With the MCU in its third phase and the DCEU in hot pursuit, Hollywood is taking a look into alternative worlds to detract from everybody’s obsession with superheroes. Universal’s Dark Universe got off to a rough start with the not so well received The Mummy reboot, but it looks to be pressing forward with plans to adapt Bride of Frankenstein next. Meanwhile, Legendary is making headway with its MonsterVerse, debuting Kong: Skull Island to much better results with hopes of clashing the over-sized ape with Godzilla sometime in the near future. Still, with all the buzz surrounding these most recent universes, one question remains: can any of these franchises last without superpowers to save the day?
The biggest critique against larger-than-life cinematic universes thus far has been the repetitive formulas used throughout. With so many developing stories working together, it can be hard getting lost in the shuffle with characters who either share striking similarities or have gone through similarly drastic changes. Of course, the upside is that a big enough world can provide an array of cultures and personalities, so with so many different source materials waiting to be adapted, it's only a matter of time before the next big thing is introduced to the mainstream.
We’ve searched through every source imaginable to find those special standout worlds deserving of the big screen treatment. From video game adaptations to long-standing novel series that have gone overlooked, these are the 15 Cinematic Universes We Want To See.
15 Nintendo Cinematic Universe
Early last year, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima announced the company's plans to produce its own in-house cinematic universe based on its IP. A few months later, Legendary announced the first upcoming live-action Pokemon movie based on Detective Pikachu with a script from Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls) and Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy). For those of us still processing the mess that was the much-maligned Super Mario Bros. movie, we know just how bad video game adaptations can be. Still, CGI has come a long way since the early ‘90s, and the right director could mean the beginning of a less cringe-worthy universe.
Our proposal for a crossover universe would include Legendary’s Detective Pikachu as well as Nintendo’s many other classics, beginning with a phase one which would feature The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Kirby and Star Fox. All of these films would take place in their own self-contained worlds, ending in one grand finale bringing each dimension together in a Super Smash Bros. film. Sure, it’s all hypothetical at this point, but if Detective Pikachu becomes a success, we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of it all coming together.
14 Disney Princess Universe
Given Disney's ownership of Marvel Studios and the lucrative response that has accompanied the MCU, it seems like a no-brainer that the family-friendly company would make a cinematic universe out of its animated movies as well, but surprisingly, it hasn't happened yet. Our inspiration for this universe comes from a spec script floating around Hollywood. Reportedly titled Princesses, the story is being described as an Avengers-esque tale that brings many of Disney’s heroines together. Disney is currently in a bidding war for the script, but if they win out, we’d imagine they'd be quick to get production underway.
Right now, Disney’s focus has been on re-inventing many of its animated classics into live-action features, but the studio could stand to rejuvenate its cartoons as well. A Princesses movie would not only spark a new canon under which many of our favorite princesses could meet, but it could reboot many beloved characters without disturbing the original films. In time, the idea may even open itself up to include more non-princess related properties, creating a Kingdom Hearts-like world of exploration. The very idea has our inner child eager to see the final results.
13 Stephen King Universe
In case you haven't noticed, several adaptations from Stephen King’s oeuvre are set to hit the big and small screen in the coming months. While The Dark Tower and It are readying themselves for theatrical releases, The Mist, Castle Rock and Mr. Mercedes are all set to make headway as television series. Avid readers of King’s works know that the horror master likes to drop the occasional Easter egg in his novels, linking many of his stories together, but could the author's books be coming together to form a new cinematic universe?
Early screenings for The Dark Tower have hinted at a scene featuring a photograph of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. There's also been reports of a connection to It. Of course, the likelihood of a giant crossover movie is slim, but cameo appearances across multiple features isn't out of the question. The Man in Black (a.k.a. Randall Flagg), played by Matthew McConaughey in The Dark Tower, is prominently featured in other King works, including The Stand. It's possible that the character could appear in other King adaptations, should McConaughey choose to reprise the role. For now, we’ll have to wait and see how everything plays out.
