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All Our Favorite Multiverses, Ranked

All Our Favorite Multiverses, Ranked

Multiverses aren’t a new thing by any stretch. DC Comics has been messing around with the multiverse since the early 1960s. Stephen King has single-handedly created a multiverse in his books that spawns the Dark Tower series, IT, the Talisman, and more. TV shows like Fringe and Sliders played with parallel universes for years.

Not all multiverses are created equal, though. They’re often trying to do different things for different reasons. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was just that–a universe–until Spider-Man: No Way Home. No Way Home united twenty years of Spider-Man movies, bringing together three Peter Parkers and their nemeses from the three Spider-Man movie series, putting Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus in the same room as Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Everything Everywhere All at Once, meanwhile, couldn’t care less about legacy or hooking you in for future sequels–it just has a lot to say about what could’ve been and what is.

The different multiverses can be mostly lumped into a few broad categories.

  • The Everything Is Canon multiverse is for the fans and writers. Your favorite Batman is still there regardless of the current take on the character, and you can even make them interact with each other if need be!
  • The Planet of Hats multiverse is for episodic TV series–a way to explore lots of concepts and ideas for a short period of time. The Planet of Hats trope refers to those sci-fi worlds where every inhabitant has a unifying trait, such as a planet of amazons, a planet stuck in the 1930s gangster era, or a planet where everyone is part of the same war culture without exception.
  • The Self-Contained multiverse is typically used just within the bounds of that story, and isn’t meant to connect to anything else. These stories are concerned primarily with exploring their main characters, and not very worried about getting into the rules of multiversality.
  • The FOMO multiverse really wants you to come back for the next installment. It will tell you at the end of one installment what might happen in the next one, and it’s all for the sake of getting its hooks into you so hard that you can’t bear to turn away (right until you get too exhausted to continue).

Different properties can bleed between multiverse types, starting as one and becoming another, but typically they fit pretty neatly into these categories for the most part. The categories don’t inherently decide how we rank the different multiverses, but some offer more opportunities than others.

With that in mind, here’s our ranking for all the pop culture multiverses we could come up with

7. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek

One of the first high-profile cinematic multiverses was Star Trek. JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film appeared to be a simple reboot of the original Star Trek series, casting actors like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban in place of William Shattner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelly to bring a fresh perspective to the story. In the later half of the movie, though, Pine’s James T. Kirk is marooned on an ice planet by Quinto’s Spock when the former attempts a mutiny aboard the Enterprise. There, he meets Nimoy’s Spock, who lays out how his attempt to stop a supernova send his ship and a Romulan ship into an alternate universe. To this point, notably, only the original actors had portrayed their characters even in Star Trek’s previous jaunts into multiverse fiction. The Star Trek multiverse isn’t so much a story unto itself like the other movies and shows on this list, but it marks one of the first times two different versions of a popular, well-known character met face-to-face on the big screen.

6. The DCEU

DC has had a rough go of it. Despite having some of the best-known characters in not just comic books, but popular culture, they’ve been playing catch-up with Marvel since Iron Man came out. Iron Man came out in early May 2008, and The Dark Knight–the second film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy–came out mid-July of that same year. By the time DC was starting its shared universe, Marvel had already unified theirs with The Avengers. In one sense, DC movies have been in a multiverse for years outside of Zack Snyder’s three movies, as the connections between most of the movies are tenuous at best. It’s not until The Flash hits theaters this June that DC movies will truly acknowledge the multiverse, and even then, that multiverse is relegated to the bounds of that movie. Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck will both appear as Batman in the film, but neither is tied to an upcoming return, it’s refreshing in that we’ll be able to go in and enjoy the movie on its own merits, but that seems more like a consequence of the movie’s massive delays than as a result of planned intent.

5. The Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe now encompasses 32 movies (with another seven already scheduled), as well as eight Disney+ series. It’s a lot to keep up with, and there’s nothing else quite like it. However, opinion on the movies seemed to turn after Avengers: Endgame in 2019. The marathon run that began with Iron Man in 2008 was finally over, and for many people, that was where the MCU ended. They weren’t so much fans of superheroes in general as they were fans of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and the other Avengers specifically. Once Cap and Iron Man had said goodbye, it was checkout time for those people.

The multiverse is often used by comic book creators to reset continuity (DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Marvel’s Infinity War) or to just make a new one (Marvel Ultimates, 2099). With the current state of the MCU, though, it’s feeling more like hooks to pull us into more stuff. Spider-Man: No Way Home is an exception here, as it was working with older material when it dove into the idea. But now we’re into Phase Five of the MCU, with Kang the Conqueror on the way to make trouble for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. His debut in Loki was exciting and interesting, but Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania mostly had people asking, “Who’s this guy?” Instead of wondering who Kang is and what it’s going to be like when he shows up, many MCU viewers are wondering how many movies he’s signing them up for.

