Film News

7 Negative Takeaways from the Onslaught of Comic Book Movies Due Out Thru 2020

Yesterday, I focused on the positives to take away from Marvel’s recently announced line-up of superhero films. Today, I bring the pain and focus on the negative, expanding out to not just focus on Marvel but the entire slate of comic book movies which await us thru 2020.  If you need a refresher as to exactly which movies are coming out and when head over to comicbookresources.com, and be sure to come on back.

1. There are way too many of these films coming out

Marvel Phase 3Is Hollywood finally going too far with its commitment to comic book movies? We’ve probably all been worrying about that for months now because we’ve actually known the release dates for all of Marvel and Warner Bros.’ upcoming films since at least August. The only thing that really changed in the past two weeks is that both companies officially put titles to those previously announced dates. Deadline said this back in August, and it’s mostly still true today:

Between Marvel and DC’s turf war, Sony’s recent Spidey jockeying, and Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot and X-Men pics, moviegoers are set to be smothered in 30 tentpole comic book movies in the next six years with as many as seven-nine of those titles landing in 2017. How does that not add up to spandex fatigue for audiences?

You could argue that audience fatigue has already set in. The leaders for the genre over the past 3 years have posted increasingly smaller domestic totals of $623 million (Avengers in 2012), $409m (Iron Man 3 in 2013), and $328m (Guardians this year). Plus, in the past 11 months both Thor: The Dark World and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 barely managed to cross $200m domestic while X-Men: Days of Future Past performed admirably for an X-Men movie (biggest X-Men film of all time behind The Last Stand) but still came up a fair bit shy of rather lofty expectations.

It’s unfair to make too much out of any of that, especially since all of these films were ginormous international hits. It’s also unrealistic to expect at least 1 comic book per year to turn into one of the highest grossing films of all time the way that Avengers and Iron Man 3 did in consecutive years. Plus, you have to judge it more on an individual basis, evaluate the success of something like Days of Future Past based upon the box office history of that specific franchise, not the box office for the entire comic book movie genre. But if you can find yourself quibbling over numbers in years in which there were only 3 or 4 comic book movies what’s it going to be like when there are at least 6 a year starting in 2016, as many as 8 in subsequent years? Not to mention the fact that in addition to comic book movies we’re also going to be inundated with sequels (Insurgent, The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, Jurassic World, Terminator 2 & 3) and spin-offs (The Minions from Despicable Me, J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, LEGO Batman, Ninjango), further contributing to the potential for general audience franchise fatigue.  Plus, there are almost as many comic book TV shows on the way as there are comic book movies.

Halloween Young Michael
Halloween, the film that begat so much (sometimes fun) crap

Hollywood operates on the “surfer principle.” Some maverick catches a surprising wave off in the distance, and he or she is quickly followed by a parade of beach bums paddling their way out to ride that wave behind them. Inevitably, the wave crashes, and they all wash out, paddling back to shore to tan on the beach and await the next big thing. So, we’ve had periods where everyone was trying to ride the wave and make the next Jaws or Star Wars or Die Hard or buddy cop action-comedy or Twilight or Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy or Christopher Nolan-esque gritty blah blah blah. The history of the horror genre, in particular, reads like a chronicling of wave (movie monsters) after wave (slasher films) after wave (meta-Scream rip-offs) after wave (Japanese horror remakes) after wave (torture porn) after wave (80s horror remakes) after wave (found footage) after wave (old-fashioned haunted houses/objects). So often, what kills the wave is not just a numbers game, i.e., too many of the same type of film, but an issue of quality control. We know a cheap knock-off when we see one, and when there are a lot of them we eventually tune out. For example, you don’t just get sick of all the Halloween rip-offs in the 80s because there are so many of them; you get sick of them because none of them actually understand what made Halloween so good, mimicking the formula without replicating any of the nuance.

