What lands will be in Universal Orlando's new theme park?

December 12, 2018, 6:38 PM · Universal is building a new theme park in Orlando. No, the company hasn't officially announced that project yet, but public documents make clear that Universal is working on it. So instead of waiting for Universal to tell us its plans for its fourth gate in Orlando, let's try to figure what we can expect to find in the park when it opens... whenever.

Rather than pulling ideas from our imaginations, let's ground this exercise in some practical assumptions. First, let's limit our speculation to franchises for which Universal already owns the theme park rights. And second, let's assume that the more valuable the franchise — in terms of box office income — the more likely it is that Universal will consider it important enough to include in a theme park.

Granted, not every franchise lends itself to a successful theme park attraction. But franchise value provides an excellent starting point for evaluating the feasibility of potential theme park lands. So let's start with Universal Parks' top 20 movie franchises, as ranked by BoxOfficeMojo.com. These are franchises either owned by Universal or its subsidiaries, or currently licensed by Universal Parks and Resorts.

Universal already uses nine of these franchises in attractions at the Universal Orlando Resort. Now there's no reason why Universal could not reuse these franchises at its fourth gate in addition to their existing installations elsewhere in the resort. Heck, Universal already has two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter and could easily make the business case for a third. But I think the best way to ensure the success of Universal's fourth gate in Orlando to start by defining the unique elements that it would bring to the table, rather than focusing on what it duplicates from Universal Orlando's current parks.

So let's strike these from our list:

Of the remaining 11 franchises, three are easy cuts as they are unlikely to lend themselves to attractions that would be popular with the families that Universal Orlando covets.

I wonder if you called the concierge at Universal Orlando's Hard Rock Hotel, if they'd have a totally unpublicized, don't-tell-anyone-about-this "Fifty Shades" hotel package that they could hook you up with. But that's about the only way I could see any of these franchises working at the resort.

Now we are down to eight. Sorry, long-time Universal fans, but two of our remaining franchises are "been there, done that":

I'm not ready to totally discount some role for those still-popular franchises in the new park. But nostalgia for closed attractions isn't going to drive the market share Universal is looking for here. If they make it in, it will be in a supporting role.

So our prime candidates for franchises to lead Universal Orlando's next theme park are:

Two of these are not like the others, are they? Bourne is widely tapped to go into Universal Studios Florida within the next couple of years. That leaves us with Pitch Perfect. It's the weakest of all these franchises, and while a vocal music show within one of the parks might be nice, let's face it, that's not the real appeal of this franchise. Imagine if you remade a Minions movie with twenty-something women instead of giant yellow Tic Tacs. That's Pitch Perfect. It's the same slapstick, sight gags, and insults.

That gives us four animated franchises to drive this park. Will Universal use all four in its next park? Maybe, maybe not. But the fact that Universal's best bets for its next theme park are all animation franchises suggests that animation might provide the best unifying theme for that gate.

I've not mentioned yet Universal's other huge licensed franchise, because it is not a movie. But Super Nintendo World has to go someplace in Orlando, and since video games are essentially a form of animation, why not place it here? Then throw in a land aimed at toddlers themed to animation shows from the Universal Kids cable channel, and we're almost there.

Universal previously announced that it would develop a theme park attraction based on The Secret Life of Pets, but with its New York City setting, I think that franchise would work better thematically taking the place of the Shrek 4D show in Universal Studios Florida than starting fresh in the new park. Of course, that then frees Shrek to get a reboot with an entire land in the new gate, including a long-awaited (at least in my family) Shrek dark ride.

So imagine this: An animation-themed park featuring lands based on How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek, along with Super Nintendo World, and a toddlers' land from Universal Kids. Now those are the bones of a compelling new theme park.

I can't wait for it to open. Now what are you hoping to see in Universal Orlando's next theme park?

Replies (19)

December 12, 2018 at 7:00 PM

A Transylvania section would give some needed love to the Classic Monsters. A B&M wing rider launching out of Dracula’s Castle, a Wolfman themed RMC in the woods, a Frankenstein dark ride. Not tied to any franchise but maybe a mishmash of the original films, Van Helsing and HHN 29 monster houses.

Nintendo World and DreamWorld are givens. I think they’ll clone the new rides from Beijing’s Jurassic World. I’d be unfortunate if they did Wizarding World from the new movies. I’d add in Dark World and World of Tomorrow.

