Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

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sr shared movies header Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has become the model for episodic blockbuster storytelling in Hollywood – resulting in $6.3 billion in box office revenue (and counting). Of course, those numbers do not include revenue from Blu-ray/DVD sales, licensing, and retail merchandise, which have added millions more to the Disney coffer. There’s no doubt that Marvel Studios’ recent shared cinematic universe was a game-changer – weaving nine films  (so far), the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, and five one-shots into a single narrative web. In spite of a few hiccups, the ambitious project is paying off, raising interest (and box office profits) for any film bearing the Marvel Studios logo.

Not long after the shared universe approach drove record-breaking ticket sales for the first Avengers team-up, Sony and 20th Century Fox began work on longterm franchise plans of their own, in addition to Warner Bros., who hopes to expand on Man of Steel with Batman vs. Superman, a Justice League team-up, and subsequent spinoffs. However, now that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has become one of 2014’s most divisive blockbusters (primarily because of its shared universe stage-setting), it’s time to face a question that has lurked in the shadows: Are shared movie universes hurting superhero films?

A History of Shared Universe Hiccups

Iron Man 2 Poster Cast Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

When it was first announced that Marvel Studios intended to develop a branching film project, centered on assembling of The Avengers, many fans were worried that quality execution would falter in the shadow of branding ambition – worry that became justified when Iron Man 2 hit theaters.

Director Jon Favreau has (reportedly) indicated behind closed doors that Marvel’s push to get The Avengers shared universe up and running negatively impacted the filmmaker’s original vision for Iron Man 2. Instead of a straightforward continuation of the Tony Stark storyline, Favreau was tasked with introducing key “Phase 1″ characters and narrative threads. As a result, without adequate time to develop, despite brief hints at something more distinct, Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko/Whiplash was turned into a hollow caricature – a one-note villain bent on revenge.

Often, superhero stories are only as good as their villains, and while Iron Man 2 helped set the stage for Marvel’s current success, it did so at the expense of an intriguing narrative about the conflict between two genius sons, from very different backgrounds, attempting to do right by their (deceased) fathers.

Shared Universe Sacrifice

The Amazing Spider Man 2 Previews Trailers Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Sony (and director Marc Webb) faced a similar challenge with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – which, interestingly, also features a pair of abandoned sons investigating the legacies of their respective fathers. Unfortunately, the studio did not learn from Iron Man 2 criticisms – short-changing villains and supporting characters in favor of setting up their own Sinister Six “shared universe” plot.

No doubt, plenty of viewers still found value in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, especially in Spider-Action beats as well as the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship; that said, in our recent interview with Webb, the director admitted that balancing the current story with future set-up was a major challenge – albeit a fun challenge:

It’s tricky but it’s fun. And we have a great team developing, and everybody gets sort of assigned a different thing. There’s some really exciting stuff coming out with the Sinister Six that I’m really enthused about. And Alex [Kurtzman] is working with them. And there are these great ideas from a bunch of people that are really smart, so I can spread the pressure out. But it’s not pressure, it’s fun! Are you kidding me? It’s very cool. (laughter) We sit around a room and we spitball and we talk about ideas. We do try to be careful about how we plan that out. And that is a little but of a puzzle sometimes.

No one is claiming that an intertwined franchise narrative should be easy to shape and that some sacrifices won’t need to be made, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a poignant example of shared universe threads hurting the overall quality of a standalone film experience. Many (not all) viewers that enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still felt that Electro and Green Goblin were underdeveloped and underserved by the narrative – with only two or three scenes to establish and then catalyze the characters into villainy. They are both interesting and effective antagonists, but they fall short of doing anything more than causing trouble for Spider-Man.

Wasn’t There More to this Story?

amazing spider man 2 harry osborn Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Many moviegoers still hold Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 in high regard because the film not only upped the action quota, it invested heavily in its villain, showcasing Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius as more than a ruthless evildoer. Octavius was relatable, tragic, and (most importantly) reflected key aspects of his rival, Peter Parker. For all of the times we’ve heard Amazing Spider-Man series producers describe their villains as “complex,” the latest film rarely allows those complexities to be put on display.

The disconnect became even more obvious when it was revealed that key scenes (shown in trailers) featuring Electro, Harry and Norman Osborne, as well as Gwen Stacy were all cut from the film – stripping away layers of potential character development. Without question, plenty of movies use deleted scenes in pre-release marketing, but in this particular case, fans have become fixated on the missing scenes – since they seem to indicate that a different, and more nuanced, version of the film exists.

Jamie Foxx in The Amazing Spider Man 2 Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

At 142 minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is already a lengthy film – suggesting that Webb was, likely, tasked with pairing down the runtime. Based on the final product, it’s likely that the filmmaker was forced to reshape story in post-production, removing scenes that helped flesh-out his villains, while ensuring that shared universe threads were in place. For that reason, the “deleted” scenes have become a curiosity for disappointed viewers, leading to an online petition (this is the Internet after all) calling on Sony to release a Director’s Cut.