4. The Arrowverse

If you squint your eyes hard, most of the differences between the Arrowverse and the MCU come down to a matter of scale and speed. The Arrowverse moved swiftly in ways the MCU just cannot. Characters get more time to breathe and exist and develop more complications. The CW’s nature as a second-string linear broadcast network also made the shows feel like scrappy little productions that punched above their weight in many ways. The Arrowverse was experimenting with the multiverse back in the early days of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. Barry Allen met his Earth-2 counterpart Jay Garrick, and the Legends spent Season 2 fighting a variant of the Reverse-Flash, who Barry had defeated at the end of Season 1.

Eventually, the CW multiverse became a way to let characters like Supergirl and Black Lightning join the heroes from the mainline Arrowverse, and the showrunners began to experiment more explicitly with the idea with the Elseworlds crossover that led into Crisis on Infinite Earths, the multiversal crossover event meant to destroy the multiverse itself and unite continuity. Here, we saw the CW’s Barry Allen fight to save the Flash of the 1990s TV series and meet the DCEU’s Flash. Arrowverse fan-favorite Brandon Routh got to reprise his role as Superman alongside the CW’s Tyler Hoechlin version, and Tom Welling even showed up as the Clark Kent of Smallville, one of the most popular series in the CW’s history going back to its time as the WB. The miniseries even acknowledged the 1966 and 1989 Batman worlds, as well as those of shows like Stargirl, Titans, and Swamp Thing.

The Crisis event was a message to fans from the creators of these shows: We love those characters, too; we want to play with them, too. The inclusion of a character like Tom Welling’s Clark Kent essentially says that, in the minds of these creators, the character is still alive and evolving in some way. Every DC live-action series–even 2004’s Birds of Prey TV series–is part of the Arrowverse’s canon in some way. But there was no obligation to go watch those movies and shows, as none of them had hooks to pull you over to another project. At the cusp of 2019 and 2020 when the series aired, Ezra Miller’s Flash movie had been in development hell for years and wasn’t on WB’s release calendar in a way anyone expected to come to fruition. Here in 2023, The Flash is finishing its ninth and final season just a few weeks before the Flash movie hits theaters, so Miller’s surprise cameo wasn’t even a promotion for the Flash movie in the truest sense.

3. Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty’s goals are very different from those of the other entries in this list. Richard and his friend Mortimer mostly want to tell jokes or point out absurdities about humanity. These tend more toward that “Planet of Hats” multiverse, where episodes put the characters in a world defined by one event, aesthetic, or race. These episodes are often stand-alone pieces, but elements that seem to go ignored at first can also come back to haunt the characters later. Rick and Morty doesn’t demand a committed viewer in the same way the MCU often does, but it does reward you with in-jokes and Easter eggs. Older shows like Fringe and Sliders worked along similar lines as Rick and Morty as mostly episodic fare with the occasional two-parter that moved the overall story forward.

2. The Spider-Verse

The Spider-Verse is, by its very nature, extremely silly. When you explicitly include every Spider-Man to ever exist, that includes the live-action, mech-piloting Japanese Spider-Man who picks up a machine gun at least once in the show, every What If…? Spider-Man, and even the Spider-Man from Hostess cupcake ads. There’s no way it doesn’t get silly, and the Spider-Verse comics fully engage with that weirdness. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, though, takes a more focused approach that hones in on one character–Miles Morales–and uses the silliness to tell a story. Miles feels adrift in his life, at a new school he doesn’t care for, feeling adversarial with his dad, curious about romance but awkward as can be. Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy show Miles that he’s not alone, and that he can be who he wants to be if he takes the leap of faith, while characters like Noir Spider-Man and Spider-Ham (a spider-bitten by a radioactive pig) inject humor. While that movie has a sequel, it puts story and character at the front of the production–nothing else works without Miles’ journey, and Miles’ journey is the best part.

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Compared to so many other uses of multiverses on this list, EEAAO looks blissfully free. This movie isn’t from anything or connected to anything–it’s just a story about Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh). Everyone has some kind of regret, some question about what would’ve happened if they’d taken that chance or hadn’t said what they said. EEAAO’s multiverse becomes a way to explore that. There’s a universe where Evelyn can love the person she hates most, and another where a Racoon named Raccacoonie lives underneath a chef’s hat. In the middle of it all is Evelyn, whose nowhere life feels off the rails, due in part to the rocky relationship she has with her daughter. The multiverse they live in gives both of those characters a way to explore those regrets and find ways to live and grow with them–rather than hiding from or destroying them.

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