The Dawn of Cinematic Universes:

What Shared Continuity In Film Is Telling Us About The Future Of Cinema

There is no secret that a new trend has emerged in mainstream films, a trend that is specifically connected to the inclusion of famous characters and epic worlds, all of which have now joined together in what movie buffs are referring to as a “cinematic universe”.

The most known of these universes is of course the Marvel Cinematic Universe; an expansive realm of interconnectivity conjured by the head of Marvel Studious, Kevin Feige, and one that consists of legendary superheroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, and recent additions Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel. However, not all shared universes are restricted to the superhero genre. Universal’s classic monsters and Hasbro’s action figure line both have plans to become merged into one continuous world in order to follow the precedent set my Marvel. Thus, it is becoming evident that studios are making a conscious decision to establish an environment that carries over into not one but many individual projects. Yet, upon realizing this need to connect the question that arises is one that asks what are the exact benefits of these shared realms and what does it say about the future of cinema?

Shared universes were not always an unfamiliar trend. There was a time when audiences could observe their favorite film characters in one setting. Take for example the famous monsters King Kong and Godzilla, who both crossed over in the early sixties. This practice of merging characters is almost always guaranteed to attract audiences. Yet this thriving need to see high-profile matchups does not negate the principles by which these universes are built upon as well as what they need in order to function properly.

Truthfully, the motive behind their creation is easy to understand. A Hollywood producer’s reasons for adding more characters to a film is more often than not an attempt to increase ticket sales. However, the real question is how much of a movie’s box office performance actually indicates the quality of the universe itself? Is a movie that exists in a world of shared continuity successful if it earns double its budget or three times its budget? Four times? More? The extent of numbers attached to these projects can rise increasingly and will reach a point whereby there is no precise telling as to how much a film can earn, even if it is but one cog in a multi-functioning machine. Despite this fact, money should not be the priority when deciding on whether or not a movie universe is a necessary decision. The reason for this is because of all the things that one must consider when crafting such grand worlds money is the one most likely to succeed. Very few films that operate within a shared universe have plummeted into a financial catastrophe. Aside from follow-ups and the films that were intended to be shared like 2011’s Green Lantern movie that did fail for other reasons. Most other films have consistently ranked high in box office performance.

Marvel Studios does not make earning a priority as they do about whether the universe will maintain its shape and stay loyal and sensible when compared to the original source material. And, it is here, in this one vital component that grants credibility to what it is that makes a cinematic universe so interesting. It provides new stories, new atmospheres, and new relationships that can be explored and offers potential in new territories as the project continues to grow and evolve.

So what does this mean for film universes in general and will they continue to gain as much momentum as they have in the current decade? Since the year 2010, Warner Bros, Universal, and Legendary Pictures, have all decided to add continuity to their upcoming projects, and now that these three major studious have decided to continue in the tradition of the titan that is Marvel Studious, one can foresee why other studious are choosing to follow a similar tradition.

When assessing what films are appropriated to this concept one must examine two specific things: the first is which characters will exist in a universe and the second is what the purpose of the new universe will be? Do the creators want these characters to have a connection and do they have in mind specific events that will allow them to either meet, interact, or, if need be, face off in a battle that will sharpen and attract other people?

This way of thinking proves that the creative process is shifting beneath our feet. What was once a foreign concept has become one that cannot only succeed, but can also be made to create quality projects that can attract new audiences and please those who considered themselves loyal fans. Therefore, when assessing the potential of a cinematic universe it should be not to simply draw comparisons to what Marvel Studios is doing or what Warner Bros. will do in their DC Extended Universe, it should be about seeing if these great worlds can be grasped, even in the slightest way, and when they will be completed.

Assembling a creative team who can accomplish this is a tremendous undertaking. Those who understand the characters well enough to create something interactive is a task that only a few creative types can accomplish. A shared universe is a complex and multi-layered idea, with several working components and characterizations that need to be executed with the utmost precision and care. With enough time and enough care, people with such potential can emerge. They will have visions, they will have plans, and more than that they will have a passion. So, if there is a demonstrable potential for a shared universe involving characters that match the description that has been described, producers and Hollywood executives must ensure that it is made, and that people are given what is so rightfully theirs.

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Jarrett Mazza is a writer and teacher living in Canada. He attended Wilfrid Laurier University and received an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in English and Contemporary Studies as well as a Bachelor of Education from the prestigious Schulich School of Education. He is now in the process of earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. He has been fascinated by superheroes and stories for as long as he can remember and studied comic book writing and sequential storytelling from industry professionals Ty Templeton and Andy Schmidt. When he is not self-publishing his own comic books, he is working on his thesis novel, submitting short stories to publishers, obsessing about geek fandom, and looking for new things to read and write.

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