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12 Cinematic Universes That Failed Miserably

These days, Hollywood seems to be fixated on cinematic universes; interconnected film franchises that can span multiple film series', spin-offs, and more. While such undertakings are complicated and challenging, it's proven a huge boon for Marvel, whose cinematic universe has grossed tens of billions of dollars and turned comic book heroes into global mega-franchises. Their rivals' attempts to create their own worlds have not fared quite as well, though.

In fact, nearly every major movie studio has tried its hand at a cinematic universe, some even pre-dating the MCU. Some of the most famous attempts have come from Universal, Warner Bros, and Sony, as it seems everyone wants a piece of the pie. But whether it's due to their first entries out of the gate being shot down by critics, or just flopping with bad box office results, most of their plans to craft sprawling multi-series blockbusters have been less than successful.

From a vast world of epic superheroes, a series of medieval legends coming together, to terrifying monsters spreading around the globe, some have been well-publicized, spectacular disasters. Others may have flown under your radar, and you might never have even known they were in the works. So let's take a look back at where Hollywood went wrong, with this list of cinematic universes that failed miserably.

Sony's Valiant attempt to be Marvel didn't pan out

If anyone had a good shot at aping the success of Marvel's cinematic universe, it would be other comic book companies. As a result, indie publisher Valiant Comics began making waves with a planned cinematic universe that would have tied together stories they'd been fleshing out on comic racks for decades.

Launched in the late 1980s, Valiant Comics included heroes like Bloodshot, the Eternal Warrior, and Harbinger. In the 2010s, plans began to bring their comics to the screen in the wake of Marvel's popularity, with the hopes of creating their own rival universe of big-screen stories, via a deal with Sony Pictures. The first to get off the ground was "Bloodshot" starring Vin Diesel as a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier. Of course, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic right as the movie hit theaters — which forced it to an early digital release — tore into its box office potential, but it wasn't to blame for the scathing critical reviews.

It doesn't sound like "Bloodshot" is going to be part of a Valiant Cinematic Universe, as the previously-connected "Harbinger" film has since moved to a different studio. Meanwhile, the planned "Eternal Warrior" film with Dave Bautista has reportedly been canned, so while there's still a chance a new VCU could be built at Paramount, their first attempt led by "Bloodshot" is DOA.

Green Lantern never took flight

When the MCU was first taking shape, the world stood up and took notice. Their distinguished competition DC Comics was the first to step to the plate and answer them. In 2011, they released "Green Lantern," their own superhero movie like "Iron Man," centered on their own snarky but charming underdog thrust into the role of hero. This time it was Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a test pilot who is chosen by an organization of interstellar protectors to become their newest recruit.

In the film, Green Lantern faces off with a deadly new villain, and the film goes out of its way to set up sequels, with characters like Star Sapphire and Sinestro clearly primed for follow-ups. But when the film was released, it received poor reviews, and the box office was tepid at best, not earning half of what "Iron Man" had pulled in three years earlier. Dashing all hopes that fans had of seeing DC respond in kind to Marvel's monumental movie undertaking, sites like IGN tore the film apart and rightly called that the DC Cinematic Universe was over before it began.

Historically, "Green Lantern" remains a fascinating footnote into how hard it is to launch a cinematic universe, even when led by a character with name recognition, and a popular leading actor. But it seems few learned that lesson because it would hardly be the last time a studio tried their hand similarly.

The Dark Tower crumbled under pressure

The term "cinematic universe" is something of a misnomer, as not all must incorporate movies alone — some use TV to expand them. In the mid-2010s, Sony had the idea to craft a broad universe of stories around Stephen King's "Dark Tower" book series, a tale that seemed tailor-made for the concept, and they'd use both movies and television to do it. A mix of high fantasy, epic science fiction, and classic western, "The Dark Tower" revolves around a heroic gunslinger and a nexus point that connects countless alternate realities.

Starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba, "The Dark Tower" movie had set a release date of summer 2017 and was said to be the center of a string of upcoming stories on screens big and small. A deal was struck with Glen Mazzara — a producer on "The Walking Dead" — to oversee a TV series spin-off, with Elba reprising his role as the gunslinger, while a sequel was being readied too. This multi-platform plan was said to have been dreamed up more than a decade earlier when the project was under the stewardship of Ron Howard, long before Marvel's cinematic universe had taken shape. 

But when "The Dark Tower" was met with a less-than-stellar reaction, things sputtered. The box office bucks were lacking, fans and critics hated it, and everything to follow was scrapped. According to more recent reports, director Mike Flanagan has plans to revive the franchise as a big-budget series on Amazon.

The Dark Universe got a little ahead of itself

Long before the MCU, Universal Studios had what might be the first cinematic universe with its classic monster movies that included "Dracula," "The Mummy," "Frankenstein," and "The Wolfman" among others. Released as individual monster movies first, they'd soon meet in crossover films like "House of Frankenstein," "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" and "House of Dracula." So when Marvel became king of Hollywood in the 2010s, it must have seemed like a no-brainer to resurrect the monster-verse. 

The first release, "Dracula Untold" — originally developed as a standalone film — retroactively became the first in what the studio dubbed 'The Dark Universe.' Alongside Luke Evans as Dracula, they announced an all-star cast that included Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's Monster, Angelina Jolie as the Bride of Frankenstein, Sofia Boutella as The Mummy, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, and Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. This incredible roster of A-listers was topped by Tom Cruise, as adventurer Nick Morton, who would lead "The Mummy," which was released in 2017.

Overseen by producer Alex Kurtzman, the Dark Universe was an ambitious plan. Perhaps too much so, in fact, because when "The Mummy" landed in theaters it was an unmitigated disaster, not meeting its blockbuster expectations at the ticket counter and getting roasted by reviewers. Shortly thereafter, the studio pulled the plug. By 2019, the studio had pivoted, starting production on an entirely different "Invisible Man" project with Blumhouse, while Chloe Zhao is signed up to direct a new version of "Dracula."

King Arthur couldn't hold a universe aloft

When building a successful cinematic universe, it can help to start with a stable of beloved characters, as existing name recognition can help get the audience's attention. Warner Brothers have learned this the hard way — in 2017 they thought that their action-movie reinvention of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was their ticket to cinematic universe success. 

Starring Charlie Hunnam as King Arthur, and Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, and Kingsley Ben-Adir supporting him, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" was helmed by Guy Ritchie. Rebranding the story of the famous Excalibur-wielding royal as a fast-paced adventure, the film was somehow the studio's ill-conceived attempt at an expansive movie-verse. As the story goes, the studio had hoped to leverage the success of the film into a series of spin-offs based on characters from old Arthurian stories. It was even hoped that the various movies would all lead up to an epic crossover, much like Marvel's "Avengers."

Alas, all hopes were dashed when Ritchie's film hit theaters. Limping to a $148 million dollar global haul, the film didn't even make back its sizable budget. Why they thought spending nearly $200 million on a plan to turn King Arthur into the next MCU, though, is the real question. Because on paper it didn't sound like a good idea, and people were questioning it even before the movie dropped.

The DCEU collapsed under Zack Snyder's vision

Perhaps the most famous cinematic universe failure, DC's second attempt to match their nemesis Marvel's cinematic universe began just two years after "Green Lantern" had stalled their first try. This time, though, they handed the keys to the kingdom over to visionary director Zack Snyder, who had impressed on comic book adaptations of "Watchmen" and "300." Beginning with "Man of Steel" in 2013, the so-called 'DC Extended Universe' is the only entry on this list to have any real measure of success before it all came crashing down.