That’s what might kill the comic book movie. Yes, there are going to be a lot of them, and that is going to seriously tax the patience of the general audience. But it’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s and Batman v Superman’s of the world that are actually going to drag this whole thing down as they appear to simply be mimicking Marvel without any of the necessary patience. The counter-argument is that unlike previous waves in film history the comic book movie bubble can last longer than most because it is not actually tied to one specific genre. Of 2014’s big comic book movies, only The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was what you’d call a classical comic book movie. Days of Future Past was sci-fi, time-travel fun, Guardians of the Galaxy was a hip space opera, and Winter Soldier was a political conspiracy thriller. The only commonality is a similar source material, i.e., comic books. However, the fact that there are going to be so many of them does present the possibility that while we may not tired of the actual types of films being made we may tire of the types of characters in them. Plus, the way that Hollywood goes all out to manufacture huge opening weekends means that every single one of these new films will be teased, advertised, and generally unavoidable in pop culture months before they ever come out. That’s going to get old fast in those years when there are 8 coming out, often within weeks of each other.

2. They aren’t spaced out evenly enough, or are they?

Amazing-Spider-Man-2-Official-High-Res-Banner-570x301
Faced touch competition in May

The new trend in Hollywood is year-round tentpole scheduling, i.e., putting out big movies in months, such as March, which haven’t historically been the home for big movies. This way you can avoid getting lost in the glut of big movies in the summer or in November/December. If the comic book movies embrace this they might be able to avoid market saturation. For example, if we feel like, “Didn’t I just see a comic book movie?” the answer could be “Yes” followed by a, “But that was 3 months ago.” Marvel actually first got the ball rolling on this by experimenting with putting out Thor: The Dark World in November, Winter Soldier in April, and Guardians in August, none of those being traditional months for big budget comic book movies. Now, WB is putting out Batman v Superman in March, Fox is putting out Deadpool in February and a third solo Wolverine film in March.

However, there are still certain years in which we will have two comic book movies in one month [see the full release schedule at comicbookresources.com], and it’s not a great idea to have the very similar bad guy-team-up flicks Suicide Squad (8/5/16) and Sinister Six (11/11/16) to play within months of each other. Worst yet, the biggest of them all, Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 and Justice League Part 2 will only have a 6 week gap between them. Those will likely be the biggest films of 2019, and they’re barely putting any distance between themselves. That seems bad to me. However, Forbes’ Scott Mendelson recently posted a breakdown of that particular battle, looking at recent box office history as a guide for the future, concluding,While some Marvel films will out-gross some DC films and vice-versa (with Fox’s X-Men franchise making its money as well), it’s not really a direct competition either theoretically or literary. Because in today’s front-loaded theatrical environment, a major film opening six weeks after a similar major film might-as-well be opening unopposed.”

3. Does DC really have a cohesive plan? Or are they just making it up as they go along?

NewSuicideSquad_1When you look at Marvel Studios’ upcoming films you get the sense of a concrete plan, especially if you know your comic books fairly well. You have a general idea of how things are all going to flow out of Age of Ultron into Civil War and culminate with all the good guys, several of them newly established in their own solo films, fighting the big bad Thanos in the Avengers sequels due out in 2018 and 2019.

When you look at Warner Bros.’ DC plans you get the same general end goal, the Justice League teaming up to fight a big bad, probably Darkseid – a character Marvel ripped off when it created Thanos oh so long ago. However, it feels far more scattered. They have Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, a solo movie, then Justice League followed by more solo movies, another Justice League movie, and more solo movies. You have no real idea how the heck Suicide Squad fits into any of that, and the fact that they are apparently only just now trying to shoehorn Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor into it, having failed to actually contractually tie him to it when they signed him up for Batman v Superman, gives the impression that they’re making this up as they go along.

4. Will Marvel’s films actually feel like films? Or simply $200 million budgeted TV episodes with no real closure?

bucky-and-captain-america-bucky-barnes-winter-soldier-31049282-1280-720
Still waiting on some closure for Bucky Barnes

I am thinking specifically of how in an the otherwise great Captain America: Winter Soldier we somehow end a movie called Winter Soldier with no actual closure on the character who bears that name. But Collider pretty well nailed this whole issue earlier this year:

Directors like Alan Taylor and Joss Whedon have been forthcoming about the fact that they were handed very specific story beats, characters, and set pieces that had to be executed in their respective films. Marvel is, in effect, the “showrunner” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, responsible for breaking the story (and possibly even acts) of each of their films before signing a director to execute said vision.  This of course ensures that every Marvel movie has strong connective tissue with the films that precede and follow it, but it also puts creative constraints on the filmmakers.

