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Stillborn Franchise

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"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 a TV series, the comic book adaptation, action figures, the flamethrower and plans to make a trilogy.

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However, when the work is actually released, it flops so badly that all the intended sequels and spin-offs are cancelled. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • An adaptation that pisses off the fans of the original source and fails to capture a new audience.
  • Trying to shotgun a niche property into a multimedia cash cow even though not many people are interested in it.
  • The work 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, Creative Differences, the creative team focusing on other projects, or, most dramatically, Author Existence Failure) 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:

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A milder variant of this is when they try to expand an already successful franchise, often with a feature film adaptation, a spin-off series or an alternate continuity, in an attempt to make a profitable franchise even more profitable, but it fails and it can even lower the profitability of the original parts of it.

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 What Could Have Been.

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Examples

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    Anime and 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).
  • 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 2001note . 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.
  • A lot of anime ends up being this, especially when they're the adaptation of something that hasn't finished yet. People who follow anime sales invented the idea of the "Manabi Line", where a series 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 thus results in a stillbirth adaptation. The actual validity of the Manabi line, as well as the relative importance of BD sales of general is a topic of much debate.
  • Takara Tomy hyped up Pretty Rhythm by trying to promote it everywhere, stating that the anime combined many things the target audience loved such as fashion and dancing, all whilst teaching them to follow their dreams. However, not that many children played the game (in total, there were only 400,000 uses throughout its entire run) or watched the anime. Its successor PriPara eventually took up the reigns of their above statement, and ended up totally eclipsing Pretty Rhythm in popularity. After the surprise runaway success of the King of Prism films (especially since they were a spinoff of the old Pretty Rhythm series), and the Colbert Bump it gave to Rainbow Live in return, the franchise was rebranded as the Thematic "Pretty Series" and sold itself on a new experience every installment. This particular strategy was the one that ended up working in the long run.
  • Kemono Friends was narrowly close to dying on birth: the original mobile game ended up being a flop, the manga's fanbase was middling, the anime was greenlit only because Kadokawa was already bound by contract to produce it, and as a result the anime was produced under a shoestring budget that didn't even reach the hundred thousand dollars it spent to make it. Its sudden and unexpected success was one of the big reasons why it was considered the big anime surprise of 2017.
  • In 2014, Avex began the first series in a unisex anime franchise about dancing that aired as part of the Nichi Asa Kids' Time block, Tribe Cool Crew. The series did so well that a second installment in the franchise, Brave Beats, was created. Unfortunately, this show had such low ratings that it was Cut Short to 22 episodes.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics has a number of attempts to create new superhero lines. The New Universe did relatively well, in the sense that it made it three years before imploding. Others less so.
    • A number of characters which were supposed to be the next generation of heroes. Among them Sleepwalker, Darkhawk, NFL Super Pro, and The Awesome Slapstick. None of them lasted long, although there have been many attempts to bring them back after years in Comic-Book Limbo.
    • The Shadowline Saga, a completely new 1988-90 Grim and Gritty superhero universe.
    • Razorline, a 1993 attempt to create another new superhero universe, with Clive Barker.
    • The All-New, All-Different Marvel and Marvel NOW! (2016) eras was another attempt to introduce new legacy characters and lines. While most of the new characters would go on to survive other relaunches, find success or get second/third/fourth chances, the hero Mosaic all but vanished once his eight-issue series was cancelled.
  • John Kricfalusi's Spumco Comic Book had a very short lived run. The initial run of the comics only lasted three issues under Dark Horse Comics in 1995, with Marvel Comics distributing one more issue in 1997 before the comics were cancelled altogether. Per word of Spumco employee Stephen Worth, it was a Catch 22 situation that killed the series early; comic book stores were the wrong market for funny comics, since readers were mostly interested in superhero comics instead of the gag oriented stories, and they couldn't get regular book stores to stock their comic books.
  • Rius' book, La Perestroika (The Perestroika), which deals with the then-recent economic reforms implemented by Mikhail Gorbachev, ends with a note saying that this is the first in a series of books dedicated to the topic, and mentioning that the next one would come after a trip of the author to the U.S.S.R. to witness first-hand the effects of the reforms. The book came out just about the same time of the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, which effectively put the final nail in the coffin of the existence of the Soviet Union.
  • Prior to the release of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (Boom! Studios), there had been numerous attempts to start a Power Rangers comic, barely lasting a few issues before being cancelled.
  • Queen Bee: A sequel book was teased, but nothing ever came of it.
  • Héctor Germán Oesteheld and Alberto Breccia made a biopic of Che Guevara, and intended to start a series of biopics about other populist figures in South America. The military government cancelled the comic and captured all the unsold comics, and all the copies of the unpublished sequel about Eva Perón. The line was thus abandoned. Both comics were re-published years later, when the political conflicts were over, but Oesterheld was dead by this point.
  • The Hasbro Comic Universe launched with multiple books and tons of hype behind it, promising to change things forever. The plan sputtered out very quickly, with none of the new books lasting more than a year and the existing Transformers series they spun out of dying a year after.

