How Many Cinematic Universes Can There Be?

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One of the unforeseen side effects of the success of Marvel Studios is the concept of a “cinematic universe.” Now that Marvel has tied many of its franchises under a singular heading, other franchises are seeking to do the same. Star Wars is in the early stages of building its own cinematic universe which will likely be just as successful. Business-wise, creating a giant filmic sandbox in which to play is a great idea. Heck, not only will I watch anything with the Marvel┬álabel, I make it a point not to miss it.

But is it a good idea in terms of content? For something like the above mentioned franchises, absolutely. There are decades worth of tried and true material to draw upon, and with the nature of both Marvel and Star Wars being so fluid, it’s pretty easy to fail spectacularly and still survive. My concern is with some of the more recent new of universes being planned. It was recently announced that the upcoming Ghostbusters 3 isn’t just a new franchise entry, but also the jumping off point for an entire world which, as much as I love Ghostbusters, doesn’t feel like a good idea. While I do have high hopes for the somewhat controversial third entry, the world of Ghostbusters just isn’t rich enough for more than simple franchising. Sure, the cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s were a type of world-building, but they don’t carry the same style of canonization that Star Wars’ extended universe or Marvel’s comics do.

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Just last week it was announced that Transformers is up for the same treatment, and I’ve got to ask, how much more of this can anybody watch? The most recent film, despite being a box-office success, was a huge critical failure. It seems as if franchise fatigue has long since set in for Optimus and his pals. This franchise doesn’t even have the luxury of nostalgia to push it along that Ghostbusters has (nostalgia being precisely what launched the Transformers film franchise in the first place). Is there a bigger world to explore outside of yet more toy sales? I don’t think so, and even if there was, who could stomach it? Who would stomach it?

I’m the last person to lament that there are no more original movies being made — 2014’s films were a strong case for originality still being alive and well. And while I don’t feel that originality is being threatened by studios moving toward universe construction, I do wonder if it’s an overzealous, and ultimately fruitless exercise. I’ve written a lot in the past about how much I LOVE the Fast & Furious franchise, but I think it should exist solely as that: a franchise. Remember when they made a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne? Not so much fun. Remember Halloween 3?* Exactly.

As much money that can be made in creating a multi-franchise cinematic world, studios may end up killing their own product. As far as I’m concerned, the (space)ship has sailed on that. I’ll root for Transformers and Ghostbusters to take off and succeed the way Marvel has, but I won’t be surprised if people don’t get on board. I’m already exhausted trying to consume every ounce of Marvel’s media assault, and I simply don’t have time for more. I suspect that many other consumers feel the same way.

*For the record, I LOVE Halloween 3. LOVELOVELOVE it. It’s still a failure.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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