From Marvel Studios to Universal's classic monsters, cinematic universes are all the rage in Hollywood these days. At times, it seems like it would be easier to count the big-budget productions that aren't being envisioned as one part of a much greater story.
Marvel's success with the cinematic universe is already well documented, and now DC Comics appears to be finally following Marvel's lead and sketching out a long-term, big-screen plan for its cast of iconic superheroes. Meanwhile, the X-Men universe has been rolling along for more than a decade now with prequels, sequels and solo spin-offs, and Sony's Spider-Man franchise seems to be spinning an impressive web of solo movies and spin-offs.
Heck, even outside the superhero fare, Universal recently announced plans for a shared cinematic universe for the Mummy, Dracula and the rest of its classic monster properties.
Still, I can't help thinking Hollywood is missing out on a few golden opportunities for new cinematic universes that could not only support stand-alone features but also include crossover projects that could bring the various solo threads together into a greater adventure. While navigating the murky waters of licensing could prove tricky in some cases, these four universes could prove well worth the time and effort it takes to bring their individual elements together on the same screen.
The Jim Henson Cinematic Universe
With Kermit, Piggy and the rest of the Muppets already enjoying a big-screen renaissance courtesy of two recent, critically praised films, and Sesame Street still going strong on public television, the pieces are all in place for a crossover event the likes of which the puppet world has never before experienced. Okay, so Big Bird did have a small cameo in The Muppet Movie back in 1979 (watch the video below), but one can't help wondering how Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Gonzo would react to an encounter with Cookie Monster, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch.
Having the two casts of puppet characters team up for an expedition to Fraggle Rock, during which they encounter a Gelfling or two and foil the diabolical machinations of an older, wiser, but still prettier-than-everyone-else David Bowie in his Goblin King gear, and you have a perfect storm of nostalgic glee. It's the perfect setup for a new Fraggle Rock or Labyrinth project, and very possibly the impetus needed to get the long-awaited sequel to The Dark Crystal conceived by Henson and cowriter David Odell in front of a camera.
Basically, this cinematic universe is a project made for the lovers, the dreamers, and all of us, folks.
Battleship may have had trouble staying afloat, but the Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises are going strong – so what better time than now to start weaving together all of the Hasbro movie properties into a weird, wonderful tapestry of hungry hippos, giant robots, magical lands of candy, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson firing an oversized machine gun?
Sure, it might be tough to develop some common ground between Jem and the Holograms and Optimus Prime's war against the Decepticons, but... wait, wasn't Jem's robot pal Synergy a sentient computer? Problem solved!
If we're lucky, this could also mean a second life for some short-lived, fan-favorite '80s cartoons like Inhumanoids. And if nothing else, building a bridge between the Transformers and G.I. Joe universes might allow Johnson to work his franchise-invigorating magic on Optimus Prime and the Autobots, which is something we should all support.
The Dark Horse Cinematic Universe
Why should Marvel and DC have all the fun when it comes to comic-based cinematic universes? Hellboy may be the most widely recognized superhero to come out of Dark Horse Comics, but he's far from the only well-known character in the publisher's stable.
The Mask, Timecop, the Mystery Men, Tank Girl and the cast of Frank Miller's Sin City all call Dark Horse home, and they're just a few of the properties that could be mined for a potential cinematic-universe strategy. There's also a long list of lesser known Dark Horse properties that haven't made it to the screen yet, such as The Umbrella Academy and Beasts of Burden, that could take the publisher's cinematic universe in fantastic new directions, much like Guardians of the Galaxy did for Marvel.
With the exception of the Sin City and 300 franchises (and the recent, entirely forgettable R.I.P.D.), most of Dark Horse's page-to-screen properties haven't had a film on the big screen in years, so they're ripe for rebooting.
The Tim Burton-Verse
After some wild solo adventures, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Pee-wee Herman team up – to fight a threat too great for any of them to handle on their own. Need I write more? I didn't think so.
Question of the Week: What cinematic universe would you like to see brought to the screen the way Marvel has done with its characters?
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, Newsarama, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and his personal blog can be found at MindPollution.org. You can find him on Twitter as @RickMarshall.
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