How to Kill a Franchise: Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.

In all of my years of consuming media in a wide variety of mediums, nothing sparks my interest more in a property than failure. I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to this junk. When a multi-million dollar franchise is floundering due to it committing career suicide, I’m hooked instantly. It’s so bizarre watching, for all intents and purposes, capable and functional adults waste millions upon millions of dollars to create some real stinkers, mainly when they try to create cinematic universes.

It shouldn’t really be needed to be said who I’m talking about here; Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures. Never have I seen so much money get wasted on projects and scripts that are totally undeserving of it. The irony is heavy when you consider that for a brief period in and around the 2000’s, these three companies were at the top of their game in terms of successful film franchises (respectively Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman,” Stephen Sommers’ “The Mummy” and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman.”) This all begs the question; what happened?

Well for one thing, Disney’s Marvel Studios blew everything up with its winding, massive expanded universe. It was a whole new way of creating film franchises and everyone wanted a piece of the action. The only problem was that no other studio knew how to do it. Warner Bros. dove headfirst into the shallow end of the swimming pool and broke its neck on impact with “Batman v. Superman,” the second film in their franchise despite being a crossover flick in the style of “Captain America: Civil War.” Not only was it ridiculous to release a movie like that so early, but the poor script and grim tone also kneecapped the movie. 

As for Universal, they had decided to dig back and remake their old monster movies with an exciting modern twist. And so, “The Mummy” and the Dark Cinematic Universe were born. And then they promptly died when “Mummy” was released. As it turns out, people don’t want to watch movies with unlikeable protagonists, nonsensical plots and obvious sequel baiting. The entire franchise was D.o.A., and Universal has now outsourced their I.P.’s to Blumhouse Productions to make horror movies out of them.

Sony, meanwhile, had just come off of releasing the disastrous “The Amazing Spiderman” movies, and wanted to cling whatever Spiderman properties they had left at the time. This created “Venom,” a Frankenstein’s monster of a film. Despite being butchered into a PG-13 movie, I doubt even the cut R-Rated footage could save it. The script was rotten from the start with a pretentious antagonist, a boring, unlikeable protagonist and jarring, inconsistent tone; am I supposed to laugh or scream when Venom makes a goofy threat and follows it by biting someone’s face off?

But this is all old news—how are they doing now? On the surface level, fine, but there are some obvious, deep cracks. Last year’s “Aquaman” was basically Warner Bros. final hoorah; the DC cinematic universe has lost so much money already due to “B.v.S.” and “Justice League” in reshoots, advertising and production. “Aquaman” may keep it afloat for a while longer, but when “Shazam” inevitably fails, expect the house of cards to come tumblin’ down. Sony is trying to release a “Venom” sequel, and while they did make their money back, I doubt the ultimately sour taste of the first film will have people throwing money at it. Finally, in an ironic twist, Universal Pictures is probably off for the best. They’re abandoning the awful precedent set by “The Mummy” and instead are letting Blumhouse take the wheel.

So the final question is, how did they fail? The answer is obvious, but it’s one that defenders of these movies hate; they’re trying to knock off Marvel. The problem, however, is that while Marvel is backed by a unified team of writers with Kevin Feige at the wheel and has charming writing and characters, the rest of these franchises do not. Zack Snyder was originally set to be this for Warner Bros., but his films are grim, lacking humor or charm. All attempts at humor in his DC films are pale imitations of Marvel’s writing, which really is incredibly easy to execute. “Venom” and “The Mummy” wanted to do that too, and try to be ‘witty’ and ‘funny,’ but they fail to grasp any sense of comedy or charm when their heroes are unrepentant a**holes. Marvel’s likeable characters are it’s strongest selling point and it’s one that other studios fail to imitate.

So what do we do now? If I were some forty-year-old neckbeard who would get bitter over mismatching costume colors or things not lining up with comic book canon, I’d probably beg you to boycott these films and let them crash. But honestly, why bother? These movies and cinematic universes are all part of a trend, like cowboy films or Alien knock-offs. Eventually, the bubble will burst, and it’ll happen most likely after all three studios release their next film. Not even the impenetrable Disney is immune to this. Take a look at “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Marvel Studios will wrap up everything in a nice little bow with “Avengers: Endgame” and the follow-up films will fail to drum as much hype as any movie that came before it. “Shazam” will probably flop, mainly because Warner Bros. have proven they can’t do comedy. Sony’s “Venom 2” will probably be as bad as the first, and Universal’s movies will probably only be decent. It’s all a matter of waiting, and before you know it, some newer, more lucrative trend will take its place and people will somehow fail to make money off of it. And you bet I will be there to watch it all from the sidelines.