Bestselling books gain and retain their popularity for good reason. The ingredients that give any book—from the best mystery books to the best romance books—a chance at big success are great characters, engaging storylines, nifty twists, original ideas, clever titles, and beautiful, readable prose.
Bestselling books don't need to be lofty or life-changing. In fact, the bestselling book of the last decade was the ever-so-slightly controversial Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, which has sold 15.2 million copies worldwide since its release in 2011. Books that go on to become bestsellers can be from any genre, on any subject. As long as a book resonates, the readers will follow—and follow the titles below they certainly did.
Our edit is comprised of books released over the last decade that have all made it into bestseller lists, selling into the hundreds of thousands—some even into the millions. Many of them have become household names too—there aren't many people who haven't at least heard of The Girl On The Train, for example. So grab your best eReader and delve into one of these addictive bestselling books that aren't to be missed...
Bestselling thriller books
With twists and turns aplenty (something all of the best thrillers should have), the below books have been some of the biggest bestselling books over the past decade—with some delving into the foggy underbelly of crime, while others see their protagonists attempt to solve mysterious murders.
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (released Jan 2015)
It's impossible to compile a bestselling books list without this Paula Hawkins novel. The novel once described to this reviewer by its mildly astounded author as ‘my depressing little book’ sold millions of copies, has been translated into 40 languages and was adapted into a major Hollywood movie starring Emily Blunt. Nothing little or depressing about any of that. The combination of simple-yet-enticing premise (woman sees something through the train window on her daily commute that sets off a chain of devastation) unreliable narrator-protagonist (said woman is an alcoholic) and killer twist (no spoilers here) gave this psychological thriller exactly what it needed to break records. If you are somehow yet to read it, you are in for a treat.
Our House by Louise Candlish (released April 2018)
The last thing Fi Lawson expected to find when she arrived home was a removal van parked outside. The family that is now busy unloading all their possessions are doing so into her home and, as the woman standing in Fi’s kitchen soon informs her, they have every right to do so having purchased the property in the proper legal way. But how could this have happened without Fi’s knowledge? What does it mean for her and the children? And where on earth is her husband Bram? The unnerving premise of this slick domestic thriller is more than fulfilled by plot twists that barely let up, characters that completely draw you in, and a smart writing style that holds you tight in its grasp until the shocking end. Soon to be an ITV drama series starring Tuppence Middleton and Martin Compston, there has never been a more prudent time to read it. It’s a true work of genius, and the last line will hit you like an exquisite punch.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (released September 2017)
Everything in the quiet US suburb of Shaker Heights is neat and tidy, from the gardens set behind white picket fences to the inhabitants in the houses beyond—and nobody is more correct and controlling than married mother-of-four, Elena Richardson. But her world is about to come crashing down. When artist Mia arrives in town with her teenage daughter and rents a house from Elena, it sparks the start of change within the neighborhood. Before the year is out, a baby will disappear, secrets will be revealed, and one of the houses will go up in flames… Touching on themes of race, motherhood, and female friendships, this is a compulsively paced and deeply intelligent domestic thriller that will challenge you with its unflinching honesty. It's been a bestseller over the last few years, and even got made into a TV series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (released May 2015)
This is one of the bestselling books both in the UK and in the US of the last few years. I Let You Go is always talked about in terms of “that twist”—and it’s with good reason. Following a tragic accident, Jenna moves from the city to an isolated cottage on the Welsh coast, where she tries to piece her life back together. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Ray Stevens is doing his best to seek justice for a young mother—a quest that will see him stop at nothing, even if it means putting his personal life on the line. What links these two characters? The truth, once revealed, will leave you gasping.
