It seems like everything is getting its own cinematic universe nowadays. The latest Hollywood trend has led to the proposal of several new franchises, from Hasbro to Nintendo to Power Rangers, regardless of whether or not audiences want to see them. With the interconnectivity of our media being emphasized more than ever, let’s take a look at five would-be cinematic universes that failed right out of the gate.
Years before the MCU was but a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye, Hollywood gave us this attempt at a shared universe based on some of Marvel’s less fantastical characters. Despite mixed reviews for the storytelling and leading man Ben Affleck’s performance, (not to mention whatever Colin Farrell was doing), it made enough money to spawn a spin-off based on Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. While it was a bold move to make a spin-off based on a character who (SPOILER ALERT) already died in the first movie, it didn’t pay off.
Elektra tanked with critics and didn’t even make back its production budget at the box office, killing any hope of further sequels. According to one critic, its failure also effectively ended Jennifer Garner’s career and the notion of a female-led superhero movie for at least a decade, though thankfully Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have disproved that latter point. For a much more successful (though equally dead) shared universe utilizing these characters, check out Netflix’s Marvel Television Universe.
2. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Guy Ritchie, the king of cockney gangster movies, attempted to apply his quick-cutting, frenetic style to the age-old tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, with expectedly subpar results. This Charlie Hunnam-led would-be epic tanked hard, grossing only $148 million on a $175 million budget, sinking plans for a six-film Avengers’ style franchise and losing Warner Bros. over $150 million.
Let’s hope that Netflix’s upcoming Cursed TV series will be a more successful take on Arthurian legend, and if not, we can always watch Joe Cornish’s underrated The Kid Who Would Be King again.
3. Star Wars Stories
You could argue that this one isn’t truly dead, as there are reportedly three different Star Wars trilogies currently in development. However, those are separate from the series of anthology films that were conceived to provide background on many of the main saga’s characters and events. So far only two “Stories” have been released: 2016’s Rogue One and 2018’s Solo. One of these films made over a billion dollars at the global box office; the other became the lowest grossing live-action Star Wars film ever and became the series’ first ever box office bomb.
While much digital ink has been spilled as to why Solo seemingly failed at the box office, be it franchise fatigue or poor release timing (it did come out less than a month after Infinity War after all), the bottom line is that the film’s underperformance has effectively put all other anthology films on hiatus, though they haven’t been outright cancelled. Time will tell if we end up getting James Mangold’s Boba Fett prequel or the Kenobi film that fans have been wanting for years now, but it’s fully possible that we’ve seen the last of the Star Wars Stories.
Boy, did Hollywood bungle this one. What started out as a third Hellboy sequel co-written by creator Mike Mignola himself turned into an R-rated reboot without the involvement of Guillermo del Toro or original star Ron Perlman. While this new film could’ve been the horror-influenced superhero movie that’s been lacking from other comic book movie universes, it ended up just being horrific.
While star David Harbour does what he can with what he’s given, even his efforts can’t salvage a movie that emphasizes excessive gore and four-letter words over the character-driven storytelling and imagination that were indicative of del Toro’s films. It failed to make back its $50 million budget at the worldwide box office, effectively mercy killing any chance of a sequel. Can someone let del Toro and Perlman make their threequel now please?
5. Dark Universe
Of all of the failed franchises on this list, this one might be the most disappointing. A new series based on the library of Universal’s Classic Monsters films, which was arguably the first cinematic universe dating back to the 20s through the 50s, was an excellent idea on paper and looked like it was going to be a constant presence at the multiplex for years to come. And then 2017’s The Mummy came out, and it all turned to dust.
Remember when Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was the most lackluster Mummy film? Well this new effort outdoes it by being so focused on setting up its universe that it forgets to be an actual movie, stranding several talented actors in an under-lit bore that is lacking in both the fun and Brendan Fraser departments. The box office bomb not only led to the cancelling of Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein remake, but to Dark Universe lead writers/co-creators Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan jumping ship as well.
The sad thing is, this wasn’t even Universal’s first attempt at launching the Dark Universe. That honor goes to 2014’s Dracula Untold, which did decent at the box office and was a surprisingly fun popcorn flick, (as long as you’re willing to overlook the very white Dominic Cooper playing the very Turkish Sultan Mehmed II). While the rest of Universal’s monster remakes have been put on ice, they are moving forward with the Elisabeth Moss-starring Invisible Man, which allegedly has no connections to either of the two previous films. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for this twice-dead franchise.
So there you have it; five cinematic universes that failed to take off with critics, audiences, or both. Despite these high-profile disappointments, Hollywood keeps on cranking out franchise films to mixed results. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International are just some of the franchise movies that have underperformed in 2019 alone. With box office numbers struggling to match the previous year’s intake and the streaming wars continuously getting hotter, maybe it’s time that Hollywood started putting out more original films and relying less on reboots/remakes/sequels to bring in the big bucks.
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