Yes, we get to see familiar characters inhabit each other’s films, but the tradeoff is that none of the films are really filmmaker-driven.  Aesthetically, every Marvel movie feels the same.  Yes, you can call The Winter Soldier a “political thriller”, but in the end it just feels like a Marvel movie.  You can call Guardians of the Galaxy a “space opera”, but it too ultimately feels like a Marvel movie (right down to the now-signature climactic aerial battle).  When filmmakers are only allowed to draw within very strict lines, it feels like we’re being denied some truly promising adaptations.

Moreover, when each film leads right into the next, stories doesn’t really end.  Every Marvel movie concludes in the “To Be Continued” style of a two-parter on TV—except in this case it’s an “undetermined-number-parter” that could go on for decades.  There’s a reason that Iron Man, Iron Man 3, and Guardians of the Galaxy are the Marvel movies that feel the most singular—they have the least to do with the rest of the MCU as a whole, and thus are freer to tell a (mostly) standalone story

5. Does Sony have any idea what it’s doing with Spider-Man anymore?

spider_man_x_charlie_brown_by_m7781-d7gttc5 The answer appears to be no. Amazing Spider-Man 4 is off the schedule, Amazing Spider-Man 3 has been delayed with a huge “this movie may never get made” asterisk next to it, the solo Venom movie is apparently dead, and insane rumors continue to circulate. For example, they might re-cast Andrew Garfield, and include the new Spider-Man in Sinister Six as a soft franchise re-boot. They might loan Spider-Man to Marvel Studios for one of the Avengers movie. Their female-led film might turn into in all-female team-up film.

6. Why haven’t we seen anything from Fantastic Four yet?

Other than some quotes from random interviews granted by Michael B. Jordan, we know next to nothing about Fox’s upcoming reboot of The Fantastic Four beyond the basics of who’s in it (Kate Mara-Invisible Girl, Miles Teller-Mr. Fantastic, Michael B. Jordan-Johnny Storm, and Jamie Bell-Thing), who’s making it (Josh Trank directing, Simon Kinberg producing), and when it’s due out (8/7/15). There was some considerable hand-wringing that they didn’t have any kind of presence for the film at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, but they actually recently pushed their release date back 2 months from its original June 2015 window meaning they should be able to make next year’s Comic-Con if they want. That type of thing isn’t really that big of a deal, but the longer this media black-out goes on the more the speculation of a troubled production will grow. They are better off not releasing footage until its ready, but when we’ve already seen a brief Comic-Con snippet of Batman v Superman which doesn’t come out until 2016 and we still have no clue about 2015’s Fantastic Four the alarm bells inevitably go off.

7. Where are all of the non-super heroes?

the-sandman-preludes-and-nocturnesThe comic book movie bubble doesn’t have to burst because comic books are far more than just the exploits of caped crusaders, dark knights, and assorted others in spandex.  The confirmed slate of upcoming films, though, mostly consists of superheroes or supervillains improbably teaming up together, although you can argue that the Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhumans, and Doctor Strange don’t really qualifies as superheroes.  Plus, any future Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Popeye movies are technically comic book movies.  Still, where’s the Sandman movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached to?  Where’s Guillermo del Toro’s Justice League Dark?  As FilmSchoolRejects argued, by the time they come along the superhero onslaught may actually cause any association to DC to be detrimental, “With so much occurring in the greater landscape of the comic book film, it would be a genuine shame to see the residents on the edges of these universes not get their proper due simply because we’re collectively getting fed too much, too fast, too soon.”

Bonus: 2020 seems like a long time from now

This isn’t necessarily a negative takeaway from all of this. It’s simply the thing I keep coming back to in my mind when I think about all of this. To this point, I’ve been given no reason to doubt that Marvel Studios’ line-up of films will actually happen, and the X-Men franchise at least seems on solid ground. Outside of that, man, 2020 is a long time from now. Just one year ago Sony seemed to be in complete command of its Spider-Man franchise, building up its own cinematic universe headed by names with industry clout, like Alex Kurtzman and Drew Goddard. Now, Amazing Spider-Man 2 has apparently killed almost all of that, and they seem to be completely lost. As I’ve said before, based off of that Warner Bros. better make damn sure that Batman v Superman doesn’t suck.

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8 comments

    1. Hey, plug away. I agree that the comic book movie will be one of those things that will never truly go away. It is an international institution now, holding far more global appeal than the even the western ever managed. It has imploded before and come back. The question now is whether or not it will manage to avoid another bottoming out.

