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The Best Movie Franchises To Binge-Watch

If you have enough popcorn on hand, few things are as self-indulgently fun as the right movie binge. Whether or not you can feasibly watch the movies back to back is less important than just sinking into the pleasure of the franchise until you finally run out of stories. Movie marathons may seem like a lot of the same thing, but if you do them right — and pick the right things to binge — they're like a really extravagant night at an all-you-can eat entertainment buffet. Decadent but delightful.

So if you're interested, we have some possibilities for you, depending on your favorite genres and, of course, your reasons for binge-watching. Whether you want to stay caught up with a still-evolving series, see an epic story from beginning to end, or watch how some of our favorite pop culture figures have evolved over time, we have a good option for you. These are the best movie franchises to binge-watch.

The Ocean's franchise

Binge the "Ocean's" movies, and you'll come out cooler on the other side. And possibly prepared to commit some daring, stylish heists that we can't legally endorse.

If you want to include the original "Ocean's 11" from 1960, you're looking at a five-movie marathon, starting with the immortal Rat Pack and ending with a glamorous eight-woman heist during the Met Gala. This is a guaranteed good time, as the "Ocean's" films are pure entertainment and some of the best fun you can have at the movies. You're looking at a terrific cast too, one full of star power and inimitable charm. In addition to the Rat Pack, we have George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter ... and so many others that it's impossible to name them all. Just trust us that those numbers in the titles involve some of our favorite actors.

And the films are winners. As Diego Crespo at Audiences Everywhere describes the beloved 2001 caper, "[Steven] Soderbergh's remake is ... one of the quintessential heist movies of the modern age. An all-star cast utilizes expert chemistry that is so cool you could store perishables via close proximity to them." And while the sequels maybe can't technically improve on an already perfect execution of the heist movie, they add appeal of their own, from the meta playfulness of "Ocean's Twelve" to the cast change-up of "Ocean's 8."

The Hunger Games series

Fast-paced, extraordinarily well-cast, and full of iconic moments and images, the four "Hunger Games" movies make for a great binge-watch.

In particular, it gives you the perfect opportunities to appreciate how well the franchise works as an adaptation. As good as Suzanne Collins' original trilogy is, "The Hunger Games" feels like a story that was made for the movies. After all, it's about how visuals — from the sensationalized gladiatorial combat of the Games themselves to the distinctive three-finger salute — work to quell or ignite rebellion. When we see the Gamemaker scenes in the first movie — something only possible because the film steps out of the close, intense Katniss-only POV of the books — it's like seeing a making-of feature for cruel spectacle. And it's a great example of how movies can make adaptation choices that play to their strengths.

On top of that, this is a cast you won't want to walk away from. Along with the critically acclaimed "Winter's Bone," these movies helped make Jennifer Lawrence a star, and she's joined by supporting actors we'd all watch in their own spinoffs. (There's a bittersweetness to this too, as "Mockingjay – Part 2" is one of the final performances of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman.) The upcoming prequel, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," should add even more performances worth admiring.

The Conjuring Universe

In the mood for something spooky? We recommend binge-watching the "Conjuring" Universe, which combines all our favorite classic horror tropes — from haunted houses to creepy dolls — with strong performances and satisfying scares. And the series is still going strong, with several future installments already greenlit and looming ominously on the horizon.

At their best, the "Conjuring" movies have a distinct gift for drawing on long-running horror traditions and learning all the right lessons for them: They're old-school supernatural horror executed with both substance and style. As Variety's review of the first movie points out, director James Wan "playfully mines all manner of apparent cliches — creaky doors, cobwebbed cellars, toys you'd have to be just plain stupid to play with — for every last shiver of pleasure." If you think you're above getting freaked out from these good old-fashioned ingredients, you just haven't seen "The Conjuring" yet. It'll make an ordinary clap one of the scariest things you've ever heard.

And audiences' allegiance to the franchise is clear, as it's one of the highest-grossing horror series of all time, even beating out iconic franchises like "Halloween." Michael Myers is terrifying, but we're still betting Annabelle can take him.

Planet of the Apes

If you want a tour of shifting social concerns, you should turn to the "Planet of the Apes" films, one of the most thematically versatile of the sci-fi franchises. That's what happens when you start your series in 1968 — the original "Planet of the Apes," with Charlton Heston — get a Tim Burton remake in 2001, and then reboot it all in 2011 from a drastically different perspective. It's spanned too many years and had too many different creators behind it for it to have total coherence, but that's actually one of its charms.

Humans vs. apes might seem like a simple battle, but it's actually rich material. That's something filmmakers have always appreciated, and the "Planet of the Apes" franchise has always been good about letting different movies take the premise in different directions. There are movies here that touch on race, environmentalism, animal rights, war, change, and ... well, just about everything. And they do it while offering up some classic science fiction and action thrills.

