For the past few decades a film’s success has been signalled by whether a sequel would follow or not. If a film hit the big time at the box office, a sequel would usually follow suit, if that sequel was a success a third film would follow, creating a trilogy. A film trilogy was a true sign of a successful film series in the 80s and 90s, but with Hollywood being the cash cow milking industry it is, a trilogy is no longer enough. For a film to be truly successful, popular and powerful, a franchise will now usually contain four or more films. This can be seen with a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean on the way, as well as Sony already planning up to at least four Spider-Man films and Michael Bay creating a fourth Transformers film, though no one really wanted him to.
Franchises, however, are no longer the big thing in cinema, the Cinematic Universe is. Multiple films and franchises existing within the same universe is a very exciting and ambitious prospect, as well as being potentially very lucrative for the film studio that has the rights to that particular universe.
The concept of the Cinematic Universe has been around for a while, as Quentin Tarantino has stated that all his films exist in either his ‘realistic universe’ or his more ‘fantastical universe’. However, it wasn’t until Marvel and their incredibly ambitious proposal of a shared Cinematic Universe, that ultimately paid off with each film in Phase One of their plan being a hit, and The Avengers becoming a true phenomenon, that the idea of a Cinematic Universe became a reality, and more importantly, commercially and financially successful.
Because of the billions of dollars that Marvel has made through their singular franchises all existing within the same Universe, other studios have seen the financial potential that can come about through the use of a shared Cinematic Universe, rather than the commonplace film franchise. This can be seen at Lucasfilm and Disney, as not only are these studios continuing the Star Wars saga, but spin-offs, prequels and origin stories have also been planned to be filmed alongside Episodes VII, VIII and IX. Warner Bros. are finally putting the gears in motion in terms of a shared DC Comics Universe coming to life on the big screen, and their ambition doesn’t stop there, as they are also planning on expanding the Harry Potter franchise by having films set in the Wizarding World of Harry and his Hogwarts chums. However the characters from the first eight Harry Potter films will apparently play no part in the upcoming ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ film adaptation.
Though some Cinematic Universes, such as Marvel and Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth, are in full swing, and other Universes such as the D.C Universe and the Harry Potter Universe are only proposals which have yet to show any signs of success or longevity, I have decided to create a list of best current/potential Cinematic Universes, and see which one is/could be, the greatest. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to live in a world were there are multiple thrilling, epic and ambitious movie Universes all existing and pushing the boundaries of cinematic story-telling.
Spoilers will follow.
9. The Universal Classic Monsters Universe
If every current/potential movie universe went to high school together and were about to graduate, then the recently proposed Universal Classic Monsters Universe would no doubt be voted ‘Least Likely To Succeed’. However, this doesn’t change the fact that this is a very intriguing prospect and certainly has me interested.
Though Universal Studios no longer seems able to compete with the likes of Warner Bros., Disney, Fox and even less established and wealthy studios such as Lionsgate when it comes to producing modern day spectacular franchises, that doesn’t change the fact that they are still a relevant Hollywood studio, and that their collection of classic movie monsters are some of the most iconic and respected figures in cinematic history.
What would the modern day horror movie be like without the influence and success of 1931’s doubleheader of Dracula and Frankenstein? Those films were so successful that in many ways they created the definitive characteristics of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. To this day when most people think of, or parody, these great Gothic creations, it is usually Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and Boris Karloff’s Monster that act as the source of memory or inspiration.
Universal tried to reinvigorate interest in their Classic Monsters with the 2010 flop, The Wolfman. At the time Universal were hoping that The Wolfman would be a hit, which would then open the floodgates for their other monsters to make a comeback. However, due to the film not making a profit and receiving mixed reviews, this was not meant to be. Though the film had major delays, re-shoots and multiple directors I personally thought the film was actually very enjoyable, though I do appreciate I am in the minority.
Regardless of this relatively recent failure, Universal has not given up hope of reintroducing their classic line-up of monsters, as Universal is not only planning coming-soon remakes of Van Helsing and The Mummy, but under the guidance of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtman, they one day hope that not only will all of their monster properties receive a successful remake, but that the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolfman and The Mummy will all exist within the same universe and potentially have crossover and ensemble movies.
I find this one of the more bizarre potential movie universes as I just don’t see how it can be pulled off without it seeming like a rip-off of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and we all know how well that film did. However that doesn’t stop me from being rather interested in this universe, especially as I have fond respect for Universal’s Monsters. I also believe that if Universal some how do manage to make these movies popular and successful again, then The Universal Classic Monsters Universe has a real shot at being a truly fun and unique set of movies that would be completely different from anything any other studio is doing… until Warner Bros. releases Justice League Dark.
