James Gunn won over fans this past summer as the guy at the helm of Marvel's wildly popular [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073), but the down-to-earth director kept us all on board with how in-touch he is with us. He's all over social media, tweeting regularly and sharing a mix of behind-the-scenes photos, fan art, and personal thoughts on his Facebook page.
If you missed it on Friday, he wrote something on his Facebook page that was completely on point: He's really not a fan of this new trend of every studio scrambling to build shared universes. And he's completely right. You might be thinking this is a little hypocritical, coming from a director who is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he made some really great points about why not everything needs to become part of a shared universe - and shouldn't be. Here's the text if you want to read, but if you're a tl;dr/I-can't-take-30-seconds-to-read-something type of person, then skip to the bottom.
I mean, it's cool...just know I'm judging you for it, because it's worth a read.
CARTS BEFORE HORSES & HOLLYWOOD'S NEW LOVE OF SHARED UNIVERSES
Listen, I love big ass shared universes in movies, as well as huge franchises. But I'm a little worried about the numerous shared universes being planned by the studios, without having a strong base film to grow from - or in some cases, NO base film to grow from. Star Wars had the original Star Wars, the Marvel Universe had the original Iron Man, the Dark Knight series had Batman Begins, even movies like Transformers and Twilight - these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters. But these days studios are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them - making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It's like they aren't taking audiences into account at all anymore.
I know George Lucas, Kevin Feige, John Favreau, etc, had ideas where their films would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don't think it ever got in the way of making that first movie count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other films or not.
In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think filmmakers and studios should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great film. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them - they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that's simply not possible.
If you skipped to the bottom, Gunn basically says that these huge, shared universes only work if there's a great foundational movie to build it all upon, but a lot of these universes are being built on franchises that had crappy to "meh" at best first installments. But with the state of Hollywood now, don't expect this to change any time soon.
Is he right? Let's take a look at all of the proposed cinematic universes (confirmed and rumored) that are in development and figure out which ones will work...and which ones should die a quick death.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (Marvel Studios)
What is it?: The grandaddy of shared universes, the one that started it all and is doing it best, Marvel Studios has completely changed the way the studio system works. The strength of the MCU lies in the fact that it has a unified vision for what it's trying to build, along with a deep well of source material from which to pull. From independent character franchises to the backbone of the team-up movie that spans both Earth and space, and the threads being woven together through movies, television, and Netflix, Marvel has created the model and standard that all other studios are scrambling to replicate.
Will it work?: Duh.
X-Men/Mutant Universe (20th Century Fox)
What is it?: With Fox rebooting the flagging X-Men franchise with 2011's X-Men: First Class, then having a crossover between the original franchise and new franchise with this year's [X-Men: Days Of Future Past](movie:203942), and (finally!) greenlighting a [Deadpool](movie:38663) movie, the studio is looking to spread its mutant universe beyond just the X-Men. Whether or not [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667) will also appear in the mutant-verse or remain a separate franchise remains to be seen, but Fox has enough character rights to keep building.
Will it work?: In theory, yes. But that depends entirely on how Deadpool and Fantastic Four fare in theaters. Fans were not at all pleased with the portrayal of Wade Wilson in the craptacular X-Men Origins: Wolverine, so expectations are doubly high for the Merc with a Mouth's first solo movie. Same goes for the Fantastic Four reboot, which is exactly the kind of situation that Gunn was talking about. The original movie was okay, the second was just awful, and the people behind this FF reboot have made so many seemingly odd decisions that fans are suspecting it's going to be another flop. Time will tell.
Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)
What is it?: Earlier this year, Sony announced plans to bump back [The Amazing Spider-Man 3](movie:671279) to 2018 in order to make way for an expanded Spider-Man cinematic universe that will reportedly include [Sinister Six](movie:1274281), [Venom](movie:372411), possibly Carnage, and an as-yet untitled female-led film with a character from the Spider-Man universe (let's hope it's not the rumored Aunt May movie because wow).