Following a strong showing in theaters for their Superman relaunch, DC came back with a sequel that set up their new universe, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." The film introduced multiple new heroes leading to a "Justice League" team-up film. Four months later arrived the first movie to make it a true DCEU, David Ayer's "Suicide Squad." Unfortunately, lackluster response to both films had the studio re-evaluating, and suddenly planned movies for "Cyborg," "The Flash," and "Green Lantern Corps" was put on the back burner. 

The problem was, the "Justice League" film was already well underway, necessitating massive reshoots to try and course correct. They'd recover somewhat thanks to a better response to "Wonder Woman," "Aquaman," and "Shazam!," but it was clear an overhaul was needed. In 2022, it was announced that James Gunn would be taking over DC movies, and would be mostly wiping the slate clean for a line-wide reboot and an all-new DCU.

Ghostbusters never had a ghost of a chance

With an all-new cast consisting of Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon, 2016's "Ghostbusters" was a lively reboot of the 1984 classic, reimagined as a more colorful, bombastic adventure. Diehard fans weren't thrilled with the new look and new tone of their favorite heroes, but what was really head-scratching about the whole effort was that it was also an attempt to launch a cinematic universe.

What was originally a simple fantasy comedy about a group of ordinary friends who start a ghost-catching business, this new version was an action-comedy, with big-budget CGI set pieces. Perhaps trying to be their own version of "The Avengers," the ghost-busting team was more like a group of superheroes, and it was all the start of what was said to be a bigger franchise. To do it, the studio founded Ghost Corps, a think tank of Hollywood heavyweights that included producer Ivan Reitman and writer-director Dan Aykroyd, to dream up new spin-offs and sequels. 

The first project on their list was apparently a follow-up with an entirely different cast of ghost-hunters led by actor Channing Tatum, and to be directed by Joe and Anthony Russo. It was a tall order, and of course, as we all know now, it was all for naught. The 2016 "Ghostbusters" remake was a flop, and just a few years later the studio went instead with a legacy sequel to the original movie, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife."

Hasbro had to put their toys away

Toy company Hasbro has had quite a bit of success in theaters, with their series of "Transformers" films raking in billions. In the wake of the first movie's success they teamed again with Paramount Pictures on an adaptation of their other big toy line, "G.I. Joe." A sequel in 2013 added superstars Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, and while neither film was the kind of massive blockbuster that Marvel was churning out regularly, they were enough to be excited about crafting an entire universe of connected films.

Two years after "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," in fact, it was announced that Hasbro would be moving forward with a shared universe based on several other '80s toys. This included adaptations of "Micronauts," about a race of miniaturized robots, "M.A.S.K.," revolving around a team of mercs with special powers and vehicles, and "ROM: Space Knight," about an interstellar robot warrior, and they'd all join up with "G.I. Joe." The talent behind the projects was solid too, with acclaimed writers Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan, Nicole Perlman, and Akiva Goldsman all in the mix.

In addition, there was always the possibility that the companies could fold in their existing "Transformers" films into that universe, a tantalizing prospect for diehard '80s toy fans. But in the nearly decade since, nothing has ever materialized, and with even the "Transformers" movies declining in popularity, the hopes of a Hasbro universe are down for the count.

Pacific Rim's universe was crushed by bad box office

When it comes to city-destroying monsters, "Godzilla" reigns supreme. But the Japanese beast got a challenger when Guillermo Del Toro released "Pacific Rim" in 2013. Set in a dystopian future, it starred Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day, and Rinko Kikuchi as warriors who emerge in titanic building-sized mech suits to do battle with giant-sized monsters that have emerged from a portal on the ocean floor. A hit for Warner Bros, the studio took its time on a sequel, but in 2017, news came out that the follow-up was going to be just the beginning of an epic cinematic universe.

Director Steven S. DeKnight revealed the dream to Nerdist (via Gamespot), just after the first trailer for the sequel had arrived. "If enough people show up to this, we've already talked about the plot of the third movie, and how the end of the third movie would expand the universe to a 'Star Wars'/Star Trek'-style [franchise] where you can go in many, many different directions."

