'Batman Vs Superman' And 'Captain America 3' Won't Face Off In 2016


'Batman Vs Superman' And 'Captain America 3' Won't Face Off In 2016 - 26th March 2014
(Forbes.com)

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It’s a rumble that has everyone salivating, the first true face-off between DC and Marvel since the superhero genre took control of cinema. Warner Bros. recently rescheduled their upcoming Man of Steel sequel (commonly referred to by the “placeholder” title Batman vs. Superman, but that could change soon) to release on May 6th, the same date as a Marvel movie whose title had yet to be announced.

However, The Hollywood Reporter heard from their sources that the unnamed Marvel movie is a third Captain America film. Some public comments, notably from actor Chris Evans (who plays Captain America in the film series), suggested the information is likely correct. (Marvel also hasn’t even denied the report, so that adds to the perception the story is correct.) But Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige wouldn’t confirm the identity of the mystery movie, although he suggested Marvel isn’t going to change release dates merely due to the scheduling of the Superman sequel on the same weekend.

I’ve been asked repeatedly by fans and other journalists if I think Captain America 3 would perform well against a Batman-Superman-Wonder-Woman film, and which studio I think will give in first. Meanwhile, fans all over the Internet are debating which studio should move and which film would win in a head-to-head battle, with most fans seeming frustrated or angry at the thought of both films facing off and neither studio wanting to budge.

Well, the reality is that of course there isn’t going to be any true May 6th confrontation between these films. And I don’t believe anybody at either studio ever seriously thought there would be. More to the point, though, despite the fact that of course there’s competitiveness and trash-talk, and despite the fact both studios want their own films to be the best and highest grossing, neither studio actually wants the other to fail or wants to sink one another’s films or franchises. Fans think that way. The press thinks that way. But businesses with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the assumption this genre will continue to be popular, and that audiences will continue feeling happy with superhero movies, do not feel that way.

All you need to do to understand the entire situation is ask yourself two simple questions: Do you think Warner Bros. wishes Marvel hadn’t made The Avengers and that audiences hadn’t flocked to see it? And do you think Marvel wishes Warner Bros. hadn’t made the Superman or Batman films in the past and had major success creating the superhero film genre?

The true superhero film genre has existed for about 35 years, since Christopher Reeve first soared across the big screen and convinced millions of moviegoers that a man could fly. Those first two Superman films, and then the first Batman movie in 1989, proved the blockbuster potential of the new genre. The launching of the genre required characters with the brand recognition and popularity to pull it off in the first place. Superman is the most recognizable superhero in the world, the very first true comic book superhero, and so was a natural choice to kick things off. Batman was at the time probably the second-most-recognizable superhero in the U.S. (and remember, at that time the domestic box office was much more important than foreign markets), and the only one really getting any consistent push for a feature film (thanks to the determination of producer Michael Uslan, who didn’t let years of studio refusals dampen his certainty that the Caped Crusader could be awesome cinematic gold).

Obviously, it took a couple of additional decades to perfect it, but the point is that in the earliest days DC superheroes dominated the big screen, and were probably the only ones with a chance to get the superhero genre up and running (or flying). All the other films that came after benefited from those early films, and it’s likely it would’ve taken decades longer for any real superhero genre to be successfully established if not for those initial DC movies. Marvel and other studios are without a doubt grateful for Superman and Batman being blockbuster hits, and paving the way for everybody else.

Conversely, in the last decade or more (since roughly 2000), it has been Marvel characters whose films have driven the superhero genre and dominated the box office most of the time. It was the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises in the early 2000s that revived the struggling genre, and by the end of this year studios from Marvel to Fox to Sony will have unleashed 34 movies based on Marvel superheroes since 2000. DC film adaptations in the same time period have primarily consisted of the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, the Superman films Superman Returns and Man of Steel, Watchmen, Green Lantern, and a handful of other films that are mostly actually outside the specific superhero genre itself. However, through all of that, Warner/DC were not hoping that the Marvel movies would flop or that the Marvel plans for building a shared cinematic universe would fail. The success of all of those Marvel movies helped — along with the enormous success of Nolan’s Batman series — turn superheroes into box office gold.

Indeed, the subsequent record-shattering success of The Avengers was another godsend to studios, and Warner in particular actually was probably cheering over the financial prospects the Marvel team-up blockbuster implied for the future. Warner Bros. had an incredible revenue stream from the Harry Potter and Christopher Nolan movies over a 12 year period, bringing in so many billions of dollars that the success level gave rise to the question, “What will the following decade be like without the same sort of money-printing machines as those two series?”

I’ve long argued (not that it’s a big surprise or insight) that the answer to that question would lie in part in finally exploiting the DC Comics superhero properties to a much larger extent on film, but for Warner Bros. the complicating factor was that they’re in the business of investing their money in a lot more than just superhero movies. They can’t just invest every dime into half-a-dozen or ten superhero tentpole franchises. Besides, they’ve just not had the same degree of luck with other superheroes as they’ve enjoyed from Superman and Batman.

The obvious answer, which the studio did arrive at several years ago, was to use a team-up movie like Justice League to bring a bunch of characters to the screen, then just spin off the most popular ones while delivering occasional team-ups every few years. But could it work? There was some risk, since if it failed then their two biggest superheroes — Batman and Superman — could get tainted as well. Warner kept trying to make it work, and even came close to starting filming on the Justice League: Mortal project back in 2007 before cancelling it. Luckily, Marvel had their own plan to step foot in that risky territory, so Warner could afford to hold off and make sure the way was clear.

