Movies & TV / Columns

Who Created the Best Pop Culture Universe?

August 10, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Star Trek Marvel Star Wars

I loathe to use a meme as a jumping off point but I saw this being passed around and I participated in several discussions where it was posted on Facebook. I was pretty sure this was an open and shut case but apparently…shocker…people love to debate things on the internet! 

So here it is…

Looks like the major ones who should be in contention for this conversation are all listed. When we talk about the best universe, I’m looking at creativity, impact both pop culturally and monetarily, success across several media platforms, and other factors. 

In the running is…

Stan Lee with Marvel
Walt Disney with Disney
JK Rowling with Harry Potter
Akira Toriyama with Dragonball
George RR Martin with Game of Thrones
JRR Tolkien with Lord of the Rings
Gene Roddenberry with Star Trek
George Lucas with Star Wars
Satoshi Tajiri with Pokemon
CS Lewis with Chronicles of Narnia

Let’s discard some right off the bat. I’m looking at 

CS Lewis
Satoshi Tajiri 
JRR Tolkien
George RR Martin
Akira Toriyama
JK Rowling

Not taking away from any of their accomplishments. Lewis, Tolkien, Martin, and Rowling all have made an undeniable mark on the literary world and their properties have found success on other media platforms but when stacked against some of the others, they’re not quite on that level. 

Also, before you tear me apart for dismissing Pokemon so easy, yes, I know it has an estimated franchise value of over $95 billion. Card games, anime, mango, movies, and more. It’s missing a couple of x-factors that keep it from advancing, IN MY OPINION. Dragonball is in the same boat.

That leaves…

Stan Lee
Walt Disney
Gene Roddenberry
George Lucas

Of the above, Stan Lee will draw the most controversy because the line of who he collaborated with and how much influence each has seems to move depending on who you talk to. Make no mistake, Lee’s hand during the early days of Marvel was crucial. His work with artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is why we have the Marvel cinematic universe today. You can’t put a dollar amount on Lee’s work and ideas because the ripple is too great. Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man…that’s a legacy that won’t be touched. 

While he personally wasn’t able to branch the Marvel brand out in the 1980s, audiences of all ages will be reading stories about his characters and watching their exploits on the big and little screens for decades to come.

Gene Roddenberry might seem like one who would be easy to dismiss but when you look at the far reaching effect his series has, he’s definitely in contention. The 1966 Star Trek series has spawned an animated series, thirteen feature films, seven television spin-offs, novels, board games, action figures, and comic books. The franchise has brought in over $10 billion in revenue. 

Call me crazy but I really feel Star Trek’s BEST days are still in front of it. There’s plenty of untapped potential and once the right visionary comes along and taps it, Roddenberry’s vision will get the respect it deserves. 

Now we come to George Lucas. The mention of his very name will either draw high praise or daggered ire. He’s either one of the most innovative creators on the planet or a guy who got very, very lucky. No matter what you think, the Star Wars universe is a powerhouse. Movies, TV, books, comic books, figures, toys, comic books…I could go on and on but Star Wars is everywhere. 

The Star Wars franchise holds a Guinness World Records title for the “Most successful film merchandising franchise and in 2020, it’s estimated total franchise value was $70 billion. It’s embedded in our culture and could very well be #1…if Walt Disney hadn’t been born. 

And to me, Walt Disney holds the crown of creating the greatest universe because you can’t compete with Disney magic. Say all you want about the “evil” Disney empire, but Walt once said, “I hope we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.”

That mouse has gone on to create a mythic franchise, and if I’m just talking about Mickey Mouse and Friends, that’s worth $74 billion at the box office and cartoons. Disney Princesses? Add another $46 billion. Now calculate clothes, comic books, toys…you get a grand picture. The Disney movie has a feel all its o

The magic x-factor I was talking about? The Disney theme parks. That’s what sets Disney’s vision apart from all the others on the list. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. That mouse has inspired generations and appeals to a worldwide demographic of all ages. Mickey Mouse is the most recognizable cartoon character and symbol around the world. The Disney characters are iconic, touching just about everything.

And it all started with Walt Disney and his mouse.