We live in an entertainment world increasingly defined by shared universes. Movies are bigger than just a single film, or a series, spanning universes that incorporate a variety of media. But like their cosmological counterparts, all media universes are destined to someday shrink and collapse in on themselves, no matter how big or populous. Some, however, will reemerge from their respective Big Crunches in new but familiar forms, in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth, as has already been the case with a number of franchises like Sony’s multiple Spider-Mans and Warner Bros.’ various Batman incarnations. Here, then, is a totally incomplete and unscientific survey of the current biggest genre movie franchises and their odds of undergoing total or partial reboots in the near future (say five years or so).
A few ground rules:
- I’ve stuck to franchises that have at least two movies finished or in production. I’ve left out candidates like Universal’s Monsters because there’s just not enough information available to figure out where the studio’s going with it. Ditto franchises that are “in development” like the Valiant Cinematic Universe.
- I’ve also left out franchises that appear to be finished, like Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga, or are in flux or hiatus, like the Harry Potter spinoffs.
- I’ve included some franchises that incorporate TV shows, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’ve tried to stick to movie-driven ones. I debated including The X-Files since it’s spawned a couple of films, but since most folks think of it as a TV series first and foremost (and would really like to forget those movies ever existed), I left it off the list. In any case, note that “most recent” refers to cinematic installments; ongoing TV spinoffs will be mentioned only where relevant.
- I also left off “franchises” that consist of a new, direct sequel to a movie or movies that came out a long time ago. Obviously Universal hopes Jurassic World will kick off a new round of Jurassic Park movies, but there’s not really much of a canon to mess with, just a handful of movies where people run from dinosaurs. Ditto the Independence Day sequel, the Pacific Rim followup, and whatever the hell that Skull Island/King Kong in Detroit thing is. Or the long-in-gestation Avatar sequels, though we’re due for like eight of them.
- I’m leaving out the Terminator universe, because that’s turned into nothing but a series of reboots, and I seriously doubt
SegaTerminator Genisys will change that. I left out Bond, because a reboot is inevitable, and at this point “canon” is totally beside the point. And I’m leaving out Indiana Jones because I really just don’t give a crap. You guys know that Raiders is the only good one, right? Forget Kingdom of the SpidersCrystal Skull; Temple of Doom should have been enough to show you what a lightning in a bottle-type situation that first movie was. (And please lay off with Last Crusade. That’s just as bad, you just haven’t seen it since tenth grade.)
Ready? Here we go!
First in series: Star Wars (1977), aka Star Wars — Episode IV: A New Hope
Most recent: Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Upcoming: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One (2016), Untitled Episodes VIII (2017) and IX (2018), Untitled Anthology Movie, LOTS MORE
Overview: After buying the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas in 2012, Disney wasted no time in announcing its plans to expand the saga, hiring a bevy of fresh young talent to develop new stories under the watchful eyes of franchise Jedi Masters Kathleen Kennedy and Lawrence Kasdan. Based on the trailers, it looks like the franchise is returning to its roots, with recognizable good and bad guys, epic battles, and fewer legislative sessions. Even the grizzled veterans of the original trilogy are back. And associative “anthology” films will provide Expanded Universe-style coverage of the galaxy’s previously unseen worlds and history in the off-years between trilogy installments.
The Good: Disney’s stock swelled by $2 billion after the second teaser trailer appeared online, with over 88 million views. “Canonical” cartoon spinoff Rebels (2014-) has a loyal following. After skepticism over J.J. Abrams’ directorial style, fans are discovering (wait for it) new hope.
The Bad: Part of the old movies’ mystique was that they were rare events. Having to wait three years between movies made the experience of seeing Star Wars in a theater special and exciting, even if it was just Attack of the Clones. Based on the trailers, the sequels will just recycle established tropes rather than trying to move beyond them.
The Weird: What if there are a bunch of Generation Z fans waiting for a Jar Jar spinoff?
The Bottom Line: Hell, it’s Star Wars. There’s no other media property in the universe that’s as guaranteed to print money, regardless of who’s in charge. The franchise can survive any number of cast changes and still remain recognizably itself — assuming, of course, the new trilogy doesn’t focus on Han, Leia, and Luke at the expense of the new generation.