  1. Has Disney made back all of the money it spent on purchasing Marvel yet? They seem like they are in an awful rush to do so.

    As I’ve said before, I’m over the comic book genre. Of the films that have come out recently, I’ve only seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Between that and Spiderman 3, the only comic book films I saw at the cinema was Iron Man 1, The Avengers and Captain America.

    I just want Hellboy 3.

    1. Hellboy 3. That is one thing which is mostly missing from the upcoming comic book movies – anything from anyone other than DC or Marvel. Hellboy, as far as I know, is a Dark Horse Comics character. The only real big non-DC/Marvel film on the way is Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on an Icon Comics miniseries. You said that you’re pretty much over the comic book genre. The test for these films, going forward, is how many others will feel the same way.

      As for Disney’s profitability, my gut response is, “Well, duh. Of course they have.” But since you asked I did at least add some of this up:

      Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. At that point, Marvel Studios was locked into a 5-year distribution deal with Paramount Pictures meaning they, not Disney, owned the distribution and marketing rights for Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, and Iron Man 3. Disney rectified that by negotiating to buy Avengers and Iron Man 3 from Paramount in exchange for $115 million as well as a 8-9% cut of the profits, although I can’t tell if Paramount was guaranteed both or if it was a “whichever one ends up being higher” situation. Disney still made absolutely nothing from Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. – http://screenrant.com/disney-the-avengers-iron-man-3-sandy-83430/

      Variety says that Disney had to give $100 million of The Avengers’ profits to Paramount, and probably $90 million for Iron Man 3. – http://variety.com/2013/film/news/iron-man-3-paramount-disney-1200479325/

      So, if you just round up and subtract $100m from both movies they combined to bring in $2.5 billion to Disney from worldwide ticket sales against a combined production budget of $420m. That leaves them at roughly $2.1 billion after you subtract the production budgets, $1.05 billion if you assume they had to share ticket sales 50/50 with theaters. We have no idea how much they spent on marketing for either film, but you would subtract that from the $1.05 billion.

      Since then, Disney has been in complete control of Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those 3 have a combined worldwide gross of $2.1 billion vs. a combined production budget of $510 million, putting it at $1.6 billion minus production budget, $800 million after sharing ticket sales with theaters. Again, we have no idea about marketing, but it’s probably a lot.

      So, actually, you could look at all of that, and say that Disney hasn’t even made back half of the $4 billion it spent on purchasing Marvel. However, that’s just looking at the movies. Studios don’t typically make their real money from ticket sales but instead merchandising and home video. I have no idea what Disney is pulling in from toy sales or Blu-Rays nor do I know what they’re making from everything else they got when they bought Marvel, i.e., comic book sales, the Marvel cartoons it airs on DisneyXD, Agents of SHIELD, its forthcoming Netflix TV shows, etc. Plus, it seems to me that Disney’s stock value has gone up ever since it bought Marvel. This Yahoo Finance article suggested that after Iron Man 3 absolutely no one was questioning Disney’s purchase of Marvel anymore – http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/michael-santoli/iron-man-3-vanquishes-doubts-over-disney-marvel-173014796.html

      1. I would add that Disney can play a (really) slow game with Marvel, if they really want to. They are the literal kings of locking down copyright, or locking away their films in a vault and re-releasing them, and of marketing their properties to new generations. They will be making money from Marvel not just now, but for as long as they own them.

        Just look at something like Disney Infinity – video game, toy, marketing scheme. It’s everything! And they have a new release of Marvel ones, highlighting the movie characters (though I have seen Iron Fist in the advertising, for the single non-movie character).

        Meanwhile, in the comics themselves they have an engine for creating the movie ideas of the future. The newest comics to make it to film was Guardians of the Galaxy, coming from a 2008-2010 run. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War ran from 2005-2007. Extremis was 2005. But then, the comics that led to the Thor films were from the 80s, and the X-Men movies as well. Gwen Stacy died in 1973. Deadpool is from the 90s. In other words, the comics of today are the movies of the next decade or two. Will we see a female Thor or Falcon as Captain America in the upcoming slate of movies? No. After 2020? Entirely possible!

      2. All excellent points. The only thing I can really add is how big it is for Disney to have Marvel because it gives them an “in” to the male audience in a way it’s never had before. They used to be the land of princesses, now they have both princesses and superheroes.

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