WITH “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” opening strong at the box office over the weekend, the game is back on: Marvel Studios, thanks in part to its own creative camaraderie, again has some crime-fighting competition in Hollywood.
Last summer, things weren’t looking so bright for the superhero franchises at other studios: WB/DC’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” had stumbled creatively and underperformed commercially, as had Fox’s “X-Men: Apocalypse.” The true lone standout outside of Marvel Studios was “Deadpool,” which overcame great resistance just to get made and respected at Fox.
Meanwhile, Marvel had another banner year — in what has nearly become a banner decade — with “Captain America: Civil War” and “Doctor Strange.” (Sony’s highest-grossing film in 2016, meanwhile, was the “Ghostbusters” reboot.)
Yet the first half of 2016 did reveal two of the most promising hopes for 2017, with superhero newcomers Gal Gadot and Tom Holland. As Wonder Woman and “on loan from Sony” Spider-Man, respectively, the two actors nearly stole the show in limited action in “Batman v Superman” and “Civil War.” Now, so far in 2017, they are the two biggest breakout superhero actors, putting their franchises on higher ground.
As a commercial as well as cultural smash, “Wonder Woman” has grossed nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide, edging out “Suicide Squad” (according to Sunday estimates). Domestically, “Wonder Woman” ($368.8 million) is the highest-grossing film in the DC Extended Universe.
Over the weekend, Holland’s boyish charm helped propel Sony’s third reboot of Spider-Man in 15 years. “Homecoming” had the third-biggest domestic opening of the year ($117 million) and now sits at $257 million worldwide.
Gadot’s and Holland’s performances also raise expectations for DC’s “Justice League” in November and Sony’s “Homecoming” sequel planned for 2019.
Fox can’t expect a similar trajectory from its best superhero performance of the year, Hugh Jackman’s apparent swan song as Wolverine in “Logan,” which is so far the year’s fourth-biggest film domestically ($226.2 million). But franchise newcomer Dafne Keen as young mutant Laura will be worth following into the next X-generation.
Marvel Studios, of course, should keep winning this arms race buoyed by the interconnection of its universe. “Thor: Ragnarok” lands in November, and Marvel has three films — “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” — landing next year.
Plus, Marvel will continue to have a partnership with Sony in bringing Spider-Man to the screen.
Still, as in Silicon Valley, the competition is healthier when there are multiple power players, pushing each other to be better.
On that count, so far, 2017 has been a greatly welcome boon to studios trying to stay on the track with Marvel.