Everybody loves a shared universe, right? At least that’s what Hollywood has thought since 2012. Ever since the success of the first Avengers film, studios have been scrambling to see what franchises they have under their control that could make for a valid shared universe. Here are a few examples of Hollywood’s attempts.
- DC Extended Universe - Also redubbed the “Snyderverse” after director Zack Snyder. Beginning with 2013’s Man of Steel, and expanding out into other franchises as of 2016, DC’s shared universe didn’t manage to create the same box office gold as Marvel’s. Both Batman v Superman and Justice League failed at the box office, causing Warner Bros. to abandon future crossover films, as well as future films featuring these versions of Superman and Batman. That being said, although zealous fans accost Warner Bros. daily on Twitter to “#restoretheSnyderverse,” the fact is it’s alive and well, with other films in the franchise - Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and Shazam! - all receiving further entries. What fans really mean is “Make more Justice League films.”
- Star Wars - In addition to creating their sequel trilogy to continue the saga of the original films, Disney also made the decision to create anthology films that would take place around the Star Wars universe, and to make a film every year. This worked out very well with their first such film in 2016, Rogue One, but their second, Solo, flopped at the box office, and the film-a-year strategy died. Still, other anthology films are in the works, including Patty Jenkins’ Rogue Squadron and an untitled film from Taika Waititi.
- Wizarding World - All this means is that Harry Potter got a spinoff. One spinoff, the Fantastic Beasts series, starting in 2016, with no other franchise running concurrently with it. Still, Warner Bros. treats this like it’s own little shared universe, opening each film with the logo “Wizarding World.” Weird.
- MonsterVerse - Again, this a “shared universe” with only two franchises involved. After Godzilla was a box office success in 2014, Warner Bros. created Kong: Skull Island in 2017, set in the same world, with the idea of Godzilla and Kong squaring off in a future film. They did, in this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, and no further entries in the universe have currently been revealed to be in the works.
- Dark Universe - This one is a sad tale. 2017’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise as the hero, Sofia Boutella as The Mummy, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, was intended to be the first in a universe of Universal monsters that would continue with Bride of Frankenstein starring Angelina Jolie as The Bride and Javier Bardem as The Monster, and an Invisible Man film starring Johnny Depp. There was even a group photo of all these actors together, though this was later said to have been photoshopped.But the Mummy bombed at the box office, and the other films were scrapped, despite the sets for Bride of Frankenstein already being under construction!The truth is that this may have been the universe with the most potential. After all, the Universal monsters had the original shared universe, long before The Avengers, with Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man having previously crossed over in House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and, of course, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). It would have been nice to see something like this play out onscreen again, but only if it was done well. And given the quality of The Mummy, well….We may have actually dodged a bullet.
- SpiderVerse - With Spider-Man currently appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe via a deal with Disney, Sony decided to develop their own cinematic universe using whatever supporting characters they had the rights to, i.e. his villains. Hence, we got Venom in 2018, which confirmed in a post-credits scene that it took place in the same multiverse, if not the same universe, as that year’s animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, confirmed that this multiverse also includes the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we will see more in this multiverse unfold with next year’s Morbius, based on another Spidey villain.
Now, admit it. Some of these are stretches. An entire universe built around Spider-Man villains? Calling one Harry Potter spinoff the “Wizarding World?” Hollywood is still very eager to reap the fruit of the idea of the shared cinematic universe, but they seem to be ignoring some of the ones with the greatest potential. Let’s take a look at some of the ones wit the biggest potential.
The Valiant Comics universe is filled with heroes, such as Harbinger, Ninjak, Archer & Armstrong, XO Manowar, and Bloodshot. These heroes all coalesced in the made-for-the-internet microseries Ninjak vs. the Valiant Universe in 2018. Bloodshot then got his own feature film, played by Vin Diesel, in 2020. This was intended to be the first in a shared Valiant Universe, followed by a Harbinger film, and then a crossover dubbed Harbinger Wars.
Unfortunately, Bloodshot opened on March 13th 2020. Literally hit the weekend everything shut down due to COVID-19. Because of this, the film made virtually no money, but that’s not really it’s fault, is it? Nobody really knew how much money the film would have made under normal circumstances, so nobody really knew how to continue. Right now, a sequel has been announced as underway, but such an announcement often doesn’t amount to much. Only time will tell if the Valiant universe really has a future.
4. Transformers/G.I. Joe
Hasbro has many franchises under its belt, and two of them made for financially successful, if critically mauled, film franchises.
