Cinematic Universes: The Infinite Potential, Downfalls and Future

Visually stunning battles, a strikingly straightforward narrative, spot-on humor, surprising cameos, and charming lead actors and actresses that always win the hearts of the audience; what more do you expect when you go to a Marvel superhero movie?

With the launch of the first Iron Man film in 2008, Disney/Marvel has since been developing a cinematic universe adored by millions of movie and comic fans around the world. Four years later, The Avengers  was released, setting fire to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and successfully bringing numerous superhero characters together.

From that time on, Warner Bros./DC has been scripting and constructing its own universe, looking forward to challenging its all-time rival. Disney, on the other hand, with the success of its Marvel franchise, has begun rebooting the Star Wars franchise and creating its own cinematic universe after the company purchased Lucasfilm.

So, what does it imply with all these recent emergences of cinematic universes?

The Infinite Potential of a Movie Universe

First, what is a movie universe? As explained by Geek.com’s K. Thor Jensen, a cinematic universe is “a group of films that have independent storylines and casts but reference and influence each other by taking place in a fictional space with shared continuity.” In other words, what happens in a movie of an individual character can affect others within the same universe; it’s all connected.

Marvel sees how much potential, both creatively and economically, a cinematic universe can bring to its franchise, if done right. Thus, with its smart strategy of systematically introducing new characters and their solo movies like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, despite being standalone films, the studio was able to effectively establish its main cast of superhero characters, which led to the production of a well-established and massive hit The Avengers.

The movie not only has gained the loyalty and positive reviews from fans and critics alike, it also grossed over $1.5 billion in the box office, becoming the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. To this day, I still remember the hype and craze the movie caused when it was released. During its theatrical run, all the comic fans and moviegoers were seen bursting with excitement and enthusiasm outside the cinema.

This newly created Marvel Cinematic Universe has generated unbelievable profits for the studio, which is not confined to feature films only; it also includes video games, comics, brand-related peripherals and TV shows. To look at some actual figures, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has topped $12 billion in worldwide box office last year, a figure that will certainly be exponentially compounded over the next few years, including upcoming releases of Black Panther  and Avengers: Infinity Wars.

From a creative standpoint, movies that reference the principles of a universe that is interconnected also adds essence to each individual story.

Creating linkage and coherence between each movie requires the creativity of moviemakers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  is one of them. Being the first Star Wars stand-alone movie that strays away from the Skywalkers family saga, it fills in the plot hole between Episode III and Episode IV. While watching A New Hope, many may wonder how did the rebels come to steal the plan of the Death Star and how was it transferred to the hands of Princess Leia. Rogue One  effectively addresses all these questions and made a movie out of it. The result was the positive reviews from fans and critics, and a gross of over $1 billion worldwide.

The movie is a test to explore how much potential the Star Wars  cinemeatic universe possesses. Will the audience embrace a story not based on the Skywalkers? What if it is deliberately made different from the tone and style of the original Star Wars movies? Obviously, Disney has found the answers now. Aside from sequels, many more standalone movies are waiting in line to be produced, including a Han Solo movie that is designed to show how the character became what he was in the original trilogy. These upcoming projects will further expand the Star Wars movie universe.

Nevertheless, whether a cinematic universe can flourish also depends on the support of its fans.

For Marvel and DC, they may enjoy the advantage of an already established fanbase centered around their comics. If you’re a fan of Iron Man comics, there is a good chance that you will go and see a movie with Iron Man in it. To the fans, what’s better than seeing your favorite characters on the big screen from time to time?

The connection between movies ensures that the same characters or their references will be seen again and again. The heartland of a cinematic universe is the interconnection between each character, where they work together in constructing the universe. Thus, with the stable maintenance of the movies’ quality and quantity, it’s not difficult to gain the loyalty of fans since they will “keep coming back”. After all, a cinematic universe is all about our beloved characters and the fictional context that we have lost ourselves in.