The Girls by Emma Cline (released June 2016)
There is undoubtedly something morbidly fascinating about Charles Manson and his cult, and so this novel—a fictionalized account of life inside the Manson ‘family’—was destined to be one of the bestselling books of our time. Dark and dreamy, it follows 14-year-old Evie Boyd as she is drawn deep into the seemingly seductive world of Manson and his band of disciples, who lived together at a ramshackle Californian ranch in the late 1960s. As brutal as it is brilliant, what makes this one of the bestselling books is its refusal to shy away from the multitude of horrors that took place behind the façade of a sanctuary. One reading experience you are guaranteed never to forget.
Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris (released Feb 2016)
A word-of-mouth thriller that went on to shift over a million copies, and topped both the Amazon and iBooks charts. Behind Closed Doors is one of those bestselling books that set a trend for domestic noir that has endured to this day. From the outside, Jack and Grace appear to be the perfect couple, but there is something about their glossy façade that hints at pretense. Why are they never seen apart, how does a woman who hosts so many dinner parties stay so slim, and why are there bars at the bedroom window? Slick, tense, gripping, and unsettling, this book is the very definition of unputdownable.
Origin by Dan Brown (released Oct 2017)
With a worldwide sales record that tops 200 million books, you can’t argue with the fact that author Dan Brown is a very big deal indeed. And this, the fifth in his series of action-thrillers starring professor of symbology and iconology Robert Langdon stormed up the charts when it was released in late 2017. Origin opens in typically dramatic fashion with a shocking incident at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, where Langdon has traveled in order to see the unveiling of something that will “change the face of science forever”. Forced to flee with the museum’s director Ambra Vidal, our hero hotfoots it to Barcelona on the trail of another perilous mystery. Fast-paced and far-fetched, it’s an undeniably fun read—so no surprise it's made our bestselling books list.
Bestselling literary/classic books
Many of the bestselling books in the literary genre have become cult favorites for good reason. Covering a huge assortment of topics, from the magical worlds of witchcraft and wizardry, to the life of a 29-year-old social misfit, there's something for everyone.
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (released Jul 2015)
The 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the great American classics and, until the year 2015, the only published work by its author Harper Lee. So, when reports of a new book began to circulate the reading world was unsurprisingly excited, and pre-orders for Go Set A Watchman were the highest since the final Harry Potter book was released. Touted as a sequel to its famous predecessor, the book was actually written first, and features Mockingbird’s young Scout as an adult woman struggling against the tides of racial injustice, societal constraints, and her feelings towards her lawyer father Atticus.
Normal People by Sally Rooney (released August 2018)
With over one million paperback sales and enough accolades to buckle even the most robust of shelves, the appeal and quality of this smart and tender novel are undeniable. It follows Marianne and Connell, who grow up in the same Irish town but come from totally different worlds. While Marianne’s family reeks of privilege and casual cruelty, Connell has been raised with love in a home where every penny counts. The pair begin as friends who soon become lovers and then encounter one another again at university in Dublin where their relationship—such as it is—ebbs and flows between intense passion and confused indifference. It’s a subtly devastating love story that stays with you long after reading.
Milkman by Anna Burns (released May 2018)
Winning the Man Booker Prize undoubtedly helped this astonishing novel find a wide audience, but Milkman had begun to gather its disciples long before any award shortlists were announced. Set in a nameless place populated by nameless characters, the novel is a satirical examination of the Northern Irish Troubles that could be held up as a metaphor for any totalitarian state. Central to the narrative is an 18-year-old “middle sister”, who is doing her best to avoid the creepy attentions of Milkman, a much older military man who is known to groom young girls. In a world where being the topic of gossip is not only unwanted but dangerous, our protagonist becomes increasingly desperate in her attempts to vanish back underneath the radar. A difficult read, but one that lingers due to its potency.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (released February 2017)
Sunja is only a teenager when she meets and falls for a wealthy stranger. After discovering the man is married and that she is expecting his child, Sunja digs her heels in and refuses to be bought by his powerful family, instead eloping with a passing minister and traveling with him from her native Korea to Japan. Beginning in the 1900s and following Sunja’s extended family throughout the 20th century, it is a tale of love and sacrifice, courage, and devotion—and the rich historical setting is a literary gift that continues to give. Switching narratives and timelines keeps the reading experience engaging. A fascinating and thought-provoking read, which carries with it a deeply affecting message.
