Update of the Megafranchise


The state of play in all the big Hollywood blockbuster megafranchises, from Marvel to Monsters.

If you have been following this blog for more than a year or two, you will know that periodically I take a time out from my usual format blog posts (which are usually about me showing how clever I am) to discuss the big Hollywood trend of the next few years: the megafranchises. For those who didn’t read these previous posts, or who don’t want to, a megafranchise is different from a normal Hollywood movie franchise in that it involves a single story played out over a series of interconnected movies, using many different characters who may also star in their own movies, and these movies will also be connected to the overall story of the megafranchise. The best example of this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which since 2008 has carefully built a world around several key characters (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America), and every few years lets them all team up in movies together to get the real overall plot out of the way. Other movie studios saw how profitable this franchise model was, and a race began for each of them to create their own megafranchises.

When I first wrote about this topic back in October 2014, it was because a few other players had just announced their intentions to create megafranchises to compete with the MCU: namely the Star Wars Universe, and the DC Universe (Batman, Superman etc.). Back then, I noted that by spring 2016, all the big megafranchises will have released a major movie, and therefore this would be a good time to do an update on the model as a whole. So here I present an update on the world of megafranchises. I mentioned that there is pressure on every studio to possess one of these cash cows, and not everyone can own a Superman, a Spider-Man or a Skywalker, so there is a lot of clutching at straws by some studios to forge whatever character rights they own into potential megafranchises. I have therefore put each of the current 9 announced megafranchises into ordered tiers, categorised by likelihood of success. I devote a lot of time to the DC Extended Universe, because at this time, it really needs to be talked about.



Part 1: The Literal Megafranchises

The top level of megafranchises contains many of the most well-known entertainment brands in the world: Batman, Superman, Chewbacca, Spider-Man and the Avengers. Even if a movie from one of these megafranchises is terrible, the overall brand is so strong that the series is unlikely to be affected substantially.


DC Extended Universe

While developing a sequel for 2013’s Man of Steel, the writers and producers were suddenly asked to expand the story they were working on, and include more characters from the DC Comics Universe. Warner Brothers, the movie studio that owns the rights to these characters saw what a success Marvel/Disney had made of teaming up superheroes in the Avengers, and they wanted a piece of that action. DC Comics had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and many more in a super hero group just like the Avengers, called the Justice League of America, and Warner Brothers wanted a Justice League movie as soon as possible. While Marvel spent four years and around 7 movies (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America etc) building up to the original Avengers movie, the plan here for DC was to lay all that groundwork into one movie, which was the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In it, we are introduced to a grumpy new Batman, a heavily-accented Wonder Woman, and some YouTube cameos from the rest of the Justice League.

A few weeks before release, rumours started coming from Warner Brothers that BvS was not very good, and definitely not good enough to springboard the Justice League to Avengers level. This was a problem, because the studio already has already filmed two more movies in the megafranchise (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman), and was already shooting the first Justice League movie. The investments were already made, so there was no real choice in the matter: the movie had to be released, and everyone involved in making it had to pretend it wasn’t a pile of garbage. The critical and public reception to the movie has confirmed that it really was a pile of garbage.

To understand Batman v Superman, and Warner Brothers decision to skip a few movies in developing a universe before throwing us in and expecting to care about it, is to understand the pressure all the other movie studios are under to develop a megafranchise to compete with the MCU. If you don’t have one, you just aren’t a major player in Hollywood. The DC Extended Universe will be given a few movies to redeem itself, although it doesn’t look likely that it will succeed.

What’s next?: This summer’s Suicide Squad.

And after that?



Star Wars Sequel Trilogy & Anthology Series

The ridiculously successful recalibration of Star Wars into The Force Awakens surprised most people, and the future looks bright. The real test for this burgeoning megafranchise lies not with it’s direct sequels, but in its expansion beyond the main storyline. When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars universe in 2012, their stated mission was to release a Star Wars movie every year, possibly forever. They didn’t want to release direct sequels every year, but rather to release a couple of standalone movies set in the Star Wars universe in between the sequels. The first of these spin-offs comes this December with Rogue One. The success of the Star Wars megafranchise depends on how the public reacts to this Star Wars story that probably doesn’t involve a Skywalker. After Episode VIII next year, the next spinoff will be a young Han Solo story in 2018. The new Han Solo is rumoured to have a cameo in Rogue One, so be prepared in the next few months to be outraged at which completely inappropriate young actor will take over the role.

