The term 'shared universe' is often thrown around a lot these days. It seems to be the latest, current Hollywood trend, with every film studio wanting to replicate Marvel's enormous success. Although it was Universal Studios original horror movie series that first tread such uncharted territory all those years ago, with classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman and the Mummy etc. being the first to experiment with cross pollinisation between different franchises. I suppose there has been other examples, both Disney and Hanna Barbera, the animation giants, consisted of various cartoon characters that shared the same world, with numerous crossover's and spin off's, in fact, for a long time the thought of a shared universe seemed an idea best suited to television, with film rarely getting in on the action. There are many examples of the trend, Joss Whedon's Buffy/Angel universe (which carried over into comic books too, continuing seasons long after the finale had aired, there is even a kick ass Batman Beyond styled future slayer comic called Fray) the Hercules/Xena universe, the Stargate/Atlantis etc. universe, hell, even Happy Days was one of the earliest examples of a shared universe spanning many varied television shows, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, Jonie loves Chachi etc. but I digress, when it come to Hollywood franchise films it was a rare occurrence.
Fox tried unsuccessfully to spin off the Elektra character from the Daredevil film which I suppose is an earlier, albeit lackluster, live action attempt at a shared Superhero universe, though it wound up nothing more than a pseudo-sequel minus the previous film's main lead. Fantastic Four (also Fox) had another attempt at the technique by laying the groundwork in the Fantastic Four sequel for a potential Silver Surfer spin off, but the idea was dropped when Fantastic Four 2 suffered some pretty scathing reviews and proved a bit of a bomb (but still better than the latest F4 atrocity Fox recently unleashed) Fox had more success building the X-Men franchise into a shared universe spanning many different spin offs, sequels and prequels, but alas, by the time Fox released it's first venture into the shared X universe (X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009) Marvel had already beat them to the punch with the release of Iron Man, one whole year earlier.
So we now know the idea of a shared universe is nothing new, hell you could even argue Shrek, with it's Puss in boots spin off could be labelled as such, however it was Marvel that brought this idea back in such a way it left all other studios clamoring for a piece of the action in the wake of Marvel's huge success.
It's funny, just a few short years ago the idea of having a living breathing world on film, spanning different film franchises and spin off's, all linking together, all rife with cross over potential, seemed an impossible feat. We never really questioned why Spider-Man wasn't crossing over with the X-Men, or why all the different superhero films were self contained... until Marvel changed the game. DC had accomplished it in animated form, beginning with the 90s animated Batman series, that continued on with the Superman series, thus leading to the team up series Justice League and futuristic series Batman Beyond. The first superhero shared universe, albeit in animated form. Though a live action version seemed nothing more than a fanboy's wet dream... until Marvel released the first Iron Man film, birthing an entire comic book world on film in the process. The best part, nobody saw it coming, that throwaway Avengers line by Sam Jackson in the post credits sequence took everyone by surprise but it wasn't until Incredible Hulk released and Downey Jr showing up near the end showed all us fans how truly momentous this actually was. Sure Spider-Man had a universe of his own that had made a perfect transition from page to screen and yet something that had always felt free, now felt constricted, Spidey needed to be part of the MCU, the fact he wasn't, and was owned by Sony was a sore spot for fans. X-Men fares a little better with its powers by birth rule and enormous cast of characters consisting of various super teams and titles (X-force, X-calibur, X-factor, Generation X, X-Man, New mutants etc...) it certainly didn't need Marvel and yet as a fan its a little awkward having two separate properties not tied, Spidey jumped ship, I think it's high time Fox sort something with Marvel. A recent deal with Marvel over a new X television series created buzz they might be working out a deal, and while right, not the deal we were hoping for. A reboot like Spidey is needed, new cast, new story... freaking costumes! If nothing else this television deal showed Marvel and Fox aren't against a mutually exclusive team up if you will, giving hope for the future possibility of a Fox/Marvel collaboration. Fox's other little Marvel property on the other hand may just be heading home sooner rather than later after the dismal performance at the box office and the even more scathing reception it received. Fantastic Four is proving to be quite the money sink. Three films and none a real hit, the logical conclusion would be to pass the property back to Marvel... Worst part? I just know Marvel would make the perfect F4 film if given the chance, the tone is perfect for the MCU, unlike Fox, Marvel is respectful to the source material of which the properties are based. Even just use them to guest in others films, at least they would be proof positive part of the MCU... ah but I digress, for now we will have to live in a world where Fox is as different to Marvel as Kirkmans Walking dead is to casper.
Sick of sharing their characters (and profits) with other studios (ie. Fox's X-Men and Fantastic Four, Sony's Spider-Man etc.) Marvel decided to dip their toes in the film making process and started up their own film studio. A bit of a gamble considering they had always 'just' been a comic book publisher, furthermore being only relegated to characters they still had rights to, characters with less name recognition and no previous live action depictions to judge popularity (90's Captain America doesn't count) or worse still, characters that had previously proven box office poison (Eric Bana's 'Hulk') There is no doubt in my mind, if Iron Man had failed we wouldn't (currently) be privy to such a mainstream acceptance of franchise sharing. Though succeed it did. Due to Marvel's new hands on approach, and some inspired casting, the first Iron Man proved a benchmark not just for the company, but superhero adaptations in general. What was most shocking? The fact none of us knew it was coming until that final Nick Fury reveal and that one mention of the Avengers. Pretty sure every fans mouth (mine included) dropped to the floor the moment it was uttered. With that cinematic history was born.