12 The Land of Oz
L. Frank Baum’s magical land of Oz, first introduced in the children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has been the subject of countless adaptations, prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, featuring everyone from Michael Jackson to the Muppets, but of the over 40 canonical books, few have made their way to the big screen. Divided into the four countries of Munchkin, Winkie, Gillikin, and Quadling, Baum’s world introduces a vast array of surreal characters that features everyone from Jack Pumpkinhead, who served as the inspiration for Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, to the Patchwork Girl, a living rag doll brought to life by the Munchkins.
Apart from adapting many of the children's books to the big screen, an Oz franchise would open opportunities for further exploration of the world outside of the books’ continuity. The popular play Wicked, which depicts the untold story of the witches of Oz, would also fit within the greater context of Baum’s world. For now, esteemed director Stephen Daldry is set to direct the Wicked movie, but the adaptation could prove to be one of many if the film is a hit.
With Universal pushing forward with its Dark Universe, horror fans can't help but feel neglect for the absence of some of the genre’s most iconic boogeymen. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s gave rise to the slasher movie genre with the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers epitomizing evil on the big screen. The 2003 crossover Freddy vs. Jason was a box office success and began rumors of spin-off movies which would pit other slasher villains against each other, but rather than making a collection of “versus” films, we suggest giving everyone their own solo movies before coming together in one giant horror free-for-all.
Our version of the SlasherVerse takes place in the same world across various locations. What appears to be routine killings for our villains is explained as serial killings sparked by the modern world’s unhealthy obsession with violence. In typical horror movie fashion, each clue is ignored until it's too late. Joining our aforementioned friends as part of phase one could be Pinhead from Hellraiser and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Of course, every studio involved would have to give consent for the films to come together, but with the profits they stand to make, we don't see why it shouldn't happen.
10 Warhammer 4o,000
Released in 1987 by designer Rick Priestly, Warhammer 40K began as a role-playing game, with each player’s actions being overseen by an umpire, before becoming one of the most profitable wartime strategy games in tabletop history. Inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the story follows the Imperium of Man, a theocratic regime which has settled millions of worlds across the galaxy, taking them all by force in the name of the immortal God-Emperor of Mankind. Through corruption and greed, the Imperium grows a large collection of enemies, all threatening to bring an end to their reign.
In the Warhammer 40K universe, there is nothing but war. Given the name "grimdark" by fans of the series, the fictional setting is described as particularly amoral and violent. Battling the Imperium are other classes which include the Orks, the Necrons, the Tau, the Eldar, and the Dark Eldar. Like any brutal adaptation should be, a proper Warhammer 40K universe would need to be R-rated given the chaotic nature of the game. With a universe in constant peril, this is one adaptation that would be non-stop action from its beginning to its destructive end.
Set in a disc-shaped biosphere located atop of the backs of four large elephants which sit on top of an even larger space-swimming turtle, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was once described by the writer as too anti-Hollywood. Publishing over 70 novels in his lifetime, Pratchett’s closest run-in with the movies came shortly after the release of Spider-Man 3, when director Sam Raimi chose to adapt The Wee Free Men as his next picture. Sadly, Pratchett rejected the script, and plans for the adaptation were scrapped.
The scope of Discworld is unlike anything seen in the movies today. Filled with outlandish characters which often parody real-world people, the universe is shared by everything from witches and trolls to werewolves, vampires, and an anthropomorphic orangutan. Among the most popular characters are the cowardly wizard Rincewind; Commander Sir Sam Vines, the Duke of Ankh; and a cat-loving personification of Death who provides comical insight on the understanding of the human race. Overall, Pratchett’s world is large and unusual, but with the proper time to develop, it could prove to be one of the longest running franchises on our list.
