Millions of filmgoers and aspiring dark lord conjurers worldwide anxiously await the release of the eighth and final Harry Potter film.
While most will be saddened that their favorite film franchise is at its end, some will be angered as a result of that same fact.
Well, I imagine it is because die-hard fans have an emotional connection to the characters and story and that seeing the last installment is much the same as visiting a dying relative in the hospital.
Others might say because it is the end of what is one of the most, if not the most, successful film series in history.
Depending on how one defines success of a film series, Harry Potter may not exactly be the poster boy for franchises.
If you define it by the amount of money it’s taken in, then it’s successful. By that same logic, the Fast and Furious movies are brilliant pieces of cinematic poetry because, well, they’ve made a ton of money.
Well, then let success be defined by the fact that there are a large number of films in the series.
If that were the case, eight is really a drop in the popcorn bucket when compared to other film series. James Bond has, what, 20 films and even that can be considered “just the beginning” when compared to other franchises.
In fact, the most successful film franchises in terms of pure numbers are five that most people have either never seen or, for that matter, even heard of.
The Three Mesquiteers
Coming in with a total of 51 films, The Three Mesquiteers, a clever (well, not really) take on the Three Musketeers, is one of the longest running franchises in film. With such titles as Come On, Cowboys!, Saddle Pals and The Trigger Trio, the Three Mesquiteers fought for the common folk against the local baddies that sought to take advantage, steal and corrupt.
From 1936 to 1943, The Three Mesquiteers were played by a total of 12 different actors, including John Wayne. The series was popular among moviegoers, especially kids. Everyone wanted to be a Mesquiteer and fight the stage robbers, the bandits and, yes, even the Nazis. The Mesquiteers series, while technically westerns, were westerns mixed with contemporary settings. So, come WWII, the Mesquiteers were able to thwart Nazi hooligans bent on taking over the quaint prairieland…because that happened, um, a lot during the war. “Vee must control ze dairy industry!”
Beating the Mesquiteers by one film was Santo.
Santo was a series of films featuring lucha libre great Santo, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, a white masked wrestler who was not afraid to take on anyone. From 1958 to 1982, Santo battled supernatural beings, including vampires, zombies and witches.
A real-life wrestler, Santo became an inspiration for other film characters such as Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras. Other wrestling-themed characters battling supernatural beings did not have the longevity that Santo held. With a film career that spanned 24 years and a wrestling career that spanned an impressive 48, I think it is safe to say that Santo would kick Harry Potter’s butt in a match to the death.
The Durango Kid
From 1940 to 1952, actor Charles Starrett starred as the Durango Kid in an amazing 64 films.
Known to folks around town simply as Steve, he would transform into the Durango Kid by donning a black mask, black outfit and even use a different horse and, apparently, no one caught on. Mild-mannered Steve was the Clark Kent of the fictional west.
Through each new adventure, the Durango Kid would stop some crime, fight some bad guys, woo a young gal and usually sing a song or two. The latter part of that formula being a based on the fact that Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp and other real-life do-gooders of the west were nothing more than aspiring singers and songwriters?
Beating Durango Kid by two films and making him feel like a big failure was Hopalong Cassidy.
From 1935 to 1948, Hopalong Cassidy, a character itself based on a series of short stories and books, was a man whose sole purpose in life was to right all wrongs. William Boyd portrayed Hoppy in all 66 films.
When the films were re-edited and shortened, Hopalong Cassidy became one of the first successful television shows ever and the very first western TV series. The show was so popular, in fact, that Hoppyland, an 80-acre amusement park, was created in 1951. In 1954, it closed down.
Popularity only goes so far, it seems.
Obscure to most people born after 1950, Hopalong Cassidy still has a contemporary, although limited, influence on today’s culture. On every carton of Producer’s Dairy milk is a small picture of William Boyd beside which reads “Hoppy’s Favorite”.
So, if nothing else, Hopalong Cassidy enjoyed righting wrongs and drinking milk.
The most successful film series goes not to a western, nor does it even go to a Hollywood bi-product.
The character of Wong Fei-Hung was portrayed in a total of 89 films. Beginning in 1949 and appearing as recently as 1997, Wong Fei-Hung is as much a Chinese folk hero as Hopalong Cassidy is an ambassador for US dairy.
Wong Fei-Hung, a real-life doctor and martial artist who died in 1924, was first introduced to Chinese moviegoers in 1949’sStory of Wong Fei-Hung and became a staple for Chinese movie badassery.
Of the actors who have portrayed Fei-Hung over the years, the most notable names include Jackie Chan and Jet Li, while theDrunken Master and Once Upon A Time In China series all center around Fei-Hung.
So, when you leave the theater after watching Harry Potter battle his arch-nemesis, give some thought to what Harry Potter would be like after, say, the 68th film. Would his adventures be as magical as they are now?
Would he perhaps be a cowboy doing battle with Nazis?
Would he continue to be a staple in movie theaters for generations?
If the answer is yes, then it truly can be said that Harry Potter is among the most successful film series.
Especially the time he fought the Punisher.