    Comic Strips 
  • Jim Meddick's Robotman and Monty started off in 1985 as just Robotman, a character whose United Feature Syndicate comic strip was intended to launch a cross-media franchise with books, toys, and so forth. The character never took off to these heights aside from the standard paperback collections of the strips. Robotman was written out of his own strip in 2001, and it has continued since as just Monty, starring the nerdy inventor Meddick introduced in 1993.

    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. Then in 2017 the series got a feature-length sequel based off Volkov's second book. Still unsuccessful.

    Literature 
  • The Ted Hughes book "Ffangs the Vampire Bat and the Kiss of Truth" ends with Ffangs becoming human, his sister getting kidnapped and Ffangs setting off to find her. The last line of the book is "The adventures of Ffangs will be continued in the next book", but the sequel was either never written or never published.
  • Stephenie Meyer's The Host was supposed to start a trilogy of adult science fiction books centered on the Souls. Despite the novel being a bestseller, however, Meyer has apparently given up on the idea.
  • The Viridian Saga, a Paranormal Romance Stealth Parody, was originally supposed to be a trilogy. The first book, Awoken, came out in 2013; the vlog series where the authors discussed plans for the sequels last updated in 2015.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kamen Rider Dragon Knight suffered from this. 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.
  • Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was so named for a reason, but we didn't get past the prologue. He was intended to eventually 'evolve' into a more Rider-like form in future installments.
  • 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. Success is variable.
    • 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).
    • Previously, the Hardy Boys had two Disney serials in the 1950s as part of The Mickey Mouse Club, a failed 1967 TV pilot, and a single-season 1969 Saturday Morning Cartoon. After the 1995 series, there was no more adaptation until 2020, when Hulu aired a Darker and Edgier adaptation.
    • As for Nancy, there was a failed TV pilot in the 1950s, as well as a made-for-TV movie in 2002 that would function as a backdoor pilot if ratings were good enough (they weren't). After the flop of the 2007 Nancy Drew movie starting Emma Roberts, Hollywood lost interest until 2016 when CBS filmed a pilot for a Nancy Drew TV procedural that would have portrayed Nancy as a grownup private detective, but the pilot was not picked up to series. By 2019, however, Nancy has an ongoing TV series on The CW.
  • 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. Unusually, 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.
  • The 2003 TV film Mermaidsnote  was intended as a Pilot Movie for a series about three mermaid sisters. It wasn't picked up, being feared too similar to Charmed. The mermaid concept would later be used in H₂O: Just Add Water - with the protagonists as teenagers rather than adults.
  • Speaking of Charmed, they planned a spin-off called Mermaid inspired by the fifth season premiere - about a mermaid called Nikki who would room with two human boys and help various people, all the while ducking a hunter trying to kill her. Word of God is that the franchise had a wrench thrown into it when the WB and UPN merged into the CW - and the network decided not to pick up the show.
  • Circa 2006, The WB created a Pilot Movie adaptation of Aquaman starring Justin Hartley in the title role. As with the Charmed spin-off above, because of the creative hurdles surrounding The WB/UPN merger, it was never picked up by The CW and the pilot was ultimately not aired on TV, being relegated to digital media. Hartley would instead star as Green Arrow in Smallville.

    Music 
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • '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.
  • 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 and Grey's Anatomy racking up four each).

