What do movie theaters do when superhero movies aren’t around to save the world?
I don’t know, but we’re about to find out because for as much noise as everyone recently made over Spider-Man: Far From Home’s amazing ticket sales not enough attention has been given to the following, entirely inconvenient fact: Spider-Man is the last Marvel Studios movie we’re getting for a long ass time, or at least “long ass” by recent standards. Barring some unforeseen curveball from Kevin Feige’s Comic-Con upcoming presentation, there is nothing left on the release calendar between Far From Home and the untitled Marvel movie due 5/1/20 which we’re all guessing is probably Black Widow.
To put that into context, we are now entering the longest gap between Marvel Studios releases since the 10 months which passed between Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War. Given all the status quo-altering craziness which has gone down in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since then, those films might seem like a Captain America lifetime ago at this point, but it’s actually just been a couple of years. In that time, Marvel switched to an ambitious three-movies-a-year release model, helping it dominate 2017, 2018, and now 2019.
If not for the understandable post-Endgame desire to pause and reorient as well as Bog Iger’s marching orders to divert resources toward producing multiple streaming shows for Disney+, Marvel would likely be heading into 2020 with another trio of superpowered flicks to launch. Instead, Marvel has staked a claim to just May 1, 2020 and November 6, 2020 and has yet to confirm which films will be assigned to those dates.
The competition, of course, is trying to fill the gaps. The October/November window previously home to Thor: Ragnarok has been taken this year by Todd Phillip’s Joker and next year by Sony’s Venom 2. The February/March window, most recently home to Black Panther and Captain Marvel, will be occupied in 2020 by DC’s Birds of Prey (or the Ridiculously Long Title). DC also has an untitled release for April 2020 to go along with Wonder Woman 1984 in June. Sony, meanwhile, has its Jared Leto Morbius movie tentatively set for late July 2020.
There is also, of course, The New Mutants, the final vestige of the old Fox regime’s take on the X-Men universe. It is such a troubled production at this point that it seems to be surviving purely as some kind of dare between Fox and Disney employees to see how much shit they can turn into gold. It’s scheduled for April 2020. We’ll see if it ever gets there.
That, as of this writing, represents the entirety of the superhero movie output between now and the end of 2020. It’s a tad lighter than normal compared to recent years, but it’s not exactly like this is on purpose. When one of the four competitors, Fox, gets bought out and another, WB, has to alter course after a series of unsatisfying films (Batman v Superman, Justice League) a slowing of production schedules is a natural result. Sony, meanwhile, is still figuring things out as it tries to both lease Spider-Man to Marvel Studios and build up its own live-action Venom and animated Spider-Man films independent of the MCU.
You could look at this and say 2020 is turning into exactly the kind of breather we need to stave off superhero fatigue, but if you go by ticket sales instead of online rhetoric, superhero fatigue continues to be the film industry’s equivalent of the ongoing “beware the recession” warnings: if you keep saying it long enough eventually you’ll be right. Worldwide audiences, however, continue to have an unquenchable thirst for this stuff.
Marvel Studios, for example, currently has the #1 (Avengers: Endgame), #2 (Captain Marvel), and #6 (Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is pretty much a Marvel Studios movie Sony happens to distribute instead of Disney) films on the list of the year’s highest-grossers. Domestically, those three films alone account for a quarter of all tickets sold in 2019, more than doubling the combined market share captured by Marvel’s movies in recent years. Granted, that figure is bound to come down by the end of the year once Lion King, Frozen 2, and The Rise of Skywalker have had their say, but in one of bleeker and least inspiring first halves to any year in recent memory Marvel Studios remained as bulletproof as an adamantium shield.
But that’s all down the road. In the here and now, year-to-year ticket sales are still down, despite Endgame’s record-setting run. We’re approaching mid-July and the summer movie season only has two true big budget, four-quadrant event blockbusters left (The Lion King and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) to go along with maybe just one older-leaning film people might actually see (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). We have yet to see a surefire Oscar contender all year. Disney completely dominates the market but only plans on releasing four more movies – not counting the Fox-branded films the studio inherited and has to distribute – through the end of the year. The only remaining comic book movie on the calendar, Joker, is a 70’s-style drama which holds no fealty to the actual comics, according to the director.
Of course, in recent years there’s always been a Marvel movie right around the corner to Spidey-swing in and prop up such lagging ticket sales. Theater owners won’t have that luxury again until next May. Luckily, Disney has a handful of other blockbusters (Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen 2, The Rise of Skywalker) on the way, and as Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Venom recently proved Marvel Studios doesn’t have the exclusive on the mega-grossing superhero movie. So, let’s ride or die with Birds of Prey, I guess.
One of the big picture takeaways from recent Hollywood trends is, quite simply, Marvel Studios is better at this than everyone else. Yet, the studio has essentially dropped the mic on 2019 and is shifting some of its 2020 focus to streaming. For the rest of the year, Universal (Hobbs & Shaw, Abominable, more Blumhouse movies than I can count), WarnerMedia (The Kitchen, Blinded By the Light, It: Chapter 2, Doctor Sleep), Sony (The Angry Birds Movie 2, Zombieland 2), Paramount (Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Gemini Man, Terminator: Dark Fate), and Lionsgate (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Angel Has Fallen, Rambo: Last Blood) now have to compete in some of the toughest months to sell tickets, and there are some seriously fatigued franchises in the lineup of upcoming films.
Maybe it will all work out. After all, 2016 is the last time Marvel only released two movies, and it still went down as the most lucrative year for film ever, at least until that record was broken in 2018. However, for better or worse, superhero movies are the coin of the realm, and it’s gonna to be a minute before Marvel returns to reclaim its crown. Meanwhile, both Disney and WarnerMedia are turning most of their attention toward quickly producing original content for forthcoming streaming services. Those who still believe in the theatrical movie-going experience are going to have to make do with whatever we can get. Personally, I can’t wait for Rian Johnson’s Agatha Christie-like whodunit Knives Out.
It, um, doesn’t come out until Thanksgiving.
What are some of the movies you’re looking forward to during this long break between Far From Home and Black Widow? Frozen 2? The Rise of Skywalker? Birds of Prey? Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Terminator: Dark Fate? For you Oscar movie fans, Ford Vs. Ferrari or Cats? It: Chapter 2? Doctor Sleep? All of the above? Some? Others? Let me know in the comments.