Chances of a reboot: 3,720:1
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Studio: Disney/Marvel Studios
First in series: Iron Man (2008)
Most recent: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Upcoming: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Spider-Man (2017), Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017), TOO MANY MOVIE AND TV PROJECTS TO COUNT
Overview: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the dominant franchise paradigm of the moment, serving as a template for even established popular series (like the new Star Wars movies) and characters (DC’s Superman and Batman). It’s expanded beyond movies to include both network TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Netflix series like Daredevil, and has diversified beyond standard superhero tropes to include far-out space opera like Guardians of the Galaxy and fantasy, including Thor and the upcoming Doctor Strange. Its influence is so great that even Sony decided to abandon its Amazing Spider-Man reboot in favor of developing a new Spidey franchise within the MCU.
The Good: Ambitious, unprecedented plan spanning multiple “phases” and nearly twenty years’ worth of storylines. Guardians of the Galaxy went to become one of the biggest hits of 2014, despite not featuring any established Marvel heroes. Positive buzz on Age of Ultron. Daredevil is a smash hit on Netflix, auguring well for additional “street level” hero shows and the Defenders crossover. Agents of SHIELD a lock for renewal, despite so-so ratings. Also, new Spider-Man movies.
The Bad: Do audiences really want to see Spidey again, even if he’s hanging out with Cap and Iron Man? Agent Carter received rave reviews but nobody saw it. Long-in-development Ant-Man might be the studio’s first dud, and new characters like Stephen Strange and the Inhumans might not be Star-Lord-level breakouts. Also, after the two-part Infinity Wars saga at the end of the decade, most of the established first-gen heroes, including Downey’s Stark and Evans’ Captain America, are leaving.
The Weird: How far are we from a Howard the Duck/Night Nurse team-up, now that they’re both established MCU characters?
The Bottom Line: Marvel has effectively transcended “franchises” to become a brand in and of itself that audiences associate with first-rate entertainment. Barring some gigantic misfire, it’s unlikely that they’ll end up creating cinematic equivalents of the “Ultimate” universe... at least before 2030 or so.
Chances of a reboot: 1,000:1
First in series: X-Men (2000)
Most recent: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Upcoming: X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (2016), Deadpool (2016), Untitled Wolverine movie
Overview: Short of Star Wars, the X-Men movies are the longest running continuous movie franchise not to undergo some sort of reboot, with many of the core characters from the 2000 original, including de facto series star Hugh Jackman, reappearing in last year’s Days of Future Past. In fact, the series has been around for so long that it’s developed a convoluted internal chronology worthy of the classic 1980s Chris Claremont storylines it’s largely based upon. 2011’s First Class looked like a reboot at first, but it was really a stealth prequel; the time travel antics of Days invalidated huge chunks of established continuity, including at least one entire movie, 2006’s Last Stand, and probably most of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (Another advantage of a long-running series: even loyal fans tend to forget stuff.)
Days was a huge success for the franchise, despite the strong possibility that it was Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s swan song as Xavier and Magneto. Jackman has also indicated his desire to hang up Wolverine’s claws in the near future. But with next year’s Age of Apocalypse, the series appears to be transitioning permanently into a period piece, with younger versions of the 2000 movie’s team in the 1980s. It’s almost a no-brainer that a sequel would follow the team into the next decade, since many of the X-Men’s core fans discovered them through the hugely popular Fox Kids cartoon of the early-to-mid ‘90s. Beyond that, who knows? There are a ton of other teams and characters who could take over in any time period — The New Mutants, Generation X, even X-Force. Or the filmmakers could take a page from the recent All-New series and bring the ‘80s X-Men into the present day, with Wolverine and the other second-gen Xavier students like Ellen Page’s Kitty serving as their mentors — reflecting the franchise’s recurrent “child is father to the man” theme.
The Good: Despite a convoluted timeline, it’s still pretty easy for new and casual viewers to get into the series. Jackman’s Wolverine is one of the truly definitive movie superheroes, up there with Reeve’s Superman, Keaton’s Batman, and Downey’s Iron Man. There’s a seemingly endless variety of characters and storylines to choose from. Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool.
The Bad: Not really clear where or if the new Fantastic Four movie fits into the established X-Men universe. Nostalgia can only get you so far, especially after 1986. Losing the combined star power of Stewart, McKellen, and Jackman will be a huge loss for the franchise. Jubilee in AoA, of all the people. Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool.
The Bottom Line: Is a soft reboot inevitable? Does a mall baby eat chili fries? The question will be to what extent the studio values the existing continuity, such as it is. With Deadpool and Fantastic Four expanding the boundaries of the FFoX-MenVerse (I just invented that! Tell your friends!), the studio might want to hold onto its venerable anchor franchise. If they flop, we might be seeing the Adventures of Young Wolverine starring Justin Bieber in his acting debut or some such thing. (Admit it, he’s the right height.)
