Shared Universes: 16 That Worked, Didn't Work, Might Work (And Never Would)

Ever since it became clear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was going places, every major studio wanted to hop on the shared film universe bandwagon. Production companies and studios started to frantically buy properties and move forward with multi-film franchises in attempts to copy Marvel's success. Heck, even the film franchises that already existed started to make new films and branch out into other mediums as a means of competing with Hollywood's new shared universe industry. Shared universes are all the rage now, but not every single attempt at connecting films and/or TV shows in the same world has worked out; heck, some haven't even gotten off the ground.

The key to the MCU is that the films, despite being connected, are still director-driven projects, which is what gives the franchise a lot of heart and keeps it from feeling too formulaic or stale. Other studios have not quite gotten this setup down; some bite off more than they can chew, some rely on star power over creative talent, some expect the property to do all the heavy lifting and some just don't have a property worthy of an extended shared universe. Whatever the reason, only a small handful of shared universes have actually worked, leaving far more in the "failed" category. Though there is hope for a few of these franchises if things take a better turn, aside from a few winners, most are doomed to crash and burn.

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Avengers Infinity War

We've spent so much time talking about how well the MCU works, it should come as no surprise that it's in the "worked" category. The MCU wrote the book on cinematic universes, learning from and improving upon past film franchises like Star Wars to build one film up into almost 20 films and 11 TV shows.

It seems so long since the first Iron Man came out and just look where the MCU is now, going strong with Infinity War and gearing up for the release of Captain Marvel, both of which lead into Avengers 4, one of the most anticipated films in history. While the TV shows of the MCU don't feel quite as interwoven as the films, the MCU is still king of the shared universe.


When the MCU came into the superhero movie scene, Fox sought to revitalize its Marvel properties by starting up the X-Men films again, beginning with X-Men: First Class. First Class was followed by Days of Future Past and X-Men Apocalypse, both of which received mixed reviews, especially the latter.

These films also confused and muddled the universe's timeline, as do shows like The Gifted and Legion. Another testament to the shared universe's failure are New Mutants and Dark Phoenix, both of which have been delayed by reshoots and changes that imply they might not see the light of day or be critical flops. Deadpool and Deadpool 2 might be the gems of the Fox-verse, but with the Disney deal going down, it seems the X-Men universe's days are numbered.


unbreakable glass split

When Unbreakable was first released, there was no implication that a shared universe was in the works; heck, the idea of a shared universe wasn't even a thing. Though there were talks of a sequel to M. Night Shyamalan's superhero subversion film — he initially wanted it to be a superhero trilogy — nothing was ever certain.

That is, until Split came out in 2016, taking place in the same world as Unbreakable and revealing a larger story at work. These two films will come together in Glass, which may or may not spin off into a fully-fledged cinematic universe of pseudo-superheroes and supervillains. Glass looks to be an interesting film, and if it sticks the landing, we could get a great shared universe out of it.


The 21 Jump Street movie remake and its sequel were both a lot of fun, and the dynamic of the two characters is the kind of buddy-cop fun that many loved about the Men in Black films, so it sort of makes sense that a crossover/shared universe is being developed, but we're a bit wary.

This cinematic universe won't reboot MIB; instead, it will combine the Jump Street franchise with the already existing MIB film universe, starting with a UK spin-off of the MIB starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. Who's to say how well these franchises will mesh, but we think this shared universe idea is headed for disaster.


Before the MCU stood as the best shared superhero film universe, the DC animated universe reigned supreme. Starting with Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's vision continued with Superman: The Animated Series and eventually the superhero cartoon masterpieces of Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited.

There were also quite a few films and comics that came out of the DCAU -- one of those films, Mask of the Phantasm, even had a theatrical release. There was also Batman Beyondwhich further expanded the DCAU by showing us its future Batman and future Justice League. Truly, the DCAU was a masterpiece, giving us some of the best versions of our favorite DC characters, including Kevin Conroy's Batman and Mark Hamill's Joker.


Justice League

When Man of Steel came out, there weren't really any plans to make a DC film universe. However, a few years later, Batman V. Superman hit the screens, showing that Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the core Justice League existed in this universe.

However BvS was a major critical flop, and despite how great Wonder Woman was, nothing could redeem the DCEU by the time Justice League came out. Add to this all of DC and WB's long list of announced, delayed and/or cancelled films, the rumored loss of both its Batman and Superman actors and its new setup, "The Worlds of DC," it seems that the DCEU is headed to an early grave, and not even Aquaman and Shazam! can save it.


Legendary's first Godzilla film was a bit of a mixed bag; the characters and setup at the beginning were interesting, but after the time skip, the plot became a bit more stale and generic. However, the city scenes and all the Godzilla visuals were pretty stunning, especially the climactic battle where Godzilla shot his laser breath down another monster's throat!

Godzilla was set to be the first in Legendary's MonsterVerse; a great idea that had a bit of a rough start. But, Legendary redeemed itself somewhat with Kong: Skull Island, a film that was critically praised and didn't feel like a forced shared-universe-building block. If Legendary keeps things going strong with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, then perhaps the MonsterVerse will make it.