In a grand scheme, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could just be an awkward but necessary step in shared universe building (like Iron Man 2) – one that might be worthy of the hiccups when The Amazing Spider-Man 3 hits theaters. That said, with three, four, or five Sinister Six members still waiting to be revealed (depending on who you believe), and only two films left before the super villain team-up releases, Webb and his team still have a lot of characters and plot beats to introduce – meaning that new Amazing Spider-Man 3 characters might not be given any more attention than Electro and Green Goblin were allowed in Part 2. If that turns out to be the case, is a Sinister Six team-up really worth all the effort – especially if the alternative would have been straightforward (and self-contained) entries in the “untold story” of Spider-Man?

Days of Self-Contained Storytelling Past

X Men Days of Future Past Full Cast Photo Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Of course, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t the only comic book film hoping to take advantage of a shared universe. Fox has been hard at work on the ambitious time-traveling epic, X-Men: Days of Future Past, uniting the First Class reboot cast with the heroes and villains from the original X-Men film trilogy, while also paving the way for an all-new entry in the series, Apocalypse. Reports indicate that Fox is investing heavily in the project – in the hopes of positioning the X-Men series – which typically does acceptable but not remarkable business at the box office – as a legitimate competitor in the superhero shared universe game.

Days of Future Past is rumored to be the most expensive comic book adaptation to date, but will epic visuals and an all-star cast of new and returning faces also result in an impactful film experience? The film is relying on interesting elements (time travel, cross-franchise character pairings, sentinels) but with over twenty main characters and two separate time periods, Fox may be running the risk of overstuffing their X-Men movie with spectacle – leaving little room for actual mutant drama.

X Men Wolverine poster header Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

After all, the series was rebooted in X-Men: First Class because most viewers found X-Men: The Last Stand to be a hollow production that relied on visual spectacle and vapid mutant cameos rather than developed characters set in an engaging story. Is there enough room to do anything interesting with a character like Quicksilver or Colossus, when Days of Future Past is tasked with exploring themes and fan-favorite mutants from First Class – as well as the original trilogy – all while centering the proceedings (once again) on Hugh Jackman’s scene-stealing Wolverine?

Days of Future Past may find a balance between its characters and the franchise-building plot elements; or it may, instead, be another example of over-reaching shared universe ambition.

Characters Before Shared Universes

Meet The Guardians of the Galaxy Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Later this summer, Marvel Studios will release Guardians of the Galaxy which will branch-out from the core Avengers storyline – while containing key threads that contribute to the ongoing shared universe. At first, the prospect of launching an entire superhero team outside of the established Avengers narrative sounded like a risky endeavor – especially since the Guardians of the Galaxy comic books are a) set on a galactic playing field and b) do not share nearly the same level of brand recognition as A-listers like the Incredible Hulk and Captain America. Not to mention that two out of five Guardians will be entirely CGI creations – a talking raccoon and a tree that only says three words, “I am Groot.”

Nevertheless, Guardians of the Galaxy has become one of the most talked about summer films of 2014. Why? The trailer put the characters front and center – highlighting the ragtag group of likable troublemakers. We’ve still got a few months before the film hits theaters, but there’s reason to be optimistic that, in spite of requirements to tie Guardians of the Galaxy into The Avengers‘ Thanos arc, director James Gunn will do his zany heroes justice. The project allows for the best of both worlds: a film that functions as a self-contained space adventure full of intriguing (and diverse) characters – while also adding a few more bricks in the expansive cross-film narrative.

First Official Guardians of the Galaxy Cast Photo Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Still, Gunn faces similar challenges as Webb’s Sinister Six setup – with five Guardians, at least four antagonists, and the Nova Corps to introduce. For that reason, it’s certainly possible that the filmmaker will, in the end, have a difficult time balancing elements of his story. That said, despite ties to The Avengers 3, Gunn has indicated that he prioritized the standalone experience over setting up plot threads that will pay-off five years later. Each member of the team, and the villains, have a substantive role to play in the current film plot – intertwined motivations that bring the Guardians together (while allowing room for subtle contributions to the shared universe).

Until the film releases, there’s no guarantee that Gunn will deliver, but with claims that Rocket Raccoon is the “heart” of Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s hard to imagine the filmmaker sidelining character development in the interest of setting-up Marvel Phase 3 projects.


Will DC do Justice to its Superhero League?

Batman vs Superman Script David Goyer Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Of course, the biggest question mark in the discussion of superhero shared universes is: can Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment successfully introduce their Justice League team over the course of two films? For months we’ve know that Batman vs. Superman would include appearances by several Justice League characters – though it remained unclear whether or not they’d be in costume or simply cameo as “human” alter egos. However, with the announcement that Zack Snyder will direct a Justice League film after Batman vs. Superman, fans have become concerned that the filmmakers are rushing their shared universe – in the interest of catching up with Marvel Studios.

Industry insiders have previously indicated that producing standalone films first, before the Justice League team-up, would make the most sense – with others arguing that, given the right story, it would be possible to introduce all of the characters in one (or two) films (then spin them into solo installments). We don’t know if Batman vs. Superman will utilize the Justice League roster in a meaningful way but, at this point, we expect the team-up film will arrive before a Wonder Woman (or Cyborg) spin-off.

Wonder Woman Batman Superman Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

Will the “backdoor pilot” approach to shared universe building hurt future DC superhero films and their respective central characters? Time will tell. After all, DC heroes are different from those in the Marvel universe, leaving room for different ways of bringing a character like Aquaman, for example, to the big screen.