Chances of a reboot: 25:1
First in series: Alien (1979)
Most recent: Prometheus (2012)
Upcoming: Untitled Alien Sequel, Untitled Prometheus Sequel (release date TBA)
Overview: Technically, Alien is one of the oldest shared movie universes of the contemporary era, with the xenomorph skull in the Predator’s trophy room in 1990’s Predator 2 establishing a link between the two series, albeit one that would not be depicted in a movie until 2004’s thoroughly underwhelming Alien Vs. Predator, which spawned both its own sequel and an unsuccessful Predator revival, 2010’s Predators. With 2012’s Prometheus, original Alien director Ridley Scott sought to divorce his franchise from the pulpier milieu of the Predator series, seeking to reestablish the mystery of the 1979 film. Most fans regard Prometheus as either an ambitious failure or an abomination, but it did make a decent amount of money, and helped revive the Weyland-Yutaniverse a decade-and-a-half after the previous canonical, Ripley-centric installment in the series, 1997’s Alien Resurrection.
However, canon in the Alien series has always been a slippery thing, not unlike a wily chestburster, mainly because if watched consecutively, the movies feel less like a cohiesive series than variations on a theme set in entirely different cinematic worlds. (Much of what Alien fans consider “canon” is based on the Dark Horse comics from the ‘90s.) So when Neill Blomkamp announced that he was making a new movie with Ripley and Hicks that was a direct sequel to 1986’s Aliens, it was pretty clear that he was retconning the tragic and downright goofy events of the last two movies in the series, even though he later denied wanting to “undo” them. But just where the new movie fits in with continuity and its relationship to the envisioned Prometheus trilogy is not entirely clear at this point. And with Weaver in her mid-’60s, it’s not entirely clear where the series would proceed afterwards, if it would continue to focus on her struggle with the Aliens, or pass the torch to another generation of Xenophobes.
The Good: Blomkamp has a distinct visual sensibility that fits in with the franchise’s best entries, and his quasi-documentarian approach is strongly reminiscent of the low-key style of Alien’s first half. It’ll be fun to see the plot threads from Aliens picked up after thirty years. Weaver could help to redefine the role of older women in action vehicles.
The Bad: Ridley Scott has nothing but a distinct visual sensibility at this point. Blomkamp’s last two movies weren’t that great. Aliens less interesting when you rob them of their mystery. Studio unwilling to spend Age of Ultron money on an R-rated project.
The Weird: Will Ripley and Noomi Rapace’s Liz Shaw end up rooming together in an elder care facility on the Space Jockeys’ homeworld?
The Bottom Line: Despite seven movies of varying canonicity (ten if you include the Predator franchise), there’s really not that much to reboot in the first place — a new movie could feature an entirely new crew, or follow the example of Prometheus and explore some other corner of the galaxy.
Chances of a reboot: 50:1
First in series: Star Trek (1966-69)
Most recent: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Upcoming: Untitled Sequel (2016)
Star Trek is unique among this list in that it started out as a TV series rather than a movie; the first cinematic installment in Gene Roddenberry’s saga premiered a full ten years after the original show’s cancellation. It’s also unique in that it’s remained a primarily TV-centered franchise, with the movies functioning largely as a side attraction, particularly during the nearly twenty-year period from 1987 to 2005 when you could watch one or more first-run Trek-related shows on television.
Paramount tried to change that arrangement when it revived Star Trek as an action movie tentpole in 2009, placing Lost co-creator and Mission: Impossible III director J.J. Abrams in charge of the franchise in an attempt to reinvent Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise for a new generation. It’s not clear that Abrams had any real deep attachment to the show, but he and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman came up with a novel solution by setting the new movies in an alternate timeline, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto playing parallel versions of the original Kirk and Spock, whose characters were similar, but not entirely identical, to those played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. The filmmakers also scored a coup by getting Nimoy to appear as the original Spock, thus providing a link to the established universe and continuity. Long-term fans could rest assured that “their” Star Trek still existed, new fans could enjoy the fast-paced action and humor, and everybody could have a fun time. Right?
Not exactly. Most fans of the original didn’t warm to Pine’s weirdly entitled, bro-douchey Kirk, or the fact that the new Enterprise maneuvered more like the Millennium Falcon than its stately predecessors. Neither did they enjoy the convoluted storytelling of the 2013 sequel, which unnecessarily shoehorned Khan into the storyline in a desperate and pointless act of fan service, or the dark, martial tone that ran counter to Star Trek’s essential optimism. Even the attempts to pander to mainstream viewers with lots of action sequences failed to turn the series into a billion dollar hit; both movies did respectably well, especially after foreign audiences were tallied, but the franchise didn’t become a huge moneymaker. If not for the Star Trek brand, the studio might have abandoned the series.