8 Magic: The Gathering
Launched in 1993 by game designer Richard Garfield, Magic: The Gathering is the pioneer of trading card games. Imagining each player as a sorcerer called a planeswalker, the participants battle each other with an array of wizards, creatures, weapons, and spells in tournaments which can net big earnings for the world's top competitors. First announced by Fox in 2014, Simon Kinberg (X-Men, Fantastic Four) has been tapped to produce the first film adaptation of the franchise, which has been compared to The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Bryan Cogman, a writer for Game of Thrones, has been brought aboard to script the movie.
Mining through decades of expansion packs, comic books, and tradeback publications means a MtG movie will have plenty to go on when it comes to setting up a unique cinematic world. There's no word yet on which direction the first film will go, though many fans have suggested starting with The Brothers’ War, which introduced many players to the background of the game. Whatever story the series decides to tell, the vast collection of common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare cards provides a large enough world to keep the universe going for a really, really long time.
7 Dungeons and Dragons
After sparring for the rights to the popular role-playing game, Warner Bros. is moving forward with plans to adapt Dungeons and Dragons to the big screen. Taking place entirely in the Forgotten Realms, early word is that the first film, written by David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans), will be a standard quest film, with the lead character setting out on a journey to uncover an ancient magical artifact. Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) has reportedly been in talks to star, with Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) taking over the director’s chair.
Due to the open-ended nature of D&D and the multitude of races -- which include everything from orcs, elves, half-elves, halflings, dwarves, and rangers -- the world makes for a compelling premise that opens up a variety of storytelling possibilities. Although we're not expecting an extension of George R.R. Martin’s Westeros for the big screen, there should be enough grit to the world to keep viewers coming back. Most importantly, there needs to be dragons, not just in the final act, but throughout the picture. Give us a sense of constant dread, and that should be enough to keep viewers in their seats.
6 The Cosmere
Planned as a thirty-six book collection, Brandon Sanderson’s body of work spans multiple worlds set inside a universe collectively known as the Cosmere. As the story goes, the history of the Cosmere began with a singular entity known as Andonalsium, the celebrated force of life. When Andonalsium was separated, the force was shattered into sixteen distinct Shards, each containing some of the entity’s cosmological powers. Sixteen separate individuals, known as the Shards, possessed the pieces of Andonalsium, and proceeded to spread their magical abilities throughout the planets of the Cosmere.
Odium, the possessor of the Shard of Ruin, was so overtaken with its power that he became ruin itself, driving him to create havoc across the Cosmere in an attempt to destroy the other fifteen Shards. Also appearing throughout the novels is the mysterious Hoid, a man once considered human who does not possess a Shard, but has existed since before the shattering of Andonalsium and seems to be omnipotent. Each story, which stands alone as a solitary work, is subtly linked to a wider endgame which comes together over time, making Sanderson’s writing a perfect setting for its own cinematic universe.
5 Valiant Comics Universe
After losing its battle of public opinion against Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures openly opted to share the glory of Peter Parker with the MCU. Since then, the movie studio has taken steps to move ahead with its own Spider-Man universe, starting with a solo Venom movie. But apart from web-slingers, Sony has also announced their intentions to release five separate solo films based on Valiant Comics properties. The first film, Harbinger, will tell the story of Peter Stanchek, a telekinetic teenager recruited by a group of psionics known as the Harbinger Foundation.
Although Valiant isn't as well known as Marvel or DC, the universe could benefit from introducing the uninitiated to unfamiliar characters. Also added to the line-up of features is Bloodshot, which will tell the story of Ray Garrison, a shape-shifting former soldier who has his memory wiped. Later on, the two films will come together as part of Harbinger Wars, combining the features into a cumulative storyline. As of now, other prominent characters set to make an appearance include Livewire, the H.A.R.D Corps, Generation Zero and Faith Herbert (a.k.a. Zephyr). There is no word yet on when Harbinger will hit theaters.
4 Star Trek Universe
With its tentpole movies already in place and Discovery premiering on CBS in October, there’s already a vast Star Trek universe for fans to enjoy, but so far, each movie has been restricted to stories solely about space exploration. Doug Jung, one of the writers of Star Trek Beyond, believes the next step is to open the universe up to more intimate, character-driven pictures which could explore various genres in a set-up similar to Star Wars’ most recent spin-off film, Rogue One. Much like Jung, we’re jumping on board the idea in hopes that someone at Universal is listening.