With two full years before Batman vs. Superman hits theaters, it’s too early to say whether or not DC’s shared universe will, in the long run, hurt their superhero films. Nevertheless, like the other directors responsible for setting up an entire shared universe, Snyder is facing a tough challenge. Without a doubt, if any iconic Justice League heroes are short-changed in the process, fans will demonize the studio for rushing a team-up at the expense of quality character stories.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, Right?

Guardians of the Galaxy The Avengers Team Up Header Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

While Marvel Studios has managed to increase interest (and box office returns) by incorporating all of their characters into a shared universe, it remains unclear if the same strategy will work for everyone else. In fact, thanks to middle-of-the-road reviews (and possible franchise fatigue), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has underperformed at the domestic box office. In the long run, Webb’s film will do fine (and earn Sony a solid profit) but the movie could be an early indicator that viewers might be averse to serialized film story lines (at least in certain cases).

What makes moviegoers accepting of shared universe stories in one franchise and not another? Answer: Not all shared universes are created equal – and only certain characters are even capable of carrying an entire universe. Even though the X-Men film brand has typically been lumped into a single series (with the exception of Wolverine spin-offs), the franchise is composed of a wide range of mutant heroes and villains.  The X-Men may be a sub-branch of Marvel Comics but there are still plenty of mutant stories to tell – stories that are completely separate from The Avengers movie universe.

Amazing Spider Man 3 Marc Webb Andrew Garfield Are Shared Movie Universes Hurting Superhero Films?

For that reason, if shared superhero universes in film and television are to continue, filmmakers need to find a more coordinated and nuanced way to build them. Cramming several characters into a single film might help the end goal of expanding an otherwise self-contained storyline, but if audiences are turned-off in the process, what’s the point?

Maybe was Sony overly ambitious in thinking that The Amazing Spider-Man, and his Sinister villains, are capable of maintaining their own shared universe – especially now that producer Avi Arad is stating that Peter Parker is the only Spider-Man they’ll depict onscreen. If characters like Miles Morales are truly off the live-action movie table, it’ll be very interesting to see how the studio intends to continue expanding this specific superhero universe – unless they just plan to reboot the franchise (again) after they complete Peter Parker’s “untold” story in The Amazing Spider-Man 4.

Maybe we should just prepare now for The Spectacular Spider-Man reboot?

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More: 10 Real Crossovers That Would Make Great Shared Movie Universes


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  1. Honestly? Most people I talk to don’t even realise the Marvel movies are connected. I know people that have watched Avengers Assemble (they had to use that title in the UK) and didn’t watch Thor or Captain America. These are the same people that will leave the theater as soon as a movie ends and not wait for end credits. I guess no everyone is a geek.

    • That’s interesting that it was called Avengers Assemble in the UK… Is that due to the British tv show? When I first started reading comics and said I liked the Avengers that’s what my Mom thought i was talking about lol

      • Yes that is exactly why the release here in the UK was called Avengers Assemble.

        They even thought that “Marvel’s Avengers” might be considered to be a Marvel spin on the Steed/Peel series.

        • Haha, I can just see Hulk in a top hat carrying an umbrella….. I did wonder why that was, perhaps Hollywood think that we are too stupid to differentiate between the two….

          • In IM3, I was disappointed in seeing less “in the suit” action (much like TDKR), and felt as though the tone was just… off. I’m not articulate enough to explain it but it didn’t feel like an IM movie as much as a Tony Stark (w/ PTSD that was overcome thanks to the power of [SCENE DELETED]) movie. And then the Mandarin was just some dude, which amused me at first, but then I kept thinking about the missed oppurtunity that the just left on the table.

            And I was defintely annoyed with War Ma– excuse me, Iron Patriot, contributing absolutely nothing to the fight. He loses his suit almost immediately, and does much more as Rhodes then he does in the suit. And as soon as he gets his suit back… he takes the President and disappears. I’d love to see a two man team type adventure or sequence in an Iron Man film. Seeing as how Tony was left suitless for a while, having Rhodes provide some sort of kinetic support and get overwhelmed until Tony gets into a suit would’ve been awesome to keep him relevant.

            I still didn’t hate IM3, I paid to see it and didn’t want my money back at the end of it, but I think IM2 just satisfied my expectations and by the time IM3 came out, my priorities were different. *shrugs*

            I’ll rewatch it one of these days and see if my feelings for it change.

  2. I don’t think the “Shared Universe” trend should be held responsible for mediocre outputs like ASM2 and Iron Man 2. Both of those movies suffered because the “Shared Universe” concept was introduced too late in their production, and the writing didn’t have time to properly flesh out all of the concepts.

  3. Poor Gambit, he looks like a bum.

    • Where do you (think you) see Gambit in this article?

