A Cinematic Universe Guide for Casual Audiences


Shared cinematic universes are the latest craze in Hollywood. Although they got their start in fiction before making their way into the comic book realm, the power of a connected cinematic realm has transitioned remarkably well into the already franchise-friendly mainstream filmmaking realm.

For those of us not familiar with or confused by the concept, a shared universe is essentially just a microcosmic version of our own world.

Pretend you’re Batman – and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be Batman or Batwoman. You live in Gotham City, and your (most of the time) buddy Superman lives in Metropolis. So, you stage an epic multimillion dollar movie (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) where you kick the crap out of each other for nearly three hours and voila! Two heroes now have now met in “real” life and have formed a connective tissue connecting their two worlds.

This means the next time Lex Luthor holds Metropolis hostage, Bruce Wayne won’t just hear about it through Twitter but can bat-copter his way to the scene and lend a hand.

Of course, there are many shared universes working or in progress, but the Big Two comic book movies are most prevalent, so that’s where we’ll start. And, since DC’s Extended Universe is by far the least-complicated one to parse, our journey through cinematic universes begins here.

Who Lives in the DC Extended Universe?

DC Extended Universe
DC Extended Universe

Anything that’s happened in Warner Bros. DC-related lineup since director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) belongs in the DCEU. So, Wonder Woman’s upcoming solo flick, the antiheroes of Suicide Squad, and of course The Flash and Aquaman also fall under its umbrella.

DC’s cinematic universe will also include both Justice League movies, the Green Lantern Corps flicks, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s pet project, Shazam! (not to be confused with Shaquille O’Neal’s genie film, Kazaam!). Offshoots also include the tied-in but likely Justice League Dark movie which – since it deals mostly with the Vertigo comics side of things – may exist off to the side of the DCEU.

Also, unlike Marvel, DC separated its small and big screen realms. This is why there are two Flashes – Ezra Miller’s movie Barry Allen and Grant Gustin’s CW Barry Allen.

Some of the main creative types keeping DC’s Extended Universe on-course include DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, Warner Studios VP Jon Berg, directors Patty Jenkins, James Wan, director/producer Zack Snyder, and producer Deborah Snyder.

Who Lives in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe?

Marvel Cinematic Universe
Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe isn’t quite as self-contained. Thanks to a brush with bankruptcy in the 90s, Marvel shipped off a number of their properties to 20th Century Fox, Sony, Universal, and other production houses. Throughout the years, though, a few of their more notable properties have – like some things you love and let go of – returned to the company.

Still, there are still a few biggies missing from the House of Ideas’ slate (see below), but Disney and Marvel’s cinematic universe include films like Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers, The Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as upcoming films Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

The Marvel Television Universe, run by Isaac “Ike” Perlman, is supposedly connected (albeit really, really loosely) and covers Netflix’s Defenders like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter.

At present, the MCU ship is helmed by Studio Chief Kevin Feige, with major input from producer Amy Pascal, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, Scott Derickson, and Taiki Waititi, as well as creative direction from Marvel Comics chief creative officer Joe Quesada and writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Who Lives in the Marvel Microverses (Sony and Universal)?

Spider-Man making an appearance in Captain America: Civil War

The big deal of the last couple of years was Sony Pictures and Disney’s arrangement which allowed Spider-Man, who’s normally under the auspices of Sony, to appear in the MCU. This explains why the wall-crawler can swing through Captain America: Civil War and is also getting a reboot next year. Spider-Man: Homecoming is technically a co-venture, but Sony holds all the ownership cards, even if Marvel is calling the shots on-screen.

Not much of Marvel still dwells at the famous monster movie maker. A vestigial thread links Namor, The Sub-Mariner to Universal, but, Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada claimed that Namor is now wholly housed at Marvel. However, no plans for his entry into the MCU exist at present, at least publicly.

Who Lives in 20th Century Fox’s X-Verse (or “Singerverse”) Universe?

Much to the House of Ideas’ chagrin, Fox holds the property rights to all their favorite “X” things, including the X-Men, The New Mutants, and Deadpool (you know they’re kicking themselves about that one). A good memory trick, if it helps, is to remember the phrase Fox puts the ‘X’ in X-Men.

