More often than not, the idea of a crossover is more a cheap gimmick than an actual artistic decision, aimed to capitalize on the popularity of various media characters or properties by lazily combining them into one as some kind of television or film “event.” While they used to be reserved for old Saturday morning cartoons, the old crossover concept has made its way into cinemas in recent years, with cinematic “universes” like those from Marvel and DC Comics.
But some crossovers have been more successful than others. We’ve compiled this list of crossover films that managed to transcend their gimmicky conceit, as well as those that simply fell victim to it.
1. Best: The Avengers
The film that sparked the current crossover craze, The Avengers, is the crowd-pleasing blockbuster that the Marvel cinematic universe was an experiment that worked out, both in terms of content and cash. The film raked in a record-shattering $1.5 million worldwide. Meanwhile, director Joss Whedon brought valuable experience writing for ensemble casts of television characters, using a MacGuffin and a strong, if basic, script to shove all the disparate members of this superhero team into one room and force them to bounce off of each other.
Though many of the CGI-fueled action scenes are indeed thrilling, the key to the film’s success lies in its ability to channel the personalities of all the individual characters (okay, maybe not Hawkeye), making us care about them and laugh with them even in such a relentlessly busy, fun film.
2. Worst: Alien vs. Predator
The idea to merge the terrifying eponymous creatures from the Alien and Predator film franchises originated in a 1988 comic book, and maybe it should have ended with that. The film version of this mashup, released in 2004, follows a group of spectacularly boring archaeologists plumbing the depths of an underground pyramid that may have the ruins of an ancient society. In actuality, it contains a group of Predators ritualistically hunting the hordes of rabid Aliens, putting the humans in the middle of this intergalactic blood feud.
Despite the solid concept, Alien vs. Predator couldn’t help but feel like a cheap cash-in, looking to make two dead franchises relevant with nothing more than some meaningless gore, poor lighting, and a lousy script.
3. Best: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Long before the Avengers or even the Saturday morning cartoons that helped popularize crossovers, comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello starred in this classic horror comedy wherein the legendary comedic pair meet the legendary villains of Universal’s monster movies, including Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and the Wolf Man.
Beyond the impressive cast, the film never fails to entertain more than 50 years later, thanks in no small part to the whip-fast vaudevillian delivery of the two heroes, who play off of each other and off of the iconic monsters around them perfectly. Though monsters may be the occasional butt of a joke, they are mostly just inserted into an Abbott and Costello movie and allowed to exist in all their glory — making this a film that somehow stays true to its very different characters all at once.
4. Worst: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Talk about wasted source material. This 2003 stinker was loosely based on one volume of Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, which was itself inspired by such classic works of literature as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe.
The film, which marks Sean Connery’s final onscreen appearance to date, failed to start a franchise based on the novel idea of creating a super-team of classic literary characters. Many misguided changes were changed from the graphic novel, cramming new characters in and forcing them to spout uninterrupted streams of uninteresting exposition. The film eventually builds towards action, but it’s too late to save what Roger Ebert called “general lunacy” of the film.
5. Best: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
This film marks the only simultaneous onscreen appearance of both Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse — a momentous achievement to be sure, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has far more on its mind that those two iconic characters. The surprisingly dark neo-noir, marketed as a family film, pays tribute to the golden age of animation and detective fiction by cramming in familiar characters from both the old stables of Disney and Warner Bros. shorts (plus a few new creations to populate its alternate version of Hollywood where toons and humans live side by side).
Roger Rabbit is one of the new creations, a goofy, lisping rabbit who enlists the reluctant help of toon-racist PI Eddie Valiant, to exonerate him after he’s accused of murder. His accusation is part of a conspiracy by Christopher Lloyd’s imposing Judge Doom to eliminate toons and replace LA’s subway system with a labyrinth of highways (a development based on true Hollywood history).
Roger Rabbit may be made primarily of characters and styles borrowed from other films, but they’re assembled in such a novel way it’s hard not to admire the film’s creativity.
6. Worst: Freddy vs. Jason
Like Alien vs. Predator, the idea behind this 2003 crossover was simple — just force the villainous stars of two ailing slasher franchises into the same film, whether or not it makes much sense, and have them duke it out.
The film doesn’t accomplish much more than patting longtime fans of both franchises on the back for their knowledge while cycling through various horror tropes and setups that are neither scary nor interesting. Although it’s certainly not as terrible as a crossover film can be, it still never manages to transcend the label of overcooked, regurgitated slasher trash.
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