Superhero Smackdown Set for 2015?

“Standalone movies? We don’t got to make no stinkin’ standalone movies.”

From the Los Angeles Times, there now exists a strong possibility for not one, but two super hero teams slugging it out for box office supremacy in 2015.

DC Comics’ superheroes can finally team up on the big screen following yesterday’s legal victory for Warner Bros. in its long-running fight over the rights to Superman.

The studio is expected to accelerate development of a planned “Justice League” movie that would join Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and other characters, according to a knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Warner hopes to shoot the film next year and release it in the summer of 2015. The studio already has a “Justice League” script in the works. Next it needs to attach a director and then cast the lead roles.

Had Warner lost its case against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, it would not have been able to make “Justice League” or any other movies, television shows or comics featuring key elements of the Man of Steel’s mythos after 2013 unless it reached a new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel.

That uncertainty made it difficult for Warner to move ahead with “Justice League,” which the studio’s motion pictures group president, Jeff Robinov, has long wanted to make as a pillar of its big-screen superhero strategy.

Robinov previously tried unsuccessfully to convince “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan to produce “Justice League.” Nolan is producing next year’s Superman movie “Man of Steel.” Wednesday’s court victory also makes it possible for Warner to make sequels to “Man of Steel” if the picture is successful.

With “Green Lantern” flopping and other movies featuring the Flash and Wonder Woman lingering in development, Warner has lagged behind Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios in profiting from cinematic superheroes. Only Nolan’s blockbuster Batman movie trilogy has succeeded for the Burbank studio.

The studio’s plan is to spin out other superheroes into their own movies following “Justice League.” That’s contrary to Marvel’s successful strategy of teaming up Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America in”Avengers” (which became a global blockbuster) after each character had his own film.

This is welcome news for Justice League fans who have longed to see their heroes finally make the jump from comic books and cartoons to the big screen, but the news comes with some head-scratching details in the story.  Is DC and Warners so confident they can introduce a brand-new Batman, an unproven Henry Cavill as Superman, surround them with a bunch of other actors and knock off something as eagerly anticipated as the second installment of the Avengers ?

Finally off the bench and out of Development Hell?

It is no surprise Nolan is walking away from the millions Warner is offering him.  He’s already one of the best directors working.  He has to want to be nominated for Best Director at some point in his career and it won’t happen making comic book movies. I’m sure Warner will find a good director and a capable cast. I just wonder what the strategy is if Man of Steel tanks or underperforms. Not saying it will. Just saying it could.

Marvel already has sequels in the queue for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man (with the first trailer for Iron Man 3 next Tuesday) and the Guardians of the Galaxy with all four of them priming the pump for the Avengers sequel.   It’s probable not all four will succeed, but it won’t blunt the anticipation for the next Avengers movie.

For DC and Warner there’s no similar margin of error.  If the next Superman relaunch doesn’t fly high at the box office, there’s nothing left to fall back on until Justice League in 2015. That’s why I think the “all or nothing at all” strategy is high reward and high risk. If it works, DC is set up nicely for their own standalone Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman spin-off flicks (sorry Aquaman).

A failure with either or both of their next two films and those future franchises are grounded leaving DC and Warner back in the same dilemma they’ve been in for over a decade; with only Batman and Superman as their go-to comic book movies, and nothing else primed to come off the bench to fill the void between them.

Let’s be honest.  Warners isn’t making a Justice League movie because of its artistic merit.   They’re making it because Disney made a BILLION dollars with Avengers and even if their super hero team movie is only half as good if it only makes half as much that’s a calculated risk worth taking.

Whatever it cost DC and Warner to secure the rights to keep making Superman movies will be money well spent if the Big Blue flies high at the box office.