Recently, Zack Snyder confirmed long-time speculation that there would be a Justice League movie, featuring DC Heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman (and others) teaming up to battle ne’er-do-wells. That’s great for comic book fans, but haven’t we had enough? Superhero films are coming out at a rate of at least three a year now, and that’s probably going to increase in the next few years. Is this bubble going to burst?
Prior to 2000, the modern superhero film didn’t do very well. The last critically successful one before this was Batman Returns, and even then, there are some that hate it. There was the Blade film series, but that didn’t really count as most people didn’t (and probably still don’t) even know he’s actually a Marvel superhero, and just dumped him in with all the other vampire films. It wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s X-Men adaptation, which arguably reinvented the genre, that it was proven that it was possible to recreate the box office success that the 1970s Superman and 1980s Batman films had enjoyed. The superhero was profitable again, and Spider-Man followed soon after.
After a few terrible sequels, it seemed as if we would get tired of them (especially after the cinematic epitome of Marmite, X-Men: The Last Stand came out) until Iron Man revitalised the genre yet again. This was when Marvel decided to up their game and create a ‘Cinematic Universe’ in which all their heroes interacted with each other as they did in the comics – something which hadn’t been attempted on this scale before. Eventually, it worked, with Avengers Assemble making $1.5 billion. It wasn’t just a case of making lots of money either, it was actually very good, too.
While Marvel continued on their merry way, expanding their cinematic universe further with the fast approaching Avengers sequels, and Guardians of the Galaxy, its competitors decided they wanted a piece of this pie too. DC’s Man of Steel is the first film in their superhero universe, which will carry on into Batman vs. Superman, and then into Justice League. However, these aren’t the only contenders for the throne. Back in the 1990s, Marvel was going bankrupt to the point they almost sold the company to Michael Jackson. Instead they decided to sell off the film rights to hundreds of their characters. Sony has Spider-Man, Fox has X-Men, Fantastic Four (and until recently Daredevil too), and there are others still that are all divvied up amongst various studios.
After the success of Avengers Assemble, Fox announced the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, a time travel caper featuring both iterations of the X-Men we’ve previously seen, as well as plans to eventually crossover with the rebooted Fantastic Four franchise. Sony also announced their intent to head towards a Spider-Man vs Sinister Six film, in which Peter Parker faces off a supervillain team.
This all seems a little much, perhaps, for the average cinema goer. Despite comic readers coping with never-ending guest stars and crossovers and the like for decades, cinema goers have never really had to do this before. No separate films were really interlinked unless they were sequels or prequels – never cross-franchise. You could just go see a film, and if we missed the previous instalment, you’d be reminded of what happened before in some expositional dialogue. It’s true you can enjoy these superhero films individually, but they’re not as fun that way.
Also it’s not even just cinema, it’s TV too. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD has been on our screens for less than a season and it’s already tied into Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Last week it was announced that an Agent Carter TV series is also in the works, no doubt tying into the next Captain America film somehow. DC has Arrow, which has slowly been expanding its hero roster and rogues’ gallery, and the upcoming Gotham series as well as The Flash. It’s unclear if these will be tying into DC’s films, but given Marvel’s success with TV-Cinema crossovers, it is looking ever likely.
So, to answer the question, is this overkill? Well probably. But as long as they make money, they will continue to be released. It seems Marvel can’t put a foot wrong right now, and Batman vs Superman might just surpass Avengers Assemble’s profits based on its title and concept alone – the two most famous superheroes…fighting each other. Hollywood does this a lot – The LEGO Movie was a success, and as a result, other movies based on toys are going to be churned out in the near future.
The reason superhero films are different though is that there’s a back catalogue of 70 years of stories to draw upon, that are still being printed and sold. Now that superhero films are also profitable, it creates a sort of feedback loop – fans of the comics go to see the films, and fans of the films start reading the comics. That doesn’t really happen with anything else. There’s the Harry Potters and the Twilights, but there is a finite number of those books. Once they’ve ended, that’s it the story is over. With comic books, their stories tend to continue going on and on, and while this superhero film phase we are currently in may pass, it’ll only come around again when we have kids.