  4. Marvel has created an excellent cinematic universe and despite hiccups such as IM2, they seem to have a firm idea of what they want to do with it now. By the time Avengers 3 rolls around, we’ll have the Guardians Of The Galaxy, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Ant Man, Doctor Strange, and possibly Black Panther in the film. It’s easy to see how that film could end up a mess, but if anyone can handle ridiculously large ensemble casts, it’s Joss Whedon. As for fox, the X-Men alone could hold down a cinematic universe as many other Mutant teams and stories there are to draw from, but they also have the Fantastic Four. And with them, Doctor Doom, Galactus, and Silver Surfer; 3 characters that Marvel would kill to have in their universe, so fox could definitely make a great cinematic univese. WB has EVERY DC character in their repertoire, so if they get their s*** together and handle them all the right way, their universe could be awesome. I’m really hoping BVS doesn’t suffer from Iron Man 2 syndrome, and JL isn’t a mess. It will be possible to introduce all those characters in 2 films and pull it off right, but it’s risky, I hope they can do it. The only studio that is really reaching too far with their cinematic universe is Sony. Spider-Man works best as a franchise focused mainly on Spider-Man, with one main villain per film. The Venom spin-off is workable, but that’s it.

    • Hey, they can also make a Black Cat movie right? And then team up with spidey.. just saying

    • I consider myself a blossoming superhero/Comic book movie nerd, but I never quite understood the hate for IM2. I disliked 3 more than I did 2.
      What exactly was the problem with it?

      • It focused too much on world building than being an Iron Man film.

        It’s the first SHIELD movie, yes SHEILD was introduced in IM1 but it was only peripherally, here it was front and centre.

        You had Fury, Coulson, introduced Widow, you’ve got Howard founding SHIELD.

        Then you’ve got all the other new introductions, so we’ve got Hammer (Sam is fantastic), Whiplash and War Machine.

        Whiplash wasn’t an effective villain, got his ass handed to him in the Monaco sequence and he didn’t last long at the end either, plus the whole Drone / Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots thing was just the worst.

        It’s an enjoyable, easy watch… perfect on a Sunday if nothing else is on…. it’s just not very good.

        The focus was setting up SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative and Tony “fixing” the arc reactor with daddy’s help (who did love you Tony, he did, honest).

        You could of dropped Whiplash and Hammer completely and had the drama from Tony’s deteriorating health and Senator Stern’s insistence on “confiscating” the Iron Man tech due to Tony’s emotional instability, but then you lose the (average) action sequences.

        • Hmm.. I only watched it once or twice when it came out, and I might’ve just been happy to see War Machine and the new Rhodes interact with Stark. I didn’t find SHIELD’s involvement distracting but that might’ve just been Scarlett distracting me…

          I’ll rewatch it now that a few years have passed and see how I feel about it.

          Thanks Jon

          • No…Silver Jaguar you are right. Iron Man 2 was fine. Iron Man 3 was weak and rode the Avengers wave. So much could have be done with it but…. nope. watch the first Iron Man then Iron Man 3. The third was lazy and the plot from The Incredibles. haha

      • You disliked three more than two? Really? I can understand the hate for two, but in my opinion, three was the best iron man movie yet.

        • My original post ended up under the wrong post entirely. But here’s a copy and paste job:

          In IM3, I was disappointed in seeing less “in the suit” action (much like TDKR), and felt as though the tone was just… off. I’m not articulate enough to explain it but it didn’t feel like an IM movie as much as a Tony Stark (w/ PTSD that was overcome thanks to the power of [SCENE DELETED]) movie. And then the Mandarin was just some dude, which amused me at first, but then I kept thinking about the missed oppurtunity that the just left on the table.

          And I was defintely annoyed with War Ma– excuse me, Iron Patriot, contributing absolutely nothing to the fight. He loses his suit almost immediately, and does much more as Rhodes then he does in the suit. And as soon as he gets his suit back… he takes the President and disappears. I’d love to see a two man team type adventure or sequence in an Iron Man film. Seeing as how Tony was left suitless for a while, having Rhodes provide some sort of kinetic support and get overwhelmed until Tony gets into a suit would’ve been awesome to keep him relevant.

          I still didn’t hate IM3, I paid to see it and didn’t want my money back at the end of it, but I think IM2 just satisfied my expectations and by the time IM3 came out, my priorities were different. *shrugs*

          I’ll rewatch it one of these days and see if my feelings for it change.

          • 40+ suits and what we got was kleenex armor being thrown away in one big MESSY scene…

            So Iron Man can hold his own against Thor in a pre-Asgardian buttkicking armor yet the newer ones were sliced and ripped apart? And that Extremis power set was Etremely the worst.

            Iron Man 3 alternate titles…(Iron Man: Tony Stark; Iron Man: the Stark Knight Rises; Tony Stark: the Movie; Iron Man: Because you’ve seen the Avengers; Iron Man 3: Well, it is the third movie; IRON MAN: u mad? Marvel’s The Incredibles; Iron 3: shuddup and give us your moneyz…)

            • Honestly in the original Extermis graphic novel,the extremis powered man in that nearly killed Tony inside the suit so the extremis soldiers ripping apart the suits makes sense.

              Also out armor tony stuff is not that uncommon, I mean in the 80’s Tony was a bum on the street for a solid year.

              • Yeah… That’s nothing new to me. There was also a Thorbuster armor because Iron Man wouldn’t stand a chance. The only thing tony did with the Extremis Armor was made it lighter and gave it repulsors like Mark 42. But unlike 42 it stayed TOGETHER! Thor is stronger than Mallen aka the Extremis goon. Sooooo… yeah

                Again that’s nothing new to me. Tony Stark was also raging alcoholic and that seemed to have missed the big screen. It wasn’t that he was without a suit… In was those instants it serviced no purpose. Honestly, why wouldn’t I read a comic or two?

