One with the Universe: Living in the Age of Shared Movie Universes
Film franchises are nothing new. Ever since filmmakers realized that they can continue the story of a successful film and make more out of it, movie sequels became the norm. From James Bond to Star Wars to Harry Potter, movie studios have used film series and franchises for both their benefit and the enjoyment of fans around the world.
Before, it was enough that audiences followed the adventures of one hero or a group of them through different story-lines, plots, settings and conflicts over multiple movies. At the end of which, there would be closure, resolution and the heroes would walk off to the sunset or settle down to a life of peace and quiet, with the audience feeling contented.
But that isn’t enough for today’s movie-goers and fans anymore. We want something more. We want something that will make us feel that we’re not just following a hero or a group of them through different stories. We want to feel like there’s a whole world of these heroes where they can interact with each other and fight together, making their adventures and conflicts more exciting and enticing to watch. A universe where we can imagine living in ourselves and be part of the action. And thus, the concept of the Shared Movie Universe was born.
Unlike an ordinary film series or franchise, a Shared Movie Universe showcases different heroes/characters across multiple movies with different story lines and conflicts but all unfold and eventually converge in the same plane of existence. Yes, it sounds very deep and complicated when you say it that way but this concept is nothing new to the average comic book fan.
Since the Golden Age of Comics, heroes and villains from both DC and Marvel Comics have crossed over and appeared in each other’s comic books. Sometimes, they even team up to form a superhero group like the Justice League or The Avengers and battle villains that no superhero can handle alone. For years, comic book fans have dreamed of a time that they’ll see their heroes team up, not only in the pages of a comic book, but also in the big screen. Today, after years of patiently waiting, that dream has become a reality.
A Shared Movie Universe isn’t actually a new concept being used by filmmakers today. Although not explicitly presented, award winning director Quentin Tarantino has always implied that characters in his movies live in the same universe and are actually connected to each other. In Asian cinema, Toho Co.,Ltd, a well-known Japanese movie studio and the original creator of Gojira (Godzilla), Mothra and King Ghidora, have teamed-up all of their giant monster creations (also known as Kaiju) in multiple films and spin-offs.
Today, the most successful of these Shared Movie Universes is the Marvel Cinematic Universe or The MCU created by Marvel Studios. This band of merry filmmakers is headed by Kevin Feige, executive producer and president of Marvel Studios. Based on the characters from Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios have released 15 movies to date starting with Iron Man (2008) starring Robert Downey Jr. Since then, they’ve taken us to the Avengers Tower, Asgard, the vastness of Space, and even to other dimensions.
They’ve even made the “post-credits scene”, an old theatrical gimmick, relevant and important today since the filmmakers use it to tease or set-up what’s to come in the future. Because of this, movie-goers now sit through the normally boring credits while patiently waiting for the surprise that comes after it. This awesome universe isn’t only contained in the big screen. It also extends to their TV Shows in ABC (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and NETFLIX (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders). Their next movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters July 7, 2017.
Following in the footsteps of the MCU, the DC Extended Universe or DCEU is the Shared Movie Universe featuring the characters from DC Comics. Their movies are produced by a number studios, but all of them are made under the watchful eyes of Geoff Johns, award winning comic book writer and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics. The DCEU started with the release of Man of Steel (2013) with Henry Cavill playing the iconic role of Clark Kent/Superman. To date, the DCEU has released 4 movies of which the first three have received generally mixed reviews from both fans and critics.
Their latest offering, Wonder Woman (2017), which tells the origin story our favorite Amazon princess Diana of Themyscira, played by Gal Gadot, has received overly positive reviews and has shattered box office records around the world. With this, DC fans now have a more optimistic view of things to come from the DCEU in the future. DC’s TV Universe, dubbed the “Arrowverse”, which includes all of their current show from the CW Network (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) deserves an honorable mention because of its current success. This universe however doesn’t crossover with the larger DCEU. Their big team-up movie, Justice League is set to be released on November 17, 2017.
Our favorite characters from the comics aren’t the only ones getting a Shared Movie Universe. Universal Studios, with the release of The Mummy (2017), starring Tom Cruise, has started the series of reboots of the classic Universal Monsters we all love. Dubbed the “Dark Universe”, Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon are all getting modern renditions which will make fans of these classic horrors excited. On other hand, Legendary Entertainment, through the distribution of Warner Bros., who just secured the rights of the most famous Kaiju from Toho Co., Ltd., is creating its own “MonsterVerse” led by their reboot of Godzilla (2014) and followed up by Kong: Skull Island which released early this year. Their next offering, Godzilla: King of Monsters, is set to be released in 2019. Hopefully, both of these Shared Universes become successful.
With all these Universes, it’s certainly a great time to be geeks and fans. We could only imagine what other Universes film studios and producers will cook up for us next.