The fans get the satisfaction, and the studio receives the massive fortune. Creating a cinematic universe seem to lead to a win-win situation, doesn’t it?

The Potential Downfalls of a Cinematic Universe

Everything has its pros and cons. With the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, other studios wish to get in on the action, taking a share of this global trend Marvel has led. Thus, without carefully considering whether it will work, studios hastily push forward characters’ solo movies (or even skipping this step), and thrust them together in an action-packed blockbuster, wishing to build a universe that audiences will love.

And this leads to some brutally disappointing films.

DC is a classic example of it. In 2011, the release of Green Lantern  failed to launch the DC Universe as a whole, which can be attributed to its far-too-big focus, incoherent script and the mismatch between actors and characters. The launch was disastrous, and after a reset, DC tried to reboot its cinematic universe with the release of Man of Steel  in 2013. While relatively well-received, DC was playing catch-up to Marvel. It took three more years before its next superhero movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which strayed from the Marvel formula of building up a main cast of superheroes with a slew of standalone films.

Batman v Superman  introduced a new Batman, which departed from Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s highly acclaimed Batman trilogy that ran from 2005-2012, as well as Wonder Woman. There was also a very brief cameo appearance by the Flash and ambiguous references to Aquaman and Cyborg, which was meant as a way to initiate the audience for the planned Justice League  release the following year that would see all these characters team up. DC then decided to launch a super villain team-up movie, Suicide Squad, which was loosely connected to the other movies, and a Wonder Woman standalone film prior to the Justice League release.

These films, with Wonder Woman being the exception, were all poorly received by critics and fans alike. Justice League  was a box office bomb that only generated a bit over $650 million worldwide. To put that in perspective, when compared to its Marvel counterpart, The Avengers, it grossed a billion dollars less on release. Even Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, a standalone superhero movie released in the same timeframe as Justice League, grossed $200 million more.

Another creator, Universal Studio, tried to build the Dark Universe upon its various classic monster-films such as Frankenstein  and The Mummy. The reboot of The Mummy  in 2017, however, failed miserably due to its lack of characters’ development and disastrous storytelling. Despite grossing over $400 million worldwide, it was labeled a box office bomb given its high production and marketing costs, with projected losses of nearly $100 million.

These examples show the downfall that movie studios may fall into if they are in a rush to launch their cinematic universe.

Not only are the fans dissatisfied with the movie in question, but the franchise will have difficulty establishing a loyal fanbase, which will, in turn, affect the profit of the studio. For Universal, with its creators Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan quitting the project, the Dark Universe seems to be heading towards a vague future that may not come to fruition at all.

With the cinematic universe craze in full swing, the one Marvel has created seems to have outshined the rest. But if we are to scrutinize the majority of Marvel movies, many of them conform to a monotonous tone and repetitive storyline. Villains or aliens threaten the planet and the superheroes are to commit a saving-the-earth mission; no death of the major characters and the heroes all triumph at the end. This happens in The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron  and the newest Thor:Ragnarok.

To successfully create a connected cinematic universe, a formula is needed to hold different movies together thematically, encompassing aspects in the story plots, dispositions of characters and the overall mise-en-scene.

When a movie studio discovers a formula that works best for its universe, they will very likely stick to it.

As an audience, you immediately realize what to expect when you go to a Marvel or Star Wars movie. But of course, there are some exceptions where filmmakers jump out of the box and create something different. Like a story that centers around ordinary people instead of Jedi, such as in Rogue One, or a darker theme about loyalty and betrayal in Captain America: Civil War. Cinematic universes, in other words, have become a brand that moviegoers consume. Studios such as Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC are all highly recognizable “brands” in Hollywood—for better or for worse.

In Marvel’s case, its brand can strengthen the reputation of a particular movie being released in its cinematic universe. As customers trust them in delivering high-quality films, they will watch almost everything the studio has put forward. Guardians of the Galaxy, which consists of a group of lesser-known characters in the comic world, attracted a lot of interest since it was branded and marketed as a Marvel movie. When reviews and word-of-mouth reiterated that it was a fun, entertaining superhero movie, which is associated with the Disney/Marvel brand, it achieved unexpectedly good results at the box office.

