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In the late 2000s, film studios, particularly Marvel Studios, realised that they could tap into the potential for creating stories that laid out a trail of breadcrumbs. Rather than just a single film, viewers would be tempted to consume many in a series.
Coupled with the merchandising successes that the Star Wars franchise had enjoyed since the 1980s, Marvel realised it had stumbled on a goldmine – and cinemagoers are arguably all the poorer for it.
Marvel was quickly bought up by Disney in 2009, resulting in the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a hyper-commercialised endeavour that, spanning decades and involving billions of dollars, represents the apex of big budget filmmaking. The studio has produced 15 films film to date, including Iron Man, Captain America and The Avengers, with at least nine more planned.
Marvel’s comic book film franchise is now a multi-media offering, with tie-ins being the norm rather than the exception. Tapping into a form of brand loyalty, the it appeals to viewers on an emotive level, where the content of these films extends beyond the big screen. The hyper-commercialisation of Marvel’s bloated, CGI-laden releases begins months before the release of their films. For example, LEGO tie-in sets from Marvel’s upcoming films are already available for purchase in stores.
Buoyed by the successes of Marvel, every major production studio is now jumping on the shared universe bandwagon. Beyond Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises, we have Warner Brothers’ DC Comics and Monsters franchises. (The Mummy, released last week, is envisioned as the first in a “Dark Universe” multi-film franchise, which will include characters such as Frankenstein’s monster, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.)