The Lisbeth Salander movie series is an odd one.
Based on the books by the late author Stieg Larsson, the movie franchise — about an antisocial genius hacker punk who rights wrongs — began its life as a trilogy of Swedish films, and was later adapted into a 2011 English-language version directed by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig.
The American film was excellent and made good money, but MGM still wrote it off as a “modest loss” at the box office. After a few delays, Fincher’s completion of the trilogy was scrapped. But now, seven years later, we’ve got “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (now in theaters). It’s a reboot of the series based on a sequel written by David Lagercrantz, well after Larsson’s death. Got all that?
The new film mostly breaks away from the original trilogy, establishing a new episodic structure. And it feels like a smart move for the franchise.
Rebooting Lisbeth after so long shows the studio has confidence in the character herself (here recast with “The Crown” star Claire Foy). The new film posits that the black-clad heroine is bigger than the original trilogy that launched her, that she could carry her own franchise independent of the books. If “Girl in the Spider’s Web” is an international hit, you can count on plenty more “Girl” movies in the near future.
Whatever happens at the box office, Lisbeth is unquestionably a good candidate for a long-term franchise. For many reasons.
For one, her vocation — hacking, solving mysteries, hurting bad men, being a badass — means that she’ll always be getting up to crazy new adventures. The longevity to any series (movie or TV show) often revolves around a profession. The workplace can be great fuel for drama, especially if said workplace involves international intrigue.
And another reason for potential longevity: Precedent has already established that Lisbeth can be continually recast with new stars.
Here’s a movie question often asked: Who will play James Bond after Daniel Craig leaves the series? But another question that’s just as relevant for moviegoers: Who are our other James Bonds? Which movie series have the branding power to carry their heroes through decades of new stories that will keep audiences interested?
Lisbeth is one strong candidate for such a forever franchise. I’d like to offer a few others.
Note: I’ve excluded superhero series, as well as “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” spinoffs because … because I felt like it. And because they felt like a false comparison.
By its fifth or sixth installments, this joyously dumb series figured out the answer to its longevity: give its car-racing thieves a day job. The crew became contract employees for the government, instead of running from the authorities all the time. This gave our heroes a chance to work on a fresh objective with each new installment, even as everyone remains tied to the soap operatics of previous movies — dead brothers, foes-turned-friends, amnesia subplots.
The series gets its strength from its characters, but it has so many of them that even the death of the franchise’s original star, Paul Walker, didn’t stall the story. The Rock and Jason Statham are going off to do their own spinoff franchise, but don’t expect that to sink the series, either.
These movies could conceivably go on forever, even without the same actors, as each new installment could add a few new characters while killing off a few others. After a few restorations, the franchise will have no original parts. But that won’t matter. Because the brand is the star.
This one has a less flexible future than “F&F” because the “Mission: Impossible” franchise is Tom Cruise. He’s the only person who’s played Ethan Hunt since 1996, and he’s the only person who makes sense as Ethan Hunt. To replace him feels wrong. To do an “M:I” movie without the character feels worse. Fortunately for us, Tom Cruise will live forever, jumping off buildings and out of airplanes for our amusement.
Replacing Mel Gibson with Tom Hardy in 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” crystallized the character’s status as the James Bond of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Here’s a man with no past and no future. He gets into adventures and he gets out of them before the credits roll. Additionally, Furiosa holds franchise potential, even if Charlize Theron opts not to return as the character.
Jack Ryan/Jack Reacher/Jason Bourne
In theory, these guys should all have their own long-term, James Bond-style franchises. But Bourne’s star has faded, the “Reacher” series has crashed into a wall and Jack Ryan has left the big screen for serialized television.
Regarding Jack Ryan, no character besides Bond has been rebooted so many times with so many actors: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine and now John Krasinski. But nothing ever sticks for long. If this series could find a Jack Ryan who could last more than a few installments, it might be able to gain some long-term traction as a viable movie franchise.
But perhaps the problem was always the fact that CIA analysts are not as inherently intriguing as British secret agents.
Some other possible series that could become forever franchises, even with new actors:
“Beverly Hills Cop,” “National Treasure,” “Riddick,” “Blade,” “Crank,” “Shaft,” and “Rambo.” That last one could take a page out of the “Rocky”/“Creed” playbook, which has passed the torch from Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed. Surely, Rambo has a son out there somewhere who could inherit his father’s rocket launcher.