‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Director James Gunn Calls Shared Movie Universe Model “Flawed”
Ever since Marvel created a wildly successful shared movie universe, studios have understandably taken note. But just because the model works for them, doesn’t necessarily mean it can work for every franchise. Universal wants to try the approach with rebooting their classic monsters, and even a new series of Robin Hood films will try its hand at the shared universe idea, with multiple planned films in store if all goes well. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn finds this approach to be a little overzealous, and took to his Facebook page to express concern with what he calls a “flawed” business model.
In a post titled “Carts Before Horses & Hollywood’s New Love of Shared Universes,” Gunn made some salient points about the current state of the industry, pointing out that Marvel and franchises like ‘The Dark Knight’ and even ‘Twilight’ have only been successful because they grew from one film—not because they were planned as massive franchises from the beginning:
Listen, I love big ass shared universes in movies, as well as huge franchises. But I’m a little worried about the numerous shared universes being planned by the studios, without having a strong base film to grow from - or in some cases, NO base film to grow from. Star Wars had the original Star Wars, the Marvel Universe had the original Iron Man, the Dark Knight series had Batman Begins, even movies like Transformers and Twilight - these were movies audiences loved, and the audiences demanded more from these characters. But these days studios are trying to grow trees without a strong seed. Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them - making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking audiences into account at all anymore.
I know George Lucas, Kevin Feige, John [sic] Favreau, etc, had ideas where their films would potentially lead in the face of success. But I don’t think it ever got in the way of making that first movie count as if it was the last, of making it something wonderful that people would love whether it led to other films or not.
In short, I think this new business model is flawed. I think filmmakers and studios should be prepared for the big picture, but never, ever let it get in the way of making a single great film. Be a little more experimental and see what works as opposed to trying to force success. And mostly, remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them - they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that’s simply not possible.
Gunn is echoing concerns that many have, especially when reading about Universal’s plans to reboot their classic monsters, which includes a shared universe and a blueprint for many films with an action adventure tone. The studio hasn’t even delivered one good film from this proposed new slate yet, and they’ve already made plans for an entire new franchise years in advance, assuming that audiences will love a product sight unseen based on the Marvel model. “If it works for Marvel, it will work for us,” they seem to think, but what they don’t understand is that a shared universe isn’t a gimmick, and it’s not the shared universe aspect alone that makes us love Marvel films. If your product, your characters, your narrative, and your universe is really great, then the audience will demand more.
As Gunn notes, let the audience dictate what they want, not the studio.