Marvel were breaking new ground. A seriously expensive endeavor. With each character given it's own blockbuster franchise of films, with the sole intention of bringing all these well known heroes together on film. Momentous. Further treading new ground Marvel set up it's television division, with new television series announced to fit into that same cinematic universe, deals were made with ABC and Netflix, with the former deal serving as a way to introduce shows that help flesh out the films, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter etc and the latter giving fans a darker, adult side of that same universe with street level super heroes fighting it out in gritty crime drama's that (just like on film) will end with an entire television series devoted to a team up of these famous faces. Defenders, the violent as hell, gritty, mature, television version of Avengers, see what I mean about treading new ground?
With all of this success DC are left to quickly play catch up, a little confused about franchise direction post Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. After big budget misfires Green Lantern and Jonah Hex, they eventually decided on a stylistically darker tone, more in line with Nolans adult content with an added dash of the unreal, a smart decision in my eyes, giving it a totally different feel to the MCU, something needed to avoid repetition or fatigue. Also without the time to spend on each individual character they have kind of done Marvel in reverse, a trilogy of films spanning different titles (Man of Steel, Batman Vs Superman, Justice League 1 and 2) as an introduction to the WB shared universe with the various hero solo films soon following on from Justice League's film finale. Lets face it, DC have already had terrible luck with their recent cinematic ventures (Green Lantern, Watchmen, Jonah Hex, Constantine) all having proven horrible money losses, so it's no surprise they are putting the pedal to the metal in a mad rush to try catch up to rival studio (and comic company) Marvel.
In another change from Marvel, DC has decided to keep it's television universe separate to it's film universe. Which can cause fans to scoff but I like it. Marvel made it work, but DC has a pretty strong television universe already with Arrow and all of it's spin offs and crossovers (Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Hellblazer etc) and with other shows like Gotham and more on the way, it's giving more life to the television world by not being constrained by the films. It worked for Marvel because they had a clear plan laid out from the get go, and cancelled any project that didn't fit the world building criteria (Guillermo Del Toro's Hulk series) so I'm sure DC would have faced the same issue, and I am glad they chose to keep the numerous series going rather than cancel to fit a plan. After the lackluster response to BVS and with Suicide Squad coming up just before the aforementioned team film JLA it's no surprise everyone's turned into an overly harsh opinionated geek regarding DC's latest ventures, quick to diss, or explain everything wrong with it, which is fair enough but don't forget debate can be just as easily resolved with discussion, we are all fans, we wouldn't be arguing if we weren't :P
Now lets talk about everything else. Shared Universe isn't just a term for comic adaptations after all, since Marvel changed the proverbial 'game' it's left other studios scrambling through their back catalogue in the hopes of finding the next big multi-franchise leading to all sorts of crazy ideas. Some good, some not so good.
The Saga! That's right, Star War has gone the way of the shared universe, but to be fair, with its massive library of stories from the expanded universe ranging from books, to comics, to video-games, to animated series, it really was already a shared universe. Though with the recent film schedule consisting of spin off films to help flesh out the universe it's not hard to see Marvels influence, but hey, it's all Disney anyway right?
Universal Monsters. They're back. That's right, confirmed to return, the original horror monsters are getting they're own chance at a reboot. Fair enough, Marvel may have inspired them to do so but they were the first. What is worrying is the lack of horror so far, and the use of monster 'powers', who knows? Dracula Untold (the first in the series) may be totally different from the previous entry... but I doubt it. It seems Universal want a horror Avengers which I just don't see having the same appeal.
Ghostbusters. Ugh the less said about this the better in my opinion. Looks unfunny and actually grating in my opinion. Sony execs talk about a shared universe idea, girl series, guy series, girls from girl series teaming with guys from guy series to battle ghosts... just does not sound good to me.... like at all... and I freaking love Ghostbusters.
Men in Black/21 Jump Street. I swear this is real. Ah Sony don't change... or do, and perhaps get the team of decision makers off crack and perhaps save the fledgling business. Balls in you're court.
Fantastic Beasts, the new spin off entry in the Harry Potter world is on it's way and I honestly couldn't be more pumped. A first for the franchise, spin off being they're attempt at a shared universe, with all new characters, story and locations. This is how you do a proper spin off.
Hasbro is up next with a list of forgotten toy lines set for a shared resurgence. G.I Joe with M.A.S.K, with Micronauts, with Visionaries and ROM the SpaceKnight. While I'm sure they will be dumb, fun, trashy films in a Transformers kind of way, I can't help but question the legitimacy of the finished product, when shoving a bunch of (lets not mistake) forgotten toylines that had nothing to do with each other into blockbuster feature films? I see the first bombing killing the whole idea, just my prediction.
Well there you have it. A Hollywood trend that shows no sign of slowing down, with other comic companies announcing they're own plans for feature films under one shared world (Valiant are apparently next) It's a great time to be a fan but I can't help but wonder how many more franchise whoring ideas might surface effectively killing people's interest in these kinds of event films? Food for thought.
All Just my own opinions and hope you enjoyed reading the article. If you know of any I missed hit me up in the comments, if you disagree with my thoughts hit me up. Follow me on Creators.com or on Twitter @johnnygeekcool in fact follow both ;) cheers for reading and talk soon. Peace! :P