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The Franchise Awakens: Which films dominated in 2015

2015 was a roaring success for motion pictures, with leading movie studios using one magical ingredient to secure impressive box office figures: The franchise.

Highly-anticipated movies stemming from renowned franchises such as "Star Wars," "Jurassic Park" and "Marvel" all graced our cinema screens in 2015; and with loyal fans, came strong ticket sales.

A scene from Legendary Films' Jurassic World.
Source: Legendary Films
A scene from Legendary Films' Jurassic World.

In the box office's top 10, both domestically and globally, eight films—which entered cinemas in 2015—came from a popular franchise or brand, including Marvel, James Bond and Disney Princesses. In fact, 2015's five best-performers globally have come from a franchise and all grossed over $1 billion each.

"When sequels account for (at least) seven of the ten top grossing films of the year, there is a clear and present product that studios are leaning on for success, and right now those are franchise films," Jeff Bock, a senior box office analyst at statistics firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNBC via email.

While studios have invested some of their cash into big-budget originals, "known commodities are much easier to sell to audiences and cheaper", as studios are selling to strong fan bases that have been around since the franchise's beginning, Bock explained. In a way, these franchises act as "safety nets," he added.

"What this tells us that we like to bet on a sure thing when we pay for a movie ticket," Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak's senior media analyst told CNBC.

"Tried and true brands with basic concepts and characters that we already know and love inspires ticket buying without the perceived risk of taking a chance on something new."

Of course not every spot was stolen by franchises. Certain strategies can lift a film's success, for instance female audiences helped propel films like "Fifty Shades of Grey", while popular themes and films that struck a chord with audiences, helped drive the success of films like "The Martian" and "Inside Out".

When it comes to film studios, two stand out for 2015: Walt Disney Studios and Universal, both of which had a minimum of three blockbuster hits in the top 10.

"Universal had an amazing year; however they relied heavily on franchises for the bulk of their success," Bock said.

"Disney however, is a super studio right now operating at a different level than the rest. With Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel at their disposal, they have set a pace that no other studio can compete with. The Mouse House is simply the cat's meow."

With today's consumer tastes, Hollywood is looking to release predominantly two types of movies, Augie De Blieck Jr., columnist at Comic Book Resources, told CNBC.

"Hollywood's system wants to churn out two types of movies these days: Low budget films that they might get lucky and strike it rich on, or ultra-high budget movies from known franchises that are most likely to make their money back and then some," he said.

While franchises continue to thrive at the box office, this may eventually wear off with consumers.

"Their biggest challenge will be to resist the urge to milk the franchise too hard," De Blieck Jr. added.

"Eventually, these franchises might falter. The whiff of nostalgia won't be enough to carry them. At that point, we might see more interesting things developing in the low to middle budget areas. It'll be the pendulum correcting for itself and swinging back. We're probably years away from that, though," De Blieck Jr. concluded.

For now, franchises are undoubtedly here to stay. Marvel has already unveiled its upcoming movies until 2019, while Disney (reportedly) and Warner Brothers' have both announced films up until at least 2020, for the respective franchises, Star Wars and DC Comics.

While 2015 was "one for the record books," several big-name films and themes are coming our way in 2016.

"2016 is going to be yet another strong year", said Rentrak's Dergarabedian, adding that this proved that "2015 was not the 'one hit wonder' of box office years."

Disclosure: Universal Pictures is a division of Comcast, the owner of NBC Universal and CNBC.

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her @AlexGibbsy and @CNBCi