Since I drew the short straw, I’m here to talk to you about the coming avalanche of superhero movies. For those of you who missed the giant chart detailing everything, the next five years will bring roughly forty movies drawn from Marvel and DC’s extensive library of characters. This has, if nothing else, forced both companies to budge just a little on their policy of aggressively screwing over the creators of all these properties, so there’s that going for it. However, a lot of people have had questions and concerns about so many movies in so short a time. Here are some answers, drawn from my random conjectures and personal biases. So you know it’s useful!
1) Is this too many movies? Probably not. Or maybe. On the one hand, the summer blockbuster season has been gradually extending for years now, so that it starts somewhere in early March and continues on through to mid-September (with the caveat that anything someone drops in mid-September is something they realized was going to sink without a trace if they released it in the middle of the summer, so they’re probably lousy. September is to popcorn movies as January is to prestige pics.) Basically, there’s plenty of room to spread these out so that you don’t wind up dropping a hundred dollars at the movies in one week. There’s plenty of reason to believe that fans will turn out for as many good superhero movies as they can afford.
On the other hand, there’s also plenty of reason to believe that they’ll wait for it to show up on Netflix if they’re lousy. And the tighter you squeeze them into the schedule, the higher the standard people will apply when deciding whether to skip seeing a movie in the theater. It’s not as though we haven’t already been seeing this in recent years with non-superhero blockbusters. Then again, a lot of those movies have been lousy. Assuming we get five years of movies like ‘Avengers’ and not five years of movies like ‘Jonah Hex’, it won’t be a problem.
2) No, really, this has to be too many movies, right? This has got to be the point where the superhero movie bubble bursts and executives commit ritual seppuku, doesn’t it? Look, people have been predicting “the end of the superhero movie trend” since ‘Daredevil’ came out. Every time one of these movies gets announced, some movie critic chimes in with their personal belief that people have to be pretty damn sick of these things. They’ve been wrong. Even when there have been individual flops, like ‘Green Lantern’, they haven’t been enough to sink the entire genre. More importantly, Marvel’s strategy (which everyone else is scrambling to adopt) has bolstered the performance of its lesser-known properties; a lot of people went to see ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ on faith due to the studio’s track record. Even Fox has had good luck with its X-Men spin-offs. The strengths of the “cinematic universe” concept have outweighed any weaknesses to date.
That said, Warner Brothers and Sony are trying this whole “cinematic universe” thing for the first time, and nobody really knows if it will go as well for them as it did for Marvel. Certainly, Sony’s got a lot to worry about; with only the rights to Spider-Man and its ancillary properties, they’re going to be pushing out a lot of movies about second and third-string Spider-Man cast members in the hopes they’ll catch fire. Based on the buzz for ‘Sinister Six’, that might whiff hard for them.
3) So who has the most to lose here if this goes badly? Warner Brothers, plain and simple. Marvel has established themselves as the “blue chip” superhero franchise; they can withstand a few flops and move on. Sony can always drop their plans for a ‘Venom’ movie and just go back to pumping out a Spider-Man pic every two or three years; they might not be the kind of properties you can build a mega-franchise out of, but they’ve never been unprofitable. Keep recasting the major roles with hungry young actors who will work cheap, keep the budget down to a manageable level, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do this forever.
Fox, likewise, has only one thing to worry about–get the production on the next X-Men/FF movie started by Date X, keep the budget reasonable, and rake in the dough. They’re not being particularly ambitious, despite Mark Millar’s random pronouncements on Twitter. Why would they, when an evergreen franchise like X-Men used to be the Holy Grail of movie studios everywhere? Just because they’re sticking to a string of reliable James Bond-esque hits instead of going for Marvel’s new levels of crazy money-making doesn’t mean they’re settling.
But Warner Brothers…they have the character library to compete with Marvel, they need a string of mega-hits bad now that the sweet sweet Harry Potter cash is drying up, and they have exactly one shot at showing they can compete here. If ‘Batman v. Superman’ fails (either at the box office or in the Supreme Court, not sure) and ‘Suicide Squad’ tanks hard, they’re looking at possibly tainting their entire slate of superhero movies as crap. They’re looking at having to scrap the next eight movies from their summer plans through 2020. They’re looking at falling back on endless Superman and Batman reboots every six or seven years while Marvel/Disney rakes in billions. That’s a pretty humiliating possibility, there.
4) Why do you sound like you’re getting out popcorn when you say that last bit? Because I’ll be honest, Warner Brothers have had a terrible track record when it comes to superhero movies that aren’t about Superman or Batman. They don’t have an Avi Arad or a Kevin Feige who fundamentally gets the properties and has the clout to make other executives back off from inserting giant mechanical spiders into every movie. The result is ‘Jonah Hex’, ‘Catwoman’, ‘Green Lantern’, and ‘Batman and Robin’.
I don’t see this changing. I think we’re due for some epic flops, some hilarious nerdfights, and some executives having to exercise their golden parachutes (primarily because they were just pushed out of their penthouse offices). And yeah, I think that’ll be entertaining even if the movies aren’t, because I am perpetually fascinated by failure.
5) Um…so what about the diversity? That’s good, right? Yes. It is. We’re finally getting a Wonder Woman movie, we’re getting Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, we’re getting a Black Panther movie, and we’ve been promised a Cyborg movie but I guarantee you that’s the first thing on the chopping block if Warner Brothers gets cold feet. These are all good things.
That said, there’s no reason not to greenlight a Black Widow movie–Scarlett Johansson has proven box office clout, and the character is popular and well-known. And we have no idea whether the Wonder Woman movie will be any good, or whether we’ll get another ‘Catwoman’. And I want a ‘Ms. Marvel’ movie, because “Embiggen!” has to be one of the best battle cries ever. But still, the needle is moving on this and it’s about damn time.
6) ‘Civil War’, huh? Didn’t you say that was going to suck rocks? Yep. Hope I’m wrong!