What films should be expanded into shared universes?

Shared universes are big business right now, and here are seven franchises that could, and should be expanded...

It’s likely that by the time you finish reading this sentence a new cinematic universe will have been born. In fact, it may be one of the cinematic universes I propose later in this article. If that’s the case, I apologise for my obsolescence. Furthermore, if you’re reading this in the future and any of my proposed cinematic universes have come to pass and turned out awful, I also apologise.

Just know that I’m sorry, and I’ve a feeling that many of us are going to be sorry and that the film industry could be in a sorry and confusing mess in five years time thanks to ‘Cinematic Universe Fever’ (a real affliction, and currently a very common complaint on the casebooks of doctors and private physicians in Hollywood). Right now, really there is only one of these things running and it’s running very, very well. That would be the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Marvel Studios’ creative and commercial success has caught the imagination of other studios.

Consequently, we now have a whole hock of fresh cinematic universes spawning before our eyes and they include: the D.C. Cinematic Universe; the freshly evolving Star Wars galaxy; the X-panded X-Men multiverse; the revived Universal Monsters shared universe; the Lego-movieverse; the rebooted Ghostbusters universe (and other dimensions); the Transformers Cinematic Universe; Sony’s Robin Hood-inspired cinematic universe with the Merry Men of Sherwood re-imagined like Marvel’s Avengers; Guy Ritchie’s Knights Of The Roundtable six-part anthology series.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them grew into a cinematic universe in turn. Ultimately, if there’s a well-established world and mythos, an array of diverse characters and a large fanbase you have pretty solid foundations on which to craft a shared universe to spread across different media formats.

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In light of the way that the entertainment and multimedia industries operate in the 21st century, it’s a very fertile age for this kind of cosmos-creating activity. What’s more, it’s a fashionable thing to do and everyone wants a piece of this action (as we’ve already observed). So far only one cinematic universe has collapsed in on itself and that’s Sony’s tangled The Amazing Spider-Man off-shoot web, but that needn’t dissuade people and clearly hasn’t dissuaded people. The Marvel model has entranced audiences and industry insiders alike and now stands as a phenomenally successful ideal to emulate for artistic and commercial reasons.

Not all will work effectively and somewhere down the line there will be crashing, burning and crying (from fans and film studios should the box office turn sour). Still, it doesn’t do to expect the worst and I figure we should seek to get into the spirit of the things and embrace all these inchoate universes. With that more enthusiastic mindset engaged, like most multimedia conglomerate executives, I’m now seeing potential everywhere.

Here are seven possible shared cinematic universes that I think would appeal and get the masses flocking to multiplexes, and designing flowcharts and infographics to help them keep track of all the various plot connections and character arcs. I’d like to take this moment to pitch them to both movie fans, moviemakers and – most importantly – the movie moguls and studios who can make these sprawling celluloid spaghetti fests happen. For your consideration…

Middle Earth

Some of us are still finding it hard to adjust to the fact that Peter Jackson isn’t going to make any more Middle Earth-based movies. It’s a shame because J.R.R. Tolkien’s world is so immensely inviting and there’s still a lot of material in The Silmarillion and all the appendices left to go at. What’s more, I’d say that there’s still a lot of unresolved, unfinished business that wasn’t fully covered in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit prequel series.

For a start, there are dwarves that deserve further character development and more could be done with the disparate Elven races and the Ents (we’ve got to have more talking trees in cinema than just Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s Groot). I’d also love to actually see the rise and fall of Sauron during the Second Age of Middle Earth explored in painstaking detail (over the course of a prequel trilogy, naturally) plus spin-offs for Gandalf, Radagast, Beorn and the hitherto absent Tom Bombadil.

