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The Age of Spinoffs

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other,” S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury said when describing the events of “The Avengers.” Indeed, that was a day unlike any other.

That was the day (more like month) a superhero film climbed to more than one billion dollars in worldwide box office grosses. You could argue that it was all Robert Downey Jr. or Joss Whedon’s witty direction. Those are all contributors, no doubt.

But after that huge box office haul, the studios took one look at that film and saw the future. And the future was crossovers and spinoffs.

Look at the major film and TV announcements of the past few weeks and months. In response to “The Avengers,” we’ve learned that DC, Marvel’s main rival, is finally creating a connective universe by introducing Batman in a “Man of Steel” sequel, not to mention the popular “Green Arrow” TV show is getting its own spinoff series with “The Flash.” But it’s one thing for comic book films and shows to crossover- they do it in comics all the time!

But what about when Disney buys out “Star Wars” and announces a series of spinoff films to go along with their new trilogy? Or when Warner Brothers gets J.K. Rowling to adapt her slim “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” book into a full-blown “Harry Potter” spinoff film? And that’s not even touching on “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead,” now both confirmed for spinoff shows. The former is a prequel called “Better Caul Saul,” the latter a companion series focusing on different characters.

The point is, these popular franchises are all getting extensions through spinoff shows and films. It’s no longer enough to simply make sequels, prequels or reboots. An entire universe is needed when a franchise becomes successful. Every character needs their story told now, whether it’s Saul Goodman, Newt Scamander or even Han Solo.

Of course studio heads, being who they are, see these as cash grabs. They care about world building, but don’t stop to think on whether it’s a world that should be built.

On the one hand, yes, “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” are gigantic moneymaking machines, with enough storytelling potential to make a hundred films. But do they need to? Isn’t it enough just to have the simple stories of Harry and Luke? Studios are applying a formula that works well with comic books to every series that sells, which is begging for trouble.

Studios, if you have spinoffs on the brain but want to keep them good, take some advice. Don’t do what “Star Trek” did and stretch your franchise out over four different shows until you need a reboot. If the series deserves a spinoff, do it. But don’t make these just to make them. Everyone loves a fully realized world. But that world means nothing if the characters aren’t realized too.


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