The best and worst movies in these blockbuster franchises

Let's face it: every movie franchise has its ups and downs. No matter how good one installment might be, the next one always runs the risk of tanking the series. And no franchise is infallible: while all of the series on this list are huge, blockbuster names with tons of brand recognition, they've each had their missteps. For all their stature, monetary backing, and professional vetting, even they have churned out some not-so-great films.

On a more positive note, however, these franchises have also delivered genre-defining masterpieces that change the cinematic game. And that's why they made the list: for all the lows these film series might have endured, they've also had some pretty spectacular highs. We'll be examining both sides of the spectrum here, so get ready to dig through the dirt to find the diamonds as we explore the best and worst films in five of Hollywood's biggest franchises.

Best Transformers Film: Transformers

Of all the Transformers movies, 2007's first installment remains the franchise's least controversial, most critically successful entry — for good reason. As the saga continues to expand and drift farther away from its moderately successful opening act, one can only look back and remember what existed before Michael Bay started shoving lackluster child actors, Texas consent laws, and the Knights of the Round Table into his Transformers films. There was a time, believe it or not, when Transformers took itself just seriously enough to be a good, dramatic franchise. That time was 2007.

The first Transformers film had everything: a refreshingly quirky, relatable lead character brought to life by Shia LaBeouf, a surprisingly nice contrasting performance from the effervescent Megan Fox, and a pronounced emphasis on the titular transforming robots. While later installments in the franchise forsook three-dimensional lead characters as well as the robots responsible for the franchise's very existence, 2007's entry got it right. In addition, its humor wasn't over the top and the plot actually made a lick of sense, two merits that single-handedly separate Transformers from most of its sequels. What really elevated the film, though, was that it gave the Transformers the respect they deserved: Optimus Prime was the heroic leader fans had long wanted to see in live action, Megatron was a menacing villain, and even the auxiliary robots had well-defined personalities. This was also the movie that found Bay striking gold with the discovery of Bumblebee, who remains a beacon of light in an otherwise waning franchise.

Worst Transformers Film: The Last Knight

Major mistakes have been made in this franchise, yet where another director might try to correct and atone for them, Michael Bay instead chose to revel in them. Observe Transformers: The Last Knight, a movie that manages to retroactively mess with every other movie in the franchise.

Problems with The Last Knight are clear from its first few minutes, which focus on a drunk Merlin (yes, that Merlin) and the knights of the Round Table. The movie then proceeds to emphasize a forgettable cast of human actors, including Mark Wahlberg and Isabela Moner while weaving a plot that retroactively undermines the first three Transformers movies, making special efforts to ruin Bumblebee's backstory and kill Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky offscreen. All of these offenses are accomplished via the film's absurd medieval theme, which turns The Last Knight into a King Arthur story while ignoring the Transformers. And we do mean ignore: every Transformer besides Bumblebee gets short-changed, and A-lister Optimus Prime is barely in the movie until he comes back at the end as a villain. Yet Bay even squanders that narrative thread by having the robot equivalent of Batman v Superman's "Martha" stop Prime from killing Bumblebee. Thinly written characters, misguided attempts at humor, and a painfully wrong-headed plot easily make this the worst Transformers movie to date.

Best MCU Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming might be the best MCU movie solely because it remembers that in order for superhero antics to matter, there need to be civilians who are affected by the outcome. After all, if super-powered individuals aren't catalysts for massive change in the world, what makes them super?

In Spider-Man: Homecoming, that change is front and center. Tony Stark's putting alien artifact scavengers like Adrian Toomes out of work, and people are ready to accept the notion of heroes like Spider-Man thanks to a post-Avengers landscape. These two storyline threads provide Homecoming with a sense of scope, showing that the ordinary people on Earth aren't detached from the reality of a world suddenly embroiled in superhero shenanigans.

The movie feels like a page of its timeless source material brought to life: it's got short, but meaningful, cameos from fellow Avengers, a quirky but appropriate sense of humor, a great cast of colorful characters, and enough action to satisfy casual viewers and Marvel junkies alike. It's as close to a Spider-Man comic as we've yet to see on the big screen. What's not to love?

Worst MCU Film: Thor: The Dark World

The Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong — even when it does. Thor: The Dark World isn't anywhere near a must-watch entry of the MCU, but it still has everything Marvel fans have come to love: witty banter, fantastic action, high stakes, and Loki. In fact, this movie still stands tall as a high point for Thor's pre-Infinity War appearances, and it ends on a very compelling cliffhanger which ties a nice bow on an equally neat package.

Still, The Dark World ranks as the "worst" of the MCU, given that, no matter how marginally, the rest of the franchise's installments come out on top of it. For all of TDW's merits, nothing really pushes it into memorable territory, and its disposable nature is what drags it below other "worst" entries in the MCU such as The Incredible Hulk and Age of Ultron. No matter what you think of those films, the reality is that they at least had some impact, whereas The Dark World was utterly inconsequential. If one were to take out the film's post-credit scene, then the story itself could be skipped entirely and the rest of the MCU, including Ragnarok, would still make complete sense. Thor: The Dark World remains the franchise's weakest link.

