- The Marvel Cinematic Universe kickstarted a trend and changed the way studios think about blockbuster filmmaking. But similar franchises haven’t been able to replicate its success.
- Some have course corrected, such as Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe, which is now focusing more on standalone stories.
- Others were dead on arrival, like Universal’s Dark Universe, which flopped right out of the gate with 2017’s "The Mummy."
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When "Iron Man" hit theaters in 2008, it kickstarted what had never been done before: a cinematic universe of connected superhero movies that would eventually culminate in events like "Avengers: Endgame."
The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a few stumbles in the beginning. Its first few movies — such as "The Incredible Hulk" and "Thor" — were neither critical darlings or box-office smashes. But since 2012’s "Avengers," which grossed over $1 billion globally, the MCU hasn’t slowed down. All 22 movies have grossed over $20 billion combined worldwide.
The MCU proved what a successful cinematic universe could do, and others tried to follow in its footsteps. Their efforts have seen mixed results.
Granted, it’s hard to compare other cinematic universes — whether they are currently running, in the works, or were instant flops — to the MCU. Disney and Marvel Studios have landed on a winning formula that no other studio has replicated. But it’s impossible to deny the impact the franchise has had on how studios think about blockbuster filmmaking, especially seeing how "Avengers: Endgame" has performed at the box office (spoiler: it’s the second biggest movie of all time).
Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe is the easiest franchise to compare to the MCU, in that it took superheroes who had never appeared together on screen before and put them in the same movies. But after several critical misfires and the franchise’s answer to "The Avengers," "Justice League," disappointing at the box office, Warner Bros. has course corrected with successes like "Aquaman" and "Shazam!"
Other potential universes didn’t live long enough to get that opportunity. Universal’s "Dark Universe," based on its classic monsters like Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman, began and died with 2017’s "The Mummy," which tanked with audiences and critics alike.
Below are 8 cinematic universes that aren’t the MCU, and what their status is:
Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe
The DC Extended Universe course corrected after a few misfires. The franchise began in 2016 with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and then "Suicide Squad," which made $873 million and $746 million worldwide, respectively. But they were torn apart by critics, and both have a 27% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Then "Justice League" bombed.
It was supposed to be DC and Warner Bros.’ answer to "The Avengers," but made just $658 million worldwide, and has a 40% Rotten Tomatoes critic score. Warner Bros. rethought its DC superhero movie strategy after that, and the movies since have been more in line with the franchise’s one bright spot: "Wonder Woman," which focused less on a connected universe and more on a standalone storyline.
"Aquaman" and "Shazam!" followed "Justice League," and only allude to a larger cinematic universe. The positive response shows that it’s a successful strategy for the franchise. "Aquaman" grossed over $1 billion worldwide and was one of the biggest movies of 2018. "Shazam!" didn’t fare as well at the box office with $362 million, but it also didn’t have as big of a budget ($100 million) and has an impressive 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
DC movies will continue to follow this standalone strategy. "Joker," an origin story about Batman’s greatest foe, hits theaters in October. "Bird of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" follows in February. And "Wonder Woman 1984" arrives next summer.
James Gunn is developing "The Suicide Squad," which will be a soft reboot, and director Matt Reeves is making "The Batman," which will recast Ben Affleck with a younger actor (Robert Pattinson has reportedly been cast). Both films will be released in 2021.
Warner Bros. "Conjuring" universe
The "Conjuring" franchise has been a consistent box-office presence since the first movie debuted in 2013. "The Conjuring," directed by James Wan, made $319 million worldwide and was made for just $20 million. The sequel, "The Conjuring 2," doubled its production budget and made the same amount globally as its predecessor, but was still a hit.
Multiple spin-offs from the "Conjuring" movies have turned the franchise into a universe that audiences will show up to the theater for, and it’s mastered how to make a low-budget but high-grossing horror movie. "The Nun" fought off poor reviews last year (it has a 26% Rotten Tomatoes critic score) to earn $365 million worldwide off of a $22 million production budget. It’s the highest-grossing movie in the franchise.
2014’s "Annabelle" was made for $6.5 million and earned $257 million worldwide. Its 2017 sequel, "Annabelle: Creation," was made for $15 million and grossed $306 million. April’s "The Curse of La Llorona" wasn’t as huge of a hit with $120 million globally, but was still only made for $9 million.
The next installment in the franchise, "Annabelle Comes Home," comes to theaters June 26, and "The Conjuring 3" is set for a 2020 release.
Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters
After the Disney-Fox merger, there’s only one major studio besides Disney that owns film rights to Marvel characters: Sony, and it’s going full speed ahead with what it refers to as Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters.
It’s unknown how connected the films will be, if at all, but Sony has 900 Marvel characters at its disposal centered around Spider-Man.
There was a time when Sony’s Spider-Man cinematic universe was thought to be dead. It attempted build one out of its "Amazing Spider-Man" movies, including a villain-centric Sinister Six movie that never saw the light of day. But the movies didn’t resonate with audiences, and after 2014’s "Amazing Spider-Man 2," Sony struck a deal with Marvel Studios where it could use the character in the MCU while Sony retained creative and distribution rights.
But the success of "Venom" changed that. The movie, focused on one of Spider-Man’s most popular enemies in the comics, made $855 million worldwide, giving Sony the confidence it needed to move forward with its Marvel universe. Next up is "Morbius," about another Spider-Man villain who’s part vampire, starring Jared Leto.
Sony Pictures Television chairman Mike Hopkins told Variety in March that Sony had "the next seven or eight years laid out" for its Marvel universe.
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