Following the immense success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, lots of studios wanted in on the universe game. Anyone who had an attractive IP worth multiple movies began plans for a connected series of films. Hasbro turned to its library of action figures like G.I. Joe and Micronauts, while Universal created a writers room to bang out ideas for reboots of their classic movie monsters. Over time, we've seen other studios encounter some major roadblocks in building a shared universe and at this point, and no one has managed to find the success that Marvel makes looks easy.
Planning an entire cinematic universe is easier said than done, but when you lay out all the efforts studios have made, you begin to notice patterns -- especially with the ones that weren't so successful. Making these cinematic universes is a tricky business and still fairly new to Hollywood, despite Marvel's 10-year track record. Most studios are still figuring it out, but enough have experienced trouble that it generates a list of trends to look out for. When building a connected movie universe, these are the four biggest problems studios need to watch out for.
Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket
A lot of the problems with troubled cinematic universes stem from studios placing way too much faith in one movie. Typically this is the first movie of the series, meant to be the foundation for all that will come after. That's a lot of pressure to put on a film, and we've already seen this backfire in major ways. The most prominent example is The Mummy, which was meant to kickstart Universal's Dark Universe banner. The movie carried the weight of all the projects Universal had planned and was packed with setups for future movies. There are a lot of reasons this particular blockbuster landed with a thud, but when it did, Universal got cold feet an postponed everything else it had planned. A similar situation happened to Warner Bros. with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was setting the stage for the DCEU. Obviously, it didn't tank the universe, but the fact that Warner Bros. staked so much on people liking BvS had lasting ramification all the way through Justice League.
Developing Multiple Movies At Once
It's just the nature of moviemaking to plan for the future, but studios tend to take it a bit too far when it comes to their cinematic universes. In the case of the DCEU, projects like a new Batman movie, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps., Justice League Part 2, and The Flash were all at one point announced to be in development. This was all unveiled before Batman v Superman was even in theaters. There are plenty of other DC movies rumored to be in development as well, and the total number of DC projects announced over the years is kind of incredible. Some of these projects would get more attention than others, but that's still stretching yourself pretty thin. Sony is likewise working on multiple films before Venom hits theaters. Universal did the same thing for Dark Universe, teasing (and casting) movies like Bride of Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Van Helsing, and The Wolf Man before people could even get excited for The Mummy. Which leads me to my next point...
Building The Universe Before The Movie
Another problem of creating a cinematic universe is that studios seem intent on building the world these movies live in but don't spend as much time on the actual movie. For example, The Mummy sets up a S.H.I.E.L.D.-type secret agency that was meant to help connect the Dark Universe, but it eats up a lot of screen time that could have gone to the actual plot of the movie. Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde and having a freak out has nothing to do with the evil mummy queen threatening to take over the world. It felt like the movie was more concerned with setting up what comes next, than proving this universe should exist at all or simply making that first movie really entertaining. Because this didn't happen fans didn't care about the characters or the plot. And if they have nothing to attach to, then you're already starting off on a bad foot in regards to a budding cinematic universe.
Giving Up After One Movie
When The Mummy failed to make as much of an impact at the box office that Universal was expecting (it didn't get good reviews either), the studio quickly postponed the other films that were in development. It didn't take long for reports to surface that the entire Dark Universe was getting scrapped. The issue isn't that they took a break to figure out a better direction -- that's a good thing! The problem is that it sounds like they gave up altogether. A shared universe isn't a bad idea, it's just that the approach for the first movie was wrong. Look at DC. If they had given up after BvS, then they wouldn't have made Wonder Woman, which was a huge success. Even some early Marvel movies aren't that good, but that didn't stop them from committing to The Avengers. There's a lot of risk that comes with making any movie, but when you're working on something as ambitious as a shared universe, you have to allow yourself some room to make mistakes.
Matt has lived in New Jersey his entire life, but commutes every day to New York City. He graduated from Rowan University and loves Marvel, Nintendo, and going on long hikes and then greatly wishing he was back indoors. Matt has been covering the entertainment industry for over two years and will fight to his dying breath that Hulk and Black Widow make a good couple.
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