    • Couldn’t agree more about Doctor Doom JHP. For me, he was always the Big Bad in the Marvel universe and I truly believe if Marvel had the rights that he would have been the main villain for the final Avengers, and if not then certainly for one of the 3 Avengers movies. I don’t have much faith with fox for what they have planned for Doctor Doom, but we will see.

      After watching ASM 2, I’m done with Sony’s version of Spiderman. I have yet to see a complete Spiderman movie that has all the great elements of Spiderman that I remember loving growing up. Wow was that ending just awful and rushed for the setup. Who is that excited about a sinister 6 movie anyway? Yeup, done with Spidey for now and even Venom wont bring me back.

    • totally agree man. other than venom, spidey just doesn’t have strong enough characters for a shared universe. he just dont

  5. IF the story is sacrificed for a tie in, then what’s there to ponder. The answer’s self evident.

  6. The Avengers Universe works better than all the others because of the Phase Structure. Every fifth-or-so film is a true event film that has been built up throughout the prior films.

    The ASM Universe hasn’t successfully built towards an event film. Sony has a series of ASM films with a couple ancillary, spinoff films also planned. In order to have built a high anticipation for the showdown with the Sinister Six, Sony should have produced at least 4 films in advance. Sinister Six should have followed two ASM, a Venom and a Black Cat solo films. These 4 films would have all had to be written with the intention of the Sinister Six event film.

    X-Men is forgoing the Phase films and doing only the event films. This “Shared Universe” is really just a traditional film franchise. X-Men doesn’t need a Phase system to work. A crossover with the Fantastic Four should be set up in another film. The FF sequel should introduce Silver Surfer and reference an impending Galactus. The crossover should pit the FF, SS, and X-Men against Galactus.

    Justice League, like X-Men, is doing a traditional franchise. I doubt there are plans for any particular films following JL-Light and JL. These are both “Event” films.

    In Conclusion, There is only one true “Shared Universe” and it belongs to Marvel/Disney. None of the other franchises are even close to the structure of the Avengers Universe. The ASM Universe is the only one even trying to imitate the Avengers model at this time, and they fail to truly comprehend the concept.

    The true autonomy of Marvel Studios is what allows the planning to occur. Sony, Fox and, especially, Warner Brothers must each create a truly separate studio group for their Comic Book properties to execute the true “Shared Universe” properly. The variable that would allow this to happen is whether or not there exists another Kevin Feige persona for these studios to put their faith in.

    • I agree. Sony has the problem of owning the rights to only one popular super hero, but they have a bajillion villains. Unfortunately, even I (a long time Spider Man fan going back to even before Gang Wars, Secret Wars and Spidey’s fight with Firelord) have no interest in seeing stand alone villain movies. My kids aged seven and eleven asked why there needed to be three villains and only one hero. Even worse they found the film way too long and rather boring. Not a good thing when they are Sony’s future audience for upcoming installments. Sony needs to make fewer good movies about Spider Man and not play keep up with Marvel, because they can’t win that game.

      On the other hand DC went about it all wrong. (Disclaimer: I found Nolan’s films OK, really good and so bad I almost walked out, respectively) Tying the Batman movies so close to the vision of one film maker limited their ability to broaden his appeal, and I would say their latest Superman movie also failed to really move their universe in a direction where Justice League seems a reasonable outcome. Now they’re doing a Batman vs. Superman movie but tacking on extra heroes in what appears to be a game of catch up with Marvel. To me its appears disjointed and desperate.

      Fox is in the second best position after Marvel but really have to get over their Wolverine fetish. Don’t get me wrong, Hugh Jackman is great as Logan but stop churning out mediocre hit-and-miss films. Sure a FF / X-Men crossover would be cool but it could also really stink. That’s been Fox’s problem all along.

      • I totally agree with everything you’ve said here.

      • I wouldn’t say DC went about it all wrong. The Avengers Universe structure is a very new idea. The other studios’ are trying to match Marvel in volume without understanding the phase structure. Marvel just recently themselves figured-out their franchise method. They began their true “Shared Universe” when Avengers was released and are just now executing a complete plan. Avengers was a big experiment in film franchising and it paid off better than could have ever been expected.

        The faults of the other studios are not that they didn’t develop this industry changing concept themselves. Their problem is the varied attempts to replicate Marvel’s success while either not properly understanding what Marvel is doing, or being unwilling to commit to the true process.

  7. I agree, spiderman films need to only focus on spidey.If sony wanted to expand they should possibly make cameos of villians and have an over arching arc that could connect them, like oscorp, or a mob boss.Not have each film try to rush to develope multiple characters.Haven’t seen spidey yet but i kind of feel what you guys are saying.Also I think another issue i see with the shared univer films are the large possibility of franchise fatigue for all superhero films.They could end up as like the westerns of the past.I particularly believe that theu should (marvel) space out their films and not release More than 2 per year and not the four they plan.With sony WB,and fox releasing films almost every year, I would not be surprised if they start

    losing money .knowing disney, once the start losing money they will pull back and let the franchise that they own die.

    • Disney will pull back to protect their franchise, not to let it die off. There will come a point, I feel, when there will be too many blockbusters coming out at the same time, and people are going to choose quality over quantity.

