Last week, DC Comics and its corporate parent, Warner Bros. Pictures, unveiled release dates for nine untitled movies to follow 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with dates reaching all the way into 2020. At the same time, Sony Pictures -- owner of the Spider-Man rights -- confirmed that four Spidey-related films are still in the works. Add all these to the 11 upcoming films from Marvel Studios and four or more coming from Fox (X-Men- and Fantastic Four-derived), and you've got a whole lot of comic-book-inspired pictures coming our way.
So, yay, right? We love superheroes, and we seem to have moved well past the point when studios treat comic-book adaptations as B-level fare. Bring it on! But with such a clogged schedule, the question has to be asked: Can the marketplace sustain an influx of these films like we've never seen before, or will the public and even some fans get tired of all the capes and superpowers and origin stories and bring the whole genre crashing down?
It's a given that hardcore comic-book fans will dutifully troop out for as many of these as they can, but the studios need more than just our support to translate these films into box-office hits -- especially with the huge production and marketing costs that they're racking up now. Look at Guardians of the Galaxy: Even a movie with no huge stars in it and a bunch of characters that most people never heard of ended up costing $170 million to make (not including marketing).
The stakes are high for everyone involved, and there are already worrying signs out there that some fatigue could be manifesting itself: Last year's Man of Steel didn't feel like a blockbuster despite earning $668 million around the world. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meanwhile, was the lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie yet, falling far short of the $1 billion worldwide Sony hoped to make. There are a whole lot of critics out there who are predicting the death of the superhero movie from sheer overload, and a lot of these same critics are usually the ones trashing the films when they come out. Not everyone likes or even understands the genre, and hey, not all of the entries are gems, either (Thor: The Dark World, anyone?). There are hundreds of movies released every year, so why fret over a relative handful?
My answer to all this is simple: Everyone stop worrying.
You don't see anyone launching think pieces about the death of the drama -- and there are dozens of those arriving on screen every year. Westerns were enormously popular during the silent film era, died out for a while, then re-emerged again around 1939 for a winning streak that probably topped out in the mid-1960s, although westerns continue to be made to this day. And we're all familiar with the ups and downs of the horror genre, which seems to dribble out every few years only to come back strong a short time later.
Superhero films are singled out because they've become so ubiquitous in such a relatively short amount of time, and because they cost so much to make and promote. They've become the latest in a long Hollywood history of "event" films, which has included disaster pictures, sci-fi spectacles, action extravaganzas and so forth (you could make a case that comic-book movies combine all of those). When they hit big, they take up a lot of space at the multiplexes and they vacuum up most of the box-office dollars available on any given weekend.
And, again, I say: So what? Everyone loves to talk about the virtues of capitalism and the free market, and this is an example of that system at work. If the public has an appetite for more superhero adventures, the studios are ready to serve them. If the public turns away from them, even in the next two or three years, you'll start to see some of those release dates shift or even fade quietly away. Of course, it's up to the studios to hold up their end of the bargain as well and make good movies. This is why, as I've said before, Marvel Studios has the edge: All they do is MCU movies, to which they can dedicate their full attention and resources, while Warner Bros., Fox and Sony all have other movies to make as well.
Studios can also be wiser about these films. A few years ago, Marvel floated the idea of making some of their movies, featuring lesser-known characters, on a tighter budget. A few of those characters, like Iron Fist and Luke Cage, have shifted to TV. But a $70 million Black Panther film or $80 million Flash tale might be a better investment for the studio, especially since you don't have to go bigger and destroy a major city for every single outing (a current problem with a lot of Hollywood blockbusters these days). A smaller, more intimate Doctor Strange film might work just as effectively as a $200 million Avengers blowout.
Not every single one of the 30 movies coming our way will earn $500 million or more at the box office, and the genre may even quiet down for a while if a larger number of them fail to connect. But the superhero movie is not going anywhere. And why should it? These stories and characters have entertained generations of fans. A lot of them can be shared by families and teach good moral lessons. At their best, they tell compelling, exciting stories that engage and activate the imagination and even encourage younger people to read, an activity in great danger of being lost. Anything that does all that deserves the chance to do it as often as possible.
What do you think? Is the coming wave of superhero movies great news for fans and moviegoers or too much too soon?