The Future of Cinematic Universes

Regarding the formula that studios may adopt in producing their movies, it is possible for filmmakers to thrive freely within this formula. Take Rogue One  as an example—even without the signature opening crawl and screen-swiping transitions as well as a full cast of unfamiliar characters, you can still acknowledge it to be a Star Wars movie.

For Marvel, though there are noted similarities in their movies, they have released war movies, science-fiction movies, comedy movies, and many more different genres that all operate in the same universe. All these acts bring flare and surprise to the audience, as opposed to the monotone that other franchise movies have put out.

In other words, the creativity of filmmakers can still be brought into play under the current trend of cinematic universe.

Instead of blindly copying the success of others, studios should understand what works best for them and strive to pursue high quality films. Considering the continuous turmoil in the DC cinematic universe, the company is planning to take a different step in the approach to its built universe, which is to deemphasize the connectivity between its movies and allow directors to unleash their visions in the upcoming movies. Hopefully, the addition of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Patty Jenkins can alter the fate of the DC universe into a successful franchise that can compete with Marvel.

Variety and competition is almost always a good thing, and the film industry is no exception. By expanding the number of movies on your to-watch lists, you can explore something you have never imagined. Superheroes and franchise movies undoubtedly can bring us excitement and a sense of escapism. Movies provide us a lens through which to see life in different perspectives and help to shape our understanding of the world.

However, with the new trend in cinematic universe creation, it will be interesting to see how studios try to replicate Marvel’s success. So far, it has been much more difficult to accomplish than many had hoped, but that doesn’t appear to deter the other studios from trying. If studios take the time to develop their cinematic universes as Marvel did, while providing their own unique approach, instead of trying to cash in on the newest trend, perhaps there will be many more popular and successful cinematic universes in the future.

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Cinematic Universes: The Infinite Potential, Downfalls and Future

Visually stunning battles, a strikingly straightforward narrative, spot-on humor, surprising cameos, and charming lead actors and actresses that always win the hearts of the audience; what more do you expect when you go to a Marvel superhero movie?

With the launch of the first Iron Man film in 2008, Disney/Marvel has since been developing a cinematic universe adored by millions of movie and comic fans around the world. Four years later, The Avengers  was released, setting fire to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and successfully bringing numerous superhero characters together.

From that time on, Warner Bros./DC has been scripting and constructing its own universe, looking forward to challenging its all-time rival. Disney, on the other hand, with the success of its Marvel franchise, has begun rebooting the Star Wars franchise and creating its own cinematic universe after the company purchased Lucasfilm.

So, what does it imply with all these recent emergences of cinematic universes?

The Infinite Potential of a Movie Universe

First, what is a movie universe? As explained by Geek.com’s K. Thor Jensen, a cinematic universe is “a group of films that have independent storylines and casts but reference and influence each other by taking place in a fictional space with shared continuity.” In other words, what happens in a movie of an individual character can affect others within the same universe; it’s all connected.

Marvel sees how much potential, both creatively and economically, a cinematic universe can bring to its franchise, if done right. Thus, with its smart strategy of systematically introducing new characters and their solo movies like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, despite being standalone films, the studio was able to effectively establish its main cast of superhero characters, which led to the production of a well-established and massive hit The Avengers.

The movie not only has gained the loyalty and positive reviews from fans and critics alike, it also grossed over $1.5 billion in the box office, becoming the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. To this day, I still remember the hype and craze the movie caused when it was released. During its theatrical run, all the comic fans and moviegoers were seen bursting with excitement and enthusiasm outside the cinema.

This newly created Marvel Cinematic Universe has generated unbelievable profits for the studio, which is not confined to feature films only; it also includes video games, comics, brand-related peripherals and TV shows. To look at some actual figures, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has topped $12 billion in worldwide box office last year, a figure that will certainly be exponentially compounded over the next few years, including upcoming releases of Black Panther  and Avengers: Infinity Wars.