8. The Quentin Tarantino Universes
Though Marvel and their batch of super-heroes are praised for being the movies that first brought a cinematic universe to life on the big screen, Quentin Tarantino had actually being creating not one, but two universes from the very beginning of his career.
Anyone who has read some of my previous articles will gather I am quite the massive Tarantino fan and have explained his rather complex and inconsistent movie universes before; however I will try to explain once more. Tarantino has stated that every film he has written/directed, apart from Jackie Brown, exists within either one of two universes. The first universe is a more realistic one and includes such films as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and True Romance. Tarantino has stated that the connections behind these films are slight and not at all thrown in your face, but are connections nevertheless. Such connections include Mr. Blonde from Reservoir dogs being the brother of Vincent Vega from Pulp fiction, and Sergeant Donny Donowitz from Inglourious Basterds being the father of Lee Donowitz from True Romance. There are many other connections that are far more obscure, such as the surname Koons appearing in both Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained.
Now this is where it gets a bit tricky, as Tarantino has stated that there is a second universe that exists within his more ‘realistic’ universe. Tarantino’s second universe includes more fantastical films such as From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2. Tarantino has stated that the characters from Pulp Fiction etc. would go to the cinema and watch films like From Dusk Till Dawn.
As a massive Tarantino fan I find this amazing and very clever, and it can be a lot of fun to go through all of Tarantino’s films and find slight connections and Easter Eggs, which help tie together his output of amazing and thrilling movies. Not only are all of Tarantino’s films linked together, but there are certain characters and Easter eggs which also find their way into some of Robert Rodriguez’s films, therefore connecting the films of two great directors.
The reason why Tarantino’s brilliant cinematic universes do not place higher on this list is because though these movies do exist within the same universes, this fact is only known by hardcore Tarantino fans and movie buffs. When it comes to the likes of Marvel and the ways in which their films connect and affect one another, it creates a stronger sense of unity. Characters from completely different Marvel films interact more prominently, and either fight side by side or against one another. This ultimately helps create a more epic and ambitious universe.
7. The Amazing Spider-Man Universe
Sony recently announced that along with the rebooted Spider-Man trilogy, that kicked off in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, in the coming years Spidey fans could also possibly see two films that are completely focused on some of Peter Parker’s greatest and most iconic villains. The two proposed films at the moment are Venom and The Sinister Six.
Though I personally thought that 2012 was far too early for a Spider-Man reboot, it still made sense for Sony to do it as while Warner Bros. has the rights to every DC character and Fox owns multiple Marvel characters, Sony’s only worth-while super-hero is that of Spider-Man. So while other studios can rely on other franchises for the big bucks, Sony can only keep returning to the Spider-Man well if they want a character to compete with the likes of Iron Man and Batman at the box-office. More importantly, though I found The Amazing Spider-Man dull and unnecessary, the box office numbers for the film showed there was still a massive audience out there who are desperate for more Spider-Man adventures.
It makes sense that the only logical way that Sony can create a ‘universe’ from one character is to focus on the villains, such as Venom and The Sinister Six, rather than just have one linear narrative focused on one character. I find the idea of whole films focusing on villains extremely exciting, firstly as it hasn’t really been done in a big blockbuster film before and therefore Sony will be doing innovative things that even Marvel haven’t done yet. Plus, I have always found villainous characters the more interesting and engaging aspects of blockbuster films, and the idea of a film purely focusing on the likes of Doc Ock, The Vulture and many more, is an incredibly exciting prospect.
The recent Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer has me excited for the film, which is something I wasn’t expecting. My doubts about Paul Giamatti were put to rest as Rhino looks awesome and the whole film looks much more epic and on a larger scale than any previous Spider-Man film. There is obviously still a chance that the film could suck, as there seems to be three villains in this latest instalment, Rhino, Electro and The Green Goblin, and as Spider-Man 3 showed us, more doesn’t mean better. However with sneak peaks and Easter eggs which hint towards The Sinister Six and shocking revelations about Peter’s parents, not only could The Amazing-Spider Man 2 be a great film, but an Amazing Spider-Man universe could be a fun prospect.
