5 Expansive Cinematic Universes That Aren’t Marvel or Star Wars!

I’m not here to bash massive multi-media universes; yet, Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and (increasingly) even Star Trek seems to be sucking up all the air in the room (and you know how much oxygen there is in space).

Now that Marvel has set the bar so high, every studio wants a piece of the Cinematic Universe pie. Most have not fared as well (DC is amid a reboot, Universal’s attempt at a modern monster verse swiftly disintegrated, and Sony’s ambitions for a web of Spider-Man-adjacent movies are unraveling in the wake of Morbius).

But, Hollywood isn’t giving up; John Wick: Chapter 4 is coming out soon, and a spinoff and TV series are in the pipeline. There is simply too much money at stake to limit the series to just four films.

Even if none of those sound interesting, there are plenty of other vast TV/Movie universes from years past and years present that might be more to your liking.

The Conjuring Universe

You’ve probably heard of this one, but you may not realize how extensive it is, with eight films and a DC Comics miniseries. The first Conjuring was a successful haunted home film and a surprise smash, grossing probably in the neighborhood of 15 times its production budget by providing a highly fictionalized take on the case files of demonologists/bullshit artists Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amityville Horror infamy).

Annabelle, the terrifying doll celebrity who appeared briefly in that film, went on to feature in her own (forgettable but lucrative) sequel. From there, things went downhill, with a Conjuring sequel being followed by another (much better) Annabelle prequel.

Expansive Cinematic Universes That Aren't Marvel or Star Wars

Even if they don’t all reach the heights of greatness, these flicks are all well-made and entertaining enough to watch when the mood calls for a little fright. The films are also extremely consistent with one another, with characters (and demons) appearing in many installments, and with a shared canonical timeline spanning from Annabelle’s genesis in 1943 through 1981 (the setting of the third Conjuring film).

Where to Watch: Conjuring 1 & 2 are both available on Netflix, although the other films can be found in other locations.

Whoniverse

It’s up to Whovians to decide how much each Doctor is different from the last, but, arguably, the show became a mini-franchise just three years after its premiere, when First Doctor William Hartnell regenerated into Second Doctor Patrick Troughton.

Whilst each new Doctor shares some characteristics with his or her predecessors, the actors never felt any compulsion to play the same persona. This openness to change, together with the series’ ever-rotating cast of fascinating enemies and friends, has resulted in a wealth of character development and plot twists over the years.

Expansive Cinematic Universes That Aren't Marvel or Star Wars

That’s what’s kept the notion alive for nearly 900 episodes (plus a TV movie), but there’s more to discover. While the original spinoff, K-9 and Company, did not last long, subsequent spinoffs have been more successful. Torchwood centered on a government agency in Cardiff tasked with protecting Humanity from alien invasion for four seasons, while The Sarah Jane Adventures continued the titular companion from the 1970s in her role as an investigative journalist alongside some intrepid young pals.

Not only have the Doctor’s exploits been chronicled in countless novels and comics, but so have those of a plethora of supporting cast members. Big Finish Productions, a UK-based publisher of high-end audio dramas, has created stories that expand every aspect of the Whoniverse, typically using the original actors but occasionally inserting new characters in familiar locations.

The point is that if you’re interested in time-traveling science fiction at all, there are enough stories out there for you to read for the rest of your life.

Where to Watch: Newer episodes of Doctor Who can be found on HBO Max, while the classic series can be found on Brit Box (as are Torchwood and Sarah Jane).

Law & Order-Verse

It gets a bit complex here because the original Law & Order television series, which debuted in 1990 and ran for 20 seasons before being rebooted, is currently in its 22nd season. That show’s spinoff Special Victims Unit, starring Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni for a dozen years, is currently in its 24th continuous season.

While Criminal Intent ran for a decade starting in 2001, Organized Crime is a relative newcomer in its third season. A few less successful spin-offs ran for a season apiece. Mike Logan played by Chris Noth, Lennie Brisco by Jerry Orbach, and Anita Van Buren by S. Epatha Merkerson all freely switches between series, frequently as guests but occasionally as permanent cast members. Exile, a TV movie from 1998, further develops the genre.

 But there’s more! The three ongoing shows from the FBI franchise and the four from the Chicago franchise are among Dick Wolf’s other two major franchises that occasionally cross over into the same world.

Yet if God forbid, you manage to endure those a thousand hours of television, there is still one more step to take with Richard Belzer’s John Munch. That Homicide: Life on the Street character, who now appears on SVU, was formerly a regular on the unrelated series, placing that (great) show retrospectively within the Law & Order sphere.

In addition, Belzer officially adds The Wire and The X-Files to your L&O universe binge, as well as Arrested Development and 30 Rock if you want to get crazy, to his record for the most appearances of the same character in various TV shows, some humorous and others serious. Including that one as well since Luther, played by Idris Elba, refers to Munch as his contact with the New York SVU contact.

Where to Watch: The Chicago programs are all on Peacock, as well as Law & Order and SVU.

The View Askewniverse

When Kevin Smith sold his collection of comic books to fund the bawdy indie classic Clerks back in 1994, he could hardly have imagined that he would one day be the creator of a multi-media shared universe. But the third movie in the series has recently been released, some thirty years later.

Between, Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) have primarily served as the View Askewniverse’s leading males, briefly making an appearance in Mallrats in 1995, followed by Chasing Amy, Dogma, and then taking center stage in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

The stoner friends have served as the unifying threads in nine films, an animated series, a huge number of comic books, and, of course, Scream 3; feel free to add that series to your baked binge-watch.

Where to Watch: There are some of the films available for streaming on Paramount+, including Clerks (and Scream 3). However, seeing Dogma will require you to track down an out-of-print DVD due to rights difficulties.

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The Ring/The Grudge Multiverse

Over 20 years after their debut, in 2016, the universes of Ju-On and Ring, two Japanese horror mega-franchises that were successful in North America, were finally connected. Ju-on, also known as The Grudge, started as a few short films and developed into the Takashi Shimizu feature from 2002 that introduced the Tokyo house haunted by the (justifiably) furious ghost Kayako and her much creepier ghost child, Toshio, both of whom were murdered (hence the grudge).

Three direct sequels to the film were produced, along with numerous shorter works, novelizations, a video game, and a TV show.

The somewhat less sympathetic Sadako, a serial murderer who curses people with her cursed VHS tape before dramatically jumping out off the TV screen, was introduced to the public in Ring, which was based on a series of novels by Koji Suzuki. The first significant adaptation was helmed by Hideo Nakata (after a previous TV movie), and it has since spawned six sequels as well as countless subsidiary projects (a TV series, a South Korean remake, manga, etc.)

Expansive Cinematic Universes That Aren't Marvel or Star Wars

Of course, The Grudge and Ring both inspired American remakes that resulted in sequels (and, in the case of The Grudge, a remake of the remake), but for our purposes, those are in different universes. Sadako vs. Kayako, however, was Japan’s answer to Freddy vs. Jason in 2016.

Sadako, it appears, is back on her videotape bullshit, and the young woman who has been cursed to die is helpfully informed that the only way to stop Sadako is to summon an equally vengeful demon and pit them against one another, Celebrity Deathmatch-style.

Toshio and the two women, all of whom are very excellent at curses and murder but less skilled at sports, participated in a baseball exhibition as part of the movie’s promotional efforts.

Where to Watch: Sadako vs. Kayako is available on Shudder, as well as the first three Japanese Ring movies on Tubi and Shudder. On Freeview, there is the first Ju-on.

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