The X-Men movies

In a film franchise, sometimes the first movie is genuinely and inarguably the best. We humbly suggest that this isn't what you want for ideal binge-watching. You can't peak right at the start, or where will your motivation go? Ideally, all the movies in your lineup should have their defenders. And you want some tonal variety too.

You want, in short, the "X-Men" movies. Start off with some quintessential superhero fun that's already satisfying in its own right and then move on to "X2," which turns the usual sequel problems to its advantage. As The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps said, "Bigger usually equals better here, and when it doesn't, it equals just as good." And then you still have other hits on the horizon, ones that do things very, very differently. It's easy to forget that "Deadpool" and "Logan" both exist in the same cinematic universe, but aren't we better for it? We all deserve a blend of sardonic, fourth wall-breaking, thoroughly R-rated humor and weary, down-to-earth, melancholy swan songs. And with that much variety and a fair amount of critical acclaim, you're going from strength to strength, which is just the kind of thing you need to keep you going through 13 movies.

The Alien franchise

The "Alien" franchise may have a few weak spots, but even its flawed entries have their points of interest. What we like about the "Alien" series is that the films tend to be ambitious in both concept and execution. When those risks pay off, you get instant classics like "Alien" and "Aliens," films that helped put Ripley and the xenomorph on the American Film Institute's slate of top heroes and villains, respectively.

Plus, the series boasts a lineup that ranges from cool, well-paced, '70s sci-fi horror to genre-defining, '80s sci-fi action. There are "Predator" mash-ups and icily unsetting prequels. And David Fincher even shows up for his grim take on Ripley's battle with the xenomorphs. In other words, when you start the "Alien" franchise, you're settling in for a run that covers a big part of what sci-fi movies have to offer. Watching them all close together lets you track the evolution of the series' special effects, which were excellent and terrifyingly convincing right from the start. And the franchise has the kind of lasting cultural presence that means you can always rope someone into binging it along with you. 

The Wizarding World

If you want to sink into a more magical world — and fantasize about having gotten your Hogwarts letter at 11 the way you obviously should have — then we have the binge for you: the "Wizarding World" franchise. Both the "Harry Potter" movies and the "Fantastic Beasts" spinoffs offer viewers a portal into a busy, chaotic world of fun, wonder, and danger.

It's a world loyal readers and viewers have always wanted to step into, and if you can't make it to Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, the best way to go is pure immersion. With eight "Harry Potter" installments, two "Fantastic Beasts" movies, and more developments on their way, you can submerge yourself in the Wizarding World for a long time before you come up for air. And while you'll have to rejoin the regular Muggle world eventually, you'll do it knowing your pronunciation of "wingardium leviosa" is perfect.

Star Trek

Get ready to boldly go where, admittedly, at least some fans have gone before: a "Star Trek" movie marathon. If you want to do this right, you're talking 13 movies, starting with 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and ending with 2016's "Star Trek Beyond."

A "Star Trek" binge has a lot of advantages. For one thing, several of the movies flow naturally into each other. "Wrath of Khan," "The Search for Spock," and "The Voyage Home" all happen in quick succession for the characters, so why shouldn't they happen in quick succession for you? And watching all the movies close together will let you answer one of the franchise's age-old questions: Are the even-numbered installments really the best?

Fans have also always loved debating what makes a "Star Trek" movie work. The deal for director Noah Hawley's proposed "Star Trek" film fell through, but in an interview with The Observer, Hawley made some good points about the spirit of the series. "What I love about 'Star Trek' is that it's not a war story. It's not a story in which might makes right. It's a story about exploration. It's a story about creative problem-solving." The series has always been a little utopian, so a marathon lets you think about one of the most important questions out there: What do you want the future to be? And how would you make a movie about that?

The Mission: Impossible movies

The "Mission: Impossible" franchise has a lot to offer — daringly executed stunts, charming ensembles, adrenaline-fueled plots, heist-like espionage, cool tech, and gasp-inducing reveals of someone pulling off a mask. And it offers all this up with outstanding consistency, making it one of the most seamlessly entertaining franchises around.

And the movies are still going strong, which means there's never a bad time to brush up on all your Ethan Hunt-related continuity. Most of all, marathoning the "Mission: Impossible" movies lets you appreciate one of their most distinctive characteristics — their genuine and old-fashioned devotion to selfless heroism. We love our gritty antiheroes as much as anyone, but it's nice to have variety. Sometimes you just want a look at a team of people doing their action-packed best to avoid any casualties. As Forbes puts it, "Watching Ethan Hunt try to maintain his moral compass is as exciting as watching him dangle from a helicopter. ... [It's interesting to watch] an explicitly decent man or woman show the rest of the dark world that his or her decency is not a weakness but rather their greatest strength." Audiences respond to that, making the series not only one of the highest-grossing franchises around but one of the most consistently acclaimed.

