Decades from now, cinephiles will look back on the early 2000s as the Superhero Era — and they’ll be able to pinpoint the moment when the bubble burst. As with all trends, it’s only a matter of time. It happened with film noir and then westerns, it happened to the spy movies of the 1960s, and then to the gritty crime dramas of the ’70s.
And that’s why Warner Bros.’ plan to produce 10 DC Comics movies between 2016 to 2020 seems so short-sighted. The company is so focused on dethroning Marvel as the reigning box office champ that it’s missing the big picture: Superheroes may be invincible on screen, but their popularity won’t last forever. And the upcoming glut of movies might just speed their demise.
The saturation is no joke. Studios have already slated 22 titles over the next five years, not including the handful Marvel has promised with release dates but without any details. That also doesn’t count second cousins like the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel and “The Lego Batman Movie” in 2017. The spandex industry must be thrilled.
While Marvel has enjoyed hit after hit, from “Iron Man” to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Warner Bros. has had a spotty past with its DC Comics adaptations. Batman and Superman can deliver predictably big box-office numbers, but beyond those guys, all bets are off. Remember the “Catwoman” catastrophe of 2004? Not to mention the two consecutive bombs “Jonah Hex,” in 2010, and “The Green Lantern” the following year.
Warner Bros. is doubling down on its golden boys: In addition to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” with Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, Warner plans to release two other Justice League movies. The directive is clear: Replicate the success of Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise, and pray that Affleck doesn’t pull a Clooney.
The 2016 release of “Suicide Squad” is another copycat move. The comic book features a crew of antiheroes, who are sprung from jail to become covert operatives for the good guys. Sound familiar?
Here’s the problem: The great asset of Marvels movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Iron Man” and “Captain America” is their sense of humor. Warner’s superheroes lean much more somber. And the fact that David Ayer, the man behind dark action films like “Fury” and “Training Day,” is set to direct “Suicide Squad” doesn’t suggest a fun romp.
Marvel’s casting has also been exceptional. Warner Bros., meanwhile, is betting big on newcomers. First there’s Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman — and, credit where it’s due, good for them for finally making a female superhero movie. Also noteworthy: Warner has hired openly gay actor Ezra Miller to star in “The Flash” (to be released in 2018). Though acclaimed for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” few multiplex-goers know who he is. Jason Momoa, the “Game of Thrones” warlord lined up to play Aquaman, has only slightly better name recognition. Though, hey, at least there’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson cast as Black Adam in “Shazam.” In other news, Warner will reboot “Green Lantern,” in 2020, not even a decade after the Ryan Reynolds incarnation bombed. If at first you don’t succeed. . .
Of course, the superhero genre might hang on for another decade. Westerns delighted audiences for ages. But box office numbers overall are down for the year. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the number one movie so far, but with a little more than $326 million, that’s not as impressive as last year’s top superhero movie, “Iron Man 3” ($409 million), which wasn’t even number one domestically. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” brought in more than $424 million. How many more times will people pay to see Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark or a muscled Hugh Jackman with mutton chops as Wolverine?
It looks like Warner Bros. is running hard to catch up when it might be smarter to focus on the next big thing.