Who’s missing from the big picture?

aslan eyeLet me (during a short break in my D.C. meetings) jump up on a soapbox for a minute.

Is Entertainment Weekly a news publication? Probably not, but it is published by a news organization and it has some pages in the front of each issue called “news.” The current issue has one of those trendy annotated list/feature stories by reporter Tim Stack titled “Claw Power: The top ten franchise characters in movies — Wolverine, Madea and Jigsaw are only some of the heroes and villians that attract audiences.”

The article never clearly defines its terms, which left me to assume — a bad word in journalism — that the goal of the article was to describe the characters at the heart of current Hollywood movie franchises, movie series that have potential to roll on for some time into the future making the big bucks.

The man at the top of the list is currently ruling global theater screens:

Despite some negative prerelease buzz, mixed reviews, and a furry blue Kelsey Grammer in a leather vest, X-Men: The Last Stand demolished Memorial Day box office records with a huge $122.9 million domestic four-day gross. It’s the latest impressive haul for a franchise that just keeps getting bigger: In 2000, the first X-Men pulled in $157.7 million total, while 2003′s X2 took home $214.9 million. With The Last Stand this X trilogy has come to an end, but the film’s best-known character, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), is set to live on in a highly anticipated spin-off, which could spawn sequels of its own. That’s why the blade-bearing mutant tops our list of film’s most powerful characters.

Notice that there appear to be two key factors linked to the meaning of this “franchise” term — (1) big box office and (2) the ability to produce more sequels. In other words, EW says it wants success right now and solid potential for success in the future.

Thus, Harry Potter is No. 2 and Spider-Man is No. 3. Shrek falls to No. 4. Shrek 3 is on the way, but beyond that? What is the source material for Shrek 7?

The rest of the list gets kind of strange (read the article for the explanations of each):

(5) Robert Langdon (with or without the hair of Tom Hanks)

(6) Jason Bourne

(7) James Bond

(8) Jigsaw

(9) Bart Simpson (fading on TV, first movie on the way)

(10) Madea

Aslan Lion Narnia MovieActually, I would have rated Perry’s “trash-talking senior citizen” higher in the list, in part because of her cost-to-box-office ratio. Clearly, there is a niche out there for African American humor that has some sense of (how to say this) faith and funky family values. I also get the impression that Perry is tapping a very deep personal well of creativity.

But I digress.

Take a look at that No. 2 slot — Mr. Harry Potter. Now, I love these books and think the movies are OK. The fourth movie was a smash and brought in $290,013,036 in domestic box office. That’s a strong total, and few doubt that the final three movies will do likewise.

But what if you had a franchise character that brought in $291,710,957 in its opening movie? What if the character was at the heart of a beloved, classic seven-book series that sold roughly 100 million copies in the second half of the 20th century?

With six books to go, could we say that this character has solid box-office potential? If the first film topped that No. 2 franchise, might not this new franchise character at least make it onto the list? Somewhere?

Who is missing from this list? Why is he — or even He — missing? Why doesn’t this pop-news article in EW play by its own rules?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    I really don’t think Aslan is a “title character,” that’s why. He’s notable, but the main characters in the books are the children, and despite their good box office success, they really aren’t household names. There’s also the matter of him being a CGI-generated character who doesn’t spend much time ‘acting’ in the movie.

    Not everything is a deliberate attempt to sideline religion.

  • tmatt

    Jennifer:

    Aslan is the heart and the face of the entire series.

    Several of the characters in the list are non-human, to one degree or another.

  • c.tower

    Not listing “The Chronicles of Narnia” as one of the most prominent franchises is a big mistake, no question. But it is easy to understand why, when thinking of franchise CHARACTERS, a big lion would slip the writer’s mind.(Nobody refers to Star Wars as “those R2D2 movies”, even though he’s the only character with a major presence in all 6 films).

  • http://filmchatblog.blogspot.com Peter T Chattaway

    It takes more than one film to make a franchise, and at the moment — unlike most of the characters on EW’s list — Aslan has only one film to his name.

    Robert Langdon is the odd one out here, since he’s only got one film to his name so far; though he does have two best-selling books to his credit, as well. And Bart Simpson hasn’t appeared in any movies at all, but he at least has a very successful TV series to his credit. And the ability to stretch across different kinds of media does enhance a character’s claim to “franchise” status.

    It could be argued that the Narnia books have multi-media appeal, but I suspect a bit of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery” may be at work here; the Narnia books are not recent best-sellers like some of these other items, so as far as this hot-and-hip cutting-edge-of-the-latest-trends magazine is concerned, Aslan has nothing more than a single movie to his name.

    All conjecture, of course.

    There is also the fact that the Narnia movie diminished Aslan so that he was less than what he was in the books. Perhaps the movie version of Aslan just didn’t make an impression on the EW writers.

    And FWIW, while Aslan might have nudged ahead the most recent Harry Potter movie in North America, he’s still safely trailing behind the first Harry Potter movie in North America, and he’s well, well behind all four Harry Potter movies when worldwide grosses are taken into account.

  • Liz B.

    He’s the face and the heart of the series to people who love Narnia (and/or Jesus). But if you just take the movie at face value, he’s by no means its “star”. In fact, I thought one of the weaknesses of the movie was that it spent so little time showing us why we should care about this CGI lion.

    EW did a very positive article on Walden Media awhile back, FYI:

    http://www.ew.com/ew/report/0,6115,1186021_1|81713||0_0_,00.html

    Actually, if you look at the section of that article where it talks about the rest of the Narnia series, I think it supports the contention that it isn’t being perceived as the “Aslan” series; he’s barely mentioned.