What’s Next?: Rogue One, this December

And after that?




Marvel Cinematic Universe

These guys invented the megafranchise, and they have perfected it. While I am not the greatest fan of the MCU (I prefer my superhero movies to be a bit more complex and pretentious), I am a big fan of how they have built there world over the past 8 years or so, movie by movie, and even through their TV shows. The issues that drive the recently released Captain America: Civil War, were plain to see in both the Jessica Jones and Daredevil TV shows, neatly setting up the themes for the macro stage In the big movies. On the other hand, I imagine 50% of the cinema-going public will be completely shocked when they realise that Guardians of the Galaxy exist within the MCU, and will definitely end up in future Avengers movies. The MCU is both big, and small. Apparently they plan to keep going forever.

What’s Next?: After Civil War comes Benedict Cumberbatch in November as Doctor Strange.


And after that?





Part II: The Wannabe Megafranchises

Not all megafranchises are created equally. Warner Brothers (DC) and Disney (Star Wars & Marvel) were lucky enough to own the rights to highly lucrative and well-known characters to build worlds around. The other big movie studios were not nearly so lucky.


Universal Monsters Shared Universe

Universal Studios big plan to compete with the three big players is to build a megafranchise around a few characters they have owned for the best part of a century: the classic horror movie monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Invisible Man. The last time I wrote about this, I said that if they were able to keep their costs down, they might be able to compete at a lower level than their more illustrious competitors. They didn’t listen to me, and have gone the opposite way entirely, hiring an A-List actor in each of their announced movies so far. Tom Cruise will fight The Mummy next year, Scarlet Johansson will do things with The Wolfman, Angelina Jolie is wanted as the Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp will appear as the Invisible Man. Universal’s dream is that they all end up in the same movie together one day. I doubt that will happen. In fact, I doubt even The Invisible Man movie will happen. And they’ve already paid Johnny Depp.

What’s planned?



Godzilla/King Kong Monster Mash

Inspired by Universal’s idea of having monsters fight each other, Legendary Pictures plan to get themselves into the mainstream is to have two monsters they own the rights to fight each other, and then possibly team up and fight other things. First up is a King Kong prequel, titled Skull Island. These guys have only announced 3 movies so far, so their restraint could make them a success.

What’s planned?



X-Men Shared Universe

20th Century Fox’s plans to build a shared universe in the X-Men world took a strange turn in February when they released Deadpool, which turned into the most successful movie ever in their entire (not yet mega)franchise. Before this, there was a lot of pessimism about the idea of multiple, interconnected X-Men movies: the Gambit movie had been shelved, and Jennifer Lawrence had said that this years X-Men: Apocalypse would be her last showing as Mystique. Now J-Law wants more, and Fox have ordered a Deadpool sequel, and are looking into more characters (apart from Wolverine) they can build a megafranchise around. This is going a lot better than that megafranchise Sony tried to build around Spider-Man in 2014.

What’s Planned?: Another Wolverine movie, a Deadpool sequel, and a Gambit movie sometime in the future. We will know more after X-Men: Apocalypse debuts.



Part III: The Wannabe Wannabe Megafranchises

While the above second-tier megafranchises at least had something to go on, the next level down is scraping the bottom of the barrel. All are currently in development, but I doubt many of these will develop into megafranchises, or even a first movie.



Paramount doesn’t have a lot of faith in the Transformers megafranchise, so at the same time it is developing a similar ‘working group’ around several of Hasbro Toys characters. GI Joe and Micronauts are the most famous of these, and it’s all downhill from there. If a movie from this ever sees the light of day, there will be slightly more optimism about it than any future Transformers output.


