Yes, if you’re a fan of film, I’m sure you’ve heard this, or ‘spinoff’ banded around more times than “we’re doing another sequel!”
So why are so many film studios striving to achieve this with every franchise they own? It's money. Now I know that answer might not seem so surprising, but it can be seen as a slight change of focus from some of the biggest studios in Hollywood, when you think about it. Let me explain...
We know how studios love cramming sequels/prequels/reboots onto an already oversaturated market, but that’s because it’s safe. They know that by handing a director $250 million, when he wants to make the 4th Transformers film or the 7th X-men film, (the second most expensive film of all time by the way) that it will mean they can at the very least, break-even. With more often that not, making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. At the opposite end of the spectrum you have a film like ‘Dredd’, which was received brilliantly by many critics, and the character’s main fan base, but failed to deliver at the box office and to a wider audience. Thus, killing the franchise, with it looking increasingly unlikely that a sequel will be with us anytime soon.
But this is where ‘expanded universe’ differs from your 'run of the mill' sequel. It takes elements from an already established franchise and (obviously) 'expands' from that. But not just with a continuation of a storyline, plot points and characters, it would divert from that and show the audience something new, whilst still being familiar to them, with the studio being fairly comfortable it will achieve success. Everyone's a winner!
Studios are now seeing dollar signs when they hear the word ‘spinoff’ or ‘expanded universe’. But this shouldn’t be seen as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme thought up by some of the biggest studios in Hollywood. Rather, a calculated gamble from a slightly smaller studio back in 2008 with the release of a relatively unknown film, ‘Iron Man’.
Yes, Marvel studios are somewhat responsible for all the talk we’re hearing today. They sparked a mutli-billion dollar success for the studio and the beginning of their ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ This was the first time a studio had decided to take all the film rights they own and rather than have them take place in their own separate universes. Their films and characters such as Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man would cross paths with one another, with repercussions and consequences felt throughout their whole cinematic universe. With it culminating in Marvel’s 2012 film, ‘ The Avengers’ the first time a live action superhero team and been brought to the big screen with huge box office and critical success. (Thus obviously culminating in sequel, but hey I'm not complaining)
An example of an established franchise that will (almost certainly) emulate Marvel’s cinematic success would be Star Wars. The franchise already has a huge fan base, a series of extremely prosperous films (the prequels to a lesser extent), and a wide variety of diverse characters, interesting worlds and all with huge box office success. This then is the perfect formula for generating profit for the studios.
Yes, I’m already aware that they have a incredibly successful and well established expanded universe in graphic novels and video games. But they’ve waited for six years of Marvel success to even announce that any of those ideas will be transferred to the big screen. They hope to initially release two spin off films focused on the lives Yoda and Boba Fett, with more surely to follow if these two prove to be profitable. (Which I have no doubt they will be)
Another studio that seems to be pushing this idea more than anyone recently is Sony Pictures, with ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ The recent sequel has heavily endorsed lesser known characters like Rhino and teased others, like The Vulture. In hopes of a ‘Sinister Six’ film coming to the big screen in the near future. With a spinoff film starring Venom also in the works.
With DC Comics already well on their way to having their own expanded universe with ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ in 2016, with a Justice League film expected to arrive some time after. Their approach can be seen as being slightly different from the other studios though. With more focus on introducing their characters through TV series, with 'Arrow' already being fairly successful and 'The Flash' getting his own TV series this Autumn, their strategy seems to be working just fine.
There have also been rumours of Fox Studios’ extremely prosperous franchise ‘X-men’ and the newly announced reboot of the ‘Fantastic Four’ team sharing a universe, although that looks less likely to happen, with recent reports suggesting this idea is completely dead in the water.
This does unfortunately mean that original, successful box office content is becoming harder and harder to find. In recent years most notably, Christopher Nolan has managed to achieve this with ‘The Prestige’ and ‘Inception’ but not without the star and box office power of Hugh Jackman or Leonardo DiCaprio. Along with his widely accepted triumphant handling of an already established franchise and character in ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy.
Only time will tell on how this new ideology from film studios will fare with the public. One things for certain, millions will be spent and millions will be earned. Will it be enough to keep the franchises alive that the majority of us have come to know and love? That I’m afraid is entirely, out of our hands.