The Mother Proves You Can’t Build a Franchise From Formula

Jennifer Lopez’s painfully generic actioner spotlights Netflix’s worst habit.

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Franchises aren’t born, they’re made. But just how they’re made seems like an impenetrable mystery. How come when Netflix pours big money into a new sci-fi series from the Duffer Bros. it becomes the giant tentpole that is Stranger Things, but when it decides to adapt Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy comic into a series with a comparably huge budget, it becomes a forgotten relic 18 months later?

Netflix’s latest thriller springboard, The Mother, is trying to be the former, but after analyzing its story, it’s clearly bound to be the latter. It’s actually the perfect case study for Netflix’s most notorious problem — and could even hold the solution.

The Mother’s maternal premise is an interesting hook but doesn’t have the legs of a franchise.


The Mother has all the hallmarks of a franchise starter, namely, big names on the roster. It stars Jennifer Lopez trying an action role after a career of rom-coms and dramas, a big-name director in Whale Rider and Mulan’s Niki Caro, and a story by Lovecraft Country showrunner Misha Green. But the final finished product is somehow half the sum of these parts. It’s clear that Jennifer Lopez is giving her all and that Niki Caro makes some really interesting (though possibly distracting) lens choices, but the story falls apart from the beginning.

The Mother is the story of a nameless mother (yes, she really goes by The Mother even in closed captioning) who is living a quiet life in Alaska after a career as a sniper. Years ago, after a final fight while she was heavily pregnant, her daughter was taken from her and put into witness protection. Now, old enemies are coming after her daughter, and the Mother must come out of the woodwork to protect her.

In a key scene, the Mother explains how she ended up on the bad side of two equally terrifying men. After working a tour as a sniper in Afghanistan, she took a tour in Guantanamo Bay, where she witnessed a crime lord smuggling weapons off base. In flashback, she’s seen dancing at a party at his fancy Cuban mansion.

This is where I tip my hand: I spent my formative years living on base in Guantanamo Bay. One of the key characteristics of the base is that nobody is allowed off of it — it’s more divorced from Cuban culture than Miami. Nobody could smuggle weapons off base because there’s no journey to smuggle them on. If the Mother found a way to a party in Cuba proper, it would first involve a flight to Florida from the airport.

It’s definitely a nit-picky complaint, but it’s indicative of a bigger problem — if basic research like this isn’t done, then it’s clear this story was just written for the story’s sake. Its premise isn’t trying to tell a believable story, it’s trying to launch a franchise.

The film’s Cuba scenes just highlight how little research was done with this story — or at least how much creative license was taken.


Not every good franchise launcher has to be believable — a sci-fi story like Stranger Things is a great example — but it has to have a strong foundation and a gripping premise. Every franchise Netflix has created has started with an unimpeachably good premise, from Black Mirror to Bridgerton to even A Christmas Prince.

The Mother is trying to brute-force this lightning in a bottle, making a good first movie instead of just a good movie. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but it’s enough to make the entire viewing experience feel hollow and selfless. Every moment feels paint-by-numbers, assigning motivation, recurring bits, and character traits like they’re Mad Libs. While it may have worked for its films like Extraction and The Old Guard, both were moderately well-received action flicks, even if they were also obvious franchise-starters.

Franchises may be made, not born, but capturing the X factor isn’t something that can be intentionally done. The Mother is proof of that. It’ll definitely draw viewers, but hopefully, it shows Netflix that not every project can be a winner. And that’s just part of what makes storytelling so great — the unpredictability.

The Mother is now streaming on Netflix.

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