A lot has changed in the world of the megafranchise since I first wrote about the topic almost 6 months ago, so I think it’s about time for an update on where all these gigantic projects are headed. If you don’t know what a megafranchise is, you should check out my original post. Alternatively, you should just think of the current Marvel Avenger movies model, where lots of different characters have their own movies, and then all get together every few years for a ‘gangbang’ movie, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is released at the end of this month, and if I had any patience, I would wait a few weeks until then, as more people would be reading this. Anyway, if you recall, I previously divulged the plans of various movie studies to build megafranchises around X-Men, Spider-Man, Star Wars and DC Comics (Superman, Batman etc), as well as the already up-and-running Marvel Cinematic Universe (The Avengers. I’m going to run through what’s happening in each of those megafranchises, and then offer a brief conclusion.
The big development since I last wrote about the new Star Wars Megafranchise is that Episode VII isn’t called Episode VII anymore. In early December, a trailer for the film was released, simply referring to it as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I didn’t really get the true significance of this subtle change in subtitling until early March this year, when details emerged of the first spin-off movie of the new megafranchise. Last time round, I hypothesised that the spin-off movies would be centred around recognisable characters such as Han Solo or Yoda, but this is not going to be the case. The first Star Wars spin-off is called Rogue One, and will revolve around some minor characters introduced in The Force Awakens, as well as some new ones. What this means, in the grand scheme of things, is that this series of new Star Wars movies is not aimed at long-term fans, but more at creating new ones. By taking away Episode VII from the title of the first movie out this year, JJ Abrams is telling us that this is not a continuation of the Star Wars story, but a reboot, with a new cast, for a new generation. This is disappointing, but probably makes sense from a commercial point of view.
There hasn’t been much of a change in the release schedule of the burgeoning X-Men megafranchise, which is to say that it is still delicately poised between being a traditional movie franchise, and committing to the megafranchise model. The X-Men series currently has four movies on its production slate, with three of them (Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit) all set for release in 2016. The remaining movie is Wolverine 3, set for 2017, which Hugh Jackman recently revealed will be his last time playing the character. As Wolverine is the central character in the X-Men movies, this means that the people behind the potential megafranchise have a lot of work to do in creating a viable narrative going forward in the series. A further blow is that Jennifer Lawrence confirmed at the end of March that she won’t be doing any X-Men movies after next year’s Apocalypse. This is interesting, as it seemed that she would be the lynchpin of any future plot arcs, and also would inevitably get her own movie. With the necessary recasting of both Wolverine and Mystique, I would downgrade the possibility of a successful X-Men megafranchise, unless the potential X-Force TV show/movie project breathes new life into the franchise that can be translated into the main X-Men movie series.
See the entry for Spider-Man.
If you read my original blog post about megafranchises in October, you may recall that I was very pessimistic about the movie universe that Sony were attempting to build around Spider-Man. Sony agreed, and have since scrapped all the plans I described back in October. At the time I was writing that megafranchise post, Sony were actually negotiating with Marvel to lease Spider-Man to Disney, who operate the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the Avengers megafranchise. Negotiations weren’t going well, and had reached a stalemate. That was, until the Sony Email Hack occurred, and the North Korean government (I don’t believe it was them, but it makes for a more interesting click-baitable story if Kim Jong-Un is involved) released thousands of emails from executives at Sony Pictures. One narrative in the emails was the negotiations between Sony and Disney, which revealed that Sony weren’t happy with their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and were therefore exploring other options with the character. Once this information became public, Andrew Garfield’s position was untenable, and Sony’s bargaining power with Disney weakened considerably, meaning a deal was fast-tracked and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have Spider-Man in at least one movie in the near future. This is widely believed to be 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which will also feature Iron Man. The role of Spider-Man will be recast.
