The Most Expansive Shared Universes in Film and TV
It is a popular opinion that no other shared cinematic universe could ever stand a chance against the ponderosity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, maybe Star Wars and DC Extended Universe could fill up the remaining air in the room. But is that all there is to the vastness of shared universes?
While Marvel certainly holds the fort in kick-starting the trend of creating stories that are interconnected with the help of compelling and overdramatic Easter Eggs, it seems as if other major studios are willing to go overboard to flesh out their own hit franchise of movies. Looking from afar, some shared universes use cheap attempts at entwining stories with no soul merely to cash in a project. But when done right, there is the sheer joy of recognizing the elements that align with each other, only for the story to make more sense. And when you dive deep into a cinematic universe, it is really fun to devour the connections between films.
The very best shared universes keep steering from unnecessary throwaway crossovers every now and then to create an engrossing landscape of cinema. They have several layers of historical traditions, with characters, relationships, and backstories that reveal themselves in the most unexpected ways. They make us believe in the power of fate and how the most beautiful things come to us in seen and unseen ways.
Hence, we have compiled a list of some of the most sprawling shared cinematic universes in film and TV. Whether they are exploring other galaxies, dangers lurking in the shadows of the most creepy towns, or the future and the impact of technology in transforming a new world, these universes have the ability to draw the audience toward them. The long-standing debate about which shared universe really ‘wins’ as the most successful ever is one that may cause raging opinions. But they all share one thing in common: making us obsessed with looking for clues and connections in worlds we can’t help but be invested in.
The Conjuring Universe
Probably among the most popular horror franchises, The Conjuring Universe spans eight astonishing movies. Starting with the 2013’s The Conjuring, this shared universe tells the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two demonologists who encounter supernatural beings. After its success, there were sequels and spin-offs like Annabelle, the sinister doll, to The Nun, the vindictive entity from The Conjuring 2. With each new film, the story of sinister mythos deepens and reveals new elements that interlink the realm of horrors. The selling point of all these movies is the Warrens’ artifact room, which is the vessel holding all their horrifying and deeply unsettling cases.
When it comes to science fiction, Star Trek has an unmatchable massiveness in its cinematic universe. Star Trek: The Original Series saw the light of day back in 1960, a time when fantastical realms and otherworldly creatures weren’t often seen in film and TV. The imminent success of the Starship enterprise led to a number of movies, TV renewals, and spin-offs belonging to the same future led by a race of aliens. Every Star Trek series foreshadows the previous one with a new cast and an inventive storyline, but they all fall like puzzle pieces in a vast and richly developed universe to explore the futuristic tale. The shows feature amazing special effects and entrancing ethical quandaries. Characters like Jean-Luc Picard and Spock also do an incredible job and pulling the audiences in to root for them. What’s more, is the legacy of the Star Trek Universe continues with shows like Discovery, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds.
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully first appeared as an iconic duo in the very first installment of The X-Files in 1994. The two are seen solving crimes related to paranormal occurrences. The two leads share a complicated relationship under the premise of a hovering, quite evident, government scheme. At the core of the story, we see the two trying to uncover the truth behind all the mysterious happenings in Maryland. Following an incredible run of nine seasons, the X-Files Universe saw two movies, Fight the Future, and I Want to Believe, where Mulder and Scully’s lives and exhausting professions kept getting more complex as more elements of the truth began to work out. In 2016, the original series was renewed. It delves into the modern-day mechanics of contouring the paranormal world.
Power Rangers Universe
The 1990s saw the first entry of the Power Rangers universe in the form of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The series saw a group of teens possessing superhuman powers and gigantic, evil robots to fight an alien invasion. Set within the same shared universe, the popularity of the series was followed by several movies and shows, each involving a new set of characters and storylines. The connections between each season are seen when previous Rangers return to assist new ones in their battle to get the good to prevail. There are also many crossovers between seasons where daunting villains and backstories of favorite Rangers are explored. All in all, Power Rangers blends excellent martial arts techniques and science fiction elements to create a universe you just cannot stop exploring.