      • Yup. Going to the movies aint cheap and when you’ve got 3 Marvel, 1 or 2 Sony, a Fox or two with a side order of DC/WB that’s a serious level of heavy hitters.

        Put it this way at most I see 3 films a year in theatres, admittedly there’s generally very little on that interests me, but still if (WHEN!!) we start getting some serious market saturation I’m gonna have too pick and choose and I’ll bet I won’t be the only one.

  8. perhaps the flaws to this approach show in areas such as the thor films, in its shared tone. alan taylor griped about the continuous ” assault “, as he put it, by marvel studios higher ups in wanting to infuse the thor sequel with the heavy humor and MU nods. I feel this also destroyed, IMO, iron man 2. and it comes as no surprise what jon favreau says to have occurred behind the scenes having seen the final product.

    overall, marvel studios certainly has had plenty of success, but the approach can backfire, as not all of its output has been great across the board. as for DC, we’ll have to wait until 3056 to judge. starting with man of steel 2.

  9. If indeed the amazing Spider-man franchise is moving forward in the Sinister 6 direction, I am sure there will be plenty of future screen time for both Harry Osborn AND Electro. Better this than to be sick of them already, IMO.

  10. Amazing Spider-Man 2 was first and foremost a Gwen and Peter love story. I feel genuinely everything else was playing second to this, and in the end rightfully so.

  11. Marvel built a superb shared universe that was original & entertaining. However, I have a huge problem with solos as they present major plot holes. Their sequential formula kinda makes things predictable at times and Idk, it just appears too ‘perfect’.

    DC is also doing great. Like Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it focuses on a single ideal plus, love it or hate it, they are unpredictable at the moment. Chris Nolan did a great job bringing this universe to life but his influence on MoS was a bit much.

    Sony should let Spidey do his thing alone. TAS2 is a great film. It may not have much of the good guy vs bad guy feel but it was a very GOOD MOVIE. Someone mentioned that TAS saga should be a tv series, totally agreed.

  12. The shared universe moniker seems like a marketing ploy to me at this point to sell a brand. As someone who was not an Iron Man comic book fan I can say that one of the key differences I saw between the first movie and the sequel is that the first one was fun and had no pressure on it, going forward the Phase two films mostly played like commercials and set-ups for the Avengers. Moving forward the IM3, the Dark World and Winter Solider all were so concerned with being their own separate thing that it seemed odd that certain characters or plot devices did not show up in the solo movies.

    The X-Men series could have done something more cohesive if they had developed a plan and long-term story ideas from the start. As it stands they have over a decade of films that do not connect well at all and for my tastes the Wolverine was the better movie (comic book or not) out of the last three because it was not trying to fit into a jumbled puzzle.

  13. The problem is people are still thinking of these as movies. Yes they are movies but in a shared universe they’re more like a television series. Initially characters can seem one dimensional but in later episodes it is revealed why characters act the way they do – suddenly these one dimensional characters have a recognisable depth.

    As for the Amazing Spiderman, I wouldn’t know. Haven’t seen any of them. Spiderman 1 was good but thought a better depth of story could be told but that came out in spiderman 2 – so if you view both them as part of the one whole – its perfect.

  14. Good article Ben. Keep it up

  15. As a basic statement – “Are Shared Universes Hurting Superhero Film Quality” then I would say No as a concept it’s fantastic.

    As will all things film, it’s down to the execution, which is all down to the planning and the people.

    I’ve not seen ASM2 so I can’t comment on Sony’s attempt.

    Fox’s X-Universe has just been poorly executed, X1 & 2 are very good, X3 isn’t great, nor is Origins, FC is very good, Wolverine is acceptable who knows what DoFP will become.
    The problem is that this “Shared Universe” seems to be shoe-horned in, FC was a decent soft re-boot, not sure of the wisdom of trying to close all the holes and bring it all together.

    DC/WB are only at the start of the SU so who knows how that will go.
    Two things on DC/WB, 1. MOVE Supes v Bats from May 5th, Marvel was there first and all they will do is hurt ticket sales, yes LOTS of people will watch both (including me) but LOTS MORE will see only ONE. Move the day back or forward 2 weeks and both will clean house because, 2. IT FRICKIN’ BATMAN AND SUPERMAN AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!! – Awesome :)

    Marvel. Well the numbers don’t lie but it’s not been flawless.

    IM2 suffers horribly due to the lateness of the idea, it laid too much pipe.

    The credit sequences have been the best way to establish the SU, Fury in IM1, Selvick & the Tesseract in Thor, the Avengers Cap sequence at the end of FA, even Coulson in Mexico in IM2.

    Those little button scenes have been more effective that a pipe movie like IM2. The One-Shots on the DVD’s are another example of less is more, we don’t need it hammering that there all connected, that’s what the Avengers films are for, because that inter-connectivity becomes a problem if it’s overstated then dropped.

    See the “Where’s War Machine in the Avengers” or “Where’s SHIELD in IM3″ which then have to be answered separately instead of being dealt with as part of the narrative.
    Then you have other small plot points that if forgotten or not followed can drop audiences out of the film.

