James Gunn Cautions Against Hollywood's Shared Universe Trend

November 24, 2014

James Gunn

Ever since Marvel Studios created their cinematic universe, every other studio in Hollywood has been trying to build big franchises with the opportunity for similar crossover opportunities to build a shared universe on the big screen. However, those paying close attention to developing projects have already begun to grow tiresome of studios desperately trying to mimic Marvel's model. Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Entertainment is one thing since their comic book universe makes sense in that capacity, but there are plenty of other examples that just sound pointless. Now Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn volunteered his opinion on this growing trend, and he's got a smart perspective on things. More below!

Here's what Gunn posted on Facebook about haphazard plans for shared universes:

Listen, I love big ass shared universes in movies, as well as huge franchises. But I'm a little worried about the numerous shared universes being planned by the studios, without having a strong base film to grow from - or in some cases, NO base film to grow from. Star Wars had the original Star Wars, the Marvel Universe had the original Iron Man, the Dark Knight series had Batman Begins, even movies like Transformers and Twilight - these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters. But these days studios are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them - making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It's like they aren't taking audiences into account at all anymore.

I know George Lucas, Kevin Feige, Jon Favreau, etc, had ideas where their films would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don't think it ever got in the way of making that first movie count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other films or not.

In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think filmmakers and studios should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great film. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them - they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that's simply not possible.

Notice that Gunn isn't against the idea of shared universes (he wouldn't dare bite the hand that feeds him at Marvel), but merely making an initial film and planning it as if the films that follow are guarantees. There's a reason the scene at the end of Iron Man wasn't in the actual movie, and that's because there was no guarantee that it was going to be a hit. If Iron Man flopped, who knows how Marvel Studios would have proceeded, but the film didn't rely on setting up tons of future movies, nor did studios stake out dates way far in advance at that point as many are doing now.

Studios need to get wise to the fact that audiences aren't invested in The Avengers and the individual franchises following the heroes that make up the team just because they're all connected; that's just a bonus. Audiences love these films because they're all solid adventure films on their own and had a foundation before being thrown together into this shared universe. Universal's action adventure plans for their classic monsters series reboot, the developing Robin Hood world at Sony Pictures and likely Knights of the Round Table need to get one film under their belt before they start talking about multiple films. Thoughts?

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I see (and agree with) his point, but his examples are poor. He's confusing "shared universe" with "franchise". What Iron Man, Thor, Guardians, Avengers, etc. have is a shared universe. What Star Wars has is a franchise. Dark Knight was just a trilogy. Transformers is stuck in 'constant sequel' mode. Twilight was planned from the beginning to follow published books. None of these movies 'share' anything with anybody. I think he was trying to take a dig at DC without naming them, and in doing so he watered down his message.

CoosCoos on Nov 24, 2014


I disagree with your comment. Star Wars is indeed a franchise, but as you may know, they're working on several spinoffs and sequels, so he's not wrong in calling the new Star Wars films part of a shared universe. As for the Dark Knight, he's referring to DC's plans to create a shared universe for the Justice League, which all started with Nolan's Batman films and (Nolan produced) Man of Steel. Transformers is garbage. I agree about that. Somehow they figured out how to "transform" shit into money. What's Twilight? Aw...nobody cares.

TheOct8pus on Nov 24, 2014


Yeah, but he's using Star Wars as a good example of a shared universe which further ruins his point. And the Dark Knight trilogy (which he also uses as a good example) doesn't have anything shared with the new Justice League universe, again muddying the waters.

CoosCoos on Nov 24, 2014


I think a prime example is this monster shared universe fronted by dracula untold.

jay on Nov 24, 2014


so , he should have said " as a good example of a Shared universe TO COME " for SW , would that make ya happy Coos ? .. btw there have always been spinoffs of ALL the hot movies of this type( and thus they became Franchises ) , but they were on CB land or Paperback Book land for SW specifically , not Hollywood like now . Star Wars and Star Trek , as well , have ALWAYS inspired companion series . Just that now they are all going to be on a screen , "big" or "small" , somewhere ... I think the point is that they HAVE to make the JLA universe one with This Batman and Superman in it . The characters have always been in the same uni ; so its easier to let those two bring the JLA into focus , than make a JLA move and reboot Bats AND Supes for it . so technically you are correct that NOLAN'S trilogy has no JLA bearing . But OBV Batman himself does ... you can consider the JLA itself AS a DC effort TO extend the Batman and Superman franchises into a new direction , creating the complimentary one of the JLA

Dominic on Nov 25, 2014


I agree. This does seem like a very silent dig. His argument really only covers DC and Marvel's. Sequel culture (franchise) is the problem here not shared universe. Star Wars maybe his only legitimate leg to stand on but even that is reaching. The Dark Knight trilogy is not part of a shared universe and don't know how many times Nolan has stated that. "these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters". I thought shared universe meant that there were different characters existing in the same universe that may or may never cross paths, not just following the same characters like the movies he stated.

