Most Successful Fictional Universes

– by Mark MacDonald, Writer – 


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Imagination is the cornerstone of fiction, and whether it’s a “Middle-Earth” filled with elves, orcs, dwarves and hobbits, a secret realm of witches and wizards or a multiverse filled with mutants or a galaxy far far away, the world has come to love a number of fictitious worlds. Here are some of the most successful imaginary universes:

(Note: all numbers are based on estimates extrapolated from various research)

The Star Trek Universe: $6 billion 

mVOSgCreated by Gene Roddenberry and inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Horatio Hornblower novels and Westerns, the sci-fi franchise began with the original TV series that ran from 1966 to 1969. Following the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk on the starship Enterprise, the series ran on NBC and was almost titled Wagon Train to the Stars. In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, followed by five other titles with James T. Kirk and his crew gallivanting through space and time. The success of the franchise would lead to three other television series, an animated series, three feature-length films featuring “The Next Generation” and a reboot of the series in 2009 with new films set in an alternate timeline. Together the dozen movies have grossed an estimated $1.9 billion and Paramount Pictures estimates merchandising is worth roughly $4 billion. Over the decades since its inception, Star Trek has become a cult phenomenon, with its own fully constructed language (Klingon) and a vast number of die-hard fans, otherwise known as “Trekkies.”

The D.C. Universe: $10 Billion 

imgresThe origins of D.C. Comics were in 1935 with entrepreneur Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s tabloid-sized New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine #1 followed by New Comics #1 in December of that year. Later evolving into Detective Comics, the series would become a sensation with the introduction of Batman in issue #27 released May 1939. Over the decades, D.C. comics introduced iconic characters like Superman, The Joker, Wonderwoman, The Green Lantern and The Flash. The Batman films alone have grossed over $4.5 billion, and though it is practically impossible to estimate the revenue generated by the sales of comics over 80 years of publication, based on recent data and extrapolation it’s somewhere in the area of $4 billion. Beyond the financial success of the fictional universe, the characters created by D.C. have become cultural icons spanning generations. With the success of rival Marvel’s Avengers series, D.C. Comics has a series of Justice League movies in the works, paired with individual films following each of its members.

The Marvel Universe: $18.5 Billion 

imgresMarvel Comics began in 1939 as Timely Publications, and has since produced some of the most well-known superheroes in the world, such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, Thor, Deadpool and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Though it is more or less impossible to accurately calculate the total revenue generated by the comics, a rough estimate is around $4 billion. Marvel hit gold with their film franchises, particularly the Spiderman films, which generated over $3 billion in revenue, the Guardians of the Galaxy film and, of course, the massively successful Avengers franchise. Don’t look for Marvel to stop anytime soon; the next few years are packed with more Avengers films, a Doctor Strange movie, a re-boot of Spiderman and a sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as a host of other projects.

Middle-Earth: $19.8 Billion

logo01One of the most renowned works of modern literature, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, written by J.R.R. Tolkien, spawned a series of films that are among the highest-grossing of all time. The six films are estimated to have generated $10 billion in revenue, from 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring to 2014’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The books are estimated to have generated roughly $9 billion in revenue with hundreds of millions of copies sold. The world filled with wizards, elves, dwarves and hobbits is beloved across the world and is one of the most successful fantasy franchises in history. Have we seen the last of Middle-Earth? Though improbable, there is still one novel set in the fictional world that has yet to be portrayed on film – an encyclopedia-esque history of Middle-Earth known as The Silmarillion. No plans yet, but there’s at least one fan crossing his fingers.

The World of Harry Potter: $23 Billion

6971c8623d57a8f970f270e7fc1f284fThe Harry Potter series of novels, written by J.K. Rowling, are immensely popular and critically acclaimed across the world. The seven novels have generated an estimate approaching $8 billion in revenue since the release of the first installment, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997. The total revenue of the films based on the novels is roughly the same (over $7 billion) and coupled with close to $8 billion revenue in toy sales, dvd sales, etc. the franchise is a massive commercial success. Following the adventures of Harry and his friends as they attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and struggle against the dark wizard Voldemort, the world of Harry Potter is intimately connected to reality and attracted not only a young adult audience but an adult one as well. The series of novels is the best-selling book series in history and the titles have been translated into over seventy languages. According to Rowling, the idea “fell into her head” while on a crowded train in 1990 and she “simply sat and thought for four (delayed train) hours as the details “bubbled up” in her brain. J.K. Rowling’s  rags-to-riches story is an inspiration to many, as is her charitable work and her remarkable contribution to the world of literature.

The Star Wars Universe: $30.2 Billion

2000px-Star_Wars_Logo.svgThe “cream of the crop” of fictional universes, George Lucas’ Star Wars is in a league of its own. The worldwide cultural phenomenon began in 1977 with the original Star Wars (now called Star Wars IV, A New Hope) and has led to a total of seven films, with many more on the way. Set “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away,” the films astounded audiences with their special effects and led to massive merchandising with toys, comics, books, video games and the like. It is estimated that, at present, Star Wars games and toys generate roughly $1 billion per year. There are over 350 book titles from over 75 different authors, there are over 120 video games, there are toys, there are lunchboxes, there are board games; in short, Star Wars is everywhere. The original films revolutionized cinema and movie-making and quintessentially recreated the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Now that Disney has bought the franchise, a number of films arein the works, from episodes eight and nine to spin-offs like Rogue One and the as-yet-untitled Han Solo and Boba Fett anthology films. The most successful of fictional universes, Star Wars is a huge part of many people’s childhoods, including mine. (I even owned the Star Wars dictionary.)