Yes, Paramount are trying to build a megafranchise around their terrible Transformers movies. They did this by having an open call for ‘Transformers Universe Scripts’, open to all screenwriters in Hollywood.

Valiant Comics

Sony Pictures is the notable absentee from the studio rundown so far. They has a troubled history with megafranchises: they wanted to build one around Spider-Man, but then the North Korea email hack happened, and some of them were about major studio producers not liking their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) too much. After that, Garfield wanted no more, and Sony decided to lease Spider-Man to the MCU. This is why you see Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. It’s because of Kim Jong-Un, and that Seth Green movie that pissed him off. Anyway, Sony’s latest idea is to buy the rights to all the characters of another comic book publisher: Valiant Comics. The plan is to build a megafranchise around these characters in the same way that Marvel did, and DC tried. I had never heard about Valiant Comics before this deal was announced, and I haven’t heard of them since the deal was announced, and that was over a year ago.



The Outlook?

We’re at a point now where all the MCU competitors are discovering that building a megafranchise is not as easy as Marvel made it appear. Marvel, DC and Star Wars will be with us for at least another 5 years, but the rest of the potential megafranchises I wrote about above will probably not exist if I ever write about this again. The next pivotal moment in megafranchises will be Tom Cruise appearing in The Mummy next summer. It is on his lithe, 50 year old shoulders that the success of the next big megafranchise rests on. I’m just wondering if he has his usual contractual clause put in where he is obliged to have at least one shirtless dialogue scene. At least he will look young compared to The Mummy.

Previous megafranchise posts:

Original post: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/rise-of-the-megafranchise/

Update 4/15: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/return-of-the-rise-of-the-megafranchise/


Is Everything Actually Awesome?

The Gist: Through smartphones, we get some very sophisticated and powerful technology in the palm of our hands, often for free. But when was the last time you were actually impressed with any of this stuff?

As many of you know, I recently switched German-speaking cities. While I had been living in Vienna, Austria for over five years, in the past few weeks I have moved up north to Hamburg, Germany. If you don’t know your European geography too well, it’s a distance of not much less than 1000km. To put it in beer terms, I have swapped märzen for pilsner. While I am far too old to be moving so far north, it is hard not to get a bit excited about exploring a new city, particularly when I have experience living in a similar-sized German-speaking city already. So in my first weeks here, whenever I had free time, I grabbed a Hamburg StadtRad (CityBike) and just cycled around the streets, trying to get accustomed to the surroundings and the connections between districts. Often, I would be blissfully cycling around an area I’ve never been before, listening to music through my headphones, not having a clue where I was going. But then, every now and again, the music would stop momentarily, and was replaced by a woman telling me that up ahead I should turn left.

I had, of course, programmed my way home into Google Maps, pressed the big blue ‘directions’ button, placed my phone in my pocket, and trusted Google to do the rest. No map attached to my handlebars to give some context to what the woman was going to tell me, no checking street names and districts, just blind faith in the power of information technology. The first time I tried it, I have to say I didn’t trust it completely, and every few minutes would pull out my phone to see wherever this woman was taking me. After a while I realised she knew what she was doing, and started to trust her. Eventually, I forgot I was even using the service, and got caught up in whatever playlist I was listening to at the time, all the time looking around at the new neighbourhood I was passing through. Only when she briefly interrupted the playlist every few minutes would I remember that I was in fact delegating a lot of the work in this exploration endeavour to modern technology. It was so unobtrusive that I found it hard not to say ‘ok, thanks!’ whenever she gave me directions. It felt like I had someone watching me from above, and just giving me information I needed when I needed it, and nothing else. It felt like a videogame.