From a creative standpoint, movies that reference the principles of a universe that is interconnected also adds essence to each individual story.

Creating linkage and coherence between each movie requires the creativity of moviemakers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  is one of them. Being the first Star Wars stand-alone movie that strays away from the Skywalkers family saga, it fills in the plot hole between Episode III and Episode IV. While watching A New Hope, many may wonder how did the rebels come to steal the plan of the Death Star and how was it transferred to the hands of Princess Leia. Rogue One  effectively addresses all these questions and made a movie out of it. The result was the positive reviews from fans and critics, and a gross of over $1 billion worldwide.

The movie is a test to explore how much potential the Star Wars  cinemeatic universe possesses. Will the audience embrace a story not based on the Skywalkers? What if it is deliberately made different from the tone and style of the original Star Wars movies? Obviously, Disney has found the answers now. Aside from sequels, many more standalone movies are waiting in line to be produced, including a Han Solo movie that is designed to show how the character became what he was in the original trilogy. These upcoming projects will further expand the Star Wars movie universe.

Nevertheless, whether a cinematic universe can flourish also depends on the support of its fans.

For Marvel and DC, they may enjoy the advantage of an already established fanbase centered around their comics. If you’re a fan of Iron Man comics, there is a good chance that you will go and see a movie with Iron Man in it. To the fans, what’s better than seeing your favorite characters on the big screen from time to time?

The connection between movies ensures that the same characters or their references will be seen again and again. The heartland of a cinematic universe is the interconnection between each character, where they work together in constructing the universe. Thus, with the stable maintenance of the movies’ quality and quantity, it’s not difficult to gain the loyalty of fans since they will “keep coming back”. After all, a cinematic universe is all about our beloved characters and the fictional context that we have lost ourselves in.

The fans get the satisfaction, and the studio receives the massive fortune. Creating a cinematic universe seem to lead to a win-win situation, doesn’t it?

The Potential Downfalls of a Cinematic Universe

Everything has its pros and cons. With the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, other studios wish to get in on the action, taking a share of this global trend Marvel has led. Thus, without carefully considering whether it will work, studios hastily push forward characters’ solo movies (or even skipping this step), and thrust them together in an action-packed blockbuster, wishing to build a universe that audiences will love.

And this leads to some brutally disappointing films.

DC is a classic example of it. In 2011, the release of Green Lantern  failed to launch the DC Universe as a whole, which can be attributed to its far-too-big focus, incoherent script and the mismatch between actors and characters. The launch was disastrous, and after a reset, DC tried to reboot its cinematic universe with the release of Man of Steel  in 2013. While relatively well-received, DC was playing catch-up to Marvel. It took three more years before its next superhero movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which strayed from the Marvel formula of building up a main cast of superheroes with a slew of standalone films.

Batman v Superman  introduced a new Batman, which departed from Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s highly acclaimed Batman trilogy that ran from 2005-2012, as well as Wonder Woman. There was also a very brief cameo appearance by the Flash and ambiguous references to Aquaman and Cyborg, which was meant as a way to initiate the audience for the planned Justice League  release the following year that would see all these characters team up. DC then decided to launch a super villain team-up movie, Suicide Squad, which was loosely connected to the other movies, and a Wonder Woman standalone film prior to the Justice League release.

These films, with Wonder Woman being the exception, were all poorly received by critics and fans alike. Justice League  was a box office bomb that only generated a bit over $650 million worldwide. To put that in perspective, when compared to its Marvel counterpart, The Avengers, it grossed a billion dollars less on release. Even Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, a standalone superhero movie released in the same timeframe as Justice League, grossed $200 million more.