One of the best performances of Sylvester Stallone was playing the phenomenal boxer Rocky Balboa in the Rocky Universe. Set in Philadelphia, the 1976 movie follows our titular character, and explores his friends and family and the disorderly life they live. The underdog gets into a heavyweight boxing championship against Apollo Creed. The movies that follow continue Rocky’s professional and personal journey. Also an outstanding spin-off set in the same universe, the Creed movie series follows Adonis, Apollo’s son, with Rocky as his trainer. All the movies in the universe share the same emotion and tenacious familiarity, especially when the characters are in the ring.
For a shared universe to be successful and expansive, there has to be a methodology for each new entry. And the CSI Universe is possibly the most ceremonial of all. The story of all the TV shows in the franchise revolves around a group of forensic professionals solving appalling crimes in different locations. The 2000 entry CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, set in Las Vegas, was the first one to launch the franchise, followed by two very popular spin-offs, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. Their accumulated knowledge of using impeccable forensic techniques to solve cases is what sets them apart from other medical dramas. Years after its final installment in 2015, CSI remains a fan favorite because of its fast-paced story, cutting-edge cinematography, and outstanding characters.
What We Do in the Shadows
Vampires, by themselves, share a distinct universe in their portrayal on TV. What We Do in the Shadows started off as a mockumentary film in 2014 to depict the mundane lives of vampires in the evolved world of humans. The movie follows four very charming vampires living on Staten Island as they navigate their everyday lives. The movie was well received, resulting in a series that stretched on to tell the same story with an undertone of humor. New characters, backstories, and adventure-filled plot lines filled with unexpected crossovers proved that the Shadows universe is more than just a supernatural one. It has heart and humor, with inconsequential moments leading to relatable endings.
Fox’s X-Men Universe
A range of Marvel’s mutant protagonists and antagonists gather around to create Fox’s X-Men universe. The lot has starred in a number of hits, with 2000’s X-Men first launching heroes like Wolverine, Professor X, and Storm, battling against Magneto. Forthcoming movies have shown the thrill and intrigue drawn from the everlasting war between humans and mutants. The X-Men universe also includes prequel series like First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse, all of which are an exploration of several characters’ pasts. Newer entries like Logan and Deadpool also fall within the same universe, allowing audiences a glimpse into the expansive superhero genre.
Law & Order-verse
Courtroom dramas are sometimes just as addictive as our favorite guilty-pleasure-sitcoms. And Law & Order became a cultural phenomenon ever since its release in 1990. The show revolves around a number of New York City detectives and prosecutors as they try to solve crimes and come to judgements. The shared universe consists of the original series, its following seasons, and many spin-offs scratching the surface of justice and jurisdiction. Law & Order: SVU focuses primarily on special victims, while Criminal Intent focuses on gritty and disturbing crimes. However, each entry in the universe shares powerful storytelling, and gut-wrenching cases while dealing with untouched social situations.
Fast & Furious
2001’s The Fast and The Furious gave us Dom Toretto and Brian O’Conner, one of the most beloved duos in movies. The first movie in the Fast & Furious universe begins with Brian, an undercover cop, becoming friends with Dom, a street racer who is also the occasional mastermind behind high-stake heists. The sequels dive deeper into Dom’s life, his crew, and his found family. But that’s not all. Amidst the adrenaline-pumping chase scenes, flashy cars, enormous action sets, and catchy foot-tapping music scores are themes of family and friendship, leading to a cast of unwavering characters and the emergence of a billion-dollar movie universe.
Whoniverse/Doctor Who Universe
The popular British science fiction show Doctor Who also has an entire universe dedicated to itself, known as the Whoniverse. Doctor is a time-traveling alien set to explore the galaxy in the TARDIS. The series follows his adventures and a sprawling mythology of the characters, older ethereal races, aliens residing in space. The show has seen a dozen seasons spanning over 50 years, with several actors playing Doctor as he journeys through timelines and landscapes. Spin-offs like Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures were also critically praised. The show is considered to be one of the most imaginative ever, with its reiterations of the titular character and unfolding of mysteries in a manner that grasps your attention.
