Hollywood, we need to talk about this compulsive need of yours to turn every movie into a franchise, or even worse, a cinematic universe.
Yesterday, Lionsgate CEO John Feltheimer said that based on what they perceived to be an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the revamped costume designs for the new Power Rangers, they were thinking of making, "five or six or seven" movies.
Before that, Warner Bros. announced it was going to be rushing a cavalcade of superhero movies out, trying to play catch-up with Marvel’s extensive catalogue. If Amazing Spider-Man 2 hadn't been such a colossal flop, that franchise would have become a cinematic universe for Sony, too.
Even companies like Hasbro and Paramount are trying to get in on the action, announcing an entire cinematic universe based around properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers. Of course, the studio has already made $1.3 billion off of the Transformers series since the first one debuted in 2009.
Hell, even the Fast and the Furious franchise, which is currently seven movies deep with an eighth in development, is being eyed for potential spinoffs that would create an entirely new universe for Universal. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Universal is also in the middle of planning a new cinematic universe around iconic Hollywood monsters, such as the Mummy and Invisible Man.
It seems like every movie that’s announced already has plans for a sequel before the first film is even in production. While the reasoning is obvious — just look at all the studio executives fanning themselves with $100 bills — the point remains: Hollywood has a cinematic universe problem and it needs to stop.
Think about the majority of movies you’ve seen over the past year, discounting Marvel’s films for a second. Did you leave the theater after every movie anticipating the next installment, or were you content with the film existing as a one-time deal?
Movies shouldn’t be designed to have sequels. In a perfect world, movies wouldn't be created with the idea of profit first, but no one’s trying to be ignorant that there’s a reason it’s called show business. This idea, however, that a concept for a movie must be able to span five or six films, with potentials for spinoffs or crossover with other properties to warrant any kind of worthiness is detrimental to the movie-making process.
It’s been written about time and time again that the independent movie is dying, being replaced with more dramatic and better told television series’ or blockbuster films. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, what we’re seeing is less room for independent films in theatres as they move toward debuting on streaming services like Hulu, Amazon and Netflix.
The result is this ideology that in order to get a big, theatrical release, your movie either needs to be a part of a cinematic universe or be a Pixar film.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the majority of movies being made to fit within the larger context of a cinematic universe were good, or even decent, but that’s not the case. Look at Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not only was the film bad, but there were elements of it that felt rushed because they were. The way they introduced the other DC characters doesn’t benefit the studio, didn’t benefit the film and won’t benefit the universe. But artistic integrity doesn’t matter when building a cinematic universe, as is apparent from Batman v Superman, as long as the studio can push out a couple of movies a year and make a profit off of it.
It’s gotten to the point where movies that should be one-time deals — Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice in Wonderland — are being given lacklustre sequels that nobody asked for because the studio believes it can make a profit with enough star power and marketing.
Just because you can do it does not mean that you should do it, Hollywood, and this desire to turn every single movie into a constantly reproducing machine is going to become tedious fast.
A movie can exist on its own, and not being given a sequel or franchise, can more often than not make it a better experience. Something like Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys, works better without it. The story is complete, we’re content and there’s no reason to revisit the characters.
Sometimes, choosing to leave a movie alone is the best decision a studio can make.
When they look back on it a decade later, and people can bring it up without acknowledging the inevitable less-than-stellar sequel that was produced, they’ll still be able to talk about it with pride.
Let’s be honest: The Godfather II doesn’t happen 99% of the time, so stop trying to make it happen. X-Men: Apocalypse, for example, has far more in common with The Godfather III than The Godfather II.
That’s not to say, however, that every once in a while, a cinematic universe can’t be a good thing. Marvel is the perfect example of that, but here’s why their platform worked.
When Marvel decided to make a cinematic universe, they had a timeline that would first introduce the world to the most vital characters and get audiences to care about their existence before putting all of the heroes in one movie. Marvel also had the advantage of working with characters that had a strong fanbase to begin with, and even more importantly, an entire backlog of stories they could approach to use for future installments.
They didn’t rush, but instead carefully planned. They brought on the best writers, actors, directors and, most importantly, they focused on making good stand-alone movies to create a base for their cinematic universe.
This isn’t what most studios are doing now, and it’s blatantly obvious. Everything feels rushed, everything feels redundant and the state of cinema is worse because of it.
Studios, you don’t need to build a cinematic universe because everyone else is, and you don’t need to do it for every single movie you decide to release.
We need to get back to worrying about making fantastic movies, one at a time, before worrying about whether or not a film will make enough money at the box office to warrant a sequel. Movies have to make a profit, of course, but just because we’re focusing on the business doesn’t mean we need to lose sight of the art. If a cinematic universe is going to turn your studio into a punchline during water cooler conversations, it might be better to start worrying about making good movies than making an entire universe of mediocre ones.
Why would you want to be remembered for making five terrible, heavily mocked movies instead of one outstanding film?
Answer? You wouldn’t.