11 Movie Franchises With Only One Director

Summary

  • Some movie franchises have a strong association with a singular director, like Robert Zemeckis with Back to the Future or Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings.
  • Many prolific filmmakers start major franchises but often leave after the first installment, leaving the series in the hands of the studio to continue.
  • Franchise films are typically not known for their association with directors, unlike medium or smaller-budget movies.


While some movie franchises have benefited from trying new voices, others have become known for their attachment to a singular director. Movie series aren’t really synonymous with having auteur directors, as they’re often seen as being the products of studio bureaucracy that doesn’t permit much individual control. While there are examples, like Thor: Ragnarok or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where a director’s unique vision shines through, it’s rarely the case that franchise films carry much association with directors in the same way medium or smaller-budget movies do.

Many prolific filmmakers who kicked off significant franchises, like John Carpenter with Halloween or Ridley Scott with Alien, ended up leaving to pursue other projects after the first installment, leaving the series to its studio to re-calibrate. However, there are examples where a director has remained with the series for every installment, with their name often associated with the title. It’s hard to imagine Back to the Future without Robert Zemeckis or The Lord of the Rings without Peter Jackson. Smaller film series like The Dark Knight trilogy won’t count, as they’re part of the larger Batman franchise.

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11 Avatar

Two films directed by James Cameron.

Avatar

Release Date
December 18, 2009

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
162 minutes

While there are only two Avatar films, more are planned, and it’s hard to imagine James Cameron giving up the reins at any point. While the director stepped away from The Terminator series after two movies, Cameron has written and directed both Avatar installments, spending years of his career developing Avatar: The Way of Water. James Cameron’s name is synonymous with the Avatar series, which has been his main passion project for most of the 21st century.

10 Back to the Future

Three films directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Christopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox, and Lea Thompson in Back to the Future.

Back to the Future

Release Date
July 3, 1985

Director
Robert Zemeckis

Cast
Claudia Wells , Christopher Lloyd , James Tolkan , Thomas F. Wilson , Michael J. Fox , Wendie Jo Sperber , Crispin Glover , Marc McClure , Lea Thompson

Rating
PG

Runtime
116 minutes

Back to the Future is one of the most famous film series to surprisingly not have any modern reboots. Robert Zemeckis directed the three original movies, and while the original Back to the Future is the best, the trilogy is still a ton of fun altogether. The charm and adventure that Zemeckis brought to his most famous films is heavily apparent in the Back to the Future series, and it’s a series that’s already been done perfectly and needs no reboot.

9 The Maze Runner

Three films directed by Wes Ball.

Thomas from The Maze Runner films overlayed on a blurred image of the book series

The Maze Runner

Cast
Dylan O’Brien , Kaya Scodelario , Thomas Brodie-Sangster , will poulter , Patricia Clarkson , Giancarlo Esposito , Aidan Gillen , Ki Hong Lee , Barry Pepper , Walton Goggins , Nathalie Emmanuel

Based on the book series of the same name, The Maze Runner trilogy was one of the most famous dystopian series of its era, with all three films directed by Wes Ball. Ball led the series as his first set of features, and despite its ups and downs, the movies remained profitable, and the studio trusted him to see his vision through. Since they’re based on books, there aren’t any plans to make more Maze Runner films without Wes Ball any time soon.

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8 The Godfather

Three films directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

robert de niro with francis ford coppola and the godfather 50 poster

The Godfather

Release Date
March 24, 1972

Rating
R

Runtime
175 minutes

Commonly considered the best movie of all time, The Godfather laid the foundation for a trilogy of mafia films. While Part II is considered on par with the original, Part III saw a decline in quality for various reasons. It’s still one of the best movie trilogies ever, with iconic filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola piloting each project. His distinct style set a tone for the films that couldn’t be replicated without him.

7 Before

Three films directed by Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater’s Before is as close to auteur filmmaking in a series of movies as possible, as the romance saga is a perfect example of his signature style. The films, each separated by nine years from 1995-2013, chronicle the romance of two characters at multiple points in their lives. They’re filled with casual conversation and monologues, praised for their authentic feeling. The Before trilogy is one of the staples of Linklater’s career, and it’s tough to imagine the series without his distinct minimalist style.

6 Clerks

Three films directed by Kevin Smith.

Dante and Randal in the Quick Stop in Clerks

Like Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith established himself as an independent filmmaker in the ’90s, known for his cult classic movies that generally surrounded indecisive, aimless young characters pondering their lives and other vital pop culture debates. Clerks was Smith’s debut film, which he followed up with Clerks II in 2006 and Clerks III in 2022. While they weren’t as timely or charming as the original, Smith’s style is still distinguishable.

5 Da Vinci Code

Three films directed by Ron Howard.

Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code

Ron Howard has been directing films for over four decades, covering all sorts of ground, from comedies like Parenthood to space thrillers like Apollo 13. The 2006 Tom Hanks classic, The Da Vinci Code, and its sequels, Angels & Demons and Inferno, are some of Howard’s most enjoyable modern works, providing fast-paced and entertaining mystery stories. While Dan Brown has more novels in the Robert Langdon series to cover, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard seem to have completed their time with the franchise.

4 Rush Hour

Three films directed by Brett Ratner.

Custom image of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour

Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour films, which starred Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, are some of the most iconic buddy comedy movies of the late ’90s and early 2000s. While the director also worked on an X-Men and Hannibal Lecter film, Red Dragon, Ratner found the most success with the Rush Hour movies. The three films have been highly influential on the buddy-cop genre. Rush Hour 4 has been discussed recently, though there may be a new director due to controversy surrounding Ratner.

3 Mad Max

Four films directed by George Miller.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Release Date
May 14, 2015

Director
George Miller

Rating
R

Runtime
120 Minutes

Despite long gaps between installments, a Mad Max film has never been without George Miller leading the project. The original Mad Max was released in 1979, and now Furiosa is one of the most anticipated sci-fi movies, releasing in 2024. After decades away from the franchise, Miller re-defined the Mad Max saga with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, which was not only one of the best films in the series but one of the best films of the 2010s.

2 Spy Kids

Five films directed by Robert Rodriguez.

Robert Rodriguez has worked on a range of projects throughout his career, from violent thrillers like Planet Terror, Sin City, and Machete to PG-rated kid’s movies like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and Spy Kids. The original Spy Kids series was a staple of 2000s culture for kids, and the series had follow-ups in 2011 and 2023, which Rodriguez returned to direct. The 2023 version was released on Netflix with a new cast but still had Rodriguez’s signature voice.

1 Lord Of The Rings/The Hobbit

Six films directed by Peter Jackson.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Release Date
December 19, 2001

Cast
Elijah Wood , Ian McKellen , Liv Tyler , Viggo Mortensen , Sean Astin , Cate Blanchett , John Rhys-Davies , Billy Boyd , Dominic Monaghan , Orlando Bloom , Christopher Lee , Hugo Weaving , Sean Bean , Ian Holm , Andy Serkis

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
178 Minutes

Having directed six films in Middle Earth, Peter Jackson is a renowned figure to Tolkien and Lord of the Rings fans. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy movies are considered some of the best book adaptations ever made. Despite the shortcomings of The Hobbit series, blame has been placed mainly on the studio for their demands to stretch the short book into a trilogy, and Peter Jackson did what he could with the situation.