Comic book movies: Are we approaching saturation?

COMIC book movies excite me. The idea that each individual superhero could have their moment to shine in their own standalone movie, which then contributes to a greater overarching story, which brings multiple superheroes together, is cool. Quite frankly, the idea of a grand narrative on this scale is pretty new to cinema in general and it blows my mind.

A still from the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film

A still from the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film

Marvel announced its entire ‘Phase Three’ line up a couple of months ago. To those unfamiliar, Phase Three is what Marvel refers to the collection of films that will occur after their upcoming films Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, which are to be released later this year. This was a big deal as it was announced that the number of films released per year would increase from two to three, and the title of every film was revealed, sending social media into a frenzy over where the plot was going to go.

It has been little over 6 years since Marvel came out with Iron Man, which got the ball rolling for creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since then, they have achieved high level success, releasing 10 films which have been well received by both critics and audiences, and made people a lot of money, so it is no surprise that other studios are seeking to capitilise on this newly popular genre.

However comic book movies are hardly some new phenomenon. When looking at what came before 2008, the superhero genre was dominated mainly by the Fox owned X-Men and Sony owned Spider-Man franchises, both of which greatly received recognition primarily thanks to the cartoon shows of the characters back in the 90’s. Even in these cases, in the time between 2000 and 2008, these were not released annually but rather every other year, or longer as is the case before the millennium. During this period, there were also various failings of the comic book genre on Marvel’s part, with 2003’s Hulk and 2002’s Daredevil widely recognised as duds.

The iconic bat from the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

The iconic bat from the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

The problem with the existence of these films is that before Marvel studios was bought by Disney, Marvel had financial woes and were forced to sell the rights to a number of their properties, and so this has resulted them in not having full ownership of their characters which they created in their own comic books. The result of this is, without a doubt, oversaturation of the comic book movie as not only are we now getting three marvel properties a year, but also an extra Spider-Man and X-Men film a year, soon to follow with a new Fantastic Four franchise reboot, too.

However when worrying about saturation, you only have to look to Marvel’s main competitor in the comic book market, DC. DC has had somewhat of a late start in their attempts to compete with Marvel, the main problem being that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is not tied to the canon of DC’s own cinematic universe, and has created a delay in their response, mainly due to the popularity of Batman created by this very trilogy. DC’s cinematic universe, therefore, can only be said to have officially started with Man of Steel in 2013, which, for those counting, is five whole years behind Marvel in their release. The result is that they too, have adopted a practice of releasing two comic book movies a year, further contributing to a position of saturation of comic book movies.

When it comes to preferences, I have no doubt that Marvel has the advantage in this case. Not only does it have the brand recognition of releasing at least one film every year since 2008, but it also has had the ability to create broad recognition for relatively unknown franchises. This summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy being an excellent example of this. With relative unknowns like The Immortals, Captain Marvel and Black Panther in the mix, I have no doubt in their ability to make these characters appeal and be attractive to a broad audience.

When looking at the cold hard facts, here is a breakdown of the comic book movies to be released by year from 2016 up until 2020. Note that these are still years away from being made and films may be added and removed from this list:

Comic book movies

I love going to the cinema regularly to see multiple films a month, and even I find this list daunting. The main problem with so many comic book movies being released is that are now due to be released is that the general movie going audience may grow weary of these types of films and therefore turnout may become poor as a result of market saturation. This would discourage film studios from continuing endeavors such as these, which saddens me that something brilliant will disappear.

There is also an effect on professionals’ careers in the film industry too. Chris Evans, after appearing in three Marvel movies, and due to appear in a further three, has expressed his interest in stepping back from acting in favour of directing. With almost every famous and talented actor under the sun now being cast in comic book movies, and with great demand for these movies taking up a lot of their time, there is a danger of wasting their talents merely to entertain the masses, instead of contributing to challenging and interesting forms of the arts on screen.

There is also a danger with talented directors; that they get roped into creating franchises and not being able to create their own original works. Joss Whedon, director of the first two flagship Avengers films, has, like Evans, indicated a departure away from franchise work to work on something of his own after Age of Ultron is released this year.

So whilst comic book movies are vastly becoming a common thing, and a concept with a lot of potential, we should be careful what we wish for. With many things being rebooted in attempts to create these vast universe franchises on screen, this norm has the potential to quickly become dull and boring, thus making the cinema going experience far less pleasant.