Well, we all know how that worked out, and now every other studio wants their own expanded, unified superhero universe full of franchises. And while they’ll compete and hope to outperform one another, they all appreciate what the others have done to contribute to this enormous success they’re all enjoying.

Audiences love superhero films right now, but there was a time when the public’s taste for them seemed to have declined considerably for a while. This was of course due to the quality of what was being churned out, but nevertheless the point remains that like any other genre, superhero films can’t take for granted the public’s good graces. So as long as everyone’s films are for the most part performing well, the studios can feel safe. And they all know that good will from the public for their own films depends a lot on how happy the public is with the other movies out there from rival studios. If suddenly the public disliked a bunch of superhero films in a row and those movies flopped, you think that wouldn’t bode ill for other superhero films awaiting release?

That preference for all films of the genre to enjoy success, to boost public good will and keep the superhero movies atop the cinematic mountaintop, is never more important than when a film or franchise is of particular major importance. For example, The Avengers failing would’ve had widespread ramifications for all the other franchises and studios as well. Or if Sony’s quick reboot The Amazing Spider-Man hadn’t worked out, it would’ve given pause to other studios attempting to quickly bring characters back to the big screen shortly after the end of a previous series (most notably, the current rebooting of Batman on film, for example).

So, with Warner Bros.’ future superhero adaptation plans all pretty much hinging on the success of Batman vs. Superman, a major underperformance or failure of that movie would be so significant that it could have a ripple effect hurting other studios’ plans as well. Meaning Marvel isn’t going to try to do serious, major damage to Warner’s big superhero team-up film. Fans would never forgive them if they sabotaged the development of a cinematic DCU, audiences might sour a bit on the genre overall, and doing so would of course require tossing Captain America under the bus to some extent by having his franchise act as a land mine for the sole purpose of harming another studio’s projects.

Likewise, with so much riding on the success of their film and the opening weekend being a chance to break records and establish a winning narrative surrounding the film, Warner isn’t going to risk all of that by sticking to a schedule that puts Batman vs. Superman up against a major Marvel sequel. They also aren’t out to try to damage a Marvel movie that could actually benefit WB’s own film — whether Marvel moves up to April or Warner drops back to June/July, chances are Captain America 3 (if that’s really the mystery Marvel movie, of course) will kick off the super-summer and prime the public for more. That arrangement works both ways, too, since obviously the enormous buzz surrounding the release of a Batman-Superman-Wonder-Woman movie means audiences will be chomping at the bit and any superhero movie that comes out at the head of that feeding frenzy stands to gain enormous extra box office for itself.

Disney-Marvel aren’t in the business of spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make films only to intentionally cripple the film’s performance by using it as a simple tool to trip someone else. They’re so far ahead of the game right now, and have such detailed plans laid out, they don’t remotely need to play any silly, expensive games. They are sticking to their guns on the May 6 release date right now precisely because there’s no reason not to. It’s more than two years away, and they likely already planned to consider a change of release dates once Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens to (my personal guess, based on how great it is) $90 million in a couple of weekends, since moving up gives them a wider open field and they’ve been working hard to establish a new earlier start of the summer release schedule anyway.

The clout that comes from being the studio to officially bring about that change — which every other studio will benefit from as well, since it means an even longer summer season — would be another nice notch on Marvel’s belt. But there’s really no reason to make the change too soon, especially if it gives the appearance of moving out of someone else’s way. They may not want to hurt one another or risk damaging the genre’s status, but that doesn’t mean they’re out to make it too easy on the competition, either.

To the extent the studios are jockeying for position in the release schedule, though, it’s not simply a case of a stare-down. There are very real consequences to the choice of release date and who gets positioned where on the calendar. Hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars are at stake, as are many careers when a decision proves brilliant or fatally flawed. Warner didn’t just decide to see who is less of a “chicken” or engage in a shoving match, they moved to May 6th because it’s a huge release date that’s been dominated lately by Marvel and is sort of a gateway into the summer release schedule. Even if Warner actually has intentions to reschedule the film at some later date — since there’s more than two years until release, and they might be the ones to move up their film into April before Marvel makes the jump, or maybe move back to June or July where they’ve traditionally had plenty of success — it was worth making an initial incursion into the early-May territory to gauge reactions and see if that move would lead other studios to shuffle their plans a bit, creating some other opening in the calendar and changing the landscape for Warner over the next several months and years. If Marvel does seem likely to take an April date instead, then Warner has already staked out the May territory so nobody else feels too froggy and jumps to it instead.

While it’s interesting to wonder hypotheticals, like whether Batman vs. Superman could accept losses more easily than Captain America 3 since the DC movie will inevitably be so huge it has more ground to give up — or if Marvel’s film would only suffer a smaller setback while still performing within acceptable levels, while anything less than perhaps a billion bucks might give the appearance of problems for the DC team-up — in the end it’s all speculation that everyone should know is an exercise in imagination that will never see fruition in the real world.

My guess is that even lacking a Warner move into the May time slot, Marvel was going to be tempted to reschedule their film for April anyway. And meanwhile, Warner will probably go ahead and stay in May if Marvel moves; but if Marvel hasn’t announced a move by mid-2015, I won’t be surprised if WB makes a choice to move back to July and point out that the move creates greater proximity and alignment with other upcoming films in their DCU plans (but that’s a whole other story…). Both studios know that they each lose too much from opening the same weekend, neither is making a habit of throwing away tens of millions of dollars — and potentially hundreds of millions — on a rivalry that makes for good ink in the press and goads fans into taking sides, but which doesn’t really exist when it’s time for the adults in the room to make the big decisions about their checkbooks.

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