The films that were almost the next Harry Potter franchise

From Philip Pullman's Dark Materials to Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments and Lemony Snicket - these are the film franchises that never were...

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If you look back at the money-making, fandom-creating, block-busting films of the last decade, it’s all about franchises. Think Harry Potter, Twilight, The Chronicles of Narnia, Divergent, The Maze Runner and the Hunger Games.

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In the wake of Potter, Katiss and co, fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian YA stories, with four or five follow-up novels, are a filmmaker’s dream. Yet that’s not enough for some tales. These are all rich stories, ripe for the cinema screen, yet, for some reason they didn’t make it past chapter one. These are the film franchises that never were… 


Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Based on the first three novels of Daniel Handler’s 13-book series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (on today at 1:00pm on Film4) was ripe for a long-running franchise. It was fun, unusual and star studded – Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly were among the cast.

The film did fairly well at the box office, and even won an Oscar for best make-up. And while there was plenty more weird and wacky source material waiting in the wings, a sequel never made it into production.

That said, a TV-series is currently in the works over at Neflix so we might just find out how things turned out for Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire after all… 


His Dark Materials (2007)

Phillip Pullman’s controversial Dark Materials trilogy was another potential franchise which stalled after its first outing. The Golden Compass, the first part in Pullman’s fantastical tale, had all the makings of a huge hit – daemons, witches, talking polar bears, magic knives, unimaginable adventures, and two sparky tweens fighting an unknown, all-powerful enemy – and an impressive cast, featuring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Film bosses clearly had high hopes. But the end product provoked protests from people who saw it as an anti-Catholic allegory and failed to wow critics, who were left disappointed by the lack of coherent plot and overblown CGI. 

But we hadn’t even met half the brilliant, amazing, mind-boggling characters, places and parallel universes yet. Why someone hasn’t snapped it up and attempted a Game of Thrones-style TV series is beyond us… 


The Mortal Instruments (2013)

The Mortal Instruments, a series of six young adult fantasy novels written by Cassandra Clare, was almost the new Twilight Saga. Almost, but not quite. City of Bones, the film clearly intended to be the first in a long, successful and highly lucrative franchise, follows NYC teenager Clary (Lily Collins) who discovers she is a shadowhunter, a half-human, half-angel who secretly protects humanity from dangerous demons. 

There was talk of another film, but after City of Bones failed to perform as expected at the box office, filmmakers put the project on hold. A reboot TV adaptation was announced last year though, and ABC’s The Shadowhunters is expected to go into production next month. 


Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Starring Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson, and adapted from the first book in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles, Beautiful Creatures tapped into the Twilight and Harry Potter market, telling the story of Lena Duchannes, a caster capable of performing magical spells. Beautiful Creatures meets Lena days away from her 16th birthday, the day she’ll choose the light or the dark, and at the start of a risky romance.

Sounds intriguing, but Beautiful Creatures disappointed at the box-office and garnered less than positive critical reviews. A second film wasn’t on the (tarot) cards… 


I Am Number Four (2011)

I Am Number Four is based on the first book in the Lorien Legacies series. Starring Alex Pettyfer and Glee’s Dianna Agron, the film follows John Smith, aka Number Four, an alien teen from the planet Lorien who was sent to Earth as a child with eight others to escape the Mogadorians. He and his guardian Henri move around America trying to stay unseen in the shadows, until Four’s fight with the Mogadorians comes to a head. 

The film rights were bought before the book even hit shelves, so studios were clearly excited about the prospect of a franchise, but there’s been no word on a sequel so far. It’s been four years, so we’re not holding out much hope… 

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