A Troubled Year for Franchises, Including DC

Promo poster for Star Wars: Andor.

image: Disney/Lucas film

From start to finish, 2022 felt like a strange year, one where the stability of almost everything we’ve taken for granted was severely tested in one way or another. Southwest Airlines currently being in the middle of a massive travel nightmare feels like a pretty apt comparison; everyone else too confused or pissed off (or, well, both), and there is a general sense of feeling lost as we all try to process what went down this year. That collective desire we all have for the end of the year is more out of exhaustion than excitement about what 2023 might bring.

Things have been particularly eventful for the entertainment industry, especially in the last quarter of the year. Between endless shows getting cancelled, mergers, and subsequent layoffs, there was enough going on to fill a three-season prestige limited series. And in their own way, each of these subjects were connected to franchises: whether it was the tried principles (or confirmed end of) certain blockbuster tentpoles, or discussions of how specific works able to operate in the machinery of their mothership series, we have all had franchises on the brain. We haven’t just wasted endless digital ink on whatever we want certain franchises ahead – we also endlessly wondered if the people involved know what they are doing with said properties, and what it even means for a franchise to to be a franchise in the first place. Try as you might, you couldn’t really get away from talking about franchises, series, sagas and the like.

Image for article titled 2022 was the year franchises fell off their pedestals

image: Marvel Studios

Perhaps that was unavoidable; after 2020 saw much of the industry crippled by the pandemic, 2021 was largely about studios playing chicken with release dates in case there was another outbreak of infections resulting in production delays or audiences waiting on a film to hit VOD. As of 2021 Spider-Man: No Way Home was a gentle step back into franchise waters, then 2022 was more than cannonballing in the high diving board pool: Disney came in swinging with a lot of Marvel and star wars, but also Avatar and some surprisingly solid returns from older series via Prey and Willow. People who are franchises in their own right, like Tom Cruise and Jordan Peele, reminded the public why they are so loved respectively via Top Gun: Maverick and No. New installments of Universal’s Shrek and Despicable me franchises became high earners, and perhaps even critical acclaim. Mobile Suit Gundam brought about a whole new public thank you The Witch of Mercury, and row like Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Owl House got (or soon will get) some triumphant last hurrays.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, was it? Beyond the messy way that studios handled some franchises or how certain installments were at best mixed or right to min, audiences lost more faith in the tentpoles and brands that have become a large part of our lives (and in some cases, people’s entire identities). There was a lot of discussion about the MCUs throughout the year Phase Four for the most part feeling so motionless, or how Andor fails in the eyes of some by not feeling like others Star Wars row like The Mandalorian. Warner Bros. Discovery remains active set himself on firewhile still managing to make people think about the viability of DC and a certain magical property move forward in the new year.

Sometimes that shattered belief was brought about by the quality of a movie or TV show; other times, it was because of the people involved. Remember how Dwayne Johnson tried very hard to let people know he wasn’t upset Black Adam‘s commercial achievements and how his efforts eventually blew up in his face. Think about Henry Cavill– he doesn’t have Johnson’s cultural cache, but you can’t deny that The Witcher made him a more appealing actor in the eyes of many. Whatever happened at Netflix with its sudden shutdown of that show, it’s clear that something happening there that is waiting to be discovered. And the recent issue of the Origin of blood miniseries is not fully confident in the future prospects of the fantasy series without him. Cavill, meanwhile, will finally be goodbut that brief period where it looked like he would be Superman again until he wasn’t didn’t exactly give confidence in his career choices.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet may be a big seller, but it's also torn Nintendo's fanbase apart.

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet may be a big seller, but it’s also torn Nintendo’s fanbase apart.
image: GameFreak/Nintendo

Outside of movies and TV, a similar shift occurred in the video game space. For some series, like Silent Hill and Cyberpunk 2077, fans had renewed their faith, but others have highlighted their long-standing shortcomings. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet and Pokémon Legends: Arceus had long fans at odds about what the franchise could or should be moving forward and who is to blame Scarlet & Violet’s launch matters. Square Enix’s next main line Final Fantasy installation caught fire when its director gave a rather terrible response to the lack of diversity of the game, which served as a reminder that just because a franchise is a blockbuster phenomenon, that does not mean that it is for everyone. Games are usually out in their own little world, but when they intersect with the larger entertainment landscape, you see how the medium is in a similar strange state when developers are acquired (which sent players in concern) or try to win back favor with their fanbases after bad PR.

The year 2023 still looks like it another size for franchises thanks to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which DC movies Warner Bros. decides to release, and who knows what else. But will it be as tumultuous a year as 2022? I honestly hope that is not the case. Even if I have enjoyed and appreciated completely new experiences from the year like RRR and barbarian, I like to kick back with a reliable series and let myself travel. That stability is easy to spot, and also hard to break down. Sometimes you just want what you know has a generally consistent output. But this year was quite explicit to show that the franchises themselves can no longer run on what they have reliably delivered for years. They also have to be ready shake things up or even just cut off the gas so that new stewards take the reigns for a while and let their special talents shine.

For better or worse, every foreseeable year is simply the fate that franchises absorb most of the oxygen in the room. We hope that next year or in the coming years the cracks in the armor will not show as badly as in 2022.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latter Marvel, Star Warsand Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TVand everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.


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