Love ’em or hate ’em, shared cinematic universes are all the rage in Hollywood currently. Since Marvel Studios began its multi-franchise juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everyone’s wanted a piece of the action. Every few months it seems like we hear news on a new, up and coming cinematic universe. That said, it’s hard to gauge which will and will not succeed, so ranking them will be difficult. This list will only include those cinematic universes that have at least one film released to date, but preferably more. It will also include some finished shared universes from before the cinematic universe boom. Some will be ranked on their output thus far and others will be ranked on their anticipation for future films. As always, let me know if you enjoy this list, if I’ve missed anything, and be sure to share it on social media. Let’s get right into it!
[Edit] It’s been pointed out to me that many readers here may not actually know what a Cinematic Universe is. It’s a series of films that share a similar continuity, that aren’t necessarily sequels or prequels. A cinematic universe may encompass prequels and sequels, but it must incorporate spinoff films, or must bridge multiple franchises together.
10. Transformers Cinematic Universe
Four Transformers films is already too many, you say? Well, I agree with you. But Paramount doesn’t. The 5th currently untitled Transformers film is set to begin filming next month. After that, a Bumblebee spinoff is planned, followed by the 6th main entry in the series. Interestingly, Deadline reported in May 2015 that writers Robert Kirkman, Zak Penn, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jeff Pinkner, Andrew Barrer, Gabrial Ferrari, Christina Hodson, Lindsey Beer, Ken Nolan, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, and Steven DeKnight will write spin-offs, sequels, or other. They will pitch at least 12 films, two of which are potentially titled Beast Wars and Transformers One.
9. Monsters Cinematic Universe
In October 2013 Roberto Orci hinted at a shared universe with reboots such as The Mummy and Van Helsing inhabiting it. Not many realize this, but Dracula Untold was actually the first in Universal’s rebooted Monsters universe. Though it fared bad critically, the film was considered a box office success. And though it’s off to a shaky start, the rest of the rebooted monster films sound particularly interesting. The 2nd film, The Mummy, arrives on June 9, 2017, and the 3rd, an untitled Wolf Man reboot, arrives April 13th, 2018. Other untitled slated projects include Van Helsing, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bride of Frankenstein, and the Invisible Man.
8. Hasbro Cinematic Universe
Perhaps the oddest choice for a cinematic universe on this list, Paramount has jumped on the bandwagon (again), giving new life to their G.I. Joe franchise. This time they’re developing a number of popular ’80s Hasbro toy lines into a single shared universe, alongside their 2 semi-popular G.I. Joe films. Though neither film has been a particular success critically, it’s camp nature and the level of nostalgia bring people back to theaters. Other Hasbro franchises Paramount is set to mine: Micronauts, Rom, M.A.S.K., and Visionaries. The writers room on this cinematic universe is of particular note, with talent reaching all across the board. Under the guidance of Akiva Goldsman, they’ve hired on Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan, Nicole Perlman, Lindsey Beer, Cheo Coker, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Joe Robert Cole, Jeff Pinkner, Nicole Riegel, and Geneva Robertson. It’s possible this cinematic universe could bridge the gap between the Transformers universe, and we could get films like a G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover, but they are currently considered seperate entities.
7. Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe
You read that correctly. I didn’t make a mistake and put this on the list twice. This entry sets itself apart from the aforementioned for being what the reboot is based off of. In fact, Universal’s original cinematic universe, which ran between 1931 and 1948, is considered the very first example of a shared cinematic universe. Beginning with 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein films, this would go on to be the only recognizable cinematic universe in American cinemas for decades to come. Though they don’t all hold up as absolute classics, and their quality doesn’t always do them justice, Universal had an early start to this trend, and that’s to be noted. Their last film, the horror comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, is considered by the United States Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
6. Kaiju Cinematic Universe
Any fan of big monsters fighting each other should be more than a little excited for this entry. The Kaiju Cinematic Universe, as it’s been colloquially deemed by fans of the genre, began with 2014’s well-recieved Godzilla film, directed by Gareth Edwards. Monarch, the human organization in the film noted for uncovering Godzilla, will go on to lead the world in discovering other such monsters. Their reach will extend to 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, 2018’s Godzilla 2, and 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. Whether or not this new cinematic universe will include some of Toho’s other giant monsters, or Kaiju, is undetermined, but note that Legendary has acquired the rights to use classic characters such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidora in their films.
