TO me "franchise" by definition is three or more movie projects of the same theme and characters that connect together into a franchise....if it is all one project, as LOTR was, it by definition is not a franchise.
I think this is a fair question: what is the definition of franchise? Is a franchise a series of books, movies, TV shows, etc. in the same universe or having the same characters or does a single story told through several books count as well.
: A form of business organization in which a firm which already has a successful product or service (the franchisor) enters into a continuing contractual relationship with other businesses (franchisees) operating under the franchisor's trade name and usually with the franchisor's guidance, in exchange for a fee.
When I first saw this thread, my thought was that Potter is a single story told in eight movies under direct control of the author. That's different from James Bond or Star Trek or any number of superhero movies where there are numerous stories based in the same universe but not strongly related to each other and not under the direct control of the creator. My take is that HP is very successful, but it is not a franchise until the author starts allowing prequals and sequals and stories to be written about side characters, etc. (I don't count fan fiction, but that would be an interesting discussion.) I think HP is ripe for that, but it's not there now. When it happens, I think HP will by far be the most successful franchise. I think that LOTR does count because it is not just the most recent films, but also previous animated movies and other works over the years. I think the Superman series is a real contender. Still in the comics, several TV series (three live action I can recall with the most recent being Smallville, numerous animated shows), the movie series and the most recent movie restart.