6. The Fox/Marvel Universe
Though I wish we lived in a world where Marvel Studios had the movie rights to every single Marvel character, including Spider-man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four, this is sadly not the case. Though I am very excited for the incredibly epic looking X-Men: Days of Future past, as well as the recently announced X-Men: Apocalypse, there is no doubt that in terms of continuity and quality, the X-Men franchise is weak, muddled and disappointing at times.
The first two X-Men films were great, and along with Spider-Man, in many ways were the pioneers of the modern super-hero film, without which there would be no Iron Man, Thor and maybe even Batman films. However X-Men 3 is a bad film, not terrible, but certainly disappointing, and personally I have found both stand-alone Wolverine films boring. However there is no doubt that X-Men: First Class was a return to form for Fox’s mega franchise and that hopefully the next two X-Men films will continue to push the boundaries and be epic. However, there is no doubt that the X-Men continuity is all over the place and not very consistent at all. This shows that Fox, unlike Marvel and Sony, never had long term plans for their characters, and instead just judged the success of each film and went from there. This is disappointing as continuity is a very important factor if a studio wants to build and develop a universe that fans should be interesting and invested in. It is something Marvel has strived to succeed at, and no doubt every studio will now follow suit. But sadly for the X-Men franchise, I feel it is far too late to resolve and organise this rather messy, albeit entertaining franchise.
We all know that the previous Fantastic Four movies were terrible and utterly forgettable, so in many ways the only way is up for that franchise. I have never been a fan of the Fantastic Four comics or cartoons, so until I see a good-looking trailer for the proposed 2015 reboot, I can’t really get excited for a stand-alone Fantastic Four film. However as Fox has recently stated that they want to create their own super-hero universe, it’s hard not to be excited about a film in which The Thing and Wolverine could be squaring off against one another, as well as an X-Force film being in the works.
As I have previously stated, though I wish Marvel studios had the rights to these characters and could start afresh and introduce the X-Men characters without the baggage of their previous six films (I’m including Wolverine’s films here), though I know this will never happen. However the obvious next best thing to this is for Fox to try and do a half way decent job of an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover.
There will be people out there who will state that The Lord of The Rings and the Hobbit trilogies don’t count as a universe. Some will say they are two separate trilogies, and that The Hobbit films have forcibly been connected to TLOTR with links and tips of the hat that were unnecessary. Others will say that much like the Star Wars saga, this is one long story that has been told the wrong way round. For me however, I see these two trilogies as a universe, as they are two separate films telling different stories that ultimately connect, and with the slight, though unlikely possibility of other works of Tolkien, that are also set in Middle-Earth, such as The Silmarillion, being adapted to film one day, I count Middle-Earth and its films as a cinematic universe. However I can’t possibly place it any higher in this list, though I would like to, if its classification can be denied.
The Lord of The Rings trilogy has to be one of the most epic and celebrated cinematic stories ever told. The set-pieces and fight scenes are well shot, the landscapes used are incredible and the acting and directing are top-notch. Though some of the special-effects may be a bit dated, the main reason people still religiously watch these films to this day is because of the large ensemble cast full of interesting characters. Some are respectable heroes while others are dastardly villains. Regardless of their allegiance, they all inhabit a mystical and magical place that is fully developed over the course of three films. No one would’ve sat through 9 hours, and god knows how many hours if we’re counting the extended editions, of film, if they ultimately didn’t care about the fate of Frodo, Aragorn and the One Ring.
Though the first Hobbit film was a financial success, it was heavily criticized by hardcore fans and critics alike for being too long and boring. I have never read The Hobbit book so can’t be annoyed at Peter Jackson for taking a short children’s story I am unfamiliar with and stretching it out into three very long and epic tales. For me, the more time spent in Middle-Earth the better, and if that means a bunch of Dwarves who all have basically the same name signing and eating a lot, then so be it. I liked An Unexpected Journey and after seeing the much more exciting and fun The Desolation of Smaug, I believe fans and haters alike will be back on board with Jackson and his Hobbit trilogy.
Though Tolkien’s estate has said it will never sell the movie rights to any of his other works, as they are not fans of the films (weirdos), we can still take solace that by the end of 2014 we will have six very long and epic films, which ultimately tell a grand story of unexpected heroes that overcome ginormous obstacles, and for me that will be good enough.
4. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
With Warner Bros.’s announcement that they would be adapting J.K Rowling’s Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, and that the film would not include any of the main characters from the previous eight Harry Potter films, it was clear that WB was taking a popular franchise and turning into a universe.