GI Joe Retaliation

The G.I. Joe films might not be anyone's favorite film series, but they definitely have their fun moments, cool visuals, and exciting action. Despite mixed reception, a third film is on the way, as is a Snake Eyes spinoff and a possible Transformers crossover that would turn both film franchises into a single Hasbro cinematic universe.

While this would be neat, we can't see this crossover working out without being full of crazy plot holes, convoluted crossover plot devices and a number of other shared-universe-related issues. Additionally, we're not sure that M.A.S.K., Mironauts and ROM would make for great movies unless Hasbro decides to drop the grit and embrace the camp.


Star wars force awakens poster

Perhaps the very first shared universe to ever be created was the Star Wars universe, since it was one of the earliest film franchises to break off into comics, TV shows, video games and books. However, most of the early tie-in material for Star Wars were just supplementary materials rather than pieces of the lore, save for some of the novels.

Fast forward to now, and Disney has locked down what is and isn't canon in the Star Wars universe, including shows like Clone WarsRebels and the upcoming Resistance. Additionally, canonical comics have been released, helping to cement Star Wars as a cross-media shared universe, one of the most successful ones in existence.



When Universal announced plans for a movie universe in which the classic movie monsters and their stories would coexist, some people were pretty excited at the idea. In fact, it seemed like the perfect property for a shared universe, since it would present a world full of modern, much scarier versions of the classic monsters that originally put the studio on the map.

The universe technically started with Dracula Untold, which went back for reshoots to help establish a shared universe -- that, indeed, may have been what set up the cinematic universe for failure. Shoe-horning in shared universe elements is not the way to go, and with the travesty that was the Mummy reboot, it's pretty clear that Universal's Dark Universe was a flop.


All Hanna Barbera Cartoons

Another great idea for a shared universe is one inhabited by Hanna-Barbera characters. Think about how great it would be to have a fun, campy, off-the-rails cinematic universe where Mystery Inc. meets Johnny Quest. It would be hard to pull off, but when plans for a potential Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe were announced, we were definitely interested.

Perhaps the best way to pull off a universe this crazy would be to pick and choose what TV shows they put into a series of inter-connecting live-action films. Scooby-Doo worked pretty well in live-action, so perhaps a universe that centers around them and slowly introduces some of the more adventure-based characters like The Blue Falcon, Johnny Quest, Birdman and Space Ghost would be the way to go.


Beauty and the Beast

This one is more of a theory than a solid confirmation that all these films take place in the same universe, but either way, we're not sure it's working. There are some that think all of Disney's live-action remakes of classic animated films, starting with Maleficent, take place in the same timeline/universe.

There isn't much to back it up, but if this is Disney's plan, then we don't think it's gonna work out for one big reason, these movies... aren't great; at best, they add details to the originals and not much else, taking classic and beautifully animated works and turning them into low-quality films that rely on their built-in fanbases.



When The CW set out to make Arrow, it didn't appear as though an extended universe would spin out of the gritty take on Green Arrow. And yet, with just a single episode guest starring Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, the series expanded into two spin-offs and two animated series. Additionally, two previously established DC shows, Constantine and Supergirl, were also incorporated into the CW multiverse.

While each Arrowverse show has its ups and down, they are a pretty consistent form of superhero fun, and the yearly crossover between all the shows always provides a whole lot of action and excitement. With its crazy ratings and immense fan following, there's no arguing that the Arrowverse is one of the few successful shared universes.


Most fans didn't know about this attempt at a cinematic universe, which is probably for the best, since the movie that was supposed to launch a six-film King Arthur movie franchise bombed completely. While we can't deny that an epic, multi-film saga depicting the legends of King Arthur might make for a good film series, were it handled in a way similar to Lord of the Rings, the 2017 King Arthur film didn't start things off very well.

The film did poorly at the box office, failing to break even with its budget, and the critics didn't care for it either, claiming it stripped away too many of the classical story elements, causing it to be an unrecognizable interpretation of Arthurian legend.


Valiant Universe

Not every superhero fan has heard of Valiant comics, but the company has stood strong throughout comics history as a great provider of unique and interesting characters in a universe that deserves just as much praise as Marvel and DC. This is perhaps the reason that Sony decided to partner with Valiant to develop a series of films based on some of its characters.

A Bloodshot film was the first to be announced, and Harbinger and Faith films appear to be on the way as well. Valiant also signed a deal with MGM back in 2015 to develop TV adaptations. Who's to say if all this will lead to an huge, interconnected Valiant cinematic universe, but if that's the case, it could end up working.


Venoim poster

Finally we come to one of the more interesting, confusing and downright frustrating entries on the list, Sony's "budding" Marvel universe. After making a deal with Marvel to put Spider-Man in the MCU, Sony was left with the scraps of its original Spider-Man licensing deal, and since cinematic universes are more profitable, Sony decided to go all in, starting with the upcoming Venom film.

The reason Sony's Spider-Man-Universe-Without-Spider-Man is so frustrating is that the company appears to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for movie ideas. Without the rights to Spider-Man, all it's basically left with are his villains, and probably not even the big ones at that, which will not make for a great cinematic universe.

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