    E.G. Avengers – two main niggles, where WAS War Machine and two, and this is just a really small thing, why are Tony and Pepper treating Arc Reactor technology as a brand new thing at the start. Did they forget that Stark Industries had an industrial size reactor running things for 50YEARS!!!
    Unless Tony COMPLETELY redesigned the Arc Reactor in order to miniaturise it, it’s proven tech.

    I think the lessons of IM2 regarding the shared universe have been learned which is why CA2:WS is so awesome, it stands up as a STAND ALONE film first but has a nod to the wider universe….. IM2 was all about pipe and fell flat.

    • They said in IM1 the arc reactor was a money pit and a useless technology, just a PR campaign pretty much. It’s obvious that while miniaturizing the reactor into his chest he made serious breakthroughs in the tech, allowing it to be more cost-effective and practical to use in New York City. I thought that was pretty easily inferred.

      I do agree that in most MCU movies, including Avengers, there are a fair amount of questions that can be asked in relation to the rest of the universe, I don’t think that was a particularly good example.

  16. I agree. Marvel should never do Avengers right after they killed IronMan. They should’ve fix it, make a good movie about Thor(and not that crap that was on screen twice), a good movie about Cap(and not that blatant movie flick that you can forgot when go out of theater or silly spy drama from second one(still one of the best Marvel tries)) and maybe a good no boring Hulk movie? And after all fails they releaseed the Avengers that have alot of facepalm moments and quite simple movie that you couldn’t stand to watch a second time.

    X-men don’t have SHARED universe its just their unverse is ALREADY that BIG neither has Spiderman for the same reason. You know despite its flaws ASM2 is still better than IM1(the best Marvel had to offer).

    And seeing as DC regulate their plans and are willing to release their next movie later than expected(and all those rumors about filming 2 movies at the same time) it seems they took a note about how to make good shared universe. Ofcourse only time will tell if they actually did.

  17. As per always, in America if something is done for the first time and is successful then it is pounded and pounded and pounded until most of us become sick of it. Copy upon copy upon copy of the successful formula until every penny is wrung out, the formula is locked away for 10 years and a ‘remake’ or ‘reboot’ is done to start the cycle again because they think we have very short memories or crave nostalgia. The last few ‘Super Hero’ movies I have seen have been underwhelming, (Thor 2, Cap 2 & TASM 2) simply because most of what is on the screen I have seen over and over and over again….. Not that any of those films are poor, in fact mostly they are better than the first films in those particular series – its just they are not impacting on me like they once did. I just hope DC can bring something a little different by keeping the franchise fairly grounded as they did with MoS…. Origin stories done again, bad guys being recycled and their origin stories being done again, same old love interests, a choreographed fight at the end that’s almost reminiscent of Peter Griffin and the big chicken…. Its all too obvious. Superman Vs Batman has something new for me, two hero’s going toe to toe….. I’m up for that, especially when one is clearly much stronger than the other.

  18. From the screenwriter perspective, the ‘shared movie universe’ is a writers wet dream because it provides the opportunity to create your own CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia opus. The problem with the SMU as currently envisioned is that, it isn’t really a chronicles of Narnia at all, at its lowest each franchise movie is just an episode (chapter) in a single story and that is the dissapointing thing. I use the chronicles of Narnia as my example on purpose, because, fans continue to disagree what order the books should be read, each book stands alone. In that sense, that is why Guardian’s of the Galaxy is the most interesting Marvel film as it truly attempts to stand by itself.

    From the comic enthusiast perspective, I feel Wheldon has too much control. Anyone who fell in love with comics liked the ideas of competing lore, and/or different perspectives of familiar characters. In Wheldon’s vision there is far too much uniformity for my liking – this has severely limited the dimensionality of the characters.

  19. The Marvel shared universe was necessary as they were promoting (apart from the Hulk) B-list superheroes (esp Thor) and the only way to gain momentum was to introduce them in their own films.
    Sony are on a hiding to nothing – as a life long Spider-man fan I have zero interest in seeing a film about a bunch of super-villains; there is no way they can make it work.
    The current superhero movie overload is typical of studios not understanding their products and exactly matches the first gold rush for superhero movies which produced outright failures like Electra and Catwoman and poor films like daredevil, FF, and Lee’s Hulk.

    The arrogance of studios to keep up with Marvel by announcing films (Fantastic Four reboot sequel, sinister six) before the first one has made a single $ is PR bullsh*t!

    As many have noted above the shared universe must be secondary to the film itself, the narrative must be self-sustaining. Cast yourself 50yrs hence and one of these shared universe films comes on – how on earth is the viewer expected to remember all of the other elements the film references? The casual viewer will be lost.

    Fox tried the Warner Brother approach; make a team movie and then spin out into individual movies; remember how they announced a Magneto movie? That was killed when the wolverine origin was a flat-liner.

    All the current rush of new film announcements will be washed away in the cold reality of hard box office cash. Amazing Spider-man 2 reputedly cost Sony ~$350-400M; it’ll have to do huge business to turn a profit. It will make a profit but it won’t be an Avengers sized profit.

    Similarly when a film under performs expect Fox to start reigning in their plans.
    The FF reboot has started filming this week yet not one set picture or costume publicity shot. As a life long FF fan I’m filled with dread at what they are turning out. Perhaps they’ll surprise us, but I’m not holding my breath.