The former home of Star Wars (speaking of studio self-kicking) also has a grip on the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Doctor Doom – which has weakened substantially since their two, count them, two big budget flops based on the cosmic team.

Here’s where the Venn diagram above comes in handy: Fox and Marvel share the rights to characters Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – although Fox has been running with Quicksilver and Marvel makes magic with Scarlet Witch for the most part. They also have joint custody of alien biggies the Skrulls and the Kree – which makes a number of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvels storylines complicated.

The 20th Century Studios are responsible for the original X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, as well as any forthcoming X-films such as Logan, Deadpool 2, Gambit, The New Mutants, and X-Force.

Fox also has one X-Men-related television series, Legion, co-produced by Marvel (which is giving many fans hope for a joint-venture a la Sony and Marvel) and another in development.

Key personnel in Fox’s universe include producers Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner, directors Bryan Singer, James Mangold, Josh Boone, and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty.

And What About Star Wars Cinematic Universe?

Star Wars Universe
Star Wars Universe

Of course, comic book movies don’t have a lockdown on permeable cinema worlds. One of the oldest modern examples of a shared universe comes from Star Wars. Although most of their movies deal with the Skywalker family tree, the evidence of broader-scale tales caused the Star Wars Legends (previously known as the Expanded Universe) to erupt long after the Original Trilogy films left theaters.

In addition to the Prequels, the Sequels, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII and IX, and beyond, Disney also plans to expand their reaches beyond the Skywalker family tree. Following the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the Mouse House will drop another Untitled Anthology film, and a Han Solo trilogy.

The galaxy far, far away has also come a long ways since the Star Wars Holiday Special (*shudder*), and has its tendrils well into animated television with The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels.

So who holds the master plan for the Star Wars Universe? Honors go to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Story Group continuity whiz Pablo Hidalgo, directors Rian Johnson and Gareth Edwards, and writer Lawrence Kasdan.

Are There Other Shared Realms?

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Hollywood loves shared universes right now. Aside from the established majors, there are a number of cinematic universes in the works, including a well-established LEGO land, a theoretical Jump Street joint, and a question-mark Ghostbusters ghouliverse.

One of the biggest of the indie comic book publishers, Valiant Comics recently began work with Sony Pictures to develop a shared universe for their Harbinger and Bloodshot, their sequels, and a Harbinger War. So far, they’re pushing ahead with their first film, as well as a Ninjak web series on its way. The studio is running with David Leitch, Chad Stahelski, Jeff Wadlow, Eric Hessier, Matthew Vaughn, Jason Kothari.

Hasbro and Paramount also recently began constructing its own multiphasic movie land, featuring G.I. Joe, Micronauts, M.A.S.K., and perhaps even a Transformers-based cinematic collective with bigwigs like Michael Bay, Akiva Goldsman, Stephen Spielberg, and Robert Kirkman, among others helping to design it. Classic hokey cartoon maven Hannah Barbera is also putting together a shared realm which includes many of their classic properties like Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, Jonny Quest, and Sealab 2020, among others.

In addition, Universal is weaving together a Universal Monsters cinematic universe (which should really be tied together by a crib/remake of Monster Squad). Their Universal Universe is being nurtured by Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek: Beyond), Roberto Orci, and Chris Morgan and already consists of Dracula Untold, with plans to add other creepy critters like the Mummy, Van Helsing, and the Wolfman.

Can Any of The Universes Interact With One Another?

Short answer: No. Aside from Sony sharing Spider-Man and Marvel collaborating with Fox for Legion, no one really gets to hang together. Of course, if you ask comics legend Stan Lee, he’d love to see DC and Marvel cross over like they did in the Amalgam comics of the ‘90s.

But will anything like Amalgam happen around Hollywood any time soon? Not likely.

While it’s clear studios are attracted to shared universes for their cash potential, fans and moviegoers can benefit in the process. As these films fight for our dollars, they also bring to life our favorite characters and hopefully reignite a hunger to explore the mythology – from the silver screen and back into the source material that inspired their creations. Though the universes might not interact with each other, may a desire to ignite curiosity and imagination stay a common thread amongst them all.

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