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Of course, the One Ring is the binding Infinity Stone-style object acting as the central lynchpin for all these features and the narratives entwine and all serve to bring us back to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy – the finest film trilogy of all time. Regardless, we’d be back in Middle Earth again for a bum-numbing amount of time and that would be very welcome indeed.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is more than just a glorious ‘massive alien monsters versus giant robots’ fight flick. It was also a fantastically executed concept and a tremendous exercise in credible world-building with rich, memorable characters. This universe of Jaegers and Kaiju deserves expanding and we know that Guillermo del Toro will do that in the slated sequels Pacific Rim 2 and Pacific Rim 3. Beyond those, though, how about spin-offs that rove around outside of the Shatterdome and explore other areas of an Earth affected by the presence of a mecha-programme and the perpetual threat of trans-dimensional alien invasion?

I see potential for a series following the misadventures of bickering Science Bros. Gottlieb and Geiszler. There’s also Ron Perlman’s Hannibal Chau and the black market scene begging for further examination, and I can envisage a mockumentary sidequel series investigating the aftermath and clean-up operations that follow every Kaiju incident. And what about the Kaiju? How about getting their perspective? And is this the only planet that the monsters have open-portal access to and evil designs on? There are so many tantalising possibilities with Pacific Rim, and they’re all drift compatible with the main narrative.


Rian Johnson’s 2012 film ranks as a sci-fi classic thanks to its ingenious conceptual basis and astute worldbuilding. As far as cinematic universe creation goes, Looper has strong foundations in its near future setting where time-travel has been invented, outlawed and subsequently exploited by criminal organisations. It’s a fascinating and unique idea and Looper studied its implications and temporal displacement philosophy in one individual’s narrative (the story of Joe, played young by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and old by Bruce Willis) but there are hints at a convincing, intriguing wider world.

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Further interlinked films could perhaps shed light on the dreaded Rainmaker’s rise to power or actually chronicle the development and criminalisation of the time travel technology itself. It’d be nice to find out more about the fraught relationship between Kansas City crime boss Abe and lackey Kid Blue (theorised to be the same person in some quarters). Likewise, it’d be great to microscope in on the Shanghai segment of the story and experience the slow transformation of Old Joe from messed-up drug addict hitman to reformed lover.

Of course, new threads and timelines operating as prequels/sequels (erm, both and neither at the same time? See, “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg”) would be more than fine. Each additional thread would loop around and cumulatively expand the lore of one of the most astounding original sci-fi works of recent times.

Star Trek

What better way to celebrate Star Trek‘s 50th birthday next year than by announcing the universe’s expansion across film and TV? Remember ages of yore when The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager TV series told disparate tales of the Trek-verse while canon films continued to surface – all of them simultaneously representing the wonderful galaxy conceived by Gene Roddenberry back in the ’60s? It strikes me as sad that we’ve only got the current reboot movie franchise flying at the moment and I think it’s high time that Star Trek came back with a vengeance across multiple formats.

The alternate timeline introduced by J.J. Abrams opens up a number of possibilities for respawning old Trek stories in altered fashion (see Star Trek Into Darkness, a.k.a. The Wrath Of Khan remake) but the sandbox is huge and rife with possibilities for new, compelling plots and protagonists. As it was with the vintage TV serials of the ’80s and ’90s, audiences could follow the crews of different Federation starships and get to grips with the political and ethical conundrums that arise in future ages of space travel (the guiding focus of the original series, somewhat lost in the straight-up blockbuster action flicks we’ve seen lately).

It’s time to boldly go where no Star Trek media has gone before and make sure that this stellar franchise continues to live long and prosper in this strange new epoch. Shared universe model, Captain? Engage!

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Wreck-It Ralph

Easily the greatest videogame movie made so far (only David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ comes close), within Wreck-It Ralph lie the pixelated seeds of what could be the ultimate pan-pop cultural phenomenon. A sequel is likely and said sequel would take the arcade heroes into the wider realms of console and online gaming, but a Wreck-It Ralph series could be so much more. I can picture not only spin-off sidequels for the original lead protagonists (Vanellope von Schweetz and the Sugar Rush racers, Sergeant Calhoun and the Hero’s Duty troops versus online trolls) but also sidequels for the real-world stars who appear in the film.

