The movie sequel business model dates back to the dawn of the film industry, but the notion of a shared franchise universe - while a staple in fiction and comic books for decades - was arguably popularized by the original Star Wars. Although the precursor "Episode IV" was famously added retroactively to A New Hope, the notion that one movie could be part of a much larger saga took hold in the public's imagination.
The concept of a shared universe movie über-franchise was (arguably) not truly exploited to its fullest box office (and storytelling) potential until the coming of the cross-platform Marvel Cinematic Universe (although a strong case could be made for the cross-platform Star Trek universe). With interconnected movies, augmented by television and streaming-outlet series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil, planned out for the next half-decade and beyond, other studios are following suit: Fox's X-Men franchise that will grow further in February to include Deadpool; the DC Extended Universe kicked off by Man of Steel and set to expand with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice; Universal's Monster Movie Universe, and of course, Star Wars.
There is, however, one large and overlooked source for a shared universe ultra-franchise, and it's right under the studios' noses: the fiction (including comic books) of Horns author Joe Hill and his father Stephen King.
Stephen King is a household name by now, and while some of the adaptations of his prolific body of work are considered classics (Carrie, The Shining, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption), some others are... not so classic (The Mangler, The Lawnmower Man, Dreamcatcher). Despite his frequent threats of retirement, King is now in his sixties and has been releasing one full novel nearly every year. Several well-regarded TV series have been adapted from his work as well, including The Dead Zone, the short-lived but critically-acclaimed Golden Years, Haven, and Under the Dome.
King's son Joe Hill has become a highly respected, bestselling author in his own right. His supernatural horror novels Heart-Shaped Box, Horns and NOS4A2 were each very successful and have garnered a loyal following. His comic book series Locke & Key was likewise a hit both commercially and critically. Hill's live-action adaptations have been mixed, however. A television adaptation of Locke & Key reached the pilot stage but was never picked up, and while his second novel Horns was a critically-acclaimed bestseller, the movie adaptation from director Alexandre Aja garnered a mixed reception.
With several high-profile King adaptations in the works (It, The Dark Tower, Hulu’s 11/22/63, Revival) and AMC adapting Hill’s terrific third novel NOS4A2, the shared universe connections between Hill’s work and King’s recent novels deserve to be explored.
The Existing Stephen King Shared Universe Connections
Stephen King's epic sci-fi/fantasy/Western hybrid series The Dark Tower is comprised of seven main novels and at least two other book-length entries (The Wind Through the Keyhole and The Little Sisters of Eluria). He has called The Dark Tower his "Jupiter," a narrative universe that contains nearly all of his other works. Many other novels connect to the main narrative of the series in crucial ways - Salem’s Lot, The Stand, It, Rose Madder, Desperation and Insomnia, along with at least a dozen short stories. The main series ended in 2004 with The Dark Tower VII, but King has referenced the universe directly as recently as 2011's 11/22/63, and Marvel publishes an ongoing comic book adaptation which fills in a lot of backstory left out of the books.
King's ambitious über-tale was at one point set to be adapted in an equally ambitious way by director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman as a film trilogy augmented by a limited television series between films. The project has been cancelled and placed into turnaround several times, but now has a director in Nikolaj Arcel and a potential star in Idris Elba. Still, the major studios are still skittish when it comes to committing to such a huge project.
Perhaps such a multi-platform, long-form adaptation should be approached from a different route, through the connections between Stephen King and Joe Hill's fiction.