Another creator, Universal Studio, tried to build the Dark Universe upon its various classic monster-films such as Frankenstein  and The Mummy. The reboot of The Mummy  in 2017, however, failed miserably due to its lack of characters’ development and disastrous storytelling. Despite grossing over $400 million worldwide, it was labeled a box office bomb given its high production and marketing costs, with projected losses of nearly $100 million.

These examples show the downfall that movie studios may fall into if they are in a rush to launch their cinematic universe.

Not only are the fans dissatisfied with the movie in question, but the franchise will have difficulty establishing a loyal fanbase, which will, in turn, affect the profit of the studio. For Universal, with its creators Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan quitting the project, the Dark Universe seems to be heading towards a vague future that may not come to fruition at all.

With the cinematic universe craze in full swing, the one Marvel has created seems to have outshined the rest. But if we are to scrutinize the majority of Marvel movies, many of them conform to a monotonous tone and repetitive storyline. Villains or aliens threaten the planet and the superheroes are to commit a saving-the-earth mission; no death of the major characters and the heroes all triumph at the end. This happens in The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron  and the newest Thor:Ragnarok.

To successfully create a connected cinematic universe, a formula is needed to hold different movies together thematically, encompassing aspects in the story plots, dispositions of characters and the overall mise-en-scene.

When a movie studio discovers a formula that works best for its universe, they will very likely stick to it.

As an audience, you immediately realize what to expect when you go to a Marvel or Star Wars movie. But of course, there are some exceptions where filmmakers jump out of the box and create something different. Like a story that centers around ordinary people instead of Jedi, such as in Rogue One, or a darker theme about loyalty and betrayal in Captain America: Civil War. Cinematic universes, in other words, have become a brand that moviegoers consume. Studios such as Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC are all highly recognizable “brands” in Hollywood—for better or for worse.

In Marvel’s case, its brand can strengthen the reputation of a particular movie being released in its cinematic universe. As customers trust them in delivering high-quality films, they will watch almost everything the studio has put forward. Guardians of the Galaxy, which consists of a group of lesser-known characters in the comic world, attracted a lot of interest since it was branded and marketed as a Marvel movie. When reviews and word-of-mouth reiterated that it was a fun, entertaining superhero movie, which is associated with the Disney/Marvel brand, it achieved unexpectedly good results at the box office.

The Future of Cinematic Universes

Regarding the formula that studios may adopt in producing their movies, it is possible for filmmakers to thrive freely within this formula. Take Rogue One  as an example—even without the signature opening crawl and screen-swiping transitions as well as a full cast of unfamiliar characters, you can still acknowledge it to be a Star Wars movie.

For Marvel, though there are noted similarities in their movies, they have released war movies, science-fiction movies, comedy movies, and many more different genres that all operate in the same universe. All these acts bring flare and surprise to the audience, as opposed to the monotone that other franchise movies have put out.

In other words, the creativity of filmmakers can still be brought into play under the current trend of cinematic universe.

Instead of blindly copying the success of others, studios should understand what works best for them and strive to pursue high quality films. Considering the continuous turmoil in the DC cinematic universe, the company is planning to take a different step in the approach to its built universe, which is to deemphasize the connectivity between its movies and allow directors to unleash their visions in the upcoming movies. Hopefully, the addition of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Patty Jenkins can alter the fate of the DC universe into a successful franchise that can compete with Marvel.

Variety and competition is almost always a good thing, and the film industry is no exception. By expanding the number of movies on your to-watch lists, you can explore something you have never imagined. Superheroes and franchise movies undoubtedly can bring us excitement and a sense of escapism. Movies provide us a lens through which to see life in different perspectives and help to shape our understanding of the world.

However, with the new trend in cinematic universe creation, it will be interesting to see how studios try to replicate Marvel’s success. So far, it has been much more difficult to accomplish than many had hoped, but that doesn’t appear to deter the other studios from trying. If studios take the time to develop their cinematic universes as Marvel did, while providing their own unique approach, instead of trying to cash in on the newest trend, perhaps there will be many more popular and successful cinematic universes in the future.

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