In 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has done something no one had ever attempted, creating a shared universe for its various properties to co-exist in. The movies turned out to be both financial and critical successes, achieving the two things every studio dreams of. These triumphs solidified the MCU as the gold standard and envy of Hollywood, and now Marvel Studios practically prints money with each new release.
As expected, many studios attempted to replicate the formula; after all, if Marvel Studios could do it, why couldn't they? Warner Bros. launched the DC Extended Universe, Universal announced a whole slate of movies for its monster-populated Dark Universe, and even Paramount got in on the action by building a Transformers writers' room designed to develop and produce more interconnected films.
Unlike the MCU, though, none of these universes have become runaway hits. While it's unfair to say they were complete financial flops (most of them actually turned a profit), they never quite hit the same heights as Marvel Studios' films. In fact, the most common criticism leveled at them was how they lagged in comparison to the MCU.
Inarguably, the MCU emulator most talked about and debated was the DC Extended Universe. After five years of trying to imitate the MCU's success and numerous course corrections, Warner Bros. realized it's better off doing its own thing. The result of the new approach is James Wan's Aquaman, which recently joined the billion-dollar club and become the highest-grossing DC film of all time, feats that the average person would've expected from the likes of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League.
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"We all feel like we've turned a corner now. We're playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook," Warner Bros. Chairman Toby Emmerich said of the studio's new approach. "We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity. If you had to say one thing about us, it's that it always has to be about the directors."
Of course, this doesn't mean that there won't be any connections or team-ups in future DC films. It's just that Warner Bros. has decided to focus on making the best movie possible, one character at a time, rather than utilize each movie to set up the next slate of films. In other words, Warner Bros. wised up to the fact that intricately linked cinematic universes aren't always the best solution.