I’m writing this because I realised during that first journey with in-ear navigation that it was the first time I had been truly impressed with modern technology in a very long time. I found this interesting, because the bike I was riding wasn’t mine. It was a shared CityBike that I found and rented through an app on my phone. Also, the music I was listening to wasn’t actually on my phone, but streamed from the cloud using a service I can use to access it anywhere with an internet connection. I wasn’t too gobsmacked when I started using either of those services a few years ago, it was more of a : “but of course!” feeling when I first discovered both CityBikes and Google Play Music. It’s the same when any new hyped app is released: for example, Uber is useful, but it really doesn’t inspire much awe. That’s despite the fact that all of these apps and services I mention are only possible because of mass amounts of data aggregation, near-perfect flow models, continuously updated search-match models, and all of this happens before anything even reaches the ridiculously user-friendly interface that you use to interact with all of this information on your smartphone. All of this is amazing, and I would argue that all of these services improve the everyday life of anyone who uses them. The problem is that they improve the everyday life of everyone who uses them so incrementally, that we barely even notice it anymore.

There is unquestionably a sense of entitlement when it comes to new apps. When browsing the app store and I see an app that tells me when new episodes of my favourite TV shows are available to download, all I think is that someone should have thought of that years ago, and that it definitely is not worth €1.50 for the full version. Yet still I install the free version, and have my TV future mapped out months ahead without having to even think about googling when the next season of Peaky Blinders starts: It’s already in my Google calendar. This app made my life a little bit better, yet from the moment I discovered it, all I had to say was that it was an obvious innovation, and not worth the price of a Slovakian beer for the privilege of using it forever.

This sense of entitlement, I think, is borne out of just how subtly and how incrementally that information and communication technology has infiltrated our lives over the past decade. Most of us were first acclimatised to the power of information technology through a simple tool such as Facebook. Facebook is a social network, it doesn’t connect people with information, it connects people with other people, and specifically with people they know. It was originally a place where friends could connect and chat and share stupid stuff on the internet. No one was very impressed with the technological innovation of Facebook because it provided an intrinsically personal service: connections with friends. We focus more on our Facebook friends than we do on the actual service Facebook provides. Internet folk seem to get offended when they realise that Facebook actually exists. Everything Facebook (the organisation) does, be it renaming our walls or changing “being a fan of something” to “liking something”, we see as an intrusion into our online hangout world with our friends, rather than the platform itself aiming to improve (or possibly extract revenue). We don’t really see it as advanced technology, we see it as interesting stuff our friends might think we would like. Anything that reminds us otherwise, we react badly to.

Despite all this, through Facebook we became accustomed to things being connected with other things. We learned not to make our posts visible to friends of friends, since this could amount to tens of thousands of people. Through this, words like viral and exponential began to be understood by the general public, and the interconnections in our world, and the power of the internet to aggregate and connect almost anything, became mainstream knowledge, internalised by anyone who has used the internet in the past decade. We aren’t awe-inspired by new apps like Uber simply because all they do is connect people with other people, and we have been using services like this for years. And yet, when you take a step back and look at what it does, even Uber is amazing technology, something you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a 90’s sci-fi movie. It’s something that could have been in The Fifth Element, yet to us it is just a taxi competitor.

My Google-guided bike rides in Hamburg have given me a renewed appreciation for the technology we all take for granted in our lives these days. I (and not many other people) have not had a good word to say about Facebook for many years. Yet it was this time of year ten years ago, early spring 2006, that I first joined Facebook, and I can honestly say that it has improved my life a lot more than I could ever really give it credit for. I have moved around a lot in the past ten years: Hamburg is my sixth country in the time period. I have met people in all the countries and places I have been, and the only reason I have been able to remain in contact with them is through Facebook. Friendships that could have just been chance one-off meetings have developed into lifelong friendships, simply due to connecting on Facebook. My best friends are scattered throughout the world, and our main method of communication is through Facebook, even if it’s just a like or a comment every now and again between meet-ups. These friendships would have withered and died in an age before Facebook, and for this I have to give Facebook some retroactive credit for being one of the greatest innovations of our time. Like my Google-guided bike rides, its power is its lack of intrusiveness, just letting you get on with whatever you need right now. It is a ridiculously powerful tool, and if used correctly, over many years, the incremental benefits add up.. Even though anyone could have thought of the idea…..