Shared Universes are becoming very popular as of late, primarily due to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). DC is attempting very quickly to join with their DCEU (Edit: Worlds of DC). But are shared universes actually a good thing? They have been around for a while actually, but with how they are evolving, are we gonna lose some audience along the way?
Shared Universes in the Past
Comic books have always been an easily understood shared universe for everyone. Lots and lots of characters that all live in the same place and occasionally mingle. HP Lovecraft also put all of his monsters, Cthulu and co., in the same universe, as well as Dr. Seuss, Goosebumps, and Star Wars before all of those “Extended Universe” books were taken off the list of canon. Even more recently is the Percy Jackson series as they go into the Roman, Egyptian, and Norse Gods as well.
On the small screen, we have seen various Pokémon series, which all take place on the same planet, with the same Pokémon, more or less. People have theorized that many thing that Joss Whedon has made (Buffy, Angel, Cabin in the Woods, etc) are all in the same universe. Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, American Dad, The Simpsons, and Bobs Burgers all live in the same world. Don’t forget that the Kermit the Frog and Elmo are definitely just a few blocks away from each other in New York. Of course, my favorite one, has always been many a Nickelodeon show made by Dan Schneider.
Lastly, on the Big Screen, in the past, we have seen Godzilla and King Kong go head to head, Alien vs. Predator, and we knew that the Universal Monsters of old all belonged together. But film crossovers were just not very popular until the MCU was born, with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
Shared Universes have been around for a long time, but we are seeing them become so much more then they ever have been.
Marvel and DC Bring it Back
Once the MCU began, and we got The Avengers, people really realized that everything was connected, and that they were going to have to watch all these movies differently, with that greater picture in mind. It even sparked the imagination of the audience to create what is known as the Pixar Theory, wherein all Pixar movies all fall into the same universe as well.
Wow thats long. Anyway…. With Marvel having such a huge jump start on DC in the Shared Universe, DC decides to take a short cut through TV, and make what is known as the “Arrowverse” which started with the TV show Green Arrow, then The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and now Supergirl. These are all in the same universe, but not the same as the movie universe, which is interesting, seeing as how Marvel made Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, and Guardians of the Galaxy all together. (Edit: Marvel Netflix isn’t actually connected, with various obvious landmarks and events not being involved)
Harry Potter and Star Wars now get to join the Shared Universe club due to Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One respectively. Both of these are movies that don’t include the main characters, but are definitely in the same universe. Fantastic Beasts had no mention of a Potter, and Rogue One will have Darth Vader, but who knows to what extent, and still counts as a Shared Universe. (Edit: Vader came in, made a great Dad joke, and left)
However, already we are starting to see problems with the Shared Universe. There are people that, as of now, don’t understand how it works, and believes them all to either be unrelated entirely, or prequel/sequels. For those that think them all completely unrelated, they might miss movies, and as such be confused by the lack of exposition. To enjoy Captain America: Civil War, you don’t have to see Thor, Hulk, or Guardians of the Galaxy, but if you miss any Captain America, Iron Man, or Ant Man, you will miss out on some important plot points. However, for some people, they believe that these are all sequels, and think because they haven’t seen Thor or Guardians, that they shouldn’t watch Civil War because they won’t understand.
What Do We Do Now?
MCU has movies planned all the way until 2020 (Captain Marvel), DCEU also is planned out to 2020 (Flashpoint), Fantastic Beasts is gonna be 5 movies long, we are gonna be getting Star Wars until we hate them (just kidding, we will never hate Star Wars, right Jar Jar?) and now we are gonna be getting all of the Universal Monsters of old rebooted, with Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Russell Crowe. But with all of these, our two groups of audience that want to enjoy but don’t know how, might be left in the dust. (Edit: The Dark Universe died before it even started.)
I think the best and only way to combat this, is for the studios to find some way to say “In order to enjoy this movie properly, it would be best to see them all, but these are the basics that you need to know.” There are many ways to handle this, such as have a recap at the beginning of the movies (awful idea) or put it on the poster, or something. I don’t have the answers, but I know that the studios have the brains necessary to find the solution we all need.