The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has led to other studios scrambling to create cinematic universes out of their own properties - but Avengers: Infinity War director Joe Russo has warned against doing so. Infinity War represents the culmination of a massive experiment in franchise structure, with individual superhero movies all sharing one massive universe, crossing over with one another, and coming together for epic team-ups. It's an approach that has effectively safeguarded Marvel movies from bombing at the box office, with Infinity War grossing more than $900 million after less than a week in theaters.
Elsewhere, however, the cinematic universe model has struggled to succeed. Universal has had two false starts with a planned shared universe of monster movies - first Dracula Untold, then last year's The Mummy. Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe movies have all turned a profit, but have suffered from inflated budgets due to extensive reshoots and have, for the most part, been critically panned. Clearly, pulling off a cinematic universe isn't as easy as Marvel have made it look.
Variety asked Joe Russo - who directed Infinity War alongside his brother, Anthony Russo - if he had any advice for studios planning to build a cinematic universe with their own IP. "Yeah, don't do it," was his response. "Not everything can be sustained through a cinematic universe." He went on to explain that the success of Marvel's approach was less to do with offering a cinematic universe specifically, but is rather "a function of audiences craving new kinds of storytelling." As another example, he pointed to Netflix's model of dropping an entire season of a TV show at once, rather than releasing just one episode each week.
Russo also explained that one of the biggest challenges presented by modern audiences - and avid Marvel fans in particular - is trying to keep them from guessing the plots of movies before they arrive in theaters. This is why the trailers for Infinity War were deliberately misleading - for example, showing Hulk taking part in a massive battle in Wakanda, when in fact Hulk refuses to emerge for most of the movie.
“We have seen so much content that every average moviegoer has a level of sophistication in their ability to predict what is going to happen in a movie, which is why Anthony and I spent a lot of time trying to hide the secrets of [‘Avengers: Infinity War’], misdirect the way the trailers were cut, misdirect with information. It’s too easy for them to intuit what is going to happen."
The Russos are now going to war against guesswork and speculation again as Marvel fans look ahead to the release of Avengers 4 next year. Meanwhile, we probably haven't seen the last of other studios trying to imitate Marvel's success with their own cinematic universes. But perhaps, as Russo says, they should focus less on trying to copy what's already worked, and more on coming up with the next big idea.
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