Is The Bubble Expanding On Superhero Films?

Last year, there was a lot of speculation about the lasting power of superhero films. Many believed that they were on the way out due the way they underperformed in the box office in 2011.

There were three films in 2011 based on Marvel Comics characters (Thor, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger) while DC Comics’ Green Lantern was also released as a film. While the Marvel films did respectably in the box office they weren’t supersized hits like The Dark Knight or the first Iron Man movie. Still they were well-received by fans and critics and did well enough to warrant sequels.

Green Lantern however, was a different story. As everyone knows, the film was a huge disappointment to many fans and didn’t make a lot of money. According to Box Office Mojo, the big-budgeted Green Lantern only earned $116 million with a worldwide total of $222 million domestically.

Many factors went into account for the disappointing box office sales in 2011. Some blamed the lack of popularity of some characters. The general public may know who Batman is, but brining up Green Lantern would raise eyebrows. With X-Men: First Class, many said that it may have made more money if it featured more well-known mutant characters and if the franchise didn’t have the stigma of recent inferior entries. Others pointed to a general burnout for such films and inferior 3D conversions (which thanks to bad word-of-mouth would dampen sales). Unless the film was phenomenal many would rather wait for DVD.

With that, while this year’s crop of films had fairly positive buzz late last year, there were concerns when 2012 began as to how good this year’s superhero films would turn out. Nerves weren’t helped by the failure of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance but the superhero genre showed earlier this year that it had some life left with the success of Chronicle. There seemed to be cautious hope that The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises would do well. The heavy-hitting properties starring the companies’ flagship heroes were to affirm the popularity of superhero films.

Of course, the release of The Avengers changed everyone’s perceptions about superhero films. It featured characters that were seeded years earlier, so that lesser-known heroes like Hawkeye were paired up with superstars like Iron Man. But more importantly the film was well made and able to generate a super-frenzied buzz before its release. To date The Avengers has made $598 million domestically and nearly a staggering $1.5 billion worldwide according to Box Office Mojo.

Seemingly overnight, upcoming superhero films are now highly anticipated regardless of past hesitations. For example, while many fans decried Bane’s voice in early trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, adjustments were made to alleviate those concerns, even though the jury is still out on Catwoman. The final Christopher Nolan Batman film will undoubtedly do well. It may not perform as well as The Avengers but count on it being one of the year’s biggest hits.

The Amazing Spider-Man is also poised to do well. There are many detractors about the validity of a reboot so soon after Sam Raimi’s trilogy but many are impressed by what’s being shown on clips and trailers and it has a major marketing push behind it (plus this year being Spidey’s 50th anniversary can’t hurt). The film will probably finish behind The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of sales. Another factor that could help the new Spider-Man film is that it is coming in a bit of a lull between the other two superhero films. Currently, other films are topping the charts but don’t seem to have the staying power that The Avengers had and The Dark Knight Rises will probably dominate the box office for the remainder of the summer.

If one or both of the upcoming superhero films reaches blockbuster status expect the floodgates to open even further for future superhero films. Apparently stunned by the spectacular success of The Avengers, DC Entertainment announced that a Justice League film is in development. Anticipation seems to be growing over next year’s slate of superhero epics–Iron Man 3, The Man Of Steel, Thor 2 and The Wolverine. Furthermore, Marvel has announced that there will be follow ups to The Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men: First Class (with new stars like Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence reprising their roles) in 2014, as well as a new Captain America film, and another unannounced Marvel film. There are plans to bring back to the silver screen Daredevil and the Fantastic Four as well as big-screen debuts for Black Panther, Ant-Man, Wonder Woman, Lobo, and the Flash. Even Kick-Ass which only did respectably in theaters is getting a sequel.

At this point, it’s too early to say where all this will go, but two things are certain: 1) we’re in the Golden Age of Superhero Films and 2) despite some failures they are now a well-established movie genre that will stay for some time to come.

José Soto

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