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What Makes a Successful Cinematic Universe?

One of Hollywood’s favorite concepts is making a shared cinematic universe. There are a few examples of this working, the most popular being the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But now, studios are trying to do this with many of their properties. Lately, there have been some high-profile failures to kick-start groups of connected films (looking at you, the Dark Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe).

The problems with these attempts come from the studios not understanding what makes the successful universes work. Let’s highlight what exactly the problems are with new cinematic universes and how they can come together to the delight of fans everywhere.

cinematic universe

image via Hindustan Times

Focus on the Movies First

Some studios spend the majority of their efforts planning out universes and how they will all connect, spending less time crafting great stories. The MCU did this very well because they made individual stories for each character. This meant that the characters were all established when they teamed up, and it had an impact on the audience.

There are plenty of opportunities for new filmmakers to make a name for themselves and show their creativity in these big budget movies, or even have experienced people put their spin on the universes. Instead, studios sometimes get too involved in the projects and take away the freedom of the filmmakers. They can also shift the movies’ purposes from good films to set-ups for the next installments in the series. Kevin Feige and the rest of Marvel Studios have learned over time to let filmmakers tackle projects as they see fit, creating opportunities for new, inventive stories that still work in the grand scheme of things.

The first priority when creating a cinematic universe should be making good movies. If the movies are all unique and well-made, audiences will have a positive response and become invested in the series. The Dark Universe ran into the problem of starting off weak with The Mummy, and we all know how that turned out.

cinematic universe

image via MovieBabble

Have a Plan

The most important idea in a cinematic universe is the quality of the movies, but having a plan going in is still very important. One of the reasons the MCU works is that Kevin Feige has extensively crafted the connected story so it makes sense as a cohesive world. The stories line up so characters can jump into other’s movies as they please.

When there isn’t a plan going in, there can be a feeling of making the plot up as they go along. It’s fine if a successful film is made, and someone has an idea to make more movies in that world. However, the point is there should be some sort of planning going into the universe.

The DCEU clearly ran into this mistake, setting up story threads that never paid off. And with the disappointment that was Justice League, we may never see those elements realized on the big screen.

Understand the Filmmakers’ Visions

Recently, directors have been leaving movies because of the popular phrase “creative differences.” This is usually caused by a lack of communication between the director and the studio. The studio executives need to find new ways to collaborate with their writers and directors, so there is an understood, shared vision when making the movie.

Filmmakers have left in the Star Wars movies and even more in upcoming DC movies before or during the movie’s production. Of course, there is no way to know what really happened, but the common thread seems to be that the studio and the directors had different ideas for the project at hand. They should figure these things out before the making of the movie so the plan can move smoothly.

cinematic universe

image via Public Radio International

Don’t Make Everything a Universe

While cinematic universes are a fresh, new idea and can be a lot of fun, not every movie has to start a large universe. Some movies are just meant to be one-offs. The world should only be expanded when there is a story to tell. Movie universes aren’t a bad idea, but they can fail when they are forced. However, they can succeed if the stipulations laid out here are met, and I hope to see some good ones in the future. After all, movies and their universes are meant for enjoyment, so let’s keep it that way!


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8 Responses

  1. irvinjee says:

    Kevin Feige has one of the brighest minds in today’s hollywood.

  2. M.R. Miller says:

    I agree completely. I think DC has suffered because it’s never been able to really get behind a vision for their movies. Marvel definitely has its vision — action movies with some humor that are meant to be fun. Deadpool worked because the filmmakers said we’re going to make this raunchy and irreverent, something that was definitely not for the younger crowd. Logan was so excellent because it embraced its dark story; it wasn’t meant to be fun at all but it was powerful. DC just hasn’t made up its mind if it’s going to be fun or dark or whatever. Until it does, I think the movies are going to be sub par.

    • Trey Davis says:

      I agree! DC has a lack of direction which has stopped them from reaching Marvel’s level. They need to figure out what they want to do before they continue with more movies.

      • The DC Extended Universe was actually plagued with the lack of a fleshed-out vision from the start. Man of Steel was rushed into production in order to avoid legal action from the Siegel and Shuster estates after Jerry Siegel’s family got his copyright and Superman’s origin via a 2009 court ruling. They would have been allowed to sue Warner Bros. for lost revenue on an unproduced film if a new Superman movie wasn’t put into production by 2011. Even in the downtime between Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice, there wasn’t a thought-out plan to their universe as they’ve sinned themselves by trying to catch up to the MCU (which used the five-year growing pains period of 2003 to 2007 to develop and plan their universe accordingly) and thus have ultimately left a lot to be desired with the exception of Wonder Woman. As someone who grew up as a DC kid, I hope that the DC Extended Universe can recover and find its own consistent identity.

  3. This was incredibly well done.

    • Trey Davis says:

      Thank you so much! I wasn’t sure how this one would turn out

      • I think you nailed it. This has been somewhat that my buddies and I have talked about a million times since the DCEU has started up so I really liked how you went through and explained everything.

  4. Nick Kush says:

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