While Disney wanes at the box office and The Warner Bros. lot continues to be a Chinese fire drill, an often overlooked third contender is poised to dominate the film industry for the foreseeable future.
Fans have been lamenting Warner’s treatment of DC characters and are divided at best when the MCU and Star Wars enter the conversation. Yet, there have been little to no egregious concerns when it comes to Universal. Its not like Universal has been resting on their laurels. They have been keeping up with the pace and have consistently had their finger on the pulse. The problem is that between the overwhelming amount of drama on the Warner Brothers lot and Bob Iger’s insanely good relationship with the press, It has been hard for Universal to gain any traction in the mainstream media.
Despite their many successes (The Fast And The Furious is ten movies in and still going strong) Universal has inexplicably been stymied when it comes to fan recognition. If Warner and Disney are Pepsi and Coke respectively, Universal would be RC Cola. Arguably, they are the best product, but brand recognition always wins.
All of that is about to change.
No Universe at Universal?
Part of what has kept Universal out of the conversation as of late, is their lack of a cinematic Universe. The film giant focuses on the franchises themselves. it’s not necessary to intertwine every movie and build a big convoluted Alexandrian knot with their properties. They focus on one movie at a time, and make sequels if necessary. They don’t need to have Dom from The Fast and The Furious working side by side with Jason Bourne. It’s a classic formula that works. One movie at a time. If the movie tanks, you move on. If it does well, you build off of its success.
The problem with this formula is that it’s hard to market efficiently. The movies have to stand on their own merit with this method, and that means that Universal has very little margin for error in comparison to Warner and Disney. With the MCU, Disney can release products of inferior quality and still turn a profit. One such example is Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel is probably the most undeserving movie ever to gross one billion dollars. With an audience score of forty-five percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it shouldn’t even be within arms reach of the billion dollar milestone.
However, Disney (Who over time has become more adept at marketing middling movies than they are at making good ones.) inserted Carol Danvers into Marvel’s Phase Three and made Captain Marvel required reading for fans if they wanted to fully enjoy Avengers: Endgame. An inferior product got a shot in the arm and wildly overperformed. That’s Disney Magic for you.
Universal has no such luxury.
Universal Has Been On The Cusp
Despite the disadvantage of not having film Universe of their own, Universal has no shortage of good content or success. Minions a spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise, has been a runaway success. The first Minions film hit the billion dollar mark and is the tenth highest grossing film of all time. The second installment, Minions: The Rise Of Gru shocked the post COVID world and fell just short of a billion dollars. It was the fifth highest grossing movie of 2022.
The Secret Life of Pets franchise has been unstoppable, even in with former star Louis CK’s past transgressions. Puss In Boots has been nothing short of remarkable for Universal financially.
A fifth installment of the Shrek series is in the works as well. So along with their vast selection of live action films, Universal is taking the animation world by storm.
It’s not over yet. A new player has entered the game.
Nintendo Can Catapult The Studio To The Top
When it was announced that Nintendo was partnering with Universal in their theme parks, it was already a foregone conclusion that Universal was aiming for the number one spot in the theme park industry. But when it was announced that Illumination would be making a live action Super Mario Brothers movie, fans went wild and Disney was officially put on notice. Universal has been grinding while Disney was resting on their laurels. For the first time in the history of the company, Disney’s once untouchable seat on the top of the animation food chain is in peril and with good reason.
Mickey Mouse as a brand is iconic. However, whether or not Mickey Mouse is as recognizable as Mario is up for debate. Polls that go back as far as 1990 (When Disney was the undisputed champion of film and theme parks) suggest that Mario is a more recognizable character than Mickey
With the Super Mario Brothers movie on track to hit the coveted billion mark and possibly be the highest grossing film of the year, one could say that Mario is ready pull ahead for good and never look back.
There Are Endless Possibilities On The Horizon
Nintendo became understandably cagey with adaptations after the disastrous release of the first Super Mario Bros. movie. They were already tough to negotiate with before that, and have their own sordid history with Universal Pictures. It appears that Nintendo has softened their stance and might just be prepared to go all in with their unprecedented library of IP. There is literally something for everybody to enjoy, without having to make it mandatory for us to watch it all.
- An epic Zelda adventure is certain to be a cash cow.
- A sci-fi Metroid would please fans.
- Kirby would be a family friendly hit for the whole family to enjoy.
- Kid Icarus another massive epic would score with fans
- Donkey Kong is already in the works and has fans anticipating its release.
If Universal takes it slowly with Nintendo and approaches this library the way that they have been for all these years, nothing will stop them.
Whether it’s Jaws, The Blues Brothers, Psycho, or the beloved Back To The Future trilogy, Universal has captivated moviegoers for generations. They just haven’t been able to overtake the other studios. They are on their fourth parent company since their founders lost control of the studio in 1945. They didn’t fold like RKO pictures, or become a shell of their former self like MGM. They have just been unable to generate enough momentum to climb to the top. That seems to be destined to change.
T.E. Lawrence once wrote about how a hostile enemy will be of no threat if they remain a “silly people” and continue with their own infighting. This rings true for this particular situation. Warner Brothers will continue to argue and pull their studio in every possible direction save for the right one. Disney will continue to lose focus and choose to pick fights with The Governor of Florida while insisting on pretending to play politics instead of making quality content. As a result, both studios remain destined to be a silly people. In turn, Universal will be rewarded with their rightful and much deserved turn on top of the film making industry.
Pardon me while I crack open an ice cold RC Cola.
Thank you for reading. when I am not writing, I enjoy spending time with my wife Barbara, my three year old daughter Frances, and my loyal hound Marbles.
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