It’s been just over a decade since Marvel Studios changed the face of movie franchises forever. Ever since Tony Stark was recruited by Nick Fury to lead the “Avengers Initiative,” every other studio has scrambled to piece their loosely connected intellectual properties together to build up an MCU-style shared cinematic universe.
Marvel Studios was really onto something, since they now have millions of viewers flocking to theaters three times a year to watch their movies, but the other studios have struggled to replicate that success. So, here are 5 Failed Attempts At Cinematic Universes (And 5 That Could Still Succeed).
10 Failed: Dark Universe
The old black-and-white Universal Monsters movies were real ground-breakers back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. And with the way they crossed over with one another and built a fictional world inhabited by characters from a few different movies, they essentially made up the earliest template for what would eventually become the “cinematic universe.”
So, naturally, Universal was giddy to bring them all back in a modern, star-studded, MCU-style franchise. They cast Tom Cruise in a remake of The Mummy and unsubtly hinted at future movies with a subplot involving Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. The Mummy did well at the box office, but not well enough to be the launchpad for the Dark Universe and the franchise has been all but called off.
9 Could still succeed: Fast & Furious
A few years ago, the entire Fast & Furious franchise was thought to be dead in the water. However, after reinventing itself with the visceral, pulpy Fast Five, it has continued to grow and grow. Its most recent installments are among the highest grossing movies of all time.
This year, we’ll be seeing how it fares outside the core series of films with the spin-off Hobbs & Shaw. The spin-off, which will star Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson as a pair of mismatched mercenaries in a buddy cop spin on their dynamic from the main film series, has been generating a lot of buzz.
8 Failed: The LEGO Movie
Back in 2014, The LEGO Movie was expected to crash and burn. But then pundits were surprised when it received glowing reviews and built up a box office haul of over $469 million. However, their attempts to turn that success into an expanded fictional universe have proven less fruitful.
The LEGO Batman Movie was less successful with $311 million and The LEGO Ninjago Movie narrowly avoided box office bomb status with just $123 million. Even the direct sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, which brought back Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks, was a financial disappointment earlier this year.
7 Could still succeed: Transformers
Most moviegoers lost interest in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies a long time ago. Each one is just two and a half hours of CGI robots smashing each other to smithereens with sponsored billboards in the background. But then Bumblebee came along with the fun, vibrant, nostalgic cinematic experience we’d been waiting for. Long gone are the days of Bay’s computer-generated smash-‘em-ups.
The future of the Transformers franchise rests on smaller, yet still spectacular (and only slightly smaller – Bumblebee still cost over $100 million to produce), character-focused movies. Hopefully, Paramount can learn the right lessons from Bumblebee’s success and the franchise can have a bright future.
6 Failed: Ghostbusters
Paul Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters reboot wasn’t a bad movie. However, the combination of boycotts from sexist trolls and a $144 million production budget meant that it was a box office failure. At the end of the day, it was a comedy movie. It may have had supernatural elements and CGI effects, but its closest genre association is comedy.
Even the most successful comedies rarely make more than $100 million to $200 million. It was simply unwise to spend that much money on it. Before the movie’s financial disappointment, Sony was planning a wide-ranging franchise spanning sequels, spin-offs, and even an animated series.
5 Could still succeed: The Conjuring
Some would argue that this one has already succeeded pretty admirably. It hasn’t broken as many box office records as the MCU and none of its movies have gotten audiences as excited as they were for Avengers: Endgame. But all of its movies have been box office successes, all ranking among the highest grossing horror movies ever made.
However, while the MCU is generally reliable for quality, The Conjuring universe is pretty up and down. For every Annabelle: Creation, there’s a The Nun. For every The Conjuring 2, there’s a The Curse of La Llorona. It’s always dependable horror fare, but it’s not breaking any new ground and it favors cheap jump scares over real suspense.
4 Failed: The Amazing Spider-Man
After The Amazing Spider-Man promised to be a gritty retelling of the Spidey origin story with never-before-seen details about Peter Parker’s parents and then turned out to be a marginally distinct rehash of Sam Raimi’s version, Sony planned its sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as the inception of their own personal Marvel Comics universe.
But where Marvel Studios has a shared universe based on their whole back catalogue of Avengers, Sony was planning to make a whole cinematic universe based around Spider-Man characters. There were plans for The Amazing Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 4, a Venom movie, a Black Cat movie, a Sinister Six movie – even a movie about young Aunt May. Unfortunately for Sony, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fared just a tad better than Spider-Man 3 and it became clear that audiences weren’t interested in seeing it turned into a tri-annual commitment.
3 Could still succeed: MonsterVerse
There have so far been two movies in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse: 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. They were both strong movies that harkened back to the classic era of monster movies that their predecessors were a part of. Both movies used modern CGI technology to breathe fresh life into their properties without losing the sense of awe and adventure that the originals had.
Things are looking equally promising for this year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which looks to be the MonsterVerse’s Iron Man 2 (read: the one that turns a couple of loosely connected movies into a firmly rooted movie-verse), while the highly anticipated crossover Godzilla vs. Kong will bust the whole thing wide open next year.
2 Failed: X-Men
With the rights to both the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox had a lucrative opportunity to have the secondary MCU. Fox’s Marvel universe could’ve been like the Winter Olympics to Disney’s MCU. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t make it work. They had a series that worked and then they introduced a new cast with a prequel and it went quickly downhill from there.
Fox wanted to have a series of X-Men Origins movies, but after the first one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was slated by critics and audiences, they were all called off. Fox couldn’t adapt to a post-MCU landscape and that’s why they’ve ended up selling most of their assets to Disney.
1 Could still succeed: DC Extended Universe
The DC Extended Universe came out of the gate as a pale imitation of the MCU, building on the modest success of Man of Steel and jumping head-first into world building and sequel setups with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Early on, the DCEU’s movies focused heavily on their interconnectivity and failed to stand on their own as movies.
They also suffered from the Zack Snyder house style. However, more recently, the interconnectivity has been softened in favor of standalone stories like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, which have been tremendously successful. As long as Warner Bros. continue to listen to the audience and focus on the characters that they actually like, then there’s hope for the DCEU after all.