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Theatrically-Released Animated Superhero Movies Used to Be Incredibly Rare. Next Year, We’re Getting 3 of Them.

Well, it’s actually happening. Sony’s really making that animated Spider-Man movie it announced oh so long. We have visual proof now:

As produced by Phil Lord/Chris Miller and directed by Bob Persichetti/Peter Ramsey, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (please let that be a working title) will tell the story of Miles Morales, the half-black, half-Hispanic version of the web crawler first introduced by Brian Michael Bendis in Marvel’s “Ultimate” (translation: alternate continuity) line. When the “Ultimate” Peter Parker died in 2011, the similarly enhanced-by-spider-bite Morales took on the Spider-Man identity in his honor, instantly turning into a fan favorite and launching endless “Why Miles Morales deserves his own movie” think pieces.

Based on the film’s title and trailer, the story will plunge headlong into the inherently complicated multi-verse of Spidey lore, which is the type of thing Rick & Morty mocked/re-purposed with its notion of a trans-dimensional police force comprised of all the Rick’s from every universe. That’s going to get complicated, maybe needlessly so. On the bright side, there are moments of insane ingenuity and beauty in the trailer which makes this out to be unlike any animated superhero movie we’ve ever seen before. There are also moments which suggest they’ll definitely need the year to finish the animation.

Of course, the existence of Into the Spider-Verse is notable for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is the inclusion of Morales. By choosing to focus the film on Miles instead of Peter, Sony has not only made a smart move to better differentiate its animated Spidey from its live-action one but also instantly upped the comically low number of superhero movies led by a person of color. This and Black Panther will give us two next year.

Beyond that, Into the Spider-Verse is notable because of what it is: an animated superhero movie. It seems strange to say it, but in the age of superhero saturation, we almost never get widely released superhero movies. Since Iron Man kicked off the new age of comic book cinema in 2008, there have only been four animated superhero movies to play in wide theatrical release: Megamind, Big Hero Six, The LEGO Batman Movie, and Captain Underpants, the latter two being meta reflections on the genre. The four films combined to gross a billion a worldwide, most of that coming from Megamind and Big Hero Six though.

In that same timespan, there have been dozens of animated superhero TV shows, with two new ones being announced quite recently, i.e., WB’s Harley Quinn series and Marvel’s Secret Warriors project. WB continues to crank out its direct-to-video DC movies, some of which (like The Killing Joke) have made it into theaters for a day or maybe a full week. So, it’s not like the studios are blind to the superhero genre’s potential in animation. They’ve just been reluctant to expand it beyond TV where higher episode counts equal more opportunities to hook kid audiences on the programming and funnel them to nearby toy stores. But with Disney, Fox, and Sony all stuck in an arms race over how best to carve up the live-action superhero movie space, the following was bound to occur to someone: Why should superhero movies be consigned to live action-only?

That’s how we’ve ended up with a 2018 which will give us three new animated superhero movies. In addition to Spider-Verse, we’re also getting Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (6/15) and WB’s Teen Titans Go to the Movies! (7/27), the latter of which is sure to be insane and probably fourth-wall breaking, based on the TV show:

The argument for all of this is pure animation affords the genre more freedom and opens up the space for more experimentation, like LEGO Batman’s brilliant dissection of the Batman mythos and history; the argument against is why do we need cartoon superhero movies when the live-action ones are more cartoon than live-action anyway? (Just watch this Thor: Ragnarok set video for proof of that). Plus, something, something, comic book movie fatigue, something, something.

Where do you fall on that divide? Do we already have enough superhero movies as it is without crossing over into pure animation? Or is this exactly the kind of timeline-extending move which might help keep things fresh and offer audiences the one thing they need to truly prevent comic book movie fatigue: variety? Let me know what you think in the comments.


  1. Well, you know what I think: That Sony could solve two of its problems (1. how to stay relevant in the Superhero race after teaming up with Marvel and 2. How to rescue the reputation of an animation studio known for delivering crap) by exploring the options of high quality animated Superhero movies. Personally I prefer them in traditional animation, but at least it looks like they are trying, and frankly, going all Spider-verse is perfect, because that is something nearly impossible to pull off in a live action movie.

    And neither the Disney animation studios nor Pixar can fill that niche because they are known for their original (or at least loosely adapted) content (and sequels to original content), suddenly churning out superhero movies wouldn’t really work out. And WB, well, honestly, they really need to look into their animation studios and put some structure behind it.

    Concerning the number of SH movies…the market is about to get cleaned up a little bit, isn’t it? I doubt that Disney will suddenly start to do five in one year. Perhaps three will become a regular occurrence, sometimes four. I doubt that there will ever been permanently more than 10 SH movies per year on average.

    1. The comic book movie fatigue argument seems fairly played out by now. The box office seems to keep showing us that people are far from being sick of these movies; they’re just sick of seeing bad version of these movies. So, Marvel continues to shine and WB continues its downward trajectory, aside from WW. And who in the world knows what’s going to happen with Fox’s development slate when Disney takes over. We have to remember, though, Sony still has its Venom movie on the way and the faintest promise of following through on its Black Cat/Silver Sable movie. So, even if Disney cuts back Sony might, in success, fill the gap.

      I think your assessment of why superhero animation makes more sense for Sony than some of its competitors makes sense. I also agree that WB’s animation arm needs some serious structure. The CEO rebuilt the studio to be organized around silos – DC, Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts and Lego. However, both of 2017’s animated Lego movies were financial disappointments. Lego Batman didn’t bomb, but it only made over $300m worldwide. Lego Ninjago would have killed for that.

      1. I don’t think that Venom will succeed and if it doesn’t, it will be the end of the other projects, too.

        The problem with Lego Ninjago was that nobody had any idea what Ninjago actually is. I honestly still don’t know. I think we need to wait until the sequel for the Lego movie before we judge that particular franchise.

      2. With Sony and Venom, it is a bit of “been there, done that,” not in the sense that we’ve seen a full-on Venom movie, more that we’ve seen them pinning all of their hopes on a single movie and planning to build out of it and utterly failing before. So, we’ve entered I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it territory.

        Agreed on Lego. They had one surprise hit, one profitable, but comparatively modest spin-off and one box office flop spin-off. It’d be premature to call a time of death yet. I know the Lego Movie sequel has been delayed once if not twice. The obvious ideal scenario would have been for it to arrive before Ninjago, maybe establishing a Star Wars like one year main franchise movie, one year spin-off movie pattern. Even that might not have helped because they appear to have overvalued Ninjago’s popularity and crossover potential. I’m guessing they still sold plenty of toys with that movie though.

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