The Avengers have made shared universes the big film craze of recent years. DC/Warner Bros. is planning to copy Marvel/Disney’s unified universe success with their own cross-franchise world, anchored by the Justice League. Disney is also spreading out its Star Wars universe, with annual solo films alternating between the main franchise and spin-offs featuring characters like Obi-Wan, Yoda and Boba Fett. Universal Studios has begun building their own monster-verse, starting with Dracula Untold. Fox is planning to merge their X-Men/Fantastic Four franchises. Paramount is looking at sequels and spin-offs to the Transformers series, making it into a multi-franchise story. Sony is toying with the idea of a combined universe built around the legend of Robin Hood, featuring individual films for each of the Merry Men. (Is the world really clamoring for a film about Alan-A-Dale?)
For better or for worse, combine film worlds are the hot fad. In deference to this trend, Cinelinx looks at the most notable previous shared universes of the big screen. For this article, we’ll limit the definition of a ‘shared universe’ to those that involve three franchises or more.
THE CLASSIC UNIVERSAL STUDIOS MONSTERS : Universal Studios created the idea of a shared universe when they decided to combine their classic monsters; Dracula, the Wolfman and the Frankenstein Monster, in a series of cross-over films. When the original idea was tossed around to have the famous monsters interact, it was not done as a long-term plan like the Avengers. 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman was made as a way to jump-start the floundering Frankenstein franchise, by combining the man-made-monster with the studio’s newest beastie, the Wolfman. Soon, Dracula was added to the mix because the vampire from Transylvania was also in a cinematic slump. This led to the House of Frankenstein (1944) and the House of Dracula (1945). When the latter film didn’t do too well, popular comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were added to the mix in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which included a teaser scene foreshadowing Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. This out-of-the-box idea created the first combine film universe.
TOHO’S DAI KAIJU EIGA FILMS : Staring with the success of 1954’s sci-fi classic Gojira—released in America as Godzilla; King of the Monsters—Japan’s Toho Studios unleashed a plethora of giant monsters-on-the-loose films (or Dai Kaiju Eiga) featuring such iconic creatures as Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961). Even King Kong made his way into a pair of Kaiju films, including the highly successful King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). Godzilla teamed with Mothra and Rodan to battle space monster King Ghidorah in Ghidora the Three Headed Monster (1964) and Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965). The king of monsters would continue to regularly cross-paths with the other Toho giant beasties. A dozen Kaiju creatures were gathered together for the epic 1968 Kaiju adventure Destroy All Monsters.
ALIEN/PREDATOR/PROMETHEUS : Alien (1979) and Predator (1987) started out as two entirely separate film franchises, with no original plan to bring the two series together. It was only an amusing Easter Egg in Predator 2 (1990)–the skull of one of the Xenomorph Aliens–that got fans to start asking for a cross-over, which didn’t happen until 2004 with Alien vs. Predator, and its sequel Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. In 2012, a semi-prequel that indirectly connects to the Alien franchise was released, called Prometheus. A sequel is in the works.
THE FULL MOON UNIVERSE : Admittedly, none of the films here are masterpieces, but this universe had to be included due to the sheer scope of it. This vast continuity encompasses 40 interconnected films, all produced by Full Moon Entertainment. The various low-budget franchises that make up the Full Moon Universe are: Trancers; Puppet Master; Dollman; Subspecies; The Demonic Toys; Blood Dolls; Decadent Evil; The Gingerdead Man; and Evil Bong. This includes spin-offs such as Vampire Journals (1997) and OOga Booga (2013). All of them have interconnected at some point. Several are direct crossovers, such as Dollman vs. the Demonic Toys (1993) and Puppet Master vs. the Demonic Toys (2004) while others are small cameos. This continuity is one of the longest-lasting continuous film universes, beginning with Trancers (1985) through Ooga Booga. 2013 also saw the release of the short film Trancers: City of the Lost (2013). The largest Full Moon crossover was in the 2006 film Evil Bong, which had appearances by characters from five different franchises.
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE : We all know about this one. Starting with Tony Stark’s surprise cameo at the end of the Incredible Hulk (2008), Marvel began its long-term master plan to combine all the heroes licensed by Disney into one, mass film universe; the focal point of which is the Avengers, a team featuring the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, all of whom have their own individual franchises. Other entries in the Disney/Marvel universe include Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man and the in-development Doctor Strange, among others. Spider-Man, formerly owned by Sony, will be joining the MCU, probably starting with Avengers: Infinity War, although possibly before. This has been the most financially successful combine universe and it started the current trend.