The James Bond series

We won't lie, a James Bond movie binge is an intimidating prospect. But it's also a rewarding one. The Bond franchise goes out of its way to give viewers thrilling action, lavishly portrayed locations, and plenty of glamour. And it channels all of it through the adventures of one of cinema's most charismatic characters.

It's also undeniably fun to watch James Bond movies with a friend because the franchise lends itself to spirited debates about the proper rankings. Each installment has some constants, but they each take up the familiar tropes in distinctive ways — so no one can resist asking, "Who did it best?" Who's the best 007? The best larger-than-life Bond villain? Favorite Bond girl? Not to mention the classic question: Which British actor should be peppered with questions about whether or not he or she is going to be the new Bond?

Binging on Bond is about as classically stylish as movie marathons can get. Just make sure to do it with a martini in one hand.

DC Extended Universe

Ah, the DC Extended Universe — what a wild, controversial, exciting franchise. The DCEU officially kicked off in 2013 with "Man of Steel," and over the years, it's featured all sorts of tonally different entries. Depending on who's behind the wheel, you can get films that are grim and dark (Zack Snyder) to entries that are more playful and fantastical (Patty Jenkins, James Wan, Cathy Yan, David F. Sandberg).

Plus, it's maybe the only franchise that's gone back and released a longer (and better-received) version of an existing film with "Zack Snyder's Justice League." So you've basically got two different versions of "Justice League" to choose from (or, if you've got a lot of time on your hands, you could watch them both to compare and contrast). But no matter what, watching this ever-growing franchise will give you a chance to dive deep into the films' shared mythology and pick up on Easter eggs and bits of continuity that could be important for future installments. And that's the kind of things that fans always enjoy.

The Star Wars saga

"Star Wars" movie marathons are so irresistible that they're not even a hardcore-fans-only prospect. Instead, they're popular enough that it's profitable for theaters to sometimes offer them.

Binging "Star Wars" might fly in the face of the Skywalker Saga's generational structure, with decades passing in between the three linked trilogies, but while watching all of it at once takes you out of the characters' shoes, it lets you really sink into the storytelling. And it rewards the franchise's premise that the Force connects everything. This is a series where noticing the parallels and links between movies isn't just fun, it's thematically essential. Think of yourself as taking a Force-eye view of the galaxy far, far away. In fact, the franchise is so good at setting up these kinds of connections that you might even want to sneak some of the TV series into your binge too. We won't tell anyone, and it'll help you identify all the voices that speak to Rey in "Rise of Skywalker."

And if you're going to spend a lot of time in any one fictional universe, "Star Wars" is a great choice. From the John Williams score to the sheer coolness of lightsabers to the heroes and villains we love, "Star Wars," like the Force, will always be with us.

The Middle-Earth movies

Whether you want to do a "Lord of the Rings" trilogy marathon, a "Hobbit" marathon, or both, a prolonged visit to Middle-Earth is a treat you shouldn't deny yourself. In fact, plenty of fans have made marathoning the movies one of their own personal traditions.

It's easy to see why. The movies have a gift for capturing the essence of high fantasy and evoking Tolkien's world of true heroism, courage, honor, self-sacrifice, bittersweetness, and natural beauty. Despite all the strife we see there, Middle-Earth is a place you want to escape to — often literally, with the popular "Lord of the Rings" tours offering fans a chance to immerse themselves in the movies' stunning landscapes. Even the persistent tinge of melancholy is an important part of the appeal. As The A.V. Club put it, "'The Return of the King' ultimately proves up to the series' increasingly difficult task: making movies that echo legends, making legends that reflect life, and reconciling it all with the fact that both legends and lives all eventually meet their ends."

In short, the series feels like real life, only somehow purer and truer. That's the finest escapist fiction can offer.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe shook up the entertainment landscape. Few movie franchises have hit its level of cultural importance, and few have duplicated its incredible success in giving us so many blockbusters that are fun, poignant, exciting, quippy, and emotionally involving.

MCU binges have even made their way into theaters. If you wanted to, there was a time when you could settle in for almost 60 hours of non-stop Infinity Saga. And from the groundbreaking "Iron Man" and the political thriller-esque "Captain America and the Winter Soldier" to the hijinks of the "Ant-Man" movies and the sheer epic satisfaction of an "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Endgame" double-feature, Marvel has something to offer just about everyone.

And as Marvel gears up for even more releases, we look forward to our MCU binges getting even longer — and even fresher and more varied. Kevin Feige, the man behind the MCU's success, told Variety, "I've always believed in expanding the definition of what a Marvel Studios movie could be. We try to keep audiences coming back in greater numbers by doing the unexpected and not simply following a pattern or a mold or a formula." That expansion doesn't just keep the franchise in theaters — it keeps it in our hearts.