In the recent ABC special Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe, Kevin Feige explained the secret to their success: they don’t make comic book movies; they make genre movies into which they insert comic book story elements. So, Iron Man 3 is your buddy cop, high tech thriller, Thor and Thor: The Dark World are high fantasy, and Captain America a WWII action film but Captain America: The Winter Solider a political thriller ala 70s classics like 3 Days of the Condor.
Later this year, Guardians of the Galaxy will be a a fun, outer space soap opera. It is due to this diversity that absent competition Marvel might be able to pull off something floated out there the other day by BadAssDigest: release more than 2 movies per year.
Starting in 2011, Marvel committed to releasing 2 titles per year, kicking off this strategy with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. 2012 was supposed to see the The Avengers and The Runaways, but the latter project was delayed indefinitely, presumably to focus all efforts on The Avengers. 2013 saw them return to form, releasing Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, and 2014 is the start of a new wrinkle in their strategy. At least for the next couple of years, they seem intent on releasing only one sequel per year with their other yearly release being the launch of a potential new franchise. The sequels in 2014-2016 will be Winter Soldier (4/8/14), Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/1/15), and Captain America 3 (5/6/16). The new franchises in that same time span will be Guardians of the Galaxy (8/1/14), Ant-Man (7/17/15), and a current mystery project with a 7/8/16 release.
There are indications Guardians is meant as a one-off, and also that Marvel intends to simply do separate film trilogies for each Avenger, e.g., Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, after which they would give way to hopefully popular newcomers like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange and whoever else. This, to some degree, is a merely practical concern since Marvel notoriously low-balls their actors on salary, and Robert Downey, Jr. proved just how much it can cost them when a successful franchise gives all negotiating leverage back to the actor.
Even then, it’s a simple numbers game, really. Marvel is about to possibly have too many franchises to be confined to the 2-a-year strategy lest audiences be made to wait a little longer than normal for sequels. Just ask Star Trek Into Darkness how well that worked out for them. For example, where does the current strategy leave Thor 3? Under the current strategy, it would slot in as a 2017, likely filling the 5/5/17 release date previously claimed by Marvel. If so, that means from Dark World to Thor 3 Loki will have been off screens for nearly 4 full years. It will have only been 2 years since Thor’s last appearance at that point, which will be in the jam-packed Age of Ultron. However, Loki’s popularity surpasses Thor’s at this point. Sure, Loki may be a tad overexposed, but would Marvel really let such a financial asset twist in the wind for that long?
So, during a Winter Soldier press junket Devin Faraci asked Kevin Feige for the low-down on whether or not they’ll up their release schedule:
“I think television is filling some of that now, in terms of bringing out more product. That’s certainly the idea with the Netflix shows. But I don’t know that we will necessarily say ‘Okay, we’re now moving strategically to three a year, now we’re moving to four a year.’ What I think is more likely – if [knocks on wood-like table] the next group of movies work and people want to see additional stories – we’ll have too many franchises and you can’t do one of each franchise every two or three years. We’d have to move to three a year, but that would have to be a natural move if it were to occur. We’d have a [script] draft, we’d have a filmmaker, we’d have a character the audience wants to see – let’s slot in a place for a third one. Or a fourth one. But it’s hard enough to deliver two quality, hopefully bar-raising movies a year.”
Looking down the road, if Ant-Man and Guardians are successful and Marvel’s serious about doing Doctor Strange, Ms. Marvel, and another Hulk title they’ll probably will reach the point Feige described where they need to expand their release schedule.
But can the market handle that? Fox and Sony are currently trying to carve out their own piece of the comic book movie pie with forthcoming X-Men, Fantastic Four, and multiple Spider-Man-related releases. Plus, WB still has Batman Vs. Superman on the way as well as rumors of an intention to start releasing 2 low-budget releases focused on mid-tier properties like the Suicide Squad per year in the fall and spring to bookend bigger budget releases in the summer. If Marvel decides to pump out additional product into theaters at the same time that their competitors are putting out more films as well won’t that lead to market saturation regardless of whether or not the comic book characters are slotted into sci-fi one film, fantasy the next, and thriller after that? Will we eventually get sick of the Marvel movies if there are too many of them per year, or will we simply look forward to those due to the assumed high level of quality while ignoring those from their competitors with nowhere nears as solid a track record?
This comic book movie bubble simple can’t last forever. The more of them there are the higher the chances of further high profile failures like Green Lantern and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Not even Marvel is automatically immune – Guardians has every shot at failing. Plus, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Amazing Spider-Man 2 carry considerable risk. In fact, how audiences react to Winter Soldier, Days of Future Past, Spider-Man 2, and Guardians this year will go a long way to telling us what the future of comic book movies looks like. For now, I just know that as a Thor fan I sure as heck don’t want to wait nearly 4 years to see Loki again.
What about you? Let us know in the comments section.