Apart from offering insight into parts of the universe rarely depicted in the shows and movies, such as stories about civilians in the Federation or narratives focused entirely on Klingon and Romulan protagonists, the new films could focus heavily on premises only touched upon on screen, giving many supporting cast members their own solo films. With such a large fan base, Star Trek will need to do something to stay in competition with the Star Wars universe, and with a new film coming out every year, it will offer viewers a chance to show their support in droves at the box office.
3 Image Comics Universe
Unlike Marvel or DC, Image Comics is a less likely source for a cinematic universe, given that there’s no singular universe connecting every character and the fact that many of the comics' creators own the rights to their work. Still, with the popular comic book publisher vying for the attention of readers, we don’t see why a connected universe couldn’t work. Obviously certain publications such as The Walking Dead wouldn't fit, but many of the superhero properties would be fair game.
Much like the upcoming Valiant Comics universe, any studio lucky enough to pick up the rights to enough Image properties would benefit from the bonus of unfamiliarity among many viewers. The universe would likely kick off with Todd McFarlane’s Spawn reboot, which he has teased for the past several years. After that, other notable adaptations could include Savage Dragon, Invincible, The Maxx, and Youngblood. Given that many of the authors involved in theses works weren't known for being kid-friendly all the time, this connected universe would be a much grittier take on the superhero genre, giving adults a much needed break from the more family-friendly fare depicted in superhero universes today.
2 Issac Asimov's Foundation Universe
Beginning with Foundation in 1951 and ending with Forward the Foundation in 1993, Isaac Asimov’s epic sci-fi series spans 550 years on the page. The premise revolves around Hari Seldon, a mathematics professor from the planet Trantor. After developing an algorithmic science called psychohistory which allows him to predict the future, he foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, the supreme ruler of millions of human-settled planets spread throughout the Milky Way. Once the Empire crumbles, Seldon posits that it will take 30,000 years to rebuild the superpower to its former glory. As a way of shortening the interregnum, a Foundation of artisans and engineers are brought together to preserve the knowledge of humankind.
Expanding upon his universe, Asimov’s Robot and Galactic Empire series are also included in the larger scope of his writing, chronicling the rise of positronic robots and the eventual creation of the Galactic Empire. One of Asimov’s Robot novels (I, Robot) would later be adapted into a feature starring Will Smith. In its entirety, Asimov’s writings not only introduce viewers to a galaxy with over 500 quadrillion residents, but they create a long-spanning timeline unlike anything in theaters today, making his work an unprecedented accomplishment that would make for a highly ambitious cinematic endeavor.
1 H.P. Lovecraft Universe
Take a look at horror movies of the past and you’re likely to find a tinge of Lovecraftian influence sprinkled throughout many classics of the genre. From the mad scientist Herbert West of the Re-Animator series (an adaptation of a Lovecraft short story) to John Carpenter’s The Thing, it appears H.P. Lovecraft has left an indelible impression on horror enthusiasts. Still, with all his acclaim, few of his adaptations have made it to the big screen. Director Guillermo del Toro tried to change that with his quest to bring At the Mountains of Madness to life, but after a years-long pursuit, the production was halted.
Collectively given the name of the “Cthulhu Mythos,” it’s easy to see why much of the writer's stories have failed to catch on with Hollywood. The fictional universe in which his stories take place is a hopeless one filled with protagonists who are often socially isolated. Set in a Godless world where a pantheon of deities known as the Great One rule over everyone, mankind appears as a seemingly irrelevant construct compared to the cosmic horrors of the universe. With a multitude of monsters to draw upon, the bleak Lovecraft collection is still unexplored terrain, making it our number one choice when it comes to cinematic universes we want to see.
What cinematic universes would you want to see play out on the big screen? Let us know in the comments.