by Lee Cross
Once upon a time, there was a modestly budgeted movie (well relatively, it’s pretty messed up that tens of millions of dollars isn’t considered to be that much… but it isn’t) called Ironman.
It was a movie about a self-obsessed billionaire, acting like a self-obsessed billionaire.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it, the other is that it was about a small company (again relatively speaking – worth millions) pushing all its chips into the center of the table, floating one, and hoping to come up big on the river.
Robert Downey Jr, is what turned up for Marvel – and everybody got rich.
Honestly, I’ve no idea how many movies there have been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since then, and I doubt even Stan Lee does (famously he’s appeared in all of them) but they are the gold standard, which every Hollywood studio now dreams of recreating.
Disney tackled the problem the easy way, they threw money at it and bought out Marvel and Lucasfilm, and more recently FOX, which is X-Men / Fantastic Four and Deadpool in case you didn’t know (and whole loads of other stuff besides), at a total cost of tens of billions.
Warner Brothers went out and bought the other golden goose, Detective Comics (DC), yet somehow have repeatedly tried to screw themselves over – despite holding the two biggest cards in the comic worlds deck: Batman and Superman. They’re still generating hundreds of millions of dollars, of course, which is why they are in the shared universe business.
Universal Studios launched their own Dark Universe last year, with that really weird Tom Cruise version of The Mummy, which didn’t seem to know who it was aiming itself at (it reminded me of the atrocious League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – although it was nowhere near as bad) but with a lot of the classic sci-fi characters in its stable, I’m sure it will do well.
So, with all the big ticket stuff already brought up, what possible source material is left out there, for another small company (relatively), willing to invest a little money (relatively), on the chance of hitting it big…
Here’s four book series’ that spring to mind…..
1. Frank Herbert’s Dune
It has everything required to launch a franchise / shared-universe, spanning worlds and decades, well thought through political motivations, elements of the supernatural… heroes and villains.
There’s a series of books, but you only need to be a fan of the first one to know that Frank Herbert 1960s classic has everything that it takes to be reborn a success in the modern multimedia world.
2. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
If you define books by what shelves you are most likely to find them on, then The Discworld is nothing more than a series of children’s books.
Take a deeper look though, and it’s 30+ books about Wizards, Witches, Assassins, Warriors, epic travelers, and great adventure – in short everything it takes to make a series of action-packed movies.
Go deeper again; and what you’ll find within the plots are stories dealing with racism, sexism, life, death, and the hidden mysteries of the universe – anyone can make a big budget special effects movie, but it’s the human element of the characters/stories that are required to keep viewers coming back book after book/movie after movie.
3. Iain M Bank’s Culture
If I were selling this series to a studio, I’d simply say the word STAR WARS to them; except you won’t be coming in trying to build on a baseless beginning (like Jupiter Ascending for example – btw, what the hell was that movie trying to be about?), you’ll be buying into 10 novels worth of backstory and plot depth.
Then there is the Scottishness of the writing, every nation has it’s own quirk on how it sees the world, and there was a subtle tint of that in Iain M Banks’s writing (although its more evident in his straight writing, published under the name Iain Banks), that could grip in the imagination of the average cinema-goer, and make them want to come back for a second movie, and take their thoughts beyond truly comfortable places.
4. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation
How do you start a franchise? How about with the proclamation that everything you know, everything you have built, everything that you value; is coming to an end.
You can’t prevent it. There is no saving. There is no going back, or do-overs – civilization is over.
Foundation is the story of the way back.
The story has everything you need to build a universe, because it is the story of a universe, and has all the elements required (religion, science, the supernatural and faith) to capture the mind of a viewer, even while their eyes are blinded by wonderous special effects and visuals.
Any and all of the above would make a wonderful addition to the world of cinema; although on a selfish level – I hope none of them are ever made, I’d much prefer they stay our secret, the readers, existing in our shared minds; our own shared universe.
[note: a few standalone productions of the above have been made – but none with a view to multiple sequels, or which truthfully did the source material justice]