Writer and director Kevin Smith created a shared universe particularly surrounding his View Askewniverse movies. Starting with Clerks in 1994, the shared universe expands the story of Jay and Silent Bob with series like Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. All these entries do an excellent job at featuring Smith’s signature humor and themes of human connection and having a reason. The movies often act as solo entries, but they are interconnected by character crossovers, location similarities, and references. Set in New Jersey, the Askewniverse appeals to audiences of all ages and has become a pop culture definition of slacker comedy.
The LEGO Cinematic Universe
Animation decides to stay ahead with changing times as we see our beloved and celebrated toys fighting adorable battles on screen. The LEGO Cinematic Universe’s first entry, 2014’s The LEGO Movie, follows a traditional LEGO figure determined to stop a villain from gluing the world. The animated action comedy was followed by sequels and spin-offs like The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie, both of which use impressive stop-motion techniques, hilarious references, and the signature branding of the LCU.
DC Comics characters blend in a series of live-action adaptations by The CW to create a shared universe of superheroes and villains. The first entry was 2012’s Arrow, where we see Oliver Queen as the good guy fighting evil as a bow-wielding redeemer. The 2014 spin-off The Flash also gained massive popularity, returning for several seasons revolving around time travel and action-packed storylines. The Arrowverse also saw other standalone entries like Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as they referenced the original universe while showcasing top-notch drama and superhero action.
Universal Monsters Universe
The Monsterverse is another sprawling shared universe that gained popularity ever since it launched. Universal Studios has created some of the coolest horror movies. The 1920s saw The Hunchback of Notre Dame, while the ’30s and ’40s had Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. The Studio put the possibility of crafting monsters out of vampires, zombies, and werewolves on the map, paving the way for major studios to explore the tropes as well. While the Monsterverse does not share characters from its original movies, they all carry the same sinister undertone in featuring formidable, malicious supernatural entities. In the later movies, we can also find some similarities and references from the original storylines and locations. But overall, Universal’s Monsterverse is an exceptional shared landscape in cinema.
J.K. Rowling’s fantasy world of wizards and witchcraft saw its onscreen realization with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The 1997’s film introduces us to Harry Potter and Hogwarts, opening up a whole new realm of the wizarding world for fans to devour. Harry’s fight against Voldemort takes us on an unparalleled journey, giving us characters like Dumbledore, Professor Snape, the Malfoys, Dobby, and many more. The Potterverse, by itself, consists of eight groundbreaking films in the fantasy genre. Fleshing out its rich history and delving into the mythology led to a spin-off franchise, Fantastic Beasts. At its core, the Potterverse is a fully-realized universe that appeals to audiences of all ages.
DC Extended Universe (DCEU)
Another superhero universe that focuses on strong character and epic battles, the DC Extended Universe launched in 2013 with Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel. Following its unprecedented success, the DCEU gave us Batman v Superman and Justice League where an array of superheroes teamed up to fight evil, and each other. Wonder Woman and Aquaman also helped expand the universe by being outstanding as solo entries. Each of these movies differ in their cinematography and visual experience, but they’re all centered around a superhero who is adored by the public. The DCEU has also given unfaltering attempts to rival the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the jury’s still out, DCEU is packed with action and entertainment.
When audiences were first introduced to the Galactic Empire and the (then) bizzare Force back in 1977, they didn’t know that they were experiencing something that would turn into an enduring universe of characters and eras. The Star Wars universe has seen sequels, prequels, spin-offs, movies, animated series, and more. Each of these stories consists of characters, myths, alien forces, droids, starships, and weaponry of the most monumental scales. Characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and villains like Darth Vadar, and even props like the Lightsaber have all done their part in creating a saga that continues to enchant fans of the science fiction genre till date.
Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)
The universe that started the trend of shared universes way before it was a characteristic, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful shared universe in the industry. 2008’s Iron Man pulled us in with its brilliant cast, storyline, and action sequences. Sequels and spin-offs brought comic characters like Captain America and Thor to the big screen, leading to The Avengers. Today, the MCU has more than 20 movies under its belt, each of them entwined with the other through intricacies and histories alike. With its unique narratives, often likable villains, and supreme immersion, the MCU has marked itself as a master of storytelling and franchise-building.