Will it work?: I really, really want to hope so, but at this point, it seems pretty clear Sony's not sure in which direction to go with the Spider-Man universe, and clarity of vision is one of the most vital components of getting a shared cinematic universe to work.
Justice League/DC Universe (Warner Bros.)
What is it?: The dark, brooding counterpart to the MCU as Warner Bros. and DC attempt to reverse-engineer the Marvel model. Rather than giving each superhero(ine) their own franchise before leading to a team-up movie, the characters will be introduced in [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870) and [Justice League Part One](movie:401267) before launching their own spinoffs.
Will it work?: [Man of Steel](movie:15593) got lukewarm reception from audiences, but other than Marvel, DC's universe has the best chance of actually working. Despite it feeling really disorganized and off-the-mark at times in this building process, all WB needs to really launch this thing is for Batman v. Superman to be a hit - and let's face it, people will watch it simply because it's Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman sharing screen time. Still, you have to wonder if it's not taken WB and DC so long to get going that the superhero bubble will be dying out right as their shared universe really begins.
Universal Monsters Universe (Universal Pictures)
What is it?: Starting with this year's shrug-worthy [Dracula Untold](movie:917159), Universal has announced plans to take their iconic horror movie monsters "out of the horror genre," instead turning them into action-adventure flicks, building them into a shared ...action?...universe. The next movie is 2016's [The Mummy](movie:388508) reboot, followed by another unnamed one in 2017, which will probably be The Wolfman.
Will it work?: Universal is taking everything about their monsters that made them iconic and...doing this. If this were a fair and just world, the entire idea would just be killed right now. Unfortunately, since there will always be lots of people willing to pay money to watch a mindless action flick, the completely reimagined universe will probably make just enough money to keep churning out one bad to mediocre movie after another.
Ghostbusters Universe (Sony Pictures)
What is it?: As everyone knows, [Ghostbusters 3](movie:32733) is going to be a hard reboot of the franchise, featuring an all-female cast of Ghostbusters. But OG 'Buster himself, Dan Akroyd, said a few months ago that he envisions a Marvel-style expanded universe that Sony can build on for the next decade and that the studio is looking for ways to make it grow beyond the original movies.
Will it work?: It's solely because Akroyd would not let the subject drop for literally two decades that the third Ghostbusters movie is even happening. Good for him. That being said, he needs to understand that one iconic movie and a sequel made 20 years ago does not an expanded universe build. Where would they even get the material? The MCU works because of the vast amount of source material it has to develop. I'm not sure where that would come from for a Ghostbusters universe.
Harry Potter Universe (Warner Bros.)
What is it?: It was inevitable, really. After the staggering success of the Harry Potter film franchise, which essentially jumpstarted the current franchises based on books trend in Hollywood, it came as a surprise-but-not-surprise when author J.K. Rowling announced she was working on more books and that a [Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them](movie:1112558) trilogy was being planned.
Will it work?: There's no reason for it not to. Unlike many franchises whose popularity in pop culture die a few years after the movies are finished, Harry Potter has only grown stronger, with theme parks, new books, the Pottermore website, and now these movies. There's no franchise existing today for which people harbor as much goodwill as Harry Potter, and rightfully so. Plus, Rowling put so much backstory into the original novels that there's more than enough source material to flesh out the entire wizarding world for years to come.
UPDATE: The Hunger Games Universe (Lionsgate)
What is it?: The day after I wrote this article comes the news from [The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1](movie:446261) director Francis Lawrence that the studio is seriously considering ways to turn the Hunger Games franchise into an expanded universe.
Will it work?: It has a very good chance of working, yes. The Hunger Games franchise is about as strong a franchise as you can build upon, with a crazy fan base, great source material, and a clearly realized world. Plus, Lawrence was quick to caution that they simply wouldn't want to create a shared universe for the sake of a cash grab - they'd really have to create characters that are just as compelling as Katniss, with equally engaging stories.
What do you think? Are all of these expanded universes a great thing...or are they hurting the quality of product? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!