    Multimedia 
  • The Pokémon Adventure: Pokémon Emergency! game was intended to be the first of twelve "Pokémon RPG" supplements, but due to licensing matters, the rest were never published.
  • Transformers:
    • Transformers: Prime was meant to be the linchpin of an ambitious Shared Universe called Unit:E (which was promoted with an one-off comic issue sold at the 2011 New York Comic Con), which would've placed Transformers alongside other Hasbro properties such as G.I. Joe and (baffingly) Candyland, and would've been a launchpad to revivals of many of the company's cult 80s properties such as Inhumanoids and M.A.S.K.. While the show was decently succesful and well-received, the low outreach of The Hub and long-running behind-the-scenes troubles ultimately doomed any attempt to launch a wider Hasbroverse, killing Hasbro's IP development division Haslab with it. Although the company would later give another shot at a shared universe with a 2016 comic book event, it followed none of what was set up in Unit:E and didn't last long.
    • Prime itself blossomed from the head of the "Aligned Continuity", an attempt to unify various branches of Transformers media into a single grandiose shared universe that would last decades. While a few of the projects, like Prime and the Transformers: War for Cybertron series, managed to establish solid fanbases, the plans of the "Binder of Revelation" were quickly thrown out, with many large projects being delayed or cancelled, and most plans being abandoned in under five years. Most famously, there was the Transformers Universe game, which was supposed to be an MMO that would launch alongside Prime and bring the Aligned continuity to the masses—it had such a Troubled Production that it not only completely changed genre, but it didn't start doing open beta until Prime was over, and then got cancelled before its release.
  • ShiftyLook was Bandai Namco's attempt to reinnovate their old classic arcade games such as Bravoman, Mappy, and more to a western audience, but its clear that Wonder Momo was meant to be their Breakthrough Hit, spawning an anime and even a mobile game by WayForward Technologies. However a change in management in Bamco staff combing with the fact that almost most of the properties featured there aren't as recognizable to Westerners as Pac-Man lead to the website shutting down in 2014 and all the properties falling back into obscurity save for their music featured in the Super Smash Bros. series.

    Pinball 
  • 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. It was a good idea in theory, but in practice, the people who did come up to place Safe Cracker were more interested in collecting the tokens than putting them back in to play other modes. On top of that, Williams produced only one run of the tokens, so machines soon ran out, leaving angry patrons anywhere Safe Cracker was available.
  • 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.
  • Company example: Kevin Kulek had every intention of turning Skit-B into a major player in the pinball business, with Predator as its beginning, as is evidenced by him having at least three other machines in development at the same time as Predator. However, either by naivete, laziness, or arrogance, he never actually requested the Predator rights from Fox, putting him in deep legal trouble when Fox found out about his project. This act destroyed his company before it could even release its first game. This case also crosses over with Creator Killer, as Kulek mishandled this legal dispute so badly, no one else in pinball wants anywhere near him anymore, and his name has become either a joke or, to the people who pre-ordered Predator for thousands of dollars and never got refunded, a Berserk Button.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • Channel Awesome:
    • Demo Reel was clearly intended for another season but poor viewership and mixed reception led to the Walker Brothers to axe the series and erase it from existence by rebooting The Nostalgia Critic.
    • Melvin: Brother of the Joker had a lukewarm reception that led to the discontinuation of the character by outright killing him off in one of the donation drive videos.
    • Emo Jones just like Melvin was poorly received that everyone (especially Doug and Rob) forgot that it even existed. So yeah: Don't except a second episode anytime soon.
    • The Let's Play of Bart's Nightmare would have led to a recurring feature were it not for the negative reception it received, to the point where the review of the James and the Giant Peach film that followed opened with NC apologizing for it at the start in a sketch where he got sent to prison for it (placed next to the State Home for the Ugly, no less).
  • Puppicarus by Caddicarus received not so stellar views and mixed reception that led to the end of the spinoff and even the end of the character altogether.

    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, Disney having much more success later on with boy-centric merchandise based on acquired franchises like Carsnote , Marvel Comics and Star Wars.
  • 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, and the only other planned special starring the eponymous kids known to have existed, an Easter special called A Bunny's Tale, was scrapped and was never heard from again.
  • Underfist: Halloween Bash was intended to be the Pilot Movie for an action-comedy Spin-Off of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, but a change in executives at the studio resulted in those plans being scrapped and the movie remaining as a standalone special. Lampshaded by Billy's comment at the end credits.
    Billy: All that work, and nothing to show for it!
  • Gargoyles had several spin-offs planned, with Disney wanting to make an entire universe akin to Marvel or DC. Some got released as comics by Slave Labor Graphicsnote , while others were never released in any form.
  • Mega Man: Fully Charged was intended as part of a larger franchise that would have included many other tie-ins including a new video game featuring the characters. The show lasted only one season thanks to being Screwed by the Network and was considered So Okay, It's Average by critics and panned by fans of the franchise for heavily deviating from the source material. Capcom has not mentioned the series outside of a six-issue comic miniseries.
  • The 2014 reboot miniseries of Rainbow Brite was meant to test the waters for a revitalization of the franchise ala My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic but its low outreach led to Hallmark not moving forward with the reboot and not much else of Rainbow Brite has been heard of since.
  • Thundercats Roar was intended to mark a new direction for the Thundercats franchise and reinvigorate the series. Instead, it suffered from poor ratings and was roundly trashed by fans of the previous cartoons, leading to the show being cancelled after just one season.


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