The ParkStop Podcast did a great episode on the new park. FYI Beijing has a an exclusive on Kung Fu Panda like Ratatouille for Paris.

December 12, 2018 at 7:16 PM

Well, Universal Studios Hollywood has a Kung Fu Panda attraction, so I don't know how "exclusive" that exclusive is.

December 12, 2018 at 7:31 PM

I guess we will find out in 20 ... whatever. Do you think Comcast will have sold the parks back to Seagrams by then? Or maybe to North Lake Foods (Waffle House)?

December 12, 2018 at 7:39 PM

Probably just exclusive on the ride for a few years (like Ratatouille) that the podcast said would be a dark ride. IOA has Po meet and greet now and Epcot had Remy.

December 12, 2018 at 8:48 PM

You know...looking at that list of IPs, I'd have to say...Nintendo PARK!
I sure hope they make Nintendo a huge part of the new park, in all seriousness. I'm not trying to rain on the animated animals' parade or anything, but I'm not that inspired by the list.

I'm actually a lot more interested in how Universal solves the whole transportation issue, more than what the park ends up including. That's where my attention is focused.

December 12, 2018 at 9:17 PM

Put back in the Wizarding World and Jurassic World (with an added in-park hotel), add the Classic Monsters and possibly Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit and Star Trek IPs, and then Universal will have a compelling new theme park. Go big or go home for UOR because WDW is not slowing down.

December 12, 2018 at 10:20 PM

IMO the only one of these IPs is worth it to make a whole area of a theme park and that's Nintendo. Sure they can have their own attractions, but spending hundreds of millions on a whole world for these characters especially when they're right next to Harry Potter, Star Wars, Toy Story, and Avatar lands is a total waste IMO. If Universal's going to build a new theme park in the most competitive and saturated market in the world they need to offer something truly unique, nobody is going to pay big money and go to Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar Land when there is so much vastly superior IP right down the street. They have to do better than that.

December 12, 2018 at 11:26 PM

I wrote that a month ago here, still feel it's not unrealistic :
I could imagine Universal's fourth gate with a big Shrek castle / land in the middle : Shrek is popular and a big scenic castle would serve as a "weenie". North side of the park you'd have How to train your dragon and Trolls, East would be Kung Fu Panda, South for Madagascar and West for the Minions or the Secret life of pets (or a new franchise).
That way you get a family park to compete with the mouse.
But maybe my imagination's just running wild ; )

December 13, 2018 at 12:03 AM

I'm assuming part of the reason we haven't heard anything about Nintendo in Orlando yet is because they will be focusing most of them at this new park. I'm also assuming there won't be a single Nintendo World in Orlando, but rather different lands themed to different franchises. We can probably assume they won't be making big lands based off some of their lesser known franchises, but I think separate Mario and Pokemon lands are pretty much guaranteed, and a Zelda land is very likely as well. All three are very different and could even be multiple lands each.

Other than Nintendo, I'm not sure what IPs would really work... their current biggest IPs seem to be Jurassic World, but then already have a land for that which could probably use a tune up, and Fast and the Furious, which already has a ride (though I'd do anything for a new Test Track style ride featuring that property). They also have their animated IPs, but they may be too similar to the average person to Nintendo to really create a diverse park.

December 13, 2018 at 12:58 AM

Before continuing, please take all of the following very tentatively, as it's possible any of it may change.

I was actually talking with someone last month with a bit of reliable information on the project, and according to what they said the park will be approximately half animation and half live-action properties. Supposedly Universal doesn't feel they have much in their catalog that is strong enough to sustain a fully immersive land, so the park will feature four core IP families, none of which are original to Universal, and each IP will be represented by two or three connected yet distinct sub-areas. Each area is said to be themed to the level of Diagon Alley, and the park will feature elements never before seen in a full-fledged theme park. From what I've heard, it's sounding like this is the current plan:

Family 1: Dreamworks. This will feature some combination of How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek (likely highly themed areas for two of the four), plus a general area for miscellaneous Dreamworks IP. Supposedly this is the only area that is mostly complete right now, as the rest are dependent on final licensing deals.

Family 2: Nintendo. This area will have three separate, fully immersive worlds connected only by a central hub. Supposedly, Mario is the only one that is confirmed, with Donkey Kong, Kirby, Metroid, Pokemon, Yoshi, and Zelda all in the running for the other slots.