I loved the Harry Potter books, they were so much fun and became a true phenomenon as these were the only books some children read. For others it was Rowling’s work that introduced them to the joys of reading and from there discovered other book series such as Tolkien’s work, and on a lesser note the Twilight series. For me the first two Harry Potter films were great, but from The Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, I found that the films never fully delivered on the major dramatic and emotional scenes that I was so eager to see come to life. I watched every Harry Potter film, but unlike the legions of fans for which it became the greatest movie franchise ever, I found the films enjoyable but lacking in many areas.
We all knew it wouldn’t take long for WB to return to the Harry Potter cash cow, especially as Nolan’s Batman was coming to a close and Green Lantern didn’t hit the mark. However, I am actually excited to see films set in the world of Harry Potter with Harry, Ron and Hermione making a limited or no appearance at all. This is because though Harry’s story was enjoyable enough, what I found more interesting was the history of Hogwarts and the ancient times of the Wizarding world. I also liked the magical and fantastical beasts and creatures that were only ever briefly focused on. Ultimately, what I always found most interesting was the actual working world of wizards and witches, such as the Ministry of Magic, Azkaban prison and what life was like for wizards in different cultures and countries. These were all aspects and plot points that were always in the background, or played a supporting role for Harry, while his adventure played out. However, now Harry has defeated Lord Voldemort and Daniel Radcliffe is seemingly going out of his way to pick roles and projects that are completely different to his work on Harry Potter, I think WB is being wise by delving into the fantastical and enchanting world of Harry Potter, because ultimately the films WB produce have a good chance at being more interesting than Harry and his eight part saga.
3. The DC Cinematic Universe
The DC Universe places so highly on my list as I know that many people are excited to see Batman and Superman go head to head. Not only that, but the idea of a Justice League film, a Justice League Dark film, and the amount of projects DC are lining up for TV, could potentially make The DC Cinematic Universe one of the most epic and largest cinematic universes around, and a true competitor to Marvel and their current reign of dominance.
I am much more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. The only character I truly like from DC is Batman, though I have always had a soft place in my heart for Martian Manhunter and I believe Arrow is the best live action super-hero TV show being aired at the moment. When it comes to DC, I adore the company they spawned, Vertigo Comics. The reason being is not only does Vertigo publish comics that can rival any feats of story-telling from marvellous TV networks like HBO and AMC, but more importantly it is its own unique entity that really has nothing to do with the DC Universe. DC just so happens to own it.
I would’ve been much more excited for a Batman vs. Superman film if Man of Steel hadn’t been such a massive disappointment. From the trailers, Man of Steel looked like it could finally be the Superman film that could make me a fan of the character. However, this was not to be as the film’s tone and aesthetic look was bleak, the film had major plot holes and the action was boring, immature and lasted far too long, so much so that I felt like I was watching a MichaelBay directed Transformers film. If Man of Steel is the foundations on which Batman will be introduced and the whole D.C Universe, my interest in these films has been diluted.
I am not saying that the DC Universe is instantly tarnished and can’t be fixed. At the moment it feels like WB and DC are desperate to play catch up with Marvel, as not only is Batman being introduced in the Man of Steel sequel, but so is Wonder Woman, and possibly even Nightwing and Martian Manhunter. The reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been such a success is that it was all carefully planned out. Characters were properly introduced in their own films and then slowly but surely they all came together. DC seems to think it can throw multiple characters at us in one film, and regardless of their popularity or the actual quality of the film, we as viewers will find it acceptable purely because Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are all on screen together. If this is what WB is thinking, they are making a massive mistake. Man of Steel 2 should focus on the obscene amounts of death and destruction Clark caused on his first outing as Superman. It should also focus on the backlash Superman would receive from the public, as well as showing that of course the guy was going to be clumsy and make mistakes, as it was his first time fighting an other-worldly threat. There is still a chance this could be the plot-line for Batman vs. Superman, as Batman may see Superman as a threat and want to take him out, and if this is the case I will be right back on board with DC and the countless characters and projects they have lined up and raring to go.
2. The Star Wars Cinematic Universe
When Disney announced that they had bought Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones lasy year, half the world was delighted at the prospect of new Star Wars films coming from a fresh perspective, while others groaned at the prospect of more disappointing Star Wars outings. I personally have never been disappointed by a Star Wars film. I loved the original trilogy as a very young child, as not only did it introduce me to the world of Jedi’s, Robots and Aliens, but along with Indiana Jones, Batman and Disney, were my earliest memories of film and the beginning of a very long and fruitful relationship. When it comes to the prequel trilogy, I see them as the Star Wars of my generation, so I therefore feel very protective of them and will argue in their favour.
