Film Fanatic: Universally speaking

Where will Hollywood's newfound fascination with 'shared cinematic universes' end?

Blame Marvel Studios. Once upon a time film franchises were simple things. You made a movie and, if it did good business at the box office, you went and made a sequel. Then another and another, ad nauseam, until you reached the tipping point for audience apathy where the cost of making the films was higher than the profits they brought in. Then Marvel Studios came along with its interlinked superhero movies and everything changed.

It's now no longer enough to merely make a financially successful film and then churn out a load of sequels. Now your blockbuster must be seeded with characters and ideas that can spin-off into other films, and then all brought together for a big blockbuster blow-out once in a while.

The fact that Warner Bros. and DC Comics decided to quickly follow in the footsteps of Marvel with its own shared cinematic superhero universe came as no surprise. But, while Marvel has given the appearance of considered long-term planning across its shared universe of films that is building towards a specific goal, Warner/DC seems to simply be throwing everything together as quickly as possible in order to get its cinematic universe up and running as soon as possible.

This explains why next year’s Man of Steel follow-up Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice not only introduces audiences to yet another version of Batman, but will also see the debut of Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Cyborg (not forgetting the persistent but as-yet-unconfirmed rumours that Flash will put in an appearance).

The chances that any character outside of Batman and Superman will have a substantial role are extremely unlikely. Instead, it's much more likely that they're only there in order to plant the seeds for upcoming spin-offs, such as 2017’s Wonder Woman and Justice League: Part One, 2018’s The Flash and Aquaman, as well as 2020’s Cyborg.

Expanding universes

It doesn't end at superhero movies, either. The Star Wars franchise has always played with the idea of an 'expanded universe' through books, comics, cartoons and even made-for-TV Ewok movies. However, under Disney's watch, Star Wars is turning into a true shared cinematic universe, with spin-offs planned to hit cinemas between Episodes VII, VIII and IX. As well as a standalone film about the adventures of young Han Solo, it was recently confirmed that Gareth Edwards' Rogue One will deal with the rebels who stole the plans to the original Death Star (presumably not the 'Joe Camel' look-alike Bothans that appeared in the old Star Wars comics).

Elsewhere, Universal Studios has been discussing plans to build a shared cinematic universe around its library of classic monsters, Sony Pictures has set up the Ghost Corps production company specifically to create a Ghostbusters universe, while Paramount has confirmed plans to do the same with the Transformers films, kicking off with the next sequel. 

This is no bad thing if you're a fan of popcorn cinema, but where will it all end? Will audiences get a Hasbro board game universe that pits the survivors of the Battleship and Ouija flicks against an army of alien ghosts? Or what about a Luc Besson universe in which Frank Martin (The Transporter) must join forces with Bryan Mills (Taken) when Lucy (er Lucy) is kidnapped by baddies planing to use her powers to kickstart World War Three?

Actually, that last one sounds pretty good...