5. Toho Universe
The only foreign shared universe on this list, the Toho Universe is also the largest by film count, sitting at 46 entries and one television series. This encompasses any Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, etc. films from 1954 to 2016 created by Toho in Japan. Though each entry is considered canonical, it’s important to note that there are different timelines due to several attempts at rebooting the franchise. The first 29 films, of which Godzilla starred in 15, was known as the Showa series, which ran strong until 1977. In 1984, Godzilla was given new life with the Heisei timeline, wherein he was given 7 consecutive films that followed as sequels to the original 1954 film, followed by three Mothra solo films. In 1999, Toho rebooted the timeline again in the Millenium series, and Godzilla received 6 new films as sequels to the original film, ending with 2004’s epic Godzilla: Final Wars, where he fought off many of his past foes from the past 50 years, including the 1998 American version of the Godzilla character. 12 years later, the Toho Universe is set to be reset again with Godzilla Resurgence, but it is unclear if this will be a direct sequel to any previous films.
4. DC Extended Universe
At the very start of Marvel’s success with the MCU, Warner Bros. were tied up trying to complete Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It wasn’t until after production began on 2013’s Man of Steel that WB asked Zack Snyder to oversee the DCEU, as it would eventually be called, to cash in on the success of the booming shared universe craze. The shared universe didn’t truly take off until 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which served as a means to truncate origin stories for several characters so as to fast-track a full-scale Justice League film. You may or may not be a fan of the two films that have been released to date, but you have to admit their slate of upcoming films is incredibly ambitious. The studio plans on another 11 films between now and 2020, including Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, two Justice League films, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, and two other currently untitled entries.
You probably don’t think of the X-Men series as a cinematic universe, but now, more than ever before, it is. After 5 main entries in the series, which have seen their share of a cleverly reworked history thanks to time travel, we also have one off films like Wolverine and Deadpool. On the horizon are a number of films, including a 6th X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse, a third untitled Wolverine film, a Deadpool sequel featuring the fan favorite character Cable, as well as a Gambit film, a X-Force film, and a New Mutants film. That’s a lot of interweaving continuity to handle, but so far they’ve done alright. Interestingly enough, the film that wasn’t likely to earn much cash for 20th Century Fox, Deadpool, is the highest grossing film in the X-Men series, the film with the lowest budget, as well as the highest grossing Rated-R film of all time.
2. Star Wars
Thanks to Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise in 2012, we can expect to see a new Star Wars film every year for at least the next 5 years. Episode VII, a follow-up to the previous six films in the generational Saga, was received favorably by fans and critics alike, and is the 3rd highest grossing film of all time. Episode VIII & IX are set to arrive in 2017 and 2019, with up and coming directors Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow helming the projects respectively. Anthology films known as “Star Wars Stories,” are set to arrive between films that explore areas of the Star Wars galaxy we have yet to see, including Rogue One, which arrives December 16, 2016. Another confirmed film will be the untitled 2018 Han Solo origin story. What’s so great about the Star Wars cinematic universe, y’know, besides the fact that it’s Star Wars, is that it transcends film, and the story connects to an interlocking narrative through comics, books, and television programs.
1. Marvel Cinematic Universe
What else could hold the top spot, than the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. Since its inception in 2005, the MCU has released 12 films, each received well critically, and have all been considered box office successes, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man through to 2015’s Ant-Man. It is the highest grossing franchise of all time, with a worldwide gross of over $9 billion, and it has no plans on slowing down any time soon. The films also share a continuity with a number of popular television programs, including Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Jessica Jones. Marvel has perfected the art of creating a believable multi-franchise continuity, and have big plans for the future of the MCU. Along with an unprecedented merger with Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, we have Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, a two-part Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Inhumans, and more that haven’t yet been unveiled. The MCU has sparked new life into the cinematic universe, all across the board. In fact, this list wouldn’t even be around had it not sparked the trend.
How long will this trend last? It’s pretty clear that cinematic universes are the new trilogy. But will the general audience be capable of wrapping their mind around all of them? The issue here is, the average Joe will only see a certain amount of films in any given year. Even fans of the series, like us here at Geekritique, struggle with keeping track of it all. But it’s exciting to see all the films on the horizon, and all the inter-connectivity of each respective universe. What are you looking forward to? If you liked this post, please share it to Facebook, Twitter, or another social media site so others can check it out too. Thanks!
Honorable mentions: Jump Street, Lego, Pixar (although this last isn’t a confirmed canonical universe).