Film studio press releases talk about shared universes like they're a brilliant new contraption for storytelling. Marvel has created their cinematic universe with ruthless efficient. DC's equivalent has died like Elvis on the toilet. Time will tell if the paramedics arrive soon enough to save them.
Nevertheless, interconnected films have secretly existed for as long as maniacal creative visionaries have existed.
The following directors have either rebuilt human history through their films, or created holistic visions for what will become of the species, all unified by their singular shared universe.
\\\ Honorable mentions
Quentin Tarantino's interconnected movies are too obvious to include. He stated from the very beginning that the Vega brothers spanning Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are related (while Jackie Brown, based on a Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch, is set apart in its unique dime-store / thrift-shop / free books sphere. Even more recently, he stated Michael Madsen's character in The Hateful Eight is secretly an ancestor on the same line. All of the films are connected by the Red Apple cigarettes.
Kevin Smith is not being included either because he overtly connected his Askewniverse movies, including Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Clerks II. He even gave the universe a tasteless name and shot it dead in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.
Ghost Little's original fiction is set within a shared universe, but that's a story for another day.
In closing, there are theories that Matt Damon is secretly the same immortal character in all of his movies, constantly in need of rescue, and constantly suffering amnesia. The Matt Damon-needs-rescuing universe is a topic for another day though.
On to the main event.
\\\ The Paul Verhoeven Macho-Violence Universe
Director Paul Verhoeven's shared universe is limited. Nonetheless, it is unified by a singular theme: it is the future, and an oblivious, consumerist human society is flailing under the boot of fascistic rule.
The universe includes:
- Total Recall
- Starship Troopers
In all cases, a satirical mega-corporation or totalitarian government attempts to exact hyper-masculine dominance. In RoboCop, it's just a futuristic Reagan-America where excess dominates, violence rules, and greed is the only motivator. Total Recall is what happens even further into the future when corporate meddling expands into space and beyond, always oppressing the poor.
It all culminates in Starship Troopers. Humanity is now a global fascist state and doesn't even realize it. Still at war with the only "other" that remains, still brainwashed, and fueled by incurable violence, Verhoeven's macho-violence universe is one of deep hopelessness for humanity's future.
\\\ The James Cameron / Arnold Schwarzenegger Universe
James Cameron's universe begins on a small scale. Then it escalates. The films include:
- The Terminator
- The Abyss
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- True Lies
You may notice Cameron's Aliens film is not included. This is because Aliens does not fall under his domain, something to be touched upon in a moment.
Cameron's universe is shadowy. There are threats constantly lurking in the background. Averting Judgment Day in the first Terminator film, mankind was free to encounter alien life on the ocean floor in The Abyss. It wouldn't be humanity's last encounter with aliens. The future had to be secured one more time in Terminator 2, secretly all in the name of permitting Rose in Titanic to continue living.
You see, the technology not being ready is a huge theme in Cameron's shared universe. Humanity must keep enduring until its future can be realized. With just a little more time, the proper submarine could be invented to explore the Titanic's wreck, with Rose verifying the Titanic's story.
One step further, humanity needed to be saved so it could invent the avatar technology. With that, the species could explore Pandora and beyond, all thanks to an optimistic manipulator behind the scenes.
\\\ The Ridley Scott Alternate-history Universe
Ridley Scott's gathers all of human history under his tent. Just kidding. It does touch on many pivotal moments in humanity's existence, well into the future, including:
- Exodus: Gods and Kings
- Kingdom of Heaven
- Robin Hood
- American Gangster
- Black Hawk Down
- Body of Lies
- The Martian
- Blade Runner
- Alien: Covenant
What does Ridley Scott have to say in his alt-history / super-future universe? Only that mankind is savage and insignificant. Only in the strangest moments do people make minor actions of grace and kindness, and perhaps that saves everything from total annihilation. Bravery is the key motivator against absolute evil in Ridley Scott's universe, perhaps the most utilitarian through-line of all the directors noted here.
Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood all feature good men combating humanity's lust for self-destruction.
American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, and Body of Lies, the "modern trilogy," all concern underprepared characters operating in man-made systems oppressing their good intentions.
In the future, Scott's stance on humanity's insignificance is emphasized further, namely in The Martian, Blade Runner, and Prometheus. Men fight down in the dirt throughout history, it's not until the future that they learn how little it meant when it surpasses mankind's recorded history.
One note, considering Prometheus and Alien are both in Scott's domain, this suggests Predator, Alien Versus Predator, and the entire Alien franchise may exist in his timeline. Taking it one step further, this may mean all of John McTiernan's films co-exist with Ridley Scott's, considering McTiernan directed Predator, thus adding McTiernan's Die Hard, Die Hard With A Vengeance, The Hunt for Red October, and, of course, The 13th Warrior into Scott's universe.
Something to think about.
\\\ The Christopher Nolan Magical Rationality Universe
Christopher Nolan most famously directed The Dark Knight trilogy. These films do not exist in his universe. They were simply brand exercises. Nolan's true universe exists in:
- The Prestige
It all begins with Following, the first appearance of the character Dom Cobb. He will come up again later. Nolan has a great deal to say about humanity's capacity for memory. Memento, Insomnia, Inception, and Interstellar, all posit a man is made by what he remembers. A person can incorrectly remember something, while nonetheless being fueled by the error.
Nolan's universe is also obsessed with man's capacity for creation and tricking itself, present most clearly in The Prestige and Inception, each story involving the craft of storytelling. Nolan lives in storytelling and learning through living, for people and all of existence. Dom Cobb shows up again in Inception, dreaming himself back into perhaps existence or non-existence, hopefully to live more fully than before.