Family 3: Lord of the Rings. I don't know much about this one, but supposedly there will be no Wizarding World content in the third park (whether that is Universal or Rowling's decision is unclear), so Universal is trying to grab the rights to this as an alternative fantasy IP. If it happens, my guess is they'll go for Hobbiton and then an area representative of each of the key races of Middle-Earth.

Family 4: This one is unknown, but Universal is supposedly going after a Sci-Fi IP to round out the park. It won't be Jurassic Park/World (that will remain confined to IOA), and it supposedly won't be Star Trek either.

Again, I can't say how accurate any of this is, but it sounds like Universal may have an amazing park in development. Supposedly nothing will be announced until just before WDW's 50th, and the park will be timed to open immediately afterward (the thought is 2022/2023). Next year's Harry Potter coaster and the Jurassic World attraction coming in 2020 are still on, but anything else major is reportedly on hold in Orlando to focus on the third park project.

December 13, 2018 at 3:48 AM

Adding to the excellent suggestions:
Trolls is also a very strong Dreamworks Animation ip so we should add that also into the mix.
I think Despicable Me is under represented at Universal and needs a mini land with a dark ride in the new park.
Sing should be a nice addition to SLoP to round out an area.
The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle is in production and presumably Universal Creative is also at the table to see how the movie could translate to a theme park ride/land.

Flash Gordon (getting a remake), The Adventures of Tin Tin, Madagascar, Masters of the Universe and maybe The Wizards of Once will be a hit on the big screen and would end up in the new park.

December 13, 2018 at 8:07 AM

Supposedly Universal doesn't feel they have much in their catalog that is strong enough to sustain a fully immersive land so i would like to download ppsspp gold for IOS. This IOS file is the best and Suitable for all IOS mobile., so the park will feature four core IP families, none of which are original to Universal, and each IP will be represented by two or three connected yet distinct sub-areas. Each area is said to be themed to the level of Diagon Alley, and the park will feature elements never before seen in a full-fledged theme park. From what I've heard, it's sounding like this is the current plan. Family 1: Dreamworks. This will feature some combination of How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek (likely highly themed areas for two of the four), plus a general area for miscellaneous Dreamworks IP.

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December 13, 2018 at 9:16 AM

I think it really depends on what type of park Universal is trying to build. Are they looking to build another park that draws from every demographic like USF and IOA already do, or are they looking to tap a specific demographic. I think Universal Orlando already appeals very strongly to teens and young adults far better than WDW, which is why Disney has been specifically targeting this demographic with their recent and upcoming additions (Star Wars, Guardians, Avatar, and Tron). However, the one part where Universal often falls short in appealing to vacationers is to the young family demographic. Universal has some appeal to the kiddies with Seuss Landing, Kidz Zone, Minions, and Shrek, but the WWoHP is a bit too advanced for kids under 5/6, as well as most of UO's other headline attractions.

Most people probably would say it would be a mistake to take on the Magic Kingdom head on, but Universal has never had a deeper pool of viable kids IPs than they do right now. The Dreamworks and Illumination properties along with the Nintendo license could alone have enough material to fill out a theme park by themselves. The question is, would UC be bold enough (and Comcast be willing to take a big risk) to abandon the demographic that has single handedly fueled their success in Orlando in the hopes of going toe to toe with the king of family entertainment? I think it's an interesting question, and while I doubt Comcast would let UC plunk $3+ billion on their version of the MK, the possibility is there.

More realistically, I think discounting Jurassic Park and Harry Potter (in particular Fantastic Beasts) from a new park is short sighted. Both franchises possess the most viable theme park applications and biggest appeal among IP within Universal's control aside from Nintendo. Using these 2 in a new park would not necessarily dilute the IPs so long as they are distinctly applied. Building Jurassic World-based attractions in the new park would be different and distinct from what already exists at IOA. While JP at IOA is showing its age, Universal would have to completely redesign the land to reinvent it in the mold of Jurassic World. The patent for the gyrosphere ride system sounds perfectly pegged to a Jurassic World attraction, and unless they want to take out the current JP ride at IOA, there wouldn't be enough space available in the park to build it, meaning the new ride system could only be meant for a new park. Similarly, the new virtual theater patents UC applied for sound like they could be used for a WWoHP attraction. Again, unless they're going to take out existing attractions (Lost Continent or the long-rumored Fear Factor Theater), there isn't the available space in IOA or USF to accommodate an attraction like this. While there have long been rumors to turn the Fear Factor Theater into the Ministry of Magic, why jam that into such a small space when you could give it the treatment it deserves on a blank canvas? The Ministry of Magic is what crosses between the HP and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and would allow UC to leverage the power of Harry Potter while piggy-backing on a franchise still in production instead of one that will have been idle for over a decade by the time the new park opens.

