Cinematic Universes before Marvel

Thanks to the uber successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has brought in over $10 billion in box office revenue as well as critical acclaim, rival studios are scrambling to assemble their own properties into mega hits. While individual franchises (movies with sequels/spinoffs) used to be good enough, crossover cinematic universes offer something grander than the usual sequels. Warner Bros is working on two, The DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) which started with Man of Steel and will continue with Suicide Squad, and the Godzilla-Kong Cinematic Universe. In addition to owning mega franchises Jurassic World and The Fast and The Furious Series, Universal is working on a new Monster movies franchise, starting with a reboot The Mummy (2017). Hell, Sony’s even crossing over Men in Black series with 21 Jump Street! Shared universes are the style right now.

Believe it or not, however, Marvel is not the first studio to have a cinematic universe. They are simply the most successful and artistically creative at doing crossovers. So let’s look back at some of the crossovers/cinematic universes that preceded Marvel.

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The Universal Monsters 

Yes, Universal is the first to ever do a film crossover with Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1941). Universal had a plethora of monster movies preceding its first crossover, including Dracula, FrankensteinThe Invisible Man, The Mummy series. However, this was the first crossover…and it sucked. The movie is dragged down by a bad plot, terrible acting, and a whole lot of stock footage.

Yet, it helped set the stage for other crossover flicks in the Monster’s Universe, including the House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot/Wolf Man was the common thread/link in all these films, which were pretty bad save for Abbott and Costello. Their movie became a final entry for this otherwise dreadful crossover experiment. I’m glad it ended on laughter as opposed to cheap horror.

But Universal is rebooting this entire universe with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. Other characters to be included are Dr. Jekyll, Victor Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Let’s hope they do this series justice this time. If not, don’t call Kevin Hart for the finish. Just let it die like the Mummy…or not.

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Alien Vs Predator Series

So this one is slightly confusing for a myriad of reasons. Alien (1979) and Predator (1987) were created without the intention of ever sharing continuity with each other. It was a production joke in Predator 2 (1990), where a xenomorph “skull” appeared on a Predator’s ship, that led to 20th Century Fox to seriously consider a crossover between the two. After all, why wouldn’t we enjoy seeing two badass alien beings trying to murder each other? That would be a box office smash right? Right!?

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Yeah, so AVP came out in 2004, led by Sanaa Lathan (holla at your boy, Sanaa), Lance Henrickson (to provide continuity as Bishop’s great-great-grandcreator…or whatever), and no one else in particular. It made $172 million on a $60 million budget. But like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, it was just bad. The plot made little sense, the editing was bad, and two rated-R franchises cannot be squeezed into a PG-13 movie without missing that gritty horror tone that attracted people to their movies in the first place.

They tried again in the sequel, AVP: Requiem (2007), which was rated R and featured a xenomorph/predator hybrid, that could’ve been cool if the setting didn’t suck. It was a typical “small-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere” horror flick filled with boring ass white teens who just wanted to have sex with each other and smoke weed (THE HUMANITY!). Oh, and Predator and a bunch of xenomorphs fight and they all get bombed by government (USA! USA!) at the end.

Given the sequels that have come about since, it would appear that 20th Century Fox has given up on the idea that these two could crossover again. The Alien prequel “Prometheus” seemed to have ignored the events in AVP (can’t blame them) with a sequel to the prequel, Alien: Covenent, coming along the way and a sequel to the main series (I know it’s confusing) possibly developing thereafter. Meanwhile, Predator is rebooting with a Shane Black film coming out in 2018.

Never shall the twain meet ever ever ever again.

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Freddy vs Jason series 

Like Alien vs Predator, these particular horror characters from the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series were not created with the intention of meeting up. Like AVP, the demonic seeds for the crossover began as a sort of production joke in Jason Goes to Hell, where Freddy pulled his mask to Hollywood…I mean Hell…in the end. Of course, this film was in Hell: development hell for several years.

It should’ve remained there. Instead, New Line Cinema finally Freddy vs. Jason in 2003. The movie was your standard hack and slash with a few bad jokes, very little horror, or good acting. Freddy even pretended to be Jason’s mom (“SAVE PAMELA!”). While it made $114 million off a $30 million budget, the poor critical reception and disappointing receipts killed any chance of a sequel THANK GOD! The aging of Robert Englund forced The Nightmare on Elm Street to reboot (yeah,that sucked too) and Jason got a reboot too (that’s all I remember about it).

 

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Toho Kaiju Series (1954-1975)

This was a very successful monsters series. It all started with Godzilla (1954) which was a smash box office sensation and a cultural icon. He is the King of the monsters. After Godzilla’s success time, Toho produced Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961). After Godzilla got whooped by King Kong in round 1 of their face off (round 2 coming in 2020), he squared off against Mothra in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). He killed the titular character, only to be defeated by her children. But the formula proved to be a success!

Next, we get Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster (1964), which featured Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra’s only surviving kid, square off against the titular three-headed dragon. They were the Avengers before they were cool (damn hipsters). Other movies featured massive crossovers include Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965), Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), and Destroy All Monsters (1968).

The series is dated, given the corny rubber costumes and the campiness of these films. Godzilla went from being an destructive allegory of the nuclear age to a childlike defender of Japan. The dubbed dialogue is hammy and the human characters are uninteresting. Amazingly, however, this universe did an excellent job of keeping continuity. Events from the other films were acknowledged and incorporated into each story. Granted, most of these movies focused around Godzilla, which makes complete sense because he’s the LeBron to the Toho’s Cavaliers. His stature, abilities, and pop culture presence is what makes them relevant. Folks like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (?), but they looooove LeBron. Bron IS the Cavaliers and Godzilla IS Toho Kaiju.

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This series had a brief revival in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), which featured Godzilla face off against damn near every Kaiju in toho’s history. It was cheesy and cliche filled, but a satisfying homage to what was then 50 years of Toho kaiju cinematic history.

Hopefully the Warner Bros’ Godzilla-Kong cinematic universe can do the same for these iconic kaiju.

 

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6 thoughts on “Cinematic Universes before Marvel

  1. All true, but I count neither of them as actual Cinematic universes because none of them were even remotely interested in continuity. That’s the big difference, the little bit new Marvel brought to the table.

      1. None of the ones of the list. One crossover doesn’t make a universe, and the monster universes both lack continuity. I think the closest which existed to a cinematic universe beforehand is the Star Trek verse, and that’s more an overreaching TV-verse which happened to have some movies connected to the shows, while the MCU is a movie verse, which also spawned a number of shows.

      2. Fascinating. I would agree with Star Trek being a universe. But I think the Toho universe qualifies as a cinematic universe since multiple monsters crossed over and continuity was generally regarded and respected. Even side monsters from other films would appear in Destroy All Monsters (i.e., Varan, Gorosaurus, etc.). Essentially, all there needs to be for a shared universe is one crossover and Toho had a bunch. And even MCU continuity can be wacky and inconsistent, especially between the TV and film divisions. They’re just better at maintaining it than the others.

      3. Actually the biggest continuity break are the last ten minutes of Iron Man 3, which more or less contradicted the whole of Iron Man 2.

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