Of course, it all depends on licences being granted, but if Disney is allowed to we could see a spate of Sonic the Hedgehog flicks, Pac-Man pictures and the serial adventures of the game villain support group (‘Bad-Anon’ members include Bowser, Dr Eggman, and Zangief and M. Bison from the Street Fighter series). They could all take place in the same shared universe and all each film needs to do is occasionally touch base back in Litwak’s Arcade or push a familiar face (hey Ralph!) into the frame for a salutary cameo.

With possible in-game and in-real-life adventures open to characters and potentially infinite characters to work with (we’ve got the whole of videogame history to work with) a Wreck-It Ralph universe could expand exponentially across film, TV and – yes – videogames. Imagine it and realise that it would be all-encompassing, immense and awesome on so many levels. Game on!

Adventure Time

Turning to a televisual source for a very worthy second, when it comes to Adventure Time there’s already a shared universe precedent. AT‘s assorted comics lines – the main Adventure Time line alongside the Marceline And The Scream Queens, Fionna & Cake, Candy Capers and The Flip Side spin-offs – are already simultaneously operating in this fashion. A feature film is said to be in development and I’d urge Pendleton Ward and his creative collaborators to adopt a shared universe model as Adventure Time makes its transition to the big screen.

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You don’t have to think too hard to realise that the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo is a perfect fictional world on which to build a sprawling cinematic multi-franchise. Across six seasons the show has handled an amazing assortment of narrative arcs and shifted genres and tones with the sort of confidence and sophistication normally only seen in the most accomplished of blockbuster film series. Every single figure – from Jake and Finn right down to the most incidental of incidental characters – is strong and well-realised.

Altogether, the big stage of the multiplex is befitting for a fictional universe that has far transcended its humble origins. There are so many stories that can be squeezed out of Ooo, and I demand that the future film series be accompanied by an epic event movie covering the portentous events of the Great Mushroom War. We’d also like standalone flicks for Marceline the Vampire Queen, Billy the Greatest Warrior Ever, Lumpy Space Princess and the rest of our favourites (and we have many favourites).

Being John Malkovich

Scripted by Charlie Kaufman and shot by Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich had a sad ponytailed puppeteer (John Cusack) discovering a portal that led him into the mind of the actor John Malkovich. The best scene in the movie is the moment where Malkovich himself enters the portal and finds a world in which everyone looks John Malkovich and is only capable of saying or writing the word ‘Malkovich’. It’s an absurd and disturbing world (“I have seen a world that no man should see!”) but that doesn’t mean that we should turn our back on it and forget the insane vision. In fact, I say we should embrace the insane vision and draw it out into a multi-faceted film franchise.

Malkovich is, after all, the man who played Cyrus the Virus in Con Air. The Malkovichverse presented in Being John Malkovich is just itching to be channelled into myriad features following a multitude of the different Malkovich figures manifest in the Malkovichified alternate reality.

Anything is possible in this shared universe, so let’s see: Malkovich and Malkovich investigating violent crimes downtown; a psychological horror study of the unhinged Malkovich who thinks he’s being haunted by a 19th century Malkovich; the chronicles of the boxing Malkovich, the beat-boxing Malkovich and the XBox-ing Malkovich who stars in a online gaming romcom about finding love while playing Call of Duty: Malkovich Warfare 6. Then there’s also temperamental artiste Malkovich who’s trying to bring a musical version of Con Air to Broadway in spite of the efforts of critic Malkoviches and his disastrous cast of incompetent, inept and erratic Malkoviches. And there’s so much more and, indeed, we all need more Malkovich and more Malkovich is on offer in this massive cinematic universe of Malkoviches. Malkovich? Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich!

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Back to our own reality then, and we find that our reality is richer as all these all-encompassing pop cultural universes continue to appear and evolve. Then again, maybe what we think of as reality is actually a shared cinematic universe in itself and we’re really all fictional characters currently functioning in and amidst the disparate strands that have led up to this point in the unfurling grand narrative (I’d guess that we’re at about Phase Forty Two by now). I can’t wait for the crossover event when our universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe converge…

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