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Screenwriting & The Cinematic Universe

Screenwriting & The Cinematic Universe

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Marvel really started something didn’t they?

We’ve been treated to some pretty fantastic superhero movies over the years.  (Spider Man 2, The Dark Knight Trilogy etc…)  Even though they ushered in the era of remakes and sequels, they also paved the way for a far more ambitious brand of storytelling.  It began when Marvel Studios and president Kevin Feige had a vision of uniting their film franchises under one umbrella.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.

Marvel changed everything when they launched one of (if not) THE largest projects in cinematic history.  Their Universe would be made up of multiple franchises that would steadily add to a single epic narrative.  What began as an experiment with the original Iron Man became a world wide sensation when The Avengers assembled in 2012.  In between, Marvel gave us 4 films that continually raised the bar.  Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger & Thor all contributed key elements that helped make The Avengers the second highest grossing film of all time.  Phase One.

Whether you loved The Avengers or not, you can’t deny it’s impact on pop culture.  It changed the way we looked at film franchises forever.  Thanks to Marvel, a new era had begun.  And just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Marvel launched even bigger plans for Phase Two.  Now, sequels to established franchises compliment brand new properties every year.  Each building towards The Avengers: Age Of Ultron in 2015.

Their universe will grow even further in Phase Three and beyond as they introduce new heroes and villains to the mix.

As an aspiring screenwriter, I think the concept of a cinematic universe is incredibly inspiring thanks to the sheer ambition and precise planning needed to pull it off.  Imagine being at the helm of such a rich library of stories and characters.  The possibilities are endless! But… Have you ever considered creating your own rich mythology consisting of multiple interconnected stories?


Other big studios certainly have.  Thanks to Marvel, the summer movie season is overflowing with interconnected superhero movies.  The ‘Universe’ most likely to challenge Marvel belongs to DC.  When Man of Steel soared onto big screens in 2013, it became clear that DC was planting seeds for future franchises to join Superman.

Yet, instead of introducing their stable of heroes one franchise at a time, they plan is to bring them together in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Part sequel to Man of Steel, part prequel to their eventual Justice League movie, DC will essentially launch their main franchises at once and then spin off solo films.

It’s a fascinating strategy given the success Marvel had with their slow approach.  Still, it’s hard to ignore a movie called Batman v Superman.

Sony’s Spider-Man universe took a big leap forward with 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  In it, they planted seeds for several Spider-Man sequels, a Venom spin off and the villainous Sinister Six adaptation.  It may have been overstuffed with content but I’m excited about their approach to villains rather than focusing purely on heroes.  Who knows how this, ahem, sinister approach will work when their full slate is released.  I’m definitely interested to see a villainous team up to complement The Avengers & The Justice League.

Fox recently rebooted their X-Men universe when they brought 2 casts from different eras together in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.  In addition to Wolverine’s much improved solo adventures, they are sitting on an enormous library of possibilities.  It will begin with X-Men Apocalypse.

Not all cinematic universes have to be populated by superheroes.  Quentin Tarantino’s films contain many subtle references to previous films.  For example, Vic Vega, played by Michael Madsen in Resevoir Dogs is brother to John Travolta’s Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.  (This IGN article details the many connections & references featured in Tarantino’s films.)

Pixar has united their slate of animated masterpieces with clever cameos and references. (See how Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt develops screenplays here.)

While Disney is enjoying record revenues thanks to Marvel’s cinematic universe, they are also gearing up to bring Star Wars to a new generation like never before.  With plans to release spin off films in between episodes VII, VIII & IX, one of the richest mythologies ever created will find new life in 2015 and beyond.

That means in the span of a few years, we will see The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Batman v Superman, X-Men Apocalypse, The Amazing Spider-Man 3 & Star Wars Episode VII.  That doesn’t count future franchises, sequels and spin offs that are already in the works in each universe…  Whoa.  Marvel has definitely started something.


Now that this trend is seemingly here to stay, who knows how many universes will emerge?

Do you have plans for your own cinematic universe?  A screenwriting universe? To me, the idea of pouring everything into a single world is both daunting and inspiring.  Think about the effort put forth by J.R.R Tolkien when he created the mythology behind The Lord of the Rings.  He wrote pages and pages of details so that his stories would be authentic and convincing.  His life’s work is enjoyed by literally billions of people daily.

You have the freedom to work on a project of that magnitude.  There’s nothing stopping you from raising the bar!

Why not create a series of interconnected romantic comedies?  Establish different characters in each film and bring them together for an event film released on Valentine’s Day.  (V-Day happens to be on a Friday in 2020 so you have plenty of development time!) Hopeless romantics will flock to theaters to see if their favorite characters will finally find love (or not).

Can you imagine a series of connected children’s animated tales?

What about mixing genres?  Why not create a series of screenplays which follow the lives of a single family over multiple generations.  You could include a western, a depression era drama, a sixties thriller and a futuristic science fiction adventure.  If that sounds ‘out there’ it’s because it is!  Taking creative risks is what keeps screenwriters up at night for good reasons and bad.  You’ll never know if it works if you don’t try it right?

The idea of writing multiple connected films may be intimidating especially if you’re an unproduced screenwriter.  But if it’s something you’ve considered in the past why not revisit the idea?  What have you got to lose?!  Maybe you’re wondering if it’s worth it in the end?  My answer is absolutely yes!  If you care about the ambitious world you’re creating and you’ve fallen in love with the characters go for it!

I’d love to know your thoughts on creating your own cinematic universe. 

Comment below!  Then write!

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