Why Cinematic Universe Storylines Are Increasingly Popular For Studios And Brands


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Never Ending Stories: The Cinematic Universe

There is no doubt that today’s cinema is filled with interconnecting stories and characters, often as a way for studios to lessen financial risk, as franchise films almost guarantee success. While franchise films have been in existence for decades, the "cinematic universe" of characters found in Marvel and DC Comics truly marks the evolution of the franchise film. 

The trend started with films like Ironman and The Avengers and has spread to SpidermanBatman, and Superman and beyond... where cameos of famous super villains and heroes making cameo and crossover appearances.  And the trend is only growing. In this blog, Hollywood Branded discusses the history and potential of cinematic universes for product placement, and why it guarantees such a tuned-in and engaged audience. 

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Origins Of The Cinematic Universe: Marvel Studios

A shared on-screen universe is by no means a recent phenomenon, with film franchises dating back to the early days of Hollywood, with the original Tarzan films and the Universal Monsters franchise being some notable examples. However, the scale of such film franchises has expanded rapidly over the past decade. This shift to larger cinematic universes for franchise films has its origins in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which launched in 2008 with the very first film within the universe, Iron Man.

The idea for a shared Marvel Cinematic Universe goes back to 2005, when Marvel decided to independently produce its films, and only partner with a studio for distribution.  This was a massive change for the company as it had previously licensed its characters to other studios, such as Spiderman to Sony and the X-Men to Fox.

As a result, the rights to these characters belonged to other studios which meant that Marvel studios, under the leadership of Kevin Feige, had to decide how to best use the characters that it still held on-screen rights for.  Which led to The Avengers comic book franchise becoming the key source of characters for the films. A specific component of the cinematic universe was how the studio focused on character development, with the initial films of the series introducing some of the main superheroes before uniting them and others as The Avengers.

The Marvel Difference

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stands out from the crowd of film franchises with its sheer enormity. In the space of just 9 years the Cinematic Universe is well into its third phase. The MCU has release at least one film each year since 2010 with the exception of 2009, with two films being released in 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Universe, however, shows no signs of slowing down, with plans for the next three years launching three films per year. This year's three films include the highly anticipated sequel to the 2014 hit Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman's first solo film in the MCU (thanks to Sony wanting to play ball with Marvel), and the third Thor film.

The Cinematic Universe... And TV

Like its approach to film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has developed a large array of television series in a way not previoulsy attempted, with all the TV shows not just connected to themselves but also to the feature films.

The first series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D airing on ABC, with another ABC show Agent Carter joining the universe soon after. This was then followed by a series of Netflix Original Series: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Similar to the movies, the characters from the TV series from a group known as the Defenders, which is set to premiere later this year. The MCU has also set its eyes on cable TV with Cloak & Dagger set to premiere on Freeform in 2018.  

Direct Competition (AKA DC Comics)

While television shows are at the center of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, they are not the key requirement for a cinematic universe. In fact DC Films, the main rival to Marvel Studios has specifically separated their films from their television shows, creating two separate shared universes existing: the Arrowverse and the DC Extended Universe. Although some characters appear in both the television and film universes, there is a clear distinction with different actors taking on the iconic roles.

The DC Extended Universe began with 2013's Man Of Steel, which was not initially produced as the first film of their cinematic universe, but instead an attempt to revitalize the Superman character after the critical and financial (massive box office bomb) of 2006's Superman Returns.

When Man of Steel was deemed relatively successful, the studio began plans to plan out a shared cinematic universe. The series then continued with Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad, both released in 2016. Despite The DC universe not being as well received as its Marvel competition, this has not slowed down the release and planning of more films, with Wonder Woman and Justice League due for release this year, and Aquaman due for 2018, along with The Flash and many more expected down the line.

The Explosion of the Cinematic Universe: MonsterVerse, Universal Monsters and More

While cinematic universes to date have been primarily superhero focused, they don't have to be. Monster films are set to be the next frontier for cinematic universes. The first of such cinematic universes is Warner Bros.' Monsterverse consisting of the cinematic icons Godzilla and King Kong. The series began with Godzilla in 2014 and culminates with Godzilla Vs Kong in 2020. Unlike the other cinematic universes mentioned, the MonsterVerse consists of just 4 films, making it feel more like the film franchises of old. While of a smaller scale, the MonsterVerse still fits within the cinematic universe mold of having an epic yet light comedic feel.

Universal's response to the cinematic trend involves them utilizing perhaps their most well-known characters, the Universal Monsters. Rumors for a cinematic universe based around these characters started to circulate in late 2013 with Van Helsing and The Mummy being the two main properties mentioned. The first film to be released as part of this particular shared universe is the third iteration of The Mummy with Tom Cruise, due for release summer 2017. The 2014 film Dracula Untold had initially been considered as the launchpad for the series, although plans were later discarded. The titles of the other films of the series had yet to be officially announced but include films based around The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, Van Helsing and The Creature From The Black Lagoon

The notion of a cinematic universe is still relatively new and is still in its early days - with more sure to emerge in the near future. One of the more interesting shared cinematic universes which is being planned is the Hanna Barbera cinematic universe which is due to launch next year with the release of a brand new live-action Scooby Doo reboot, S.C.O.O.B., which is said to be followed by a series of films featuring other Hanna Barbera properties.

So Why Cinematic Universes?

There is no sign of a slow down in the trend of cinematic universes.  And for good reason.  These movies have become so popular with the major Hollywood studios because they are super appealing to viewers.  Which means massive box office success.  Audiences love them as the films provide new stories which feature favorite characters, storylines and environments.  Some existing film franchises are evolving so rapidly that they are starting to be considered cinematic universes within themselves, with the X-Men and Star Wars franchises two prime examples. 

The use of a cinematic universe is a quick and easy way to utilize the characters of existing properties. The opportunity for a series of films also tends to be rather appealing for big stars as it means a guaranteed film (and paycheck) for a set number of years, as well as the opportunity to be involved with greater character development than a single film may offer.

According to Den of Geek The Marvel Cinematic universe gave new life to the characters. As a result, the characters (and actors) from the films become household names as audiences have the opportunity to closely watch the development of the characters from film to film. And this is why brands like jumping on board for product placement and promotional partnerships as well. The cinematic universe chain allows a long-term platform to continuously build a marketing platform around - like Audi has with Iron Man and The Avengers films.

And the most important reason? At least for the studios is that the cinematic universe is extremely successful in box office terms, with 3 of the MCU films in the top 10 highest grossing films of all time worldwide. If you want to read more about current trends in Hollywood, read our blog post on why Hollywood is choosing reboots over original content.

Getting Your Brand Into The Cinematic Universe Too

Now that you know just how successful and expansive films within a cinematic universe can be, why not consider placing your brand in a cinematic universe film? To learn more about the world of product placement, check out our video on how product placement works below!

How Product Placement Works Video