DeKnight went on to reveal that there were ideas for spin-offs, sequels, TV shows, and more. But while the franchise did get an animated cartoon, no further films ever arrived, probably thanks to the disappointing box office haul of "Pacific Rim: Uprising." 

Call of Duty was gunned down on the battlefield

Long one of the gaming industry's hottest titles, "Call of Duty" is a mammoth media juggernaut. Its 2012 release "Black Ops II" amassed $500 million in sales in just 24 hours, making it the largest entertainment launch ever at the time. With such a massive audience, it makes sense that they'd want to bring the series to the big screen, but it may have come as a surprise to some to hear the plan wasn't just for a single adaptation, but for a universe of films.

Announced in 2015, The Hollywood Reporter detailed how the company behind "Call of Duty" had created its own film production house, Activision Blizzard Studios, in an attempt to control the creative process. The studio was to be run by former Disney exec Nick Van Dyk, who discussed a full slate of projects in a press release. This included "Call of Duty," with a movie scheduled for release in 2018, and hopes of parlaying it into a series of connected films. Though no concrete information was given as to what that would mean, speculation was that films would be set, like the games, at different points in history, possibly with crossover characters and storylines. 

As you might imagine based on its inclusion on this list, none of that came to fruition. In 2020, it was announced by the movie's planned director Stefano Sollima that the project was stopped. The status of Activision Blizzard Studio too remains murky, but Van Dyk left the company in 2019, according to his LinkedIn.

Fox almost had their own Marvel Universe

It wasn't until the advent of the MCU that studios realized they'd been sleeping on a money-making idea for decades. But nobody facepalmed more than 20th Century Fox, who had the makings of their own MCU for nearly a decade, having held the rights to make movies based on the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, but never once trying to have them cross over on-screen. That changed when after a 2015 photo session uniting the casts of "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men" films, director Bryan Singer hinted at plans to join them together in a cinematic universe of films.

But with the "Fantastic Four" reboot and later "X-Men" sequels backsliding at the box office around the same time, the crossover was seemingly delayed indefinitely. It may have been for the best, however, as in 2019, the Walt Disney Company purchased Fox, allowing both franchises to be folded into the MCU proper. But that wasn't the end of the story.

Not long after the Disney-Fox merger, "X-Men: First Class" screenwriter Zack Stentz claimed that he'd written a screenplay back in 2011 — when Fox also retained the rights to Daredevil — for a massive crossover film involving all three franchises, who would battle each other on the big screen. He even revealed that "The Bourne Identity" director Paul Greengrass had been in talks to helm the film, which would have brought together all the Marvel characters they had the rights to, creating a retroactive mini-Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Van Helsing's monsterverse was left for dead

Believe it or not, "The Dark Universe" wasn't the first time the studio had tried to revive their classic monsters as part of a cinematic universe. The year was 2004, and actor Hugh Jackman had just become a superstar thanks to his role as Wolverine. Chosen to lead a new franchise based on the Universal Classic Monsters, Jackman was picked to play monster hunter Van Helsing, in a film from "The Mummy" director Stephen Sommers.  

The 2004 film "Van Helsing" centered on the intrepid adventurer hunting down vampire lord Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). But the film also included appearances from the likes of Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West), his assistant Igor (Kevin J. O'Connor), Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley), a Wolf Man (Will Kemp), and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (Stephen Fisher and Robbie Coltrane). Had "Van Helsing" not bombed in theaters, it seems likely they'd have gotten their own films, but what we do know for sure is that a TV series extension was also in the works.

Titled "Transylvania," it would have expanded on the world of "Van Helsing" with the story of a sheriff who moves to the town and finds it plagued by supernatural terrors. Just months after being announced though, the show was scrapped due to its ballooning budget, even before the Stephen Sommers film crashed and burned.