By 2020, over twenty new films tied to long-running franchise story lines will have been released. Roughly four established franchise universes will be reaching in to their next phase, making the start of the decade a moment to anticipate. Through 2019, several studios have movies scheduled - but after that, the future is a blank slate. While some production houses might already have an idea of what's about to happen, the general public and the rumor mills are completely clueless. A new dawn seemingly awaits us in the next decade, and the fate of major franchise films is just over that horizon.
Without fail, each year brings a slew of new headlines, all along the same lines, predicting the fall of major franchises - specifically, comic book movies. Even major producers and creators in the industry have felt the same way: Matthew Vaughn, director and co-writer of [Kingsman: The Secret Service](movie:713143) and producer of [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667), had his doubts about the subject matter's lifespan after the release of X-Men: First Class. Lucky for us, Vaughn didn't resign to that sentiment, and went on to create one of the coolest movies out this weekend.
But still, fans are nervous. After years of highly successful franchise films such as The Hunger Games, or the long-running storylines put out by [Marvel](channel:932254) (which will begin Phase 3 of its on-screen canon with [Ant-Man](movie:9048)) why do we, as fans, still feel so much doubt?
We're Used to Let Downs
Let's get the negatives out of the way first: Not every franchise film has worked for every individual person. Some films flop monetarily, and almost all of those flop with fan opinion. The next film out could be the one that breaks the Marvel storyline; [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](movie:711158) promises a storyline that old and new fans have no former knowledge of; the upcoming Wolverine movie has to wash a nasty taste out of some fans' mouths.
While I'm personally excited for almost everything coming up, it's easy to fall in to a sense of doubt, especially if these films have let you down before. Seeing a life-long, fan-favorite character portrayed in ways you don't expect, being poorly written or cast, or excluded from a major storyline can be disheartening.
But the competition is just heating up, with many studios putting a heavy focus on storytelling and continuity. Kathleen Kennedy, head of Lucasfilm, emphasized this when laying down the groundwork for the new Star Wars canon:
We’re set to bring Star Wars back to the big screen, and continue the adventure through games, books, comics, and new formats that are just emerging. This future of interconnected storytelling will allow fans to explore this galaxy in deeper ways than ever before.
With attentive action and teams made of die-hard fans to tell the story, the future of several franchises looks to be in good hands - for the most part.
Collaborating Studios May Change the Game
While Disney, Marvel and Lucasfilm now fit under the same umbrella, the most talked about studio collaboration these days revolves around the latest deal between Sony and Marvel over the super-powered web slinger, Spider-Man. Sony bought the full rights to the character (along with several within his universe) over 15 years ago, and fans have been fighting to get the beloved hero back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for almost as long.
Reports say that Sony is going ahead with other Spider-verse productions without Marvel's input, such as [Sinister Six](movie:1274281) and [Venom](movie:372411), and the collaborative work between the two studios was laid out in Marvel's announcement:
Under the deal, the new Spider-Man will first appear in a Marvel film from Marvel's Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sony Pictures will thereafter release the next installment of its $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, on July 28, 2017, in a film that will be co-produced by Kevin Feige and his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal, who oversaw the franchise launch for the studio 13 years ago. Together, they will collaborate on a new creative direction for the web slinger. Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.
Marvel and Sony Pictures are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into future Spider-Man films.
So, while one could be a bit nervous about the continuity of our new Spider-Man, it's safe to say that the collaborative efforts between the two studios seem to be firmly set in stone. We're getting Spider-Man back, and his adventures in the MCU won't be interrupted by the storylines of Sony's Spider-verse. If you're curious about how the deal will work in full, check out this Variety exclusive.
A move like this used to be completely unheard of, and for a long time, stood as a sort of grim reminder for Marvel fans when it came to seeing some of their favorite superheroes team up. With the door open for Sony, and Marvel's very obvious effort to choke-hold the franchises that belong to 20th Century Fox, we may yet see further collaborations between multiple studios on massive franchises.
If those do come to light, don't hold tightly onto the actors currently playing the X-Men or Fantastic Four: Sony is already replacing Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man for this new venture, and re-casting further projects is always a possibility.
At the moment, Fox seems set to go when it comes to future franchise films, though their line-up is considerably less packed - hopefully allowing for more thought and effort when to comes to the quality of their films. [X-Men: Days Of Future Past](movie:203942) hit it out of the park with fans, and with franchises like [The Fantastic Four](movie:34667) kicking off this year, we're waiting with baited breath to see what the studio delivers next.
On the other side of the comic book movie coin come the warring powers of WB and DC, Marvel's long-time rival as the other half of the "Big Two" producers in comics. DC has had a history of films that, whether good or bad, have gone down as lasting memories in fans' minds. But because of those major misses - and the ongoing disappointment some fans feel in their comic book storylines or marketing - the studio has a lot to prove.