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child: Parts I & II by JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne (released Jul 2016)
This ‘scriptbook’ may not be a novel in the traditional sense, but that did not stop it soaring straight to the top of the bestseller charts, such is the power of anything and everything relating to Harry Potter. Picking up the story 19 years after Harry defeated Voldemort, it follows his second son, Albus Severus Potter, aboard the Hogwarts Express as he heads off to school and towards a very different destiny to that of his famous father. While not written by Rowling herself, it is based on her original story, and there is plenty of magical wonderment here to satisfy discerning fans of the bestselling books franchise.
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The Book Of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (released Oct 2017)
It had been 17 years since Philip Pullman’s final book in his bestselling books trilogy, His Dark Materials, was published—so the excitement when this first of a brand-new series of fantasy novels by the same author arrived was off the scale. La Belle Sauvage, which has been described by Pullman as “not a prequel or sequel, but an equel” is set ten years before the events of His Dark Materials and introduces Malcolm Polstead, an 11-year-old boy who is about to find himself at the heart of an epic adventure. Escaping into another world feels like a tonic we could all benefit from in 2020, so if you have yet to step foot inside Pullman’s imagination, this could be the perfect time. One of the best fantasy books (opens in new tab) on this list.
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The Power by Naomi Alderman (released Oct 2016)
Winner of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017, this bold slice of feminist speculative fiction imagines a world where teenage girls wake to find they have a new power. They can now generate electricity with their bare hands and use it to inflict pain, to control and to claim back their freedom from the men that may have oppressed them. And it is not only the young who have this power—it can be awoken in older women too. Told from the point of view of four characters—US politician Margot, gangster’s daughter Roxy, runaway Allie, and Nigerian Tunde, the man who documents what’s happening, it’s a gripping, visceral, and thought-provoking tale. Well worth repeated reads, we love this fantastically feminist book (opens in new tab).
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (released May 2017)
With her story boasting numerous accolades, astounding global sales, and a Reese Witherspoon-produced movie in the pipeline, Eleanor Oliphant is perhaps the most prominent and memorable literary character of the past five years, so we couldn't miss it off our bestselling books list. The 29-year-old titular heroine is a social misfit doing her best to muddle through a life that has been scarred by her troubled mother. The novel follows Eleanor as she navigates work, alcohol dependency, infatuation, and a tentative friendship with IT helpdesk dude Raymond. Such was the clout of this book’s success after it was released that an entire sub-genre of ‘up-lit’ novels followed in its wake. This novel has also earned a spot as one of the most popular book club books (opens in new tab) of recent years too, for those on the hunt for their next group pick.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (released Aug 2018)
This spellbinding slow-burn of a debut novel caught the attention of both Richard and Judy’s Book Club and Reese Witherspoon, who has once again snapped up the movie rights. The book, which begins in the 1950s among the marshlands of North Carolina, is a coming-of-age murder mystery and heartbreaking love story with a bewitching protagonist at its heart. As vivid as it is affecting, the story is one that will stay with you long after reading. Thoroughly deserving of its meteoric success and status as one of the biggest bestselling books of recent years.
Bestselling feel-good books
Sometimes, a feel-good book is the perfect tonic. In the below list, you'll find heartbreaking (and heartwarming) romance fiction, as well poignant novels discussing the most important issues in life.
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Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (released January 2012)
With sales of over 20 million, Me Before You is the book that launched author Jojo Moyes into the big time, and the book-to-movie adaption (opens in new tab) to the top of the blockbuster list. Louisa Clark has never left the small English town she grew up in and still lives at home with her parents and sister. After losing her job at a café, Lou applies for a position as carer/companion to local man Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound following an accident. Grumpy, bitter, and depressed, Will makes no effort to welcome Lou, but she is determined to rub some of her stubbornly positive shine onto him. As the months pass, the two grow closer, encouraging each other to live better and bolder. Yet Will has been hiding a terrifying secret from Lou—one that neither of them may ever come back from. The term ‘tearjerker’ could have been invented for this book alone, but it’s also funny, hopeful, and wonderfully human. Like all the very best love stories, it will break your heart even when you know what’s coming.
After You by Jojo Moyes (released Sep 2015)
Spoiler alert—if you've not read Me Before You, you may want to avoid this description!
Three years after Me Before You, Jojo Moyes released this follow-up that picked up 18 months after Lou Clarke was forced to bid a tearful farewell to Will Traynor. And we couldn't not include it in our bestselling books list, as it was just as excitedly received as its predecessor novel. Far from taking the great leaps forwards that her former love had urged her to, in After You, we find that Lou has done little more since Will’s death than buy a flat and get a job in an airport pub. When a fall topples her quite literally into the path of paramedic Sam, however, it marks the start of a new chapter—and adventure—for our much-loved protagonist. A warm-hearted, funny, and hope-filled read.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James (released May 2011)
The biggest selling book in recent years, Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic romance novel that follows the budding relationship between Anastasia Steele and the alluring Christian Grey, a young entrepreneur. After an interview between the pair, things quickly take a more sexual turn, and Anastasia is opened up to a well-hidden world that pushes the boundaries of pain and pleasure. E.L.James has since released two more novels in the Fifty Shades trilogy—Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason (released September 2020)
All her life, Martha has been told that she’s special, talented, and cherished; but she has never felt close to being any of those things, not since a little explosion went off in her head at the age of 17 and changed her into someone else; someone sad, angry, spiky, and incapable of finding joy. Now on the cusp of 40 and living back at home having lost her job, her purpose, and her devoted husband Patrick, Martha looks back at her life and attempts to work out where it all went wrong. At first glance, a novel about mental illness may not sound like a palatable reading option, but Sorrow And Bliss is written so beautifully, with such charm and wit, that it transcends expectation. A truly special book.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (released September 2020)
As Pointless presenter Richard Osman himself tweeted in early December, his debut novel The Thursday Murder Club has become the 10th bestselling hardback novel in UK chart history. A triumph well deserved by a book that manages to delight and enthrall in equal measure, as the titular club—comprising of a group of elderly amateur sleuths living in a retirement village—set about discovering who knocked off a local landowner. The characters are wonderful, the plot perfectly executed and there are moments of genuine poignancy too. With two more books featuring the same cast in the pipeline and a film in the works with Steven Spielberg’s production company at the helm, this is one club you’d be foolish not to join.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (released Oct 2019)
Former Spectator cartoonist Charlie Mackesy’s debut book of illustrations won the prestigious Waterstones Book Of The Year 2019, becoming one of the easiest buy-for-anyone Christmas gifts of that year. Celebrating warmth, kindness, friendship and positivity, the delicate drawings and accompanying lines of calligraphy are a tender reminder that there is always a chink of light to be found, even in the darkest times. One of the most beautiful bestselling books on our list.
- The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy from Amazon for £9/$22.43 (opens in new tab)
Bestselling real-life books
While fiction is no doubt utterly compelling, real-life stories will always pack a heavy punch, knowing that the words on the page reflect reality rather than an imagined world. These bestselling books reflect some of the most interesting parts of society—from life and death stories from inside the NHS, to tales from the White House and, on a lighter note, the reality of love in your 30s.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (released Jan 2016)
Dr Paul Kalanithi was 36 and reaching the end of a six-year residency as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In only a few devastating minutes, he had gone from being a doctor who saved lives to a patient facing his own death, and the impact it had on him was colossal. In the last 22 months of his life, Dr Kalanithi wrote this memoir, musing on his feelings, his legacy and everything in between. Poignant and life-affirming, tragic yet touching, it more than deserves its status as one of the bestselling books of the past five years – if not ever.
