Franchises that would work with a shared movie universe.

Following the success of Marvel’s slew of interlinked superhero movies, everyone else has decided that shared universes are the next bg thing. Disney is aiming to repeat their success with newly-subsidiarised Lucasfilm’s plans for Star Wars. Warner Bros is attempting to rival Marvel with a universe of DC characters, though they’re inverting Marvel’s formula by having characters other than Batman and Superman debut in team-up movies and then giivng them solo films. Even Activision is looking to make a Call of Duty cinematic universe, despite the franchise not really offering any plot elements that couldn’t be done in a series of standalone war movies.

Since this approach is looking like the new normal for summer blockbusters, I started to wonder what other franchises would work with shared cinematic universe. Here are my ideas, in no particular order.

X-Men

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While X-Men is a Marvel property, the film rights are owned by Fox, who unfortunately has some pretty bad blood with Marvel right now. (Fox also has Fantastic Four, but that franchise can’t really supports its own shared universe). Since there’s like a billion X-Men, Fox could easily make a whole range of movies about different groups of mutants dealing with different challenges against a backdrop of a metaphor for racial, ethnic, and sexual prejudice. The existence of additional groups like X-Force, the Morlocks, and the Brotherhood of Mutants provide ample opportunity for dramatic infiltration and side-changing stories, as well as giving reason for characters in different movies to meet.

Indeed, Fox had a golden opportunity to do just this when they got the franchise and the first two movies were pretty well-received, but blew it by insisting every movie had to be about Wolverine. Sure, they had plans to branch out with the Origins movies, but that fell flat when X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed, and they attempted to alleviate this by, uh, making two more Wolverine movies. Come on Fox, everybody agrees that X-Men: First Class was the best X-Men movie, and Wolverine only had about three seconds of screen time in that one; the meat of the story was the relationship between Xavier and Magneto. Let’s have some more of that.

Assassin’s Creed

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Assassin’s Creed tells the story of a secret conflict throughout history between the Chaotic Goodish Assassins and the Lawful Evilish Templars, with almost every person of significance in European and Middle Eastern history being associated with one group or the other. Also there’s mental time travel, and I think aliens.

There is an Assassin’s Creed movie in production, and this franchise has a lot of potential for interlinked stories. With numerous Assassins and Templars active all over the world, all sorts of stories and crossovers can be told, even ones that don’t directly adapt the games. Plus, with the action happening across history, this franchise can tell stories on a huge, sweeping scope, with plans and conflicts set in motion during the Middle Ages and only coming to fruition in the modern day.

Indeed, the games themselves dipped a toe in this idea with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, which saw Desmond reliving Ezio’s memories of reliving Altair’s memories. OK, more specifically, Altair planted several stones throughout the Levant which Ezio gathered to learn of his ancestor’s lost days. (Desmond couldn’t just use the animus to relive those memories directly because of reasons). This story extended the character arcs of both Altair and Ezio, and brought final closure to both. A series of movies wouldn’t necessarily need to take this approach, just have a character fight to conceal a plot device in one time period, which then becomes a focal point of another conflict in the future.

Gundam

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When it comes to giant robots, no franchise rivals Gundam for scope and recognition. (Well, maybe Evangelion and Pacific Rim). There are several distinct, independent Gundam continuities (though Ɐ Gundam apparently managed to smoosh them all into one big continuity), but all involve a conflict between Earth and extraterrestrial (but still within the solar system) colonies. Also there are usually psychic powers involved. The stories themselves get pretty complicated and soap-operaey, but they could still translate well to an interlinked film series.

Since Gundam is about war (with giant robots portrayed as realistically as they can be), the key here would be to tell several individual stories with some sort of future conflict as a backdrop. For example, several movies about colony commandos using Gundams to attack Earth targets, then a team-up movie where they all get together, followed by some more solo movies. And yes, I realise I just described the first five episodes of Gundam Wing, but that was popular for a reason.

Transformers

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People love to complain about Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and while they’re not particularly good, they are as good as one could reasonably expect a Transformers movie to be. Plus each one has made bags and bags of money, so people evidently do want to see them.

Anyway, as with X-Men, there are heaps of Transformers to choose from. Taking the cloak-and-dagger elements inherent in the ‘robots in disguise’ notion, which was given particular emphasis in Bay’s movies and in the IDW G1 comics, you can take any group of robots and send them on some sort of adventure, possibly one in which they encounter members of the other faction. Members of different teams can join forces, and there can even be a metaplot building thoughout the films about, say, Cybertronian relics, much like what Marvel is doing with the Infinity Gems.

Judge Dredd

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It’s a pity Dredd did so poorly, since this franchise is prefect for a shared universe. Essentially a dystopian scifi police procedural, there are enough spinoffs of the original comics to head up multiple films, and since the universe has a particular looks, there’s no pressing need  to esablish character links – just say “Mega-City One”, show a couple of eagles, and people will get the message.

Plotting is easy and there is plenty of room for different creative teams to do their own thing. Just have Dredd, Anderson, Hershey, Rico, Jack Point, Galen DeMarco, Dirty Frank, and even Koburn, Armitage, and Shimura if you’re feeling ambitious investigate various crimes, possibly making the occasional reference to what the other is doing, perhaps even meeting up once in a while. Then, over time, plant clues that their cases are linked, culminating in a team-up movie where they all get together to take down a major Mega-City One crimelord, a powerful corrupt judge, or even the Dark Judges. (Yes, I’m thinking of Trifecta here but come on, that story was perfection).

Star Trek

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Much like Star Wars, Star Trek is a huge, diverse galaxy with lots of interesting places and people. Plus, there are multiple factions, which allows for more conflicts than just Rebellion/Republic vs Empire. How about a movie about a war between the Ferengi and Cardassians?

St. Trinian’s

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Who says shared universes have to be action-oriented scifi? St. Trinian’s would work perfectly well as a comedy universe. St. Trinian’s, an anarchic girls’ boarding school whose students are implied (millennium) or stated outright (post-war) to be the daughters of criminals, can play host to a range of insane school-related stories, as long as the writers remember to keep the humour over the top and  focus on the school rather have the girls go off on a ridiculous treasure hunt against a Saturday morning cartoon villain designed to show that misogyny is bad, as happened inthe execrable The Legend of Fritton’s Gold.

This one would by necessity be a bit different. Rather than a set of solo and teamup movies, the shared franchise would be a progressive series of school stories. As the movies proceed, the girls would move on to higher classes and eventually graduate, their places being filled by new arrivals. In this way, the franchise would have a constant influx of new actors and not be dependent on the same few names returning, though there’s obviously no reason the girls can’t reach out to past pupils.

Men in Black

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And finally, let’s combine action scifi with comedy. Men in Black is a wonderful setting for a shared universe. As Bob Chipman pointed out back when he was with the Escapist, this is a franchise that should be based on an organisation rather than individual characters, so the way to go is something like the approacj I suggest for Judge Dredd: different MIB agents investigate different cases of alien-related crime, with occasinal references to the other movies. Again, over several films, introduce a metaplot about some sort of conspiracy which all our heroes have to work together to take down.

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