Star Wars and Star Trek may have been the first big Hollywood franchises to pioneer the idea of a shared universe, but Marvel took it to another level through the formation of the MCU, where every single film released by the studio became connected in some way.
DC quickly followed suit, using easter eggs in the Justice League trailer and a mid-credits sequence in Suicide Squad to begin building their DCEU. Now that even the Transformers franchise is in talks to crossover with other Hasbro toy properties such as G.I. Joe, it seems like we're only one step away from seeing horror icons such as Jigsaw and Freddy Krueger pop up in the next Toy Story movie.
However, decades before studios began to realise the full potential of cinematic universes, one man had already began to craft the most ambitious series of connected stories ever devised. His name is Stephen King. Get ready for a ton of abbreviations, guys.
Stephen King's Shared Universe (SKSU)
The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
With this one remarkable sentence, King began a journey that would span over 50 novels and numerous short stories, weaving an epic tale that's literally changed the face of story telling.
Although King wrote other novels before The Dark Tower, the first instalment of this epic fantasy/Western series quickly became the focal point of the author's prolific output. Through this central narrative, King began to connect all of his work through both explicit references and small easter eggs, long before Marvel made it fashionable to do so.
Check out this incredible fan-made flow chart that visually depicts the connections between each of King's stories so far, excluding a few of the more recent novels:
The Dark Tower series technically ended with the release of the seventh book in 2004, but it seems like King's shared universe will never end entirely. Mid-World and The Dark Tower itself have already cropped up in a number of King's books since, including 22.11.63, as well as Marvel's ongoing comic book adaptation of the franchise.
Oh, and then there's also the matter of King's son Joe Hill to consider. Ka is a wheel after all and it's one purpose is to turn.
Hill & King's Shared Universe (HKSU)
When you consider that Joe was raised by the Master of Horror and hangs out with a family dog most commonly referred to as The Thing Of Evil (Poor Molly!), it's no wonder then that Joe Hill grew up to become a best selling horror author too.
It wasn't obvious at first, but it seems that Hill learned a thing or two from his father, connecting the likes of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns through subtle references that established his very own shared universe.
However, it wasn't until the release of his third book, NOS4A2, where the full scope of Hill's ambitious plan became apparent. Not content to just connect his own stories, Hill's latest book also featured a location named The Pennywise Circus, which explicitly referenced the monstrous clown who terrorises children in his father's iconic novel It.
King returned the favor soon after in the sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, with a direct reference to the villain of NOS4A2 who's called Charlie Manx. At one point, Manx explicitly mentions 'the doors to Mid-World', confirming once and for all that the father-son duo are working in cahoots to create an even larger shared universe that's joined through The Dark Tower multiverse.
How Would A Hill & King Cinematic Universe (HKCU) Work?
At the centre of the HKSU (trademark) is a rather depressing building known as The Dark Tower, which acts as the lynchpin for almost every story that Hill and King have ever written, bridging the gap between seemingly unrelated characters and parallel dimensions.
Funnily enough, The Dark Tower also just so happens to be the next Stephen King adaptation slated for release in cinemas on February 17, 2017, starring Idris Elba as the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as Walter Paddick. That second name in particular is rather significant, as this evil sorcerer also appears in a number of other guises including Randall Flagg, the primary antagonist of novels such as The Stand and The Eyes Of The Dragon.
If Hollywood want to exploit the pre-existing connections between King's novels in their movie adaptations, The Dark Tower is the logical place to start and everything else can spin out from there, including a reboot of King's It and Hill's upcoming NOS4A2 TV show.
How Could It and NOS4A2 Link With The Dark Tower?
What could a demonic clown and a vampiric old man obsessed with Christmas have to do with Idris Elba's Dark Tower?
While it's unlikely we'll see either Pennywise or Charlie Manx climb the Dark Tower itself, there's certainly scope for them or related characters from It and NOS4A2 to appear in the upcoming fantasy epic.