Best Harry Potter Film: The Deathly Hallows — Part 1

This film had a big advantage, thanks in large part to its source material: it was the first movie not bound to Hogwarts. David Yates took The Deathly Hallows' sprawling story and split it into two parts, the first of which ended up making for a Harry Potter film like no other, one with a true sense of immediacy. The race against Voldemort did wonders in helping guide Yates' delicate tonal balance of grim drama and optimistic determination, two distinct components that perfectly conveyed the ceaseless struggle endured by the main characters.

Aside from that impressive balance of temperaments, the movie also benefited from being a "part one," which allowed it to end on a dour note (something generally avoided by big studio tentpoles), one that really sold the hopelessness of Harry's struggle against his infinitely more capable enemies. Its stinging cliffhanger was the cherry on top of a masterfully moody young adult fantasy fraught with tension unlike anything else in the franchise.

Of course, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 also benefited from an enormous budget and masterful production team, which ensured its status as one of the best-looking films in the franchise. And the lead actors — chiefly Radcliffe — really upped their game to deliver a profoundly satisfying penultimate chapter.

Worst Harry Potter Film: The Sorcerer's Stone

As the old playground proverb goes, first is the the worst — a pithy statement that spells out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone's unfortunate position in the Potter cinematic hierarchy. While not a bad movie, it's definitely the worst in the series, thanks in large part to its "first try" nature and the film's 2001 CGI, which hasn't aged well. The Sorcerer's Stone also suffers from some rough lead performances, innocently delivered by young actors who improved tremendously in subsequent films. Couple this with the film's goofy yet serious, terribly confused tone, and it's the only Harry Potter that seems more like an expensive student film than part of a billion-dollar franchise. However, even if its visuals, actors, and general execution lead to a few cringe-inducing moments, The Sorcerer's Stone is still a movie with quite a bit of magic in it, and it isn't a bad start to an otherwise superior franchise.

Best Star Wars Film: A New Hope

Sometimes, you just can't beat the classics. While everyone's got their own personal favorite Star Wars film, it's not hard to argue that A New Hope might very well be the best of them all. After all, it's the one that started everything. Without A New Hope, we wouldn't have George Lucas' big, bold vision for a galaxy far, far away. We wouldn't have Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. There would be no Jedi or Sith.

This movie did just about everything right. It brought quality sci-fi into the mainstream, it launched one of the most successful franchises of all time, and it told a darn good story to boot. With a plot that can be summarized as Shakespeare in space, Star Wars (as it was simply known back in 1977) was a breath of fresh air for the world's geeks — its biggest draw was that of pure novelty, the likes of which no other Star Wars has had since. It was everyone's first trip to Lucas' brainchild, and that "new" factor, coupled with all its other merits, makes A New Hope the best Star Wars film — a status we don't see it losing anytime soon.

Worst Star Wars Film: The Clone Wars

This is less an insult to The Clone Wars and more a testament to the deceptively strong quality of the overall Star Wars franchise. Sure, the prequels divided people, but as illustrated by critical reception, they weren't all that bad. The Clone Wars, which finds itself with a Rotten Tomatoes score well below any of the prequels, doesn't even have much going against it to justify its negative stigma: critics were mainly just unamused with the film's lackluster script and questionable animation. While this meant the film landed with a thud from a critical standpoint, it still served as a capable launching point for what turned out to be a stellar animated series. It'd be hard to argue that The Clone Wars isn't the weakest film in the Star Wars saga, but it's also a movie that goes to show just how strong the brand is, even when it falters.

Best Pirates of the Caribbean Film: The Curse of the Black Pearl

As with a good number of other franchises, Pirates of the Caribbean is a choice example of a series whose first installment was the best. The Curse of the Black Pearl had everything going for it: it explored a genre from a new angle, it had a great cast, and it had a killer hook — in this case, Jack Sparrow, thanks to a Johnny Depp performance that took a role that should've been icing on the cake and turned it into a dessert of its own. His eccentric swashbuckler persona breathed new life into the pirate adventure genre, and meshed perfectly with the movie's already sublime set of oceanic action sequences. These positives stacked on top of the film's strong foundation and self-aware screenplay, and resulted in an instant franchise-starter. It was a Disney movie with some actual edge to it, and that abundance of teeth really made it a novelty at the time. Looking back, one could even argue that it's a modern classic.

Worst Pirates of the Caribbean Film: Dead Men Tell No Tales

As fun as the series may be, Dead Men Tell No Tales is proof that the end is nigh — if not for the narrative's end, than for the franchise's health and longevity. The fifth entry in the saga, Dead Men Tell No Tales does nothing to capitalize on the four prior installments' character development and world-building. Worse, it actually creates some retroactive problems for the series.

The core issue with Pirates 5, aside from its gaping plot holes, comes in the form of Jack Sparrow, who's turned into a complete buffoon. While Sparrow was a bit of a goof in the other flicks, he was always one step ahead of the curve. Here, it's sheer luck and plot armor that keep him alive, which undermines the core charm of the character. Similarly, the film's villain is a complete bust — he fails to do anything of real consequence, and is driven by an embarrassingly shoddy plan that consistently fails to mask its own shallowness.

Combine incompetently written characters with a contrived plot, and Pirates 5 is a cinematic sinking ship. It's a movie that, from its screenplay's inception, was doomed to be the weakest link in the franchise.