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.


2 thoughