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.
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.
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.
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.
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: