Not Every Movie Franchise Needs a Shared Universe

By  · Published on March 12th, 2015


Hollywood loves repetition. It’s the reason why we, as viewers and fans, are stuck in what seems like an endless cycle of remakes, but it’s also why the studio system feels compelled to not only repeat plots and genres in order to appeal to the maximum amount of people, but actual narrative constraints and concepts, like shared universes. Shared universes must be stopped. Well, most of them.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is cinema’s greatest, most ambitious, and most successful shared universe, and it’s one that mainly makes sense, because its source material is also sprung from a shared universe – albeit a confusing, tangled one that changes itself up on the regular – and it’s just generally pretty fun to watch a bunch of superheroes interact with each other. But even the MCU has issues that ultimately wear, issues that stem entirely from a need to box the whole thing in, no matter how many different heroes, stories, and filmmakers are crammed into said box.

Even Marvel has struggled to make its movies and its television series fit inside one universe – Agent Carter has definitely had an easier time than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which appears to finally be growing out of the confines that kept it hamstrung until Captain America: The Winter Soldier could finally reveal what was going on in both the actual movie series and the television series – and now DC is eschewing that blueprint to form different cinematic and television universes. Shared universes still, but at least ones that have loosened up the reins a little. And, again, these are shared universes that make sense.

Ghostbusters is the latest franchise to get the shared universe treatment – maybe? probably? because we’re guessing that Deadline’s shockingly dunderheaded announcement that Sony is pursuing a “guy-centric” new Ghostbusters film was disseminated to the world in a way the studio probably didn’t love, one that neglected to mention this was all part of some larger plan, and one that they’ve yet to actually confirm? – which scans as both another cash-grab and as a larger example of the many issues Ghostbusters has encountered while attempting to launch a third film.

Long ago, we stopped writing about Ghostbusters rumors, simply because there was so many of them and most of them fizzled out or were proven to be untrue with a startlingly rapidity. This wasn’t some big moral high ground move from your favorite film writers at FSR, it was just that we had all grown very tired of writing things that weren’t true and, even worse, only seemed to get less true with each passing rumor. Still, we probably all could have foreseen what would come to the series (once it actually got greenlit for another feature), a terrifying mash-up of watchwords like “remake” and “shared universe.”

Admittedly, a shared universe Ghostbusters actually kind of makes sense. As Drew McWeeny at HitFix writes: “When Aykroyd took his first shot at the script for the original film, it was a huge-canvass science-fiction movie with inter-dimensional travel and Ghostbusters offices open in cities around the world.” That sounds hilarious! That also sounds like a franchise that all but begs for freedom and creativity, one that could take some liberties to deliver fresh, different ghost-bustin’ offerings to its fans.

It is not the kind of idea that calls out for a shared universe as we currently know it, one that is confined to whatever the hell else is going on in other, related films made by different people and populated by different stars. Today’s shared universes are about limits and forced control over creativity and, in a time when so many of our blockbusters are remakes or retreads, that’s the last thing we need. Surely, it’s a delight when movies fit together neatly, a treat, but placing a premium on that over everything else that goes into a making a film is detrimental to the project at hand.

Spend too much time trying to make a whole universe fit, and the individual pieces break, or at least aren’t every exciting to look at anymore.

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