Top 10 Movie Franchises That Changed Lead Characters

Script Written by Derick McDuff. Let's change things up a bit. Join WatchMojo.com as we down our picks for the top 10 sequels that changed the lead character. For this list, we are looking at movie sequels that shifted their focus onto a different character, whether the new lead is in the original film or is new to the franchise. We’re basing our choices on how iconic and memorable the switches are, but not necessarily if the change was for the better. Special thanks to our users BDenum100 and Ronak HD for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Top 10 Movie Franchises That Changed Lead Characters


Let’s change things up a bit. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 sequels that changed the lead character.

For this list, we are looking at movie sequels that shifted their focus onto a different character, whether the new lead is in the original film or is new to the franchise. We’re basing our choices on how iconic and memorable the switches are, but not necessarily if the change was for the better.

#10: Jim to Doyle
“28 Days Later” (2002); “28 Weeks Later” (2007)

Danny Boyle’s zombie infection film features a group of survivors making their way across the British countryside, led by Jim, portrayed by Cillian Murphy. Despite high praise for his character, Murphy was unable to return for the second film, which kept the setting but introduced a new batch of survivors, this time with Jeremy Renner as Sergeant Doyle. As a Delta Force sniper Doyle was much more of an action star than Jim, while also managing to be just as emotionally complex, as well as a brave and selfless character.

#9: Nancy Thompson to Jesse Walsh
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984); “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” (1985)

The horror genre has a tendency to take an iconic villain and feature him harassing a new protagonist in each film. Therefore it’s no surprise that the second film in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series kept Freddy Krueger, but swapped out the original heroine, Nancy, for a new face, Jesse, the next time around. Although she did not appear in the film, Nancy’s influence was still felt in ”Freddy’s Revenge,” since Jesse moves into Nancy’s former home and discovers her journal, which recounts the events of the first movie and gives insight into Freddy’s powers and vulnerabilities.

#8: Sam Wikwity to Cade Yeager
“Transformers” trilogy (2007-11); “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014)

The “Transformers” franchise is no stranger to swapping out characters; switching out the female lead, Mikaela Banes, from the first two films in the third flick for new character Carly Spencer, for example. And when time came for a fourth film, “Age of Extinction,” the human cast received a complete overhaul, including its lead character young Sam Witwicky. Played by Shia LaBeouf, Sam began his arc in high school. But in film four, in his place was a new character; single father Cade Yeager, portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, and he was a much older and more experienced character than Sam. Did he make the franchise older and more experienced as well? That’s up to you decide.

#7: Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer to Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
“Predator” (1987); “Predator 2” (1990)

The first “Predator” film follows a Special Forces group tracking a deadly alien through the Central American jungle. The team has some pretty tough characters, including Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. After negotiations for Schwarzenegger to appear in the sequel fell through though, things were changed up the second time around, moving the time period from the present to the near future and changing the setting to Los Angeles. But the biggest change was of course getting a new lead, Mike Harrigan, played by Danny Glover, who - though he brought a very different energy to the sequel - didn’t help the movie earn very good reviews. However, the film still had a modest showing at the box office.

#6: Leonidas to Themistocles
“300” (2007); “300: Rise of an Empire” (2014)

“300” famously brings the historic last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae to the big screen, with Gerard Butler as the Spartan king, Leonidas. Of course, the fantasy war flick takes some artistic license with history, as does the second film, which chronicles the Greco-Persian war before, during, and after the events of the first. “Rise of an Empire” focuses on Athenian general Themistocles, beginning with the battle of Marathon, then moving to Artemisium, which happens concurrently with last stand of the Spartans, and culminates with the battle of Salamis. While the follow-up did quite well commercially, many felt Butler was sorely missed this time around.

#5: Jason Bourne to Aaron Cross
“Bourne” trilogy (2002-07); “Bourne Legacy” (2012)

Matt Damon breathed new life into the spy thriller genre in 2002 when he played Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Identity.” After the film went on to become a smashing success, two sequels, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” were made, both directed by Paul Greengrass. However, when Greengrass elected not to return for a fourth film Damon left the project as well, meaning that the series needed a new leading character and an actor to play him. “Legacy” follows Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, and the fallout surrounding the events of “Ultimatum.” Reviews for the 4th film were mixed, so perhaps it speaks volumes that both Damon and Greengrass are slated to return for movie number five.

#4: Dominic Toretto to Brian O’Conner to Sean Boswell
“The Fast and the Furious” (2001), “2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003); “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)

Without doubt the faces of “The Fast and Furious” franchise are Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner. Both characters featured prominently in the first film of the series, with Torretto in a slightly more prominent role. However, when Toretto was not featured in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” O’Conner stepped into the spotlight. The third film though, featured an all-new cast, with Toretto only appearing in a brief cameo, allowing Lucas Black to play a new lead: Sean Boswell in “Tokyo Drift.” As one of the worst reviewed films in the series, is it any wonder the other two actors came back for the sequels?

#3: Dr. William ‘Will’ Rodman to Malcolm
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011); “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)

James Franco was chosen to lead the reboot of the iconic “Planet of the Apes” franchise as Will when it was rebooted in 2011. However the reboot’s sequel was taken in a new direction with a directorial swap; while many of the ape characters carried over from the first film, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” featured an all-new human cast, led by Jason Clarke. Clarke portrays Malcolm, much more of an everyman and an average survivor in extraordinary circumstances, in contract to Will, who is a scientist that invents an Alzheimer’s cure with unintended side effects on apes and humans. Both films were commercially successful but it was the latter was praised especially for its acting… and though another sequel has been announced, the cast is still to be determined.

#2: Sarah Connor to John Connor
“The Terminator” (1984); “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

The main character of “The Terminator” franchise is a hereditary title. In the original film, the title character is sent back to 1984 from a post-apocalyptic future to exterminate John Connor before he ever even exists by killing his mother Sarah. The sequel, “Judgment Day,” follows a similar premise, but this time around John is a preteen, while his mother, now having gone a bit off the deep end, takes a supporting role. In further sequels, John is an adult and full-blown action hero, while Sarah does not return from T3 onward.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Professor Trevor Anderson to Hank Parsons
"Journey to the Center of the Earth" (2008); "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (2012)

Clarice Starling to Will Graham
"The Silence of the Lambs" (1991); "Red Dragon" (2002)

Jack Traven to Alex Shaw
"Speed" (1994); "Speed 2: Cruise Control" (1997)

#1: Dr. Alan Grant to Dr. Ian Malcolm to Owen Grady
“Jurassic Park” (1993), “The Lost World” (1997); “Jurassic Park III” (2001); “Jurassic World” (2015)

The first film in the “Jurassic Park” franchise centers on paleontologist Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, with Jeff Goldblum as the bizarre Ian Malcolm in an auxiliary role. Malcolm was promoted to the star player in “The Lost World”, giving us more of a glimpse of his unique perspective. “Jurassic Park III” threw Grant back into the lead role, and the long awaited fourth installment gives audiences a brand new lead, Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt. However, one thing is clear about this franchise: the dinosaurs are the real stars of the show.

Do you agree with our list? Which character switch do you think was the most memorable? For more transformative top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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