Anyone going to the movies this weekend will be able to choose between the best and the absolute worst that Hollywood’s obsession with cinematic universes has to offer. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” might be a jaw-dropping animated exception to the rule, but walk into the wrong theater and you could be stuck watching “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.” Paramount’s ’90s-set prequel kicks off the beginning of the Hasbro Cinematic Universe: a crossover event of toy brands (and a real capitalist nightmare) established with a film so mediocre it’s hard to believe it’s been in the works since more than a decade.
You can’t blame a studio for trying. The gravity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spun Hollywood off its axis years ago, centering the already popular IP as the money-printing sun of our narrative galaxy.
Hollywood’s love of a good sequel was nothing new, but traditional franchises were always limited by the lengthy process of making a movie. Between balancing talent schedules and allocating time for long shoots, you were guaranteed a gap of two to three years before a series could return. But the concept of cinematic universes blew that formula. By making movies that simply exist in the same world as other movies, a studio can flood the market with an unlimited supply of content that ensures no one has time to miss out on their favorite franchises.
Things are desolate, and those responsible for that desolation know it too. The anti-franchise commentary permeates film culture to the point of such spectacular self-parody that ‘Scream V’ – er, ‘Scream’ (2022) – and ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ effectively made the same joke about sequels within a month apart from each other.
More online movies push that superficial self-awareness even further, blatantly exploiting corporate partnerships and sucking up brands in the process. Watch “Free Guy” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” – children’s films that effectively personify and canonize corporate logos as entertainment characters alongside the biggest video game heroes and beloved Disney princesses.
IP humor is more cloying than cute these days. But getting philosophical about the chase disaster that is the modern film franchise is itself a redundant business. So rather than wallowing in the grimy sadness of entertainment’s washing machine, we’re taking a walk in the franchise’s disaster graveyard that we get schadenfreude from revisiting.
The following 10 disasters represent some of the biggest fails in TV and film. Not all of them are crossover events or feature explicit multiverses. But each project overstayed its welcome and reminded audiences that sometimes once is enough.
With editorial contributions from Wilson Chapman and Marcos Franco.