At the moment, Star Wars does not stand as a Cinematic Universe, it is purely a 6 part saga that will soon be turned into a 9 part saga. However with Disney’s plans to have spin-offs and origin films for some of Lucas’s more iconic and memorable characters, Disney are clearly taking Marvel’s Cinematic plan and adapting it for a galaxy far far away.
As a Star Wars fan I am clearly blinded by bias, as my thoughts are purely that this is the best news I’ve heard since there will be a Star Wars Battlefront 3. I am however well aware that even with J.J. Abrams behind the wheel, Episode VII may disappoint, if not critically then maybe commercially, which then may put a spanner in the works for Disney and their hopes of having two Star Wars centric films a year.
I, like many, have faith in Abrams and feel that if the guy can make Star Trek accepted by the masses then he can make a half-way decent Star Wars film. I also feel that two Star Wars films a year is not over-kill, like many people are moaning about. Star Wars films have unlimited potential in terms of the story-lines it can focus on as well as the amount of characters and planets it can introduce or explore further.
I am very excited for 2015, not only because the Avengers will reunite on screen, not only because we’ll get to see Batman and Superman kicking the crap out of each other, but also because Star Wars Episode VII will be released, and for the foreseeable future we can look forward to some creamy Star Wars goodness… hopefully.
1. The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Taking the number one spot is of course The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The obvious reason for this is besides Tarantino’s universes, there are no other Cinematic Universes, certainly of Marvel’s size and ambition, in existence. At the moment the idea of a DC Universe and an expanded set of films for Star Wars and Harry Potter are just that, ideas. In a few years time, depending on box office success, these ideas may become realities and multiple studios may have a variation of Cinematic Universes that may continue to expand and entertain fans all over the world.
However, as I have said, the only studios that are doing that at the moment are Marvel and Disney Studios, but this is not the only reason why The MCU has taken the top spot for greatest cinematic universe. The other prominent reason is the fact that the Marvel films are very entertaining, and in the case of The Avengers film, a true phenomenon. Though some of the solo films have their critics, primarily The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, most of Marvel’s efforts have been applauded and well-received, and all of them, regardless of quality, have made a lot of money.
Because we are currently deep into Phase Two territory, with both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World being successful films, it is almost impossible to think of a time when there was no such thing as a cinematic universe with the scope and ambition that Marvel had. In comparison to other studios, primarily DC and WB, Marvel have been incredibly patient with making the MCU become a reality. They firstly had to deal with the fact that they didn’t own the rights to some of their more iconic and popular characters, such as Spider-Man and X-Men. Then they had to deal with a minor set back with The Incredible Hulk not being the major success they hoped it would be. But from then on their movies have continuously impressed and made profits, which is a feat within itself when you consider they had to make and promote a Thor and Captain America film to the masses and people who had never read comics before.
We live in a unique time when the likes of oddball comic characters like Thor and Loki are now household names much like our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and a world were a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy is actually becoming a reality. For a comic book fan it is insane to see The Hulk and Thor fight one another, while at the same time see Captain America and Iron Man work alongside one another.
Marvel’s ambition seems to know no bounds, especially as now The MCU is not just constricted to the cinematic medium. With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D now on T.V, the MCU has transcended mediums, and though S.H.I.E.L.D may not yet be the great T.V show we all hoped for, it is still only in its first season. We can also find solace with the fact that Marvel is also bringing Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones to life on the small screen in the coming years as well.
As a film fan it is truly crazy to see separate comic book characters existing in the same universe, and it is something I think we have all been hoping to see since the first Spider-Man and X-Men films. Though there is a very good chance that we will never see Iron Man and Spider-Man or Thor and Wolverine in the same cinematic universe together because of movie rights and all that mumbo jumbo, I still count myself as incredibly lucky to be living in a time of movie studios taking risks and being incredibly ambitious rather than boring and playing it safe. I hope that every cinematic universe mentioned in this list either continues to be successful or actually becomes a reality.
So there you have it, the top current/potential Cinematic Movie Universes that are on offer now and hopefully in the near future. Do you agree or disagree with my list? Are there any Universes I have overlooked? Are there any Cinematic Universes that are not yet in production that you would like to see? Make sure to comment below.
By Joe, Edited by Toni