DC is arguably conquering television, with [Arrow](series:720988), [The Flash](series:1068303) and [Gotham](series:1127075) boasting high ratings as well as consistent, dedicated fanbases. It's hard to argue that the small-screen reputation that the company has built up is easily one of the most favored of its mediums, with shows like [Supergirl](series:2246875) and several others already in planning to expand the television canon. But since their television and film universes are separate, the most we know of these new stories rests on the shoulders of [Man of Steel](movie:15593) until DC's first major foray into an ensemble movie premieres with [Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice](movie:711870).
[Suicide Squad](movie:2283363), [The Flash](series:1068303), [Wonder Woman](movie:45787), [Cyborg](movie:1043082), [Aquaman](movie:264237) and more are all on the list for upcoming films, and each one of them has something to prove. DC is one of the wild cards in this situation because they're just now building this storyline, and they're already poised to have these stories last clear into the next decade.
Long-Form Cinematic Storytelling is Changing in a Huge Way
With a new Star Wars universe comes a new, elaborate web of stories to tell for the folks at Disney, Lucasfilm, and even Marvel comics. We won't be seeing Star-Lord bridge his way in to canon status in a galaxy far, far away, but the conscious and deliberate effort to create a concise universe for the massive Star Wars franchise is already showing: [Star Wars Rebels](series:965946) has an extremely dedicated fan base that has helped the network achieve some of its highest ratings ever for certain demographics, Marvel's Star Wars comic series has broken records for comic pre-sales on the flagship storyline, along with its spin-offs: the latest Darth Vader comic, and the upcoming Princess Leia.
Several novels are set to join in on this storyline, focusing on a myriad of different characters to effectively set up the history, timeline, and lore of the universe. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, this is a story that can be told forever, and after getting rid of the (most beloved and missed) loose ends of the Expanded Universe, the company's creator hires now have a wide-spanning world to play in.
While fans may feel doubt over the new films, or even betrayal after the prequels, it seems as though Star Wars now rests in the hands of fans like us - even Luke Skywalker himself, actor and all-around awesome person Mark Hamill, vouched for the talent of the new generation:
It’s exciting from the standpoint that it’s the first of the movies in that universe that’s conceived and directed by the fan generation ... the captain of the ship is J.J. Abrams and he was a fan of the series, which I find very interesting. They’re going to have an input into how things are done in a way that was impossible in the more autonomous period of George’s [Lucas] reign. I hope it’s a hit!
New Stories, New Speculation
With all of this in mind, looking to the future as a fan of these franchises can be overwhelmingly exciting and terrifying at the same time. "All good things comes in threes," is an expression my dad used to say in order to describe his favorite movie franchises (and our family), but now, even Pops is looking forward to lining up for his favorite long-running franchises. It's taken a long, long time for this kind of storytelling to reach movie franchises, especially those that last much longer than the classic trilogy formula they we're used to.
Much like dedicated comic book collectors, movie fans are now heading to movies each year to follow up with storylines that they have grown to love. We're quickly reaching an era where source material is being deviated from for reasons that even make sense to the fans, and for a successful movie adaptation, these ideas are key for keeping up a franchise that will span a decade or more. The huge success of franchises such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games only prove that beloved stories and characters will continue bringing audiences back for more, as long as the movies continue to shine with quality storytelling.
The difference here, of course, is that your standard cliffhanger in film lasts more than just a month - the Star Wars continuity, for example, will see trilogy installments release roughly two years apart from each other, with spin-off films taking place in previous eras of the franchise's in-world history in between. For my generation of fans, though, patience has become a virtue.
Thanks to the whimsical YA fantasy franchises that came before comic book films, we know now that the time between movies can be spent researching the most minuscule details and poring over them with other fans; writing about them on blogs or websites; creating fan art, stories or comics about offscreen moments that live within our limitless headcanon.
The wait to see whether or not our guesses at what will happen next will be proven true is far less excruciating in that sense. But, with franchise-makers now on social media, creators themselves can reflect upon the wild speculation around their creations: Marvel's Agent M, [Powers](series:1496049) creator (among so, so many other things) Brian Michael Bendis, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot studios, and countless others will field fan questions and, on a lucky day, either confirm or shoot down our ideas about the future of their stories.
Maybe superhero movies are dying. Maybe Star Wars won't hold up. Maybe Ant-Man will bomb and lead a domino effect of terrible movies because Marvel decided to hand their keyboards over to a pack of angry llamas. But for now, and for at least the next five years, we're well-aware of the path we're going down - at least, well-aware enough to speculate, create excitement, and follow productions from idea to premiere. If these creative, expansive new stories hold up, we could easily be following them for the rest of our lives - and who could be mad about that?