Right now, everybody loves a Movie Franchise.
When did it begin? Well, if we’re honest, you could say that 1977 was the one most remember. Star Wars is notable as a franchise-defining moment because of the merchandise that accompanied a generation of kids, growing into a reality that was a galaxy far, far away from their own. However, there were concepts before. The Planet of the Apes (1968) is an significant line in the sand, beneath a shattered Statue of Liberty. That spawned a TV show, multiple sequels and now a reboot, and they’re always good for pulling in the cash. However, I think if most Hollywood executives were forced to point at the way franchises would work in an ideal universe, everybody wants a Harry Potter. It began with a series of books, became a massive, sprawling and self-sustaining cinematic phenomenon, and you can base whole areas of theme park around it. It is ironic therefore that Universal, already holding the Hogwarts licence, has decided at this time to resurrect the granddaddy of all franchises.
Anyone who’s visited a Universal theme park will know the power of the ‘ancient’ monster movies: Dracula, Frankenstein and now… we’ve seen the ‘Dark Universe’ franchise begin with Tom Cruise screaming and occasionally stumbling through a Mummy reboot. You can judge for yourself how the film has fared with critics: I am reminded in response of how much bile was thrown at a certain Ben Affleck when he took over the Batsuit and became part of the DC Universe. Suffice to say, that franchise has granted us the Wonder Woman movie, which is still breaking box office records as I type. It’s a lucky studio that can have a Harry Potter every day, each episode as cohesive as the one before, and undoubtedly the adaptation of Stephen King’s Black Tower books is hoped to produce a similar result. The ultimate aim must be consistency, coupled with longevity. Picking Universal monsters will, eventually one hopes, result in a movie that redefines that genre for a modern age… but only if the changing tastes of audiences are truly understood.
Great books, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, have issues being products of the age they were written. Both women and minorities are misrepresented and often totally absent. The reason why Gadot’s Diana Prince continues to succeed so brilliantly is pure and simple: how many female superheroes have had an entire movie written around them, exactly? Another incentive to discover the next Harry Potter franchise will be considering the best balance of strong female role models to men, the presence of minorities and the willingness of the producers to accept that life is painted in far broader brush strokes than Tolkien was aware of, amongst so many other authors. The reason why the Dark Tower could fail long term is the lack of such strong female support roles, and I suspect casting of the Mummy as a woman this time around was very intentional indeed. However, it is only the part of a far larger picture. It remains very apparent, as Star Wars continues to demonstrate, that you can make top quality narrative adventures with characters that were previously unrepresented. You need never remain the product of a narrow minded and bigoted past.
What this gives us as an audience is, of course, an embarrassment of both riches and choice. Sure, you’re gonna get variation along the way (I’ll properly review Dr Strange at some point which is a vastly uneven effort in the normally high quality Marvel Universe) but you’ll never be able to complain there’s nothing to watch. However, the longer term consequences of the franchise boom should see crossovers to both TV and gaming become more common, and will allow gaming titles such as Assassins Creed to become legitimate in terms of source material alongside novels. With Disney in the long-term process of re-imagining classic animated tales in modern terms, there’s an argument we should be seeing more original material than rehash, but when you own the Theme Parks and can also recycle the rides to fit the generation, does it really matter?
As long as you pay the money, in the end, that’s all that counts.