TK on Nov 24, 2014


While I see that a franchise doesn't have to be a "shared universe," a "shared universe" is still basically a franchise. The definition of a franchise being: "a general title or concept used for creating or marketing a series of products, typically films or television shows." So even "just a trilogy" and definitely "constant sequel mode" would be franchises (if not "shared universes"). Further ones like Harry Potter or Die Hard or Pirates of the Caribbean are the result of a very successful film; if you make a movie just to have an excuse to start a franchise you're bound to fuck up.

Terry Craig on Nov 24, 2014


To quote Peter Griffin: Other studios are not MIMICING Marvel, they are just BEING INSPIRED by Marvel 😀 But I do not really understand his point. Does he mean that it's bad to try to develop a film universe in advance from properties that people are not yet fonded with?

Tuomas Lassila on Nov 24, 2014


Pretty much, yeah. Why plan a series of films when there's not even one movie that's proven to be popular with audiences? Furthermore, and more importantly, the focus on "creating a franchise" (or shared universe) hinders filmmakers from creating actually good individual movies (resulting in a series of mediocre flicks).

Terry Craig on Nov 24, 2014


I think shared universe is very different from subsequent sequals due to success especially when it comes to established IPs. With sequels you can build the world around your first movie. With shared universe you must take into account that the characters will exist alongside others. I am sure that marvel had already planned their world before Favreau took on Iron Man. If you are planting a tent pole you have to make sure there is enough room to place the tent.

TK on Nov 24, 2014


Thanks, now I understand, and I agree but at the same time respectfully disagree.

Tuomas Lassila on Nov 25, 2014


Well, it is a fine line. If you have aspirations for a franchise/universe, it is important to keep note of that, so that it doesn't give an impression of just 'making it up as you go' and make it seem as if creatively, you are stumbling with the property and decide 'Oh, this movie was a hit, well, shared universe time!' If you make point to have strong continuity and a vision for where you are going from the time you are developing your first entry, it can make the whole thing feel a lot more cohesive in the long run. I highly doubt that the directors and actors of film #1 are busy worrying about the next film during production, no, they are focused on the film at hand. It is the producers and maybe writers that should have an idea of where the series is headed.

Chris Groves on Nov 25, 2014


Big talk from a guy who is working for the company who started it all. Haha...I mean I think it is fine, the studios just need to take the time to plan things out like Marvel Studios has obviously done.

DAVIDPD on Nov 24, 2014


He's not wrong, you know.

Nielsen700 on Nov 24, 2014


He isn't.

Quanah on Nov 24, 2014


Smart guy, smart comment. However, it seems with studios already promising trilogies or a series, they are warning the audience to get emotionally invested, even if the movie isn't that great, because if you don't you may miss something important to the story line in another film later. It may be bold, or about the smartest marketing strategy in the last 25 years.

Quanah on Nov 24, 2014


This is good. It's constructive and it makes a lot of sense. I doubt it'll change anything but still...

Jonathan on Nov 24, 2014


I understand his concerns, and I do not feel that he is directing this at any studio in particular. But in general, the 'universe' concept does seem to progress how he suggests. WB had Man of Steel, critically it was divisive, and with some audiences that was the case. But it was also a massive blockbuster, grossing $668 million worldwide, and I believe it was the #1 Blu Ray seller of 2013(above even Iron Man 3) which is worth something. They are spring-boarding off of that. In the case of Universal Studios, for better or worse, Dracula Untold is the 'official' start of their shared universe. It was not conceived from the get-go to be that, but mid-swing they adjusted it, and additional shooting allowed them to mold it to be a 'prelude' to their universe. That film had a $70 million budget, and has grossed over $212 million it has more than tripled its production budget and is a financial success. It also is actually a pretty solid movie that is much much better than its critical reception would imply. They are piggy-backing off of THAT with their team of writers/producers who will craft the followup series. So it isn't like either of these two popular efforts are just being forced on a whim, they are primarily coming off of the heels of a 'base film'. Now, not EVERY base film can be the rousing kind of success that Iron Man was, but I don't think having a 5 star home-run of a film should be the ONLY criteria by which you then branch out into a 'universe'. Heck, the followups to MOS and Dracula Untold have potential to be much better films than the 'first entries' which is a good thing....whereas The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, which followed Iron Man, are not considered nearly as good as that film.

Chris Groves on Nov 25, 2014

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