Our money would be on cameo appearances that arise when McConaughey's sorcerer Paddick glimpses into other realities through magic. Alternatively, a simple name drop or visual indicator of either character could become an enticing easter egg hinting at a wider shared universe between the various King/Hill adaptations.
If NOS4A2 was somehow referenced in The Dark Tower or even in It, which is due for release soon after on September 8, 2017, this would also open up a whole new realm for the HKCU, as Hill's adaptation is heading straight for TV rather than film. Marvel produces shows and films that are directly linked, so it's not a huge stretch to imagine a similar approach in development for King and Hill's work.
Could Other Upcoming Hill And King Adaptations Join The HKCU?
It and The Dark Tower aren't the only upcoming projects that could be potentially incorporated within the HKCU. King's Children of the Corn will soon receive a sequel subtitled Runaway and the King of Horror has a number of shows based on his work in development too, including Mr Mercedes and The Mist.
While we've already mentioned Hill's upcoming program based on NOS4A2, there's a chance that any potential HKCU could also retroactively reference projects released earlier like Horns or 22.11.63, which contains direct links to The Dark Tower in the source material.
As there's a wealth of Stephen King adaptations already floating around out there like Pennywise's eerie balloons, this form of retroactive referencing could venture even further back to older projects — although legality would prove challenging here.
Is The HKCU Even Possible From A Legal Perspective?
The reason that Marvel have been able to link all of their films is that they own the rights to a number of properties that can be combined into tentpole pictures with relative ease. Unfortunately, the same is not true of the upcoming King and Hill adaptations.
If we just consider the two biggest upcoming films based on King's work, the potential legal difficulties quickly become apparent. The Dark Tower is produced by Weed Road Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Media Rights Capital, who have handed distribution over to Columbia Pictures. It is produced through a collaboration between Lin Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment and KatzSmith Productions, before New Line Cinema take over the distribution.
While this makes the HKCU seem like an impossible proposition, the Spider-Man deal between Sony and Marvel proved that different studios could collaborate successfully, and the links between King and Hill's adaptations could be portrayed far more subtly. It's rare for either author to connect their novels in overtly explicit ways, instead favoring occasional references and small easter eggs, something that would be far easier for different studios to agree upon.
Will We Ever See A Hill & King Cinematic Universe?
Studios are understandably keen to build cinematic universes that tie together, as it ensures audiences will make more effort to follow a franchise. After all, no one wants to pay money to see a film only to realise that they're missing vital jigsaw pieces integral to the overall story. The problem with this approach, though, is that some properties are connected needlessly in ways that don't serve the story itself.
Aside from this crossover between Molly and Barney the purple dinosaur, the crossovers in King's and Hill's work never feel improbable or tenuous. Both are dedicated to building a shared universe that doesn't sell itself almost solely on its connectivity, but simply uses it to create a more rounded sandbox for their characters to play in.
Its doubtful that there are any overt plans to crossover King's and Hill's upcoming adaptations in the form of a HKCU. However, the thematic and literal connections between their work deserve to be explored across several different platforms, transcending their life on the page into TV, film and even more besides.
Such an approach would require studios and networks to think outside of the box and find ways to reconcile with one another legally, but the success of crossover franchises like Star Trek, the MCU and even The Walking Dead prove that audiences and horror fans alike are more than ready for this.
Together, King and Hill have helped to change the nature of long-form storytelling in literature and could very well change the way we consume stories in movies and TV shows too. This new approach is positioned somewhere between stand-alone movies and longer programs, but isn't entirely the same as either.
Theoretically, there's almost no end to this new form of storytelling. There are a number of unadapted novels and short stories from King that could be explored further. Then there's the matter of Hill himself, who is clearly the natural successor to his father.
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Studios may be tempted to throw Pennywise and his friends into The Dark Tower itself, but if they just take a more subtle approach than the likes of Marvel, sliding in the occasional easter egg instead, we could be looking at a whole new way to tell stories. This prospect is more exciting than a thousand clown parties – especially these ones.
The Stephen King Shared Universe flow chart is available to see and purchase here.