  20. Fantastic 4 vs Brotherhood, Death to the fantastic 4 = $$

  21. I left this site for a while because I felt it was watering down my movie experience. There are WAY to many articles on what’s wrong with this and what’s wrong with that. This article is no different. We get really good entertainment from all of the comic book movies. Can’t that be enough SR? You guys wanted the shared movie universe just like the rest of us….and now your complaining again.

  22. Here’s the rub of the situation as I see it. With The Avengers they took the time to intorduce each of the well known heroes Iron Man, Thor and Captain America sepreatly. In each of its first or in some cases second films secondary charcters were intorduced like Black Widow, War Machine and even Hawkeye allowing the viewers to get an idea of who is already in this unviverse which allowed the Avengers movie to do so well. Now of course they nay sayers will say otherwise and that Marvel is thinking of profits. But in truth they are thinking of the charcters and the stories that have come from these long standing comic books. In the case of X-men being listed as a subpar comi series is a joke. What the joke was FOX thinking they could have done before Marvel finally got its feet with the movie making. So now we have the oringial trilogy (which if you ask me was a load of nonsense since they didn’t even try to get the story right) and the reboot that sadly has taken things way out of control. Now if Marvel had somehow gotten the rights back to make X-men I think they would have done a better job and maybe even tried to recast a lot of the acotrs “ahem” Hallie Berry “ahem” and others who quite frankly never really borught the esscese of the characters to life. As it stands it is a franchise that stands alone without any chance of being part of a greater series. The reason I say this is that with Guradians of the Galaxy coming soon it would have been great to see the aline race the Shi’ar or even the Skrulls Which would have been a great way to intorduce other heroes. Since the X-men have gone into space and encountered those speices before. Heck it would be great if we got a Starjammers movie, but that’s never oging to happen. And as for the Spider-man not doing well. You can thank Sony for that. They only see the money, they can’t get the concept of story or even developement into thier heads. All hey can see is the profits the name SPider-man brings in. And if you ask me Marvel should be fighting tooth and nail to get those rights back and start from the ground up again under the Marvel banner. then we can see some serious movies being made again.

  23. I’m not a fan of a shared universe for many reasons. But like others I went to avengers, I’m going to see the new xmen and I was so happy to hear about justice league.

    I’m going to get so much hate on what I’m going to say but it must be said. Marvel does not have a true shared universe. Why? Because you claim it is a shared universe and yet the president of the united states is kiddnapped and no one noticed( iron man 3), mean while steve rodgers lives in dc? The triskilion is in dc and the kiddnapping of a head of state is not reported? Captain america did not want to save the usa commander in cheif? Or in thor 2…aos showed that sheild went to clean up, but they claim to do ops all over the world as well as have contacts in aliens attack london and sheild doesn’t care? Steven strange lives in new york…were was he during the battle of new york? That is a question many will ask as well as daredevil, iron fist, luke cage, and jessica jones…where were they? That will need to be addressed in order to truely have a conected universe. Where is thor, hulk, hawkeye during iron man 3 and captain america 2. Sony has a leg up due to the fact they can address these questions. They can say with confidence black cat was xxxx during asm3 and s6. Dc and wb have the same oppertunity to address what batman was doimg during the events of mos.

    But really it comes down to the fact that no this makes no matter, as the movies will be made and either yes these are addressed or no they won’t be. The movies will be made and fan boys, like me will have issues. Then others will complain and rebutel. And so on and so forth. And go.

    • Thor has the excuse of not being on Earth at the time, and its doubtful he would really care about the U.S. President anyway. Assuming he even knows what the United States is.

      Of course, the schwarma scene makes things a bit weird since if he had time for that, then he would’ve certainly had time to pop by Jane Foster’s location beforehand. But if Odin had to expel so much “dark energy”, whatever that is, to get Thor to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract its doubtful he’d send him back just to have lunch with his new human buddies given that the Nine Realms were in utter chaos. Unless he had lunch before taking Loki back, and Loki was just crying in the corner giving terrified glances at Banner or something.

      You raise an interesting point about Strange though, along with the rest. Its possible that Marvel will just introduce them via origin stories when their time comes, thus avoiding the “Where was X when aliens invaded?” question altogether.

      But don’t mistake my post for disagreement with you, as I agree that Marvel needs to to a better job in making the “shared” universe a shared one.

  24. The only good thing is when Marvel get their rights back they can simply reboot and completely ignore the previous incarnations of the characters.

    However I believe FOX & Sony will fight tooth & nail to hang on to the rights; the only thing standing in their way is bad films.

  25. Spider-Man is a solo hero story and he is one part of a larger universe of other heroes. Trying to milk an Avengers out of his rouges gallery is ridiculous. I only want to see the villains in a film if the hero they were designed to face is there to take them down.

    • I don’t think the concept itself is ridiculous. Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is second only to Batman’s, arguably. (X-Men isn’t too shabby either) Its the execution that’ll make or break it though.

  26. The shared universe problems with Iron Man 2 have always been overstated on this site, IMO.

  27. I think DC has a chance to really capitalize on its cinematic universe. Warner Bros. has all the licensing rights to their characters. Where in the Marvel universe you wont get Spiderman, the Avengers and X-Men mentioned together much less in the same film. They don’t exist in the same universe cinematically. To me that is why I am more excited about the upcoming DC movies. A more cohesive universe and story potential.