9 Attempts To Set Up Cinematic Universes And Franchises (That Failed Miserably)
While movie sequels and cinematic franchises have existed for decades, the concept of an interconnected cinematic universe, in which separate films exist within the same world and share various characters, was one that remained relatively untapped until recent years.
Back in the 1930s, Universal's monster movies formed their own shared universe, with iconic monsters and associated characters appearing across multiple movies, and in Japan, Toho's Godzilla movies existed in their own universe. But it wasn't until the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the true potential of a successful shared universe was realized.
Of course, what the MCU did onscreen is what superhero comic books have done for decades, and it made perfect sense for Marvel to utilize its live-action characters in a similar way. But what works for Marvel simply doesn't translate to every popular property and franchise, as studios, producers, and directors have since discovered.
After the huge success of The Avengers in 2012, other studios starting looking at what properties might be suitable for their own cinematic universes. Something that could generate a film a year--or more--instead of one direct sequel every few years. Sometimes this meant rebooting franchises, sometimes it was taking ongoing popular series and attempting to spin-off more films. New movies were announced as the first part of a planned multi-film series, with teasers for other characters and future movies were thrown into narratives where they didn't necessarily fit.
But, of course, very few worked and most of these universes fizzled out before they got started. The rush to create cinematic universes has died down a little for now, and while Hollywood will always look for a way to maximize profit, announcing a six-movie series before you've even released one film was clearly not the way to do it. But it's fun to look back on those film franchises that might have existed had things worked out differently--so here's our guide to those failed cinematic universes.
9. The Freddy vs. Jason Horror Universe
This was one failed universe that pre-dated the MCU. 2003's Freddy vs. Jason gave horror fans the showdown they'd been hoping to see for years--Nightmare on Elm Street's razor-fingered Freddy Krueger taking on Friday the 13th's hockey mask-wearing killer Jason Vorhees. The movie was a box office success, and there were plans by distributors New Line to extend this horror universe by introducing the Evil Dead's reluctant hero Ash into the mix. Producer Jeff Katz developed a treatment for the next movie, which would have seen Bruce Campbell reprise his role as Ash. Ultimately, Campbell rejected the idea, stating that it was "creatively bankrupt," and expressing reluctance to get involved financially with producers who owned the other characters. "You’re splitting the proceeds three ways with partners you might not want," he said. Luckily, the concept lived on in comic books-- Katz's story was adapted into the six-issue Dark Horse series Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash in 2007, with a follow-up, Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors, following in 2009.
8. The DC Extended Universe
DC's movie universe ran for longer and made more money than any other universe on this list--and technically, it still exists. But there's no denying it didn't pan out as the studio hoped. With Marvel already pioneering the blockbuster superhero universe, in 2013, DC launched its version of the MCU, commonly termed the DC Extended Universe (a title that started life as a joke in a 2015 Entertainment Weekly article but was quickly adopted by fans). But instead of Marvel's slow and careful build, DC lept in headfirst with a handful of totally inconsistent movies that ranged from excellent (Wonder Woman) to terrible (Suicide Squad), culminating in the woeful debacle of 2017's Justice League. Since then, DC has abandoned the idea of a singular shared MCU-style universe, keeping well-liked DCEU characters such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman and making movies like Joker, Shazam, Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad, and the upcoming The Batman, which stand on their own outside any wider universe.
7. Robin Hood Universe
There are some movie universes so ill-conceived that they never make it even a single movie in. In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Sony was in talks to spend a whopping $1 million to buy the rights to a pitch made by writers Cory Goodman and Jeremy Lott for a movie titled Hood, that would lead to an extended Robin Hood universe. As THR stated, "the plan is to make a series of movies focusing on the outlaw archer and his band of Merry Men: Little John, Friar Tuck, and Will Scarlett. One could say they were the superhero team of England’s Middle Ages." It never happened, and the huge flop of 2018's Robin Hood movie suggests that was the right decision.