Educated by Tara Westover (released February 2018)
Tara Westover grew up as a ghost—she had no birth certificate, no medical records, and had never been inside a classroom. Growing up in rural Idaho, it was her radical father who coached her in the ways of the world, encouraging his family to shun convention and remain on the outside of structured society. Yet the young Tara yearned for more, and when her brother became abusive, she decided to escape and set out on her own path, one that would see her reach Cambridge University and eventually write this memoir. Fascinating in its subject matter and deeply affecting in its message of hope, Educated continues to wow readers who feel compelled to push the book into the hands of others. As survivor stories go, they don’t come much more remarkable and inspiring than this one.
H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (released July 2014)
When falconer Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. Lost in a fog of grief, she found herself turning to thoughts of the hawks she had so loved since childhood. Until this moment, Helen had never thought to train one of these birds, but she could not help but feel a kinship to the striking creature’s fierce temperament and convinced herself that if she could rise to the challenge, it would help her to heal. Enter goshawk Mabel, who Helen must not only train, but live with, play with, study, and—most importantly—befriend. Insightful and fascinating, this is a memoir unlike any other, and the prose is exquisite. Whether you have experienced grief or not, there is much to learn here from a woman who sought her own path through sorrow and emerged bolder on the other side of it.
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This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay (released Sep 2017)
This Is Going To Hurt is the bestselling narrative non-fiction title of the decade, shifting over 1.18 million copies to date and, with a BBC comedy series coming soon, that number looks set to keep rising. Hilarious and touching, the book is a series of diary entries made by comedy writer Kay when he was a junior doctor, and his remembered incidents and musings range from genuinely funny to tragic. A true love letter to the NHS, it raises serious points about how often the mental health of medical professionals is overlooked and is in essence a call to arms, reminding all Brits to continue to protect and support the beloved health service. One of the best non-fiction books (opens in new tab) of the last decade.
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Becoming by Michelle Obama (released Nov 2018)
A memoir written by the former First Lady of the United States was always going to light up the charts, but Becoming has gone a step further and become one of the bestselling books in the audiobook market too. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a Netflix documentary, a tie-in journal, and Michelle Obama has launched her own vastly popular podcast series. The book chronicles all the events that shaped her life, from growing up on the South Side of Chicago, to juggling her career with motherhood and what it was like living at the world’s most famous address. Full of warmth, wisdom and intelligence, it’s a fascinating insight into the world of an individual whose positivity, determination and huge-heartedness have seen her become one of the most iconic women of our generation. One of the best autobiographies (opens in new tab) of recent years.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton (released Jan 2018)
Journalist and former dating columnist Dolly Alderton made the bestseller lists with her debut novel Ghosts in October 2020, but it was this memoir, released two years previously, that earned her that huge reading base. Shortlisted for Waterstones Book of The Year 2018, Everything I Know About Love is a coming-of-age story about life, relationships, friendships, family, and more, and Dolly shares everything about her disastrous dating experiences and various heartbreaks—not to mention that house party she attended that had a Rod Stewart theme. Enjoyable, relatable and honest, it’s also very funny indeed.
The Secret Barrister (released Mar 2018)
Courtroom dramas have long been a popular format in books, films, and TV shows, but many of those add a hefty amount of gloss to make the setting more exciting. As it turns out, there is a lot more to a criminal case than two impassioned hotshot lawyers shouting “objection” over each other and bumping off members of the jury behind the scenes. In fact, the reality of life as a criminal barrister is one most people knew very little about until this anonymous first-hand account was published in 2018. The Secret Barrister covers everything from the criminals to legal staff, police and witnesses, revealing with fair yet no-less-shocking honesty how broken and open to manipulation the justice system is in this country. No wonder it became one of the most read and talked-about books of the year.
Bestselling historical fiction books
These books, set decades ago, do an incredible job of painting a picture of a world we'd find it difficult to recognize nowadays. The best historical fiction books shine a light on society as it once was, and the realities of life at that time.
The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (released Jan 2018)
In 1942, Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov arrived at Auschwitz and was instructed to tattoo those prisoners who had been selected for survival. It was here that he first saw Gita, a terrified young woman with whom he fell instantly in love, vowing from that point onwards that he must do whatever it took to ensure the two of them made it through the war alive. One of the reasons The Tattooist Of Auschwitz is so captivating is its foundation of truth—over the course of three years, author Heather Morris listened as the real Lale told her his story—but it’s also a vital and unflinching examination of past atrocities that we should never allow ourselves to forget.
The Mirror And the Light by Hilary Mantel (released Mar 2020)
Hilary Mantel novels are some of the most popular in the historical literary space, and so the third and final novel in the Wolf Hall trilogy was long-awaited and much anticipated. This one picks up Oliver Cromwell’s story in 1536 and follows him through to his untimely death by execution in 1540. Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020, this mighty and mesmerizing tome looks likely to remain one of the bestselling books around for a long time—and rightly so.
Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon (released November 2021)
This ninth installment in Diana Gabaldon’s epic Outlander series, which charts the timeless love story between Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall, begins in 1779. The family is seemingly settled at Fraser’s Ridge in the North Carolina backcountry, with the couple’s daughter Brianna having returned from the future with her husband Richard and son Jeremiah. Meanwhile, Jamie’s estranged son William is starting to come to terms with the truth about his father. But as is always the case with an Outlander story, unrest is brewing in the colonies. And while the 1700s may feel like the safest place for a time-traveling family, there can be no denying the danger that lurks at every turn…
Bestselling dystopian/fantasy books
These dystopian/fantasy bestselling books might detail lands and worlds that are foreign to us all, but many of them, at their core, provide valuable lessons about the world around us now.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (released Sep 2019)
Shortlisted for a host of awards and co-winning the Booker Prize in 2019, there was never any doubt that Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited follow-up to her 1985 modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale was going to be a huge success. Picking up ten years after that novel’s open-ended conclusion, The Testaments returns to Gilead through the narrative strands of three different women—a girl brought up within the confines of this new state, another outside on the run, and a woman at the center of the regime who’s hiding a dark secret. Gritty, gripping and gut-wrenching in its subject matter, the novel answers lots of questions yet raises many more. An important, topical and thoroughly entertaining read.
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Fire And Blood by George RR Martin (released Nov 2018)
Set 300 years before the events that played out in the TV series Game Of Thrones, this epic novel covers the history of the House Targaryen, beginning with how Aegon the Conqueror created the Iron Throne and following him and his ancestors right up to the civil war that scattered their family and almost destroyed their dynasty. For those who are fans (and there are many hundreds of thousands all over the world), this weighty tome provides an in-depth background to a world that has stretched imagination into a new realm. There was never any question that a new book by George RR Martin would storm straight to the top of the charts, and the success of Fire And Blood proves that readers’ appetite for dragons, battles and fantasy adventure is as strong as ever.It's one of the best audiobooks (opens in new tab) on our list, too!
Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (released Aug 2020)
Fifteen years after the first Twilight book was published and promptly became a phenomenon, Stephenie Meyer decided to return to the story that made her a household name—but this time, it was dishy vampire Edward Cullen’s turn to narrate what was to become one of the bestselling books of the series. What was the pale-skinned young man thinking during all those pensive moments he spent gazing across the school cafeteria at Bella? Why did he eventually decide to grant her ardent wish to remain with him? And what about his long history and how it relates to the other vampiric characters from the original four novels? All those questions and more were answered in this lengthy tome, which has proved itself to be a must for fans of the franchise.