The Transformers films did extremely well at the box office from 2007 until 2017, when the fifth film, The Last Knight, flopped like a fish (although a later spinoff, Bumblebee, did relatively well). The G.I. Joe films, also released by Paramount, also had some success with two films in 2009 and 2013. So in October 2017, Hasbro announced the creation of their own movie studios, Allspark Pictures, with the intent of creating a shared cinematic universe based on several of their toy franchises. In this shared universe would be G.I. Joe, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, Micronauts, M.A.S.K. and Rom. None of these efforts made any headway, except for one more G.I. Joe film, Snake Eyes, which bombed at the box office, effectively killing the franchise.
Now, it seems safe to say that most fans could care less about G.I. Joe crossing over with Knights of the Magical Light or whatever. But what seems to be completely ignored here is the potential for a crossover between Transformers and G.I. joe, which have an actual history of crossing over in the comic book world.!
Paramount still hasn’t given up on Transformers, with a new film, Rise of the Beasts, set to be released next year. And while the G.I. Joe franchise may have been stifled, many a fan would say “Yo Joe!” to seeing them riding alongside Optimus and Bumblebee.
3. Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)
Some time ago, Nintendo had the idea of taking all their all-star characters and putting them in one video game, where players could fight each other as any of them. The idea took off in a big way, creating the Super Smash Bros. franchise.
It was a smart idea, but it lacked any sort of storyline behind the fighting (this from a company that still hasn’t made the story behind Mario clear at all). When there finally was a storyline introduced, it was similar to Toy Story, with all the avatars bening toys of their respective characters instead of the characters themselves.
There still seems, to this writer at least, some potential for a massively epic story that would see Mario, Sonic, Link, Samus, Pikachu, and Kirby come together. But how is this reflected in the movie world?
In 2019, Detective Pikachu brought the world of Pokemon into the world of live-action film. It was a moderate success, but no sequel plans have been announced. 2020 saw the release of the film Sonic the Hedgehog, released by Paramount, which was a box office success and is getting a sequel next year. Next year will also see the release of an animated Mario feature film from Universal. Nintendo has licensed the film rights to its various characters to different film studios, a mistake Marvel made in the beginning, and which is still causing them problems in creating a cohesive shared universe. Of course, the idea of creating a shared universe isn’t exactly on Nintendo’s mind right now. But it should be.
Admittedly, while a Smash Bros. movie sounds incredible, we would need to see films of Zelda, Metroid, and the like, before they can cross over. But the fact that Nintendo hasn’t even seen the potential of such a venture seems odd given the current shared-universe-loving climate of Hollywood.
Since at least 2013, Pixar fan Jon Negroni has made waves online with his “Pixar theory,” claiming that all the Pixar animated films do, in fact, take place inside the same shared universe. The theory is flawed, to be certain, arguing that Boo from Monsters, Inc., Andy’s mom from Toy Story, Emily from Toy Story 2, and the witch from Brave are all the same character (despite the fact they all have distinctly different hair colors). The idea has even less steam with the release of Onward in 2020, a film that is clearly in its own universe.
Nevertheless, the idea of at least most of Pixar’s films being in one big universe has fascinated fans for so long, why not take advantage of it? I’m sure fans would love to see Buzz Lightyear riding on Sully’s back, or teaming up with Elastigirl!
1. Disney Princesses
In 2005, Disney executive Andy Mooney came up with the idea for the Disney Princess merchandising, creating bedsheets, toothbrushes, plates, and partywear featuring all the different princesses of Disney together.
Fun fact: The princesses, on all the given merch, are never looking at one another, specifically to prevent the idea from occurring to kids that they are actually in the same room, in the same universe, instead of just being separate images on the same baby bottle.
Nevertheless, this idea has made many people associate the various period-piece Disney films together, and they actually are shown to inhabit the same universe in the preschool-aged cartoon series Sofia the First. But the idea of these characters to be seen together in a movie seems like a severe pipe dream.
The fact that Disney is missing out on this idea is made all the more concrete by the release of so many live-action adaptations of Disney classics. One might think that, as these films went along, Disney might drop some hints at them being in one big world. Perhaps Belle pulls a book out from the library and comments that it was made in Agrabah. But no. The potential for a shared universe is lost on Disney, and Aladdin, Belle, Alice, Ariel, and Aurora, whether in live-action or animation, must sadly stay within their own isolated franchises.
What do you guys think? What’s a shared universe you would like to see?