Movie Franchises With Surprisingly Deep Mythologies

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Vote up the franchises that have a lot going on.

With the DCEU, the MCU, and every other film franchise that ends in "u," audiences are starting to get used to the idea of complicated fictional universes. Once creatives and the corporations that fund them got wind that audiences like movie universes they can really sink their teeth into, it started to seem like every film franchise had an accompanying world that could be sold off and used for profit, whether they featured time-traveling Terminators or Vin Diesel's family of car-based super spies

Spin-offs are everything, and you can't have a spin-off without your film casually mentioning a huge conflict or a secret Illuminati group or some other such vague hint of earth-shattering happenings in the margins that just weren't quite interesting enough to make their way into the first film. If you're not a superfan of every movie that comes out, you might not even realize how deep the lore of some of these movies goes.

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  • The John Wick Series
    Photo: John Wick 3 / Lionsgate

    The plot of John Wick is pretty simple. Keanu Reeves stars as the titular John Wick, a man grieving the passing of his wife who goes into a depressive rage after his dog perishes in a break-in. As luck would have it, the person doing the breaking-in is the son of a famous mobster, and someone Wick had dealings with in his previous life as an assassin. This sends Wick on a rampage, taking out everyone involved in the organization on a quest to get revenge on the son. 

    While this plot is simple enough, the film constantly hints at (and sometimes explicitly shows) a sprawling world of assassins. While it might have appeared that way at first, John Wick very much does not take place in our reality. In the world of John Wick, there is a league of assassins who follow a strict code of conduct. These operatives congregate in a safety zone known as the Continental Hotel. The film series also features a shadowy group known as "The High Table," whose members consist of high-ranking underworld leaders, and together they basically control the goings-on all over the world. This group executes their will through the use of a high-ranking agent known as "The Adjudicator." The High Table is said to be older than any government organization on Earth. That's a lot of extra world-building for a fairly simple revenge movie.

  • The Alien/Prometheus Movies
    Photo: Prometheus / 20th Century Fox

    If you hopped off this series after Aliens, then you have no idea how far the rabbit hole goes. As a brief recap, the original Alien follows Ellen Ripley and her fellow space truckers as they answer a distress call from an unknown ship and run afoul of the Xenomorph that takes out most of her crew. In the sequel, almost 60 years pass with Ripley in cryosleep, and she must help a colony being overrun by a horde of Xenomorphs. Alien 3 gets weirder, as 200 years have passed, and Ripley has been cloned by the US government, with some of the clones even being mixed with alien DNA. That may seem like the most bizarre any of this can get, but the prequel series gets even weirder. 

    The prequel series saw the return of creator Ridley Scott. This new direction followed a team of scientists who find a "star map" that may hold the secrets to life on Earth, and leads them to the same star system the original Alien takes place in. Once they're there, they find evidence of an ancient civilization comprised of beings known as the "engineers." Things spiral from there as Prometheus and its follow-up Alien: Covenant mingle religion and sociopathic robots to muddy the narrative waters even more.

    A film famous for being as simple as "Jaws in space" houses a mythology dating back to the origins of life on Earth.

  • The Bourne Movies
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    When you think "Bourne," your mind most likely vaguely recalls the serviceable action trilogy starring Matt Damon. You may even remember that some sort of government agency created him. You probably don't remember that it's called Treadstone and is a secretive organization working inside of the CIA or that this organization has been so heavily mythologized that its exploits have been detailed across novels, a spinoff sequel, and a television series

    The entire operation was actually created by Jason Bourne's own father, Richard Webb. After finding out his own organization wanted to turn his son into an agent, he rebelled against them. He was silenced by an assassin known as "The Asset," and the organization went on making agents. The origins and present-day actions of said agency are currently being detailed on the TV show Treadstone.

  • The Terminator Series
    Photo: Terminator 4: Salvation / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Nothing about The Terminator, or time travel in general, is simple. The Terminator features a time-traveling robot sent from the future to eliminate a woman to stop her from birthing a son who will eventually become the savior of the human race in a future conflict between mankind and robots. That's already a lot to take in, and it's not even the confusing part.

    For the first four installments of the series, audiences had a lot to learn about the lives of the heroes in the present, as well as all the world-building done for the future campaign against Skynet. In the fifth film, Terminator Genisys, things get weird when John Conner sends Kyle Reese back to protect his mother (as he often does). The robot finds itself in an alternate timeline where an original Schwarzenegger Terminator has been guarding his mom since her birth. The sixth film used the gift that is time travel to totally neglect the third through fifth films and instead continue on as a sequel to T2, only introducing a whole new malicious artificial intelligence that replaced Skynet.

  • The Nightmare on Elm Street Movies
    Photo: Freddy Vs. Jason / New Line Cinema

    A Nightmare on Elm Street started simply enough for a horror movie. A maniac is slain by a group of concerned parents, and he comes back as a monster to target the kids in their sleep. Things get a little stranger in the sequel, where Freddy suddenly finds the power to control his targets and have them do his villainous bidding in the real world. The third film of the franchise reintroduces the protagonist of the first and adds a new wrinkle to the dream-fighting. The protagonists are now able to team up inside their dreams and fight Freddy together. This marked a change in the series, as instead of simply fighting a mystical beast, the filmmakers were starting to world-build and explain how the dream world actually worked. 

    Even weirder is the probably-not-canon installment to the franchise, Wes Craven's New Nightmare. In this film, Freddy manages to break into the "real world" and begins a new spree where he targets the actress who starred in the first entry. There's also the canon crossover Freddy vs. Jason, in which Freddy pretends to be Jason's mom in order to control him.

  • The Conjuring Universe
    Photo: Annabelle Comes Home / Warner Bros. Pictures

    The Conjuring tells the story of a family being terrorized by demonic entities to the point that they choose to enlist the services of paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren. The film was such a success that additional installments were released in order to detail the Warrens' other ghostly exploits. This expansion turned a simple ghost film into a franchise that now includes evil dolls, terrifying demonic nuns, and Mexican folktales. 

    There are already seven films in the Conjuring universe, with more still to come. The films include the same characters, both human and paranormal, and connect in as substantial ways as other film universes like the MCU.