If you are confused by all this, you should be. Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics character, yet his film rights are owned by Sony Pictures, while most Marvel characters are owned by Marvel Studios, which is a Disney subsidiary. Sony gained the rights to Spider-Man during a period at the end of the 90’s when Marvel were going bankrupt, in a similar way to how 20TH Century Fox own X-Men and Fantastic Four (both are also Marvel). The details of these agreements require the studios to release a film version of the characters every 5 years, or else the rights revert back to Marvel. Leasing Spider-Man back to Marvel in the short-term gives Sony more time to rethink their plans for the character. They currently intend to release a new Spider-Man movie (with a new Spider-Man, and more than likely a different one from the guy who plays him the previous year in the Captain America movie) in 2017, and have not officially cancelled their Sinister Six movie, which will be the next of their Spider-Man movies, should any of this happen. I sincerely doubt any of this will happen however, and I expect Marvel to make Sony an offer they can’t refuse for full Spider-Man rights in the next year.
One thing I failed to mention last time was that there is another megafranchise in the works, based around Universal Studios back catalogue of monsters such as Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolfman. Rumours had been spinning for a while about the potential megafranchise, but were only confirmed at the end of October 2014 (when I wrote the first post about megafranchisement), when producers at the premiere of Dracula Untold confirmed that the movie takes place in the same universe as the reboot of The Mummy, which is due for release in 2016. A reboot of The Wolfman is also being written, which takes place in the same universe. If you are wondering how they intend to bring all these guys together, the few people who saw Dracula Untold may remember Charles Dance’s character of The First Vampire, the vampire who creates Dracula. If you stuck around to the post-credits scene of the movie, you would have seen Charles Dance in modern day London following Dracula around, and seemingly intent on pulling him into a world of shady monsterdom. Charles Dance is therefore going to be the link that draws all the elements of the megafranchise together in a similar way to Samuel L. Jackson did as Nick Fury in the early Marvel movies, appearing in the background of all the individual movies, and in the inevitable gangbang movie, we will see them all group together and fight him. One caveat I will add here is that Universal Studios aren’t really a big studio anymore and therefore are playing this one very cautiously. Dracula Untold was budgeted quite low compared to other megafranchise releases (around $70m), yet still wasn’t a great success, and it seems that the studio will wait to see how The Mummy goes before committing more money to the megafranchise.
Current Megafranchise Release Schedule
Megafranchises are all about being big, and it is not really a surprise that some of the potential megafranchises out there that are not as big as others are losing their way a bit. I believe that in a year’s time, if I am doing an update on this topic, I will only be discussing the Big Three of Marvel, DC, and Star Wars. Only those three seem up to the task of competing in an environment that demands vast amounts of money poured into creating and leveraging on brand recognition over the course of half a decade. The Universal Monsters series has a chance, but only if they keep the costs down, as a movie about The Wolfman is never going to make as much money as a movie about Iron Man, or some Star Wars character we haven’t even been introduced to yet. If they do however, the rewards will be worth it. Below I graph the profit (=total international box office – production cost) of every megafranchise movie so far, in US$(millions). (I have unilaterally designated The Wolverine as the beginning of the X-Men megafranchise, since the closing post-credits scene sets up Days of Future Past).
These movies cost an awful lot of money (the average cost of the megafranchise entries graphed above is $177m), but they also make a ridiculous amount of money (average worldwide box office of these movies is $667m). An average of around half a billion dollars profit is therefore too good to pass up, and every studio out there really needs to at least try to get a megafranchise up and running, as by the end of the decade they will have crowded any original standalone blockbusters completely out of the market. While 2015 will be considered a lull in megafranchise activity (only 3 are scheduled for release this year), this is simply because billions of dollars are currently being spent by the big Hollywood Studios to ensure their output for the rest of the decade. At least 9 megafranchise movies will be released in 2016, which equates to one every 40 days, and given that each one will be pre-empted by at least two weeks of cross-platform advertising, there will rarely be a significant time period next year where you are not in some form of contact with the stuff I am ranting about, and you have been reading about, right here.