Hollywood’s Obsession with Shared Movie Universes

Given the phenomenal success (both critical and financially) that Disney and Marvel have had with their series of movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it should come as no surprise that other studios are trying to emulate the trend.

Shared universes are currently the “in” thing in Hollywood.

Disney is already hard at work on its own new shared universe in the form of the revitalized Star Wars franchise which will see a new trilogy of films set to be released in 2015, 2017, and 2019 – and with one standalone movie to be released in the years between. The first of these is the recently announced Star Wars Anthologies: Rogue One, which is apparently set before the original Star Wars film and which centers on the young Princess Leia’s mission to steal the Deathstar blueprints.

Disney isn’t alone though. Nor is co-operation between studios impossible thanks to the untold riches that might potentially occur should an attempt at creating a shared universe find success.

Disney/Marvel recently crafted a money-spinning deal with Sony over the use of Spiderman. Despite Spiderman being a Marvel character, Sony own the movie rights. Unfortunately for Sony, they haven’t had much success with him of late.

This new deal should change all that.

Marvel’s Kevin Feige will now act as a creative guide for the character who will continue to feature in his own solo films at Sony, but who will also now appear (with the same actor playing the same iteration of the character) in the MCU films – and is expected to appear in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War (Parts One and Two.)

With all this talk of Marvel’s success in translating their comic book superheroes to the big screen, it would be logical to expect that Warner Brothers’ efforts with their arguably more famous DC superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman).

Yet as much as I really hope those films are great, the fact of the matter is the signs don’t look good.

The highly anticipated trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was greeted with indifference, while the first glimpse of Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker was greeted with widespread condemnation. That latter reaction was not unexpected, but it may be entirely justified in this case.

The truth is, Warners have done very little to inspire confidence in fans given their treatment of the DC movie universe thus far. They put the cart before the horse in announcing release dates for forthcoming movies through to 2020, despite the fact the only film that’s seen the light of day so far being the not-exactly-beloved Man of Steel.

Creatively, it seems like Warners are just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks (to quote a studio insider.)

They’re hired multiple writers to work on competing scripts for Aquaman and Wonder Woman which suggests they have absolutely no idea what to do with those characters. Additionally, the high-profile loss of Michelle Maclaren as director for Wonder Woman was a huge PR blow.

Like I said, I really hope to be proved wrong. I want the new DC movies to be awesome. (I’m particularly excited to see Jason Momoa in a solo Aquaman movie.) But I’m not holding my breath.

DC, of course, is not the only hope Warners have for a cash cow movie universe…

The Harry Potter universe is providing the foundation for a new trilogy of films based on the 42-page Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (and you thought the Hobbit was stretched out!)

They have also slated no fewer than three new Lego movies based on the unprecedented success of the first: a direct sequel, a Lego Batman spinoff, and a Lego Ninjago movie.

It is Sony though who are most obviously desperate to get in on the shared universe game. And I mean painfully, ugly desperate.

Before the Amazing Spiderman 2 stumbled at the box office, they had intended to somehow craft a multi-movie series based on prominent Spiderman baddies. Those hopes have since fallen through, hence the aforementioned deal with Marvel. But rumors persist that they haven’t completely given up on the idea.

As an observer, it actually appears to be Sony rather than Warners who are doing the most “shit throwing” as they cook up wild and bizarre concepts for potential shared universes.

Exhibit A is the reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise for which two separate films are currently being developed – one with an all-female cast shepherded by Paul Feig, the other with an all-male cast involving the likes of Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, and Joe and Anthoy Russo. It appears the intention is indeed for both of these to see the light of day.

Exhibit B is the spinning off of the 21 Jump Street franchise into a female-led version (which makes me wonder why Sony have a thing about segregating genders) and an inevitable second sequel starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill which will actually be – get this! – a cross over with another successful Sony franchise; Men In Black.

It sounds crazy, but I’m actually optimistic about this one; the first two Jump Street films were only too happy to make fun of themselves, and this curious crossover will likely serve as a meta comment on Hollywood’s current obsession of shared universes.

I’m sure that most people are largely unconcerned with Hollywood’s latest obsession. One studio has enjoyed phenomenal success doing something, so of course all the others are going to try to duplicate that success. Isn’t that what the big studios do?

Of course it is, but in the past we were usually just talking about one movie. Not several.

I can only imagine the money that must have been spent behind the scenes in developing these potential franchises. But if the films aren’t good, then there will certainly be hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain.

If Batman v Superman turns out to be a dud, what does that mean for the remaining nine films that Warners have loudly and publicly proclaimed are on the way?

Look, I’m not stupid, I know that money is the most important aspect of the modern movie business. But it seems in this instance, those crucial aspects of story, character, and other creative elements are being if not entirely forgotten, then drastically under underrated.

It makes me worry about the current generation of kids who are growing up watching these movies and thinking that this is what cinema is all about.

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