Comic book films have become extremely popular in the past nine years, starting with “Batman Begins.” Looking at the slate of upcoming projects, fans wonder if too many are being made.
Comic book fans enjoy (more or less) seeing their favorite characters getting the proper film treatment. Marvel has done a great job building its cinematic universe, and DC has done well with Batman and Superman. Both companies are even extended into television, with DC’s “Arrow” and Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
The problem arises in the average person. The average person knows who the heroes are, but the films are the only main exposure they will receive. As more movies are made and the universes expand, will it become too convoluted for the average theatergoer? Will people start getting burned out from too many superhero films?
This year alone, there are four major comic book movies coming out, including Captain America, the X-Men, Spiderman, and the less well-known Guardians of the Galaxy. There are also other similar films such as a rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a Sin City sequel, and the already released “300: Rise of an Empire.” In the years to come, there are already entire franchises being planned for new characters.
Studios see how lucrative the genre has become, with four films having made over $1 billion, starting with “The Dark Knight” in 2008. Every other major comic book film since then has made at least double its production cost as well, except for “Green Lantern.” It is a smart business decision to cash in on the opportunity, but if too many films are released, the public will start to lose interest.
The best example of this is historical epics. From the 1950s to the 1960s, the film market was flooded with “sword and sandal” films. The public began to lose interest and the genre was replaced with spaghetti westerns, which repeated the cycle.
The genre was shortly revived in the ‘80s with “Conan the Barbarian,” but quickly went dormant again. “Braveheart” and “Gladiator” are widely considered as the keys to reviving interest in the genre for the modern era. Ever since then, there has been one or two released every year, with varying degrees of success.
Comic book films are following a similar path. Before “Batman Begins” in 2005, comic book films were generally considered kid/teenager movies. Nine years later, they are one of the biggest draws to the theater, and nearly 40 comic- based films have been released. It is getting harder for audiences to remember which characters and storylines belong to which franchise.
Marvel’s idea of a major shared universe between franchises helps a little, and other studios are following suit. Post-“Avengers,” it is hard to imagine comic book movies without them being related somehow. Before 2008, such a task was considered impossible, mainly due to licensing restraints. The shared cinematic universe has allowed people to keep track of so many characters, while more are slowly introduced. The amount of attention and focus to detail has allowed Marvel to flourish in Hollywood.
The problem that arises is what to do with a character when an actor can (or will) no longer play the part. This is a big question that has come up about Robert Downey, Jr. and Iron Man, or Hugh Jackman and Wolverine. There is no other actor that comes to mind to take the role over, so do they kill off Tony Stark, or recast him? If actors are being constantly replaced James Bond-style, it will quickly become confusing. If the character is killed off or retired, studios will lose an entire franchise that is worth billions.
In comics, characters never truly die. In film, they have to because of the actors. If studios come up with reboots of a character or change the story somehow, it will become too convoluted for the audience. It is hard to start reading comics today versus 40 years ago. The same thing may happen for new audiences. Many people would not want to sit down and watch 10 movies to catch up on the shared universe. That number only grows as years pass. Soon, only the core audience will remain.
It would be a shame to see the comic book genre buckle under its own weight. Superheroes are our Greek gods, and they fascinate the imagination of people young and old. They have some of the richest stories of our generation, and studios have done a very good job of bringing them to life. Only time can tell whether the genre will survive, but fans will enjoy the ride.