6. Power Rangers Universe
Power Rangers was already a long-running, hugely popular multi-media franchise before the 2017 reboot film. So why wouldn't producers Lionsgate want to create a movie universe based around a new group of young Rangers? In 2016, Lionsgate boss Jon Feltheimer said he hoped to make "five or six or seven" movies, while Haim Saban, whose company owns the rights to Power Rangers, subsequently confirmed that a "six-film story arc" had already been mapped out. But the film's tepid box office results ensured that those story ideas would stay in the drawer. Of course, yet another attempt to reboot the franchise is now underway, so maybe this will be the one to create that Mighty Morphin' Cinematic Universe?
5. The Men in Black/21 Jump Street Universe
One of the weirdest attempts to create a cinematic universe was the idea of combining two of Sony's successful existing action comedy properties--Men in Black and Jump Street. The concept started with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who had directed both Jump Street movies and wanted to combine the self-parodying cop comedy of those films with the FX-driven sci-fi laughs of Men in Black. Amazingly, Sony signed a deal for Lord and Miller to develop a screenplay with screenwriter Rodney Rothman. But the project never went any further than the script stage, with Men in Black co-producer Walter Parkes later explaining that ultimately the two franchises were "not very compatible." No kidding. Rothman, Lord, and Miller subsequently moved onto the Oscar-winning animated hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, so it was probably for the best.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man Universe
Having produced three hugely successful Spider-Man movies throughout the 2000s, in 2012 Sony rebooted Spidey with Andrew Garfield in the lead role and plans to create a wider universe using all the heroes and villains they also had the movie rights to. And it started well--The Amazing Spider-Man was well received and made $758 million worldwide. Although the 2014 sequel made $709 million, this was the lowest gross of any Spidey movie, and the reviews were not good. Sony had already announced release dates for Amazing Spider-Man 3 and 4, as well as teasing a spin-off Sinister Six film in the second film and putting a Black Cat movie onto development. But this all ended when the studio instead signed a deal with Disney for Spidey to appear in the MCU, with Tom Holland taking over as Peter Parker.
3. King Arthur Universe
The legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are ripe with opportunities for expanded cinematic storytelling. Guy Richie's 2017 fantasy action movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was intended to kickstart an entire franchise, with Warner hoping to make no fewer than six movies. The film's ending sets up the sequels; the Round Table is constructed, ready for Arthur's Knights to convene around it for further adventures. Unfortunately, it was that year's biggest box office flop, losing the studio a colossal $153 million and killing any sequel hopes.
2. The Dark Tower
Stephen King's Dark Tower fantasy series is one of the author's most beloved works, and with eight novels, the scope for creating a cinematic universe is considerable. After years of development, a movie was finally announced for a 2017 release, with the intention that it would launch a franchise that wouldn't just take in multiple films, but TV shows too. But it wasn't to be. The film was a commercial and critical bomb, with a truncated running time, stories of behind-the-scenes conflicts, and a bungled, incomprehensible plot. A subsequent attempt to reboot the property as an Amazon series was also canceled after the pilot was rejected.
1. Dark Universe
There's no failed cinematic universe quite as notorious as the Dark Universe. While it's true that many of the other movies on this list achieved just as many films (ie. one) before they spluttered to a halt, they weren't launched in quite such a grand fashion. Universal's attempt to kickstart a new shared universe based on its classic monster properties had been in the works for some time, with writers, directors, and stars lined up for a series of interconnected films. A few days before the first movie, The Mummy, hit theaters, Universal officially launched the Dark Universe, with a moody photoshopped image of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp, and Sofia Boutella, who were all set to be part of this magnificent new venture. And that was it. The Mummy tanked at the box office, the next movie (Bride of Frankenstein) was postponed then canceled, and the whole sorry venture was dead within a few months. But while the Dark Universe website was eventually taken down, four years later, the two tweets from the official Twitter account remain as a glorious monument to what could have been.