Then there's always the LOTR rumors swirling, but the further and further we get from Peter Jackson's treatment of the IP, the less and less likely I could see any theme park wanting to invest the amount of money it would take to secure the rights to use it in a park. There's still rumors that MGM (who still holds the movie rights) wants to do a reboot of LOTR, but the Jackson films are so iconic that it's hard for me to imagine them being remade successfully in the face of hard core fans that would reject anything that attempted to improve upon the near perfection that Jackson and his team was able to create. We can fantasize about LOTR over our second, third, and fourth breakfasts, but until the Tolkein estate changes their stance on the IP rights, any consideration of LOTR in a theme park is just a waste of time.

In the end, I think we'll see a park with 3 full-sized lands dedicated to family/kids attractions (Dreamworks, Illumination, and Nintendo) to try to take a bite out of MKs dominance in attracting young families. Legoland has shown that you can do it in Orlando, and the blank canvas that this new park provides can offer Universal the space to really appeal to the kids (much more so than a re-envisioned Kidz Zone would ever do). Universal would then have 2 more lands that appeal more to their core demographic (teens/young adults), likely anchored by Jurassic World (not Park) and Fantastic Beasts. Perhaps Jason Bourne and LOTR could find their way in if UC wants to keep JP and WWoHP exclusive to their current parks, but it seems silly to not leverage their 2 most valuable and proven IPs in their new park.

December 13, 2018 at 10:22 AM

Trolls didn’t make a splash at the box office, but it’s really popular with kids, so I’d definitely count on that.

December 13, 2018 at 3:27 PM

It's worth considering that some of those franchises might need to live in revamped portions of IOA. Toon Lagoon is arguably the weakest section of that park with the least connection to today's audiences, and surely Universal secretly wants to stop using its competitor's IP in Marvel Super Hero Island. Jurassic Park can obviously get a World facelift, but Lost Continent must be feeling like little more than a walkway to Hogsmeade. Chunks of IOA feel dated mainly because they were made with less effort than Universal has sunk into newer areas. I remember speculation not too long ago that Nintendo would land in Toon Lagoon, and man, it'd be nice to see the Classic Monsters take over Marvel's spots with a heavy re-theme of everything.

December 13, 2018 at 6:32 PM

I still think they`ll build a third Harry Potter land in this new park. Why not? Each of the other parks has one.

And why not a Jurassic World land? They`re replacing Jurassic Park
in Hollywood, but they have very little space over there. In Orlando they could have Jurassic World, with highly upgraded effects/AAs, etc.

December 13, 2018 at 10:56 PM

I would love, love, love a gothic, classic monsters area, but would it jive with a Nintendo area? Probably not. You have to admit that Universal really does not have much in the bank for its franchises, certainly not like Disney. I agree Toon Island is somewhat outdated. If anything gets repurposed, that is a good spot, and it would be ripe for a massive Godzilla area assuming those films do well.

I am possibly in the minority here that they could continue with the Potter attractions, which they are. The big question is the unanswered one. Is there something out there with Lord of the Rings? The Estate is very much against it, but with the recent settlement, some previously closed doors are ever so slightly cracked. They could not put it in a park with Potter. It would not be completely antagonistic to Nintendo. They need a big footprint to do it right. Maybe?

December 14, 2018 at 6:31 PM

I think Robert hit the nail on the head when he mentions dark rides. Its the one area where Universal is far behind Disney . Apart from ET and MIB they really havent done much in this key family friendly segment.

December 17, 2018 at 7:11 AM

@Daniel - Cat in the Hat is a really good family-friendly dark ride. You could also argue that Fast and the Furious Supercharged was targeted at family guests (in addition to Kong Skull Island), it is just a halfhearted attempt that failed spectacularly (Kong is pretty decent though). Transformers the Ride is a really good dark ride (along with what is one of the best dark rides of all time - Spiderman), but isn't necessarily family friendly, along with Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. However, Hogwart's Express is kind of a spin on a traditional dark ride where the vehicles are the building.

In the grand scheme of things, if you look just at attraction in the US, Universal is right there with Disney in terms of dark rides, and in some respects is a bit ahead, particularly in terms of taking risks and pushing the technological envelope.

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