was meant to lead into a series on NBC, in which Carrie, having been Spared by the Adaptation, heads to Florida to search for others like her. Low ratings for the film meant that the series was never made.
  • Mockingbird Lane was supposed to be the Pilot Movie of a Darker and Edgier reboot of The Munsters. However for whatever reason, the show didn't get picked up, but the film was still shown on NBC as a Halloween special.
  • Matthew Blackheart: Monster Smasher is a 2002 TV movie starring Robert Bogue and Christopher Heyerdahl, about a WWII super-soldier frozen in the 1940s and revived in the 1990s, who battles supernatural creatures in New York City. Similar (in concept, at least) to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it failed to garner any plaudits and no series detailing the further adventures of Blackheart ever appeared.

  • Mid-to-late '90s hip hop supergroup The Firm — consisting of Nas, Foxy Brown, AZ, and Cormega (who was later ousted and replaced with Nature) — was hyped as one of the hottest new groups in hip-hop after their formation, appearance on Nas' It Was Written album, and signing to Dr. Dre's record label. In 1997, they released their debut album... which got such a lackluster reception by both consumers and critics that any interest in more music from the group was nixed, and they went their separate ways the year after. While Brown has mentioned that there have been discussions of The Firm reuniting, the project seems to be an Old Shame for nearly everyone involved.
    • Arguably this could be a case of Critical Dissonance, with a touch of Hype Backlash. At the time, Nas, Foxy Brown, and AZ weren't that popular outside of New York and were never really heavy sellers to begin with. Basically they were a precursor to another hip-hop supergroup by the name of Slaughter House. Essentially they only appealed to the most hardcore hip-hop fanbase.
    • This was not the first time a band called The Firm had failed to proceed; in the mid '80s, Jimmy Page formed a miniature supergroup with himself on guitar, and Paul Rodgers, formerly of Free and Bad Company, on vocals. The original plan was to fill the band out with former Yes percussionist Bill Bruford, plus ubiquitous 80s fretless bassist Pino Palladino, but this didn't pan out. Despite being Jimmy Page's first band project since Led Zeppelin, the group's debut album met with lackluster reviews and poor sales. Surprisingly there was a second album — shades of Tin Machine — after which the group disbanded.
  • In 1993 The Sisters Of Mercy released Greatest Hits Volume 1: A Slight Case of Overbombing. It was the last album they released.
  • ABBA's compilation The Singles: The First Ten Years has an ironic title. After promoting the two newly-recorded singles, they took a break from which they never regrouped, making it their final release before (in effect) splitting.
  • George Michael failed to release a followup to his Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 album of 1990.
  • The full title of Michael Jackson's 1995 Distinct Double Album was HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. There never was a Book II, though there was Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix in 1997 (which was mostly remixes), not to mention HIStory on Film: Volume II (which was music videos).
  • '80s band Re-Flex is best known for their single of The Politics of Dancing from their one and only album of the same name. The single How Much Longer? released in 1985 was labled "From the forthcoming album Humanication". The album never forthcame due to Executive Meddling.
  • In 1996, The Beach Boys released Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1, an album featuring them singing re-recordings of their hits as duets with Country Music stars. After the album was ripped apart by critics, any future installments were scrapped.
  • David Bowie's 1996 concept album 1. Outside was planned to be the first of a 3-album set. However, his next album was the unrelated drum-and-bass-influenced excursion Earthling, and as of 2013 no follow-up has been released.
  • 2008 saw the release of OMFGG – Original Music Featured on Gossip Girl No. 1. By the time the series ended four years later, there was still no sign of No. 2 (compare to One Tree Hill racking up four albums and Grey's Anatomy having five).

  • Capcom's Breakshot was advertised as the first in the "Capcom Classic" series, a line of low-cost pinballs with "classic-style" gameplay to appeal to all players. Needless to say, this is the only game in the series.
  • The Judge Dredd pinball was the debut of "Supergame", where for an extra credit, players could play the table with extra modes and expanded rules, including exclusive multiball modes. No other pinball has used the feature.
  • Safe Cracker was advertised as the first "Token-Pin" game, which would dispense tokens for winning that could be used for various things, such as prizes or a special game mode. No other game in the line has been produced.
  • Flipper Football was Capcom Pinball's first "Interplay Display" pinball game; the dot-matrix display was mounted in the cabinet, and would respond when the player struck targets underneath it. Capcom closed its pinball division soon after the game was released, and no other "Interplay Display" games were made.
  • Steve Ritchie's Hyperball married a Pinball cabinet with a Shoot 'em Up, challenging players to fire up to 250 balls a minute against an army of attacking lightning bolts. Despite plans to product up to 50,000 games, only 5,000 were made and sold, and the idea was never revisited.

     Western Animation 
  • The very short lived Van Beuren Studios Felix the Cat shorts, an attempt to revive the franchise after the original theatrical cartoons fell to the wayside due to multiple factors (including the death of his owner Pat Sullivan and the latest efforts absolutely paling in comparison to the new Mickey Mouse sound films, and the fact that Felix still had a popular newspaper comic running) only lasted for three shorts (with a fourth one never getting past the story stage) due to Van Beuren Studios abruptly going belly-up when RKO negated their contract in favor of distributing Disney shorts.
  • David Hand's Animaland series, a lushly animated series of Golden Age shorts, was supposed to be a full fledged series. But since it was unable to find a distributor in the US, it died after just nine shorts. David Hand's son has tried to revive the series, but nothing ever came from that.
  • After the massive success of the Disney Princess crossover franchise, Disney attempted to do the same thing with its popular male heroes in the mid 2000s. The result was the Disney Heroes franchise, whose lineup consisted of Aladdin, King Arthur, Hercules, Peter Pan, Robin Hood and Tarzan. Poor sales ended the franchise pretty quickly and Disney abandoned using their own characters for boy-centric franchise merchandise, having much more success later on with boy-centric merchandise based on acquired franchises like Cars, Marvel Comics and Star Wars.
  • The Rapsittie Street Kids Believe In Santa was meant to be the first of a series of TV specials featuring the eponymous kids. The special's....questionable quality and poor reception, however, put the kibosh on any of those plans, including those of an Easter special announced during the credits.