So that leaves next year’s third installment, intended to coincide with the franchise’s 50th anniversary, which will boast an all-new creative team headed by Fast and the Furious vet Justin Lin. But what comes after that? Another movie? A new TV series? It’s been a whole decade since the last Trek show went off the air, and a lot of fans — including some Hollywood creatives — are clamoring for a new series, possibly set in the original continuity. So we may be looking at the possibility not a reboot, but a re-reboot, or an unboot.
The Good: Quinto’s performance as Spock is quite assured. The 2009 movie, while flawed, is a lot of fun, and Nimoy’s presence lends a genuine sense of poignance.
The Bad: Everything else. No more Nimoy cameos as a mitigating factor.
The Bottom Line: Live long and prosper? Star Trek is still worth a lot of money to its owners; the question remains what form is best-suited to that particular, um, enterprise.
Chances of a reboot: 10:1
First in series: Transformers (2007)
Most recent: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Upcoming: Transformers 5, “Cinematic Universe”
Overview: Yeah, it’s a bunch of goddamned toy commercials.
The Good: Lots of decent character actors get fat paychecks; Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox’s careers ended effectively before they could begin.
The Bad: I guess Michael Bay will never get around to that Rock sequel now. Thinking about a Transformers Cinematic Universe penned by Akiva Goldsman feels like an open invitation to brain death. Robot testicles.
Overview: It may turn out that a shared love of giant robots smashing things will be the basis for a future state of global harmony.
Chances of a reBeouf: 1,000,000:1
The DC Cinematic Universe
Studio: Warner Bros.
First in series/Most recent: Man of Steel (2013)
Upcoming: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), ALL THE SUPERHEROES
Overview: Hard as it seems to believe, Warner Bros. has been trying to create a shared cinematic universe starring the DC superheroes for almost twenty years now, ever since Tim Burton’s (probably blessedly) unrealized Superman Lives project, which would have tied in with the Schumacher Bat-films (hence the references to Metropolis in 1997’s Batman & Robin). At one point in the early 2000s, Wolfgang Petersen was slated to direct a Superman Vs. Batman movie, and following the releases of Batman Begins and Superman Returns, the studio was seriously considering a JLA movie to be directed by Mad Max’s George Miller, albeit set in a different continuity and featuring different actors in the roles. Nolan’s Bat-movies were never intended to kick off a series of DC Universe movies, but there were some clear attempts to lay the groundwork for a possible shared world, such as the long-running Smallville TV series and 2011’s Green Lantern. But it wasn’t until 2013’s Man of Steel that the studio finally embraced the universe concept wholeheartedly, with a long-term plan similar to Marvel’s multiphase schedule.
Lots of commentators have pointed out that Warners’ approach is the direct reverse of Marvel’s: rather than building a universe piecemeal, introducing characters in several distinct movies before bringing them together in an “event” film like The Avengers, the studio is using the upcoming Batman V Superman to introduce an entire slate of DC characters, many of whom will later appear in their own standalone films. This approach might work to the studio’s advantage, since unlike most of Marvel’s characters, its heroes are immediately recognizable to the public, as opposed to Iron Man or Thor, who were not particularly well-known outside of comic book circles when their first movies launched.
Ironically, though, DC’s apocalyptic “grimdark” repurposing of its most recognizable, beloved characters might work against its favor; everyone loves a dark, angry Batman, but the approach works about as well on Superman as the equally ill-fitting Space Jesus motif in Man of Steel — to say nothing of grim ’n’ gritty Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, et al. And where Snyder’s Man of Steel flies, can the Women In Refrigerators be far behind? A little of this can go a long way — especially when you’re looking at $250 million per movie. Ultimately the calculated ‘90s-style darkness of the Snyder/Goyer aesthetic may come off as laughably dated as a Limp Bizkit track playing over the end credits, and every bit as popular with contemporary audiences. At that point, the studio might consider a cheerier revamp and hand the reins to the likes of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — or just pull the plug on everything but Batman.
The Good: The CW shows are effin’ great!
The Bad: Too bad they have nothing to do with the movies.
The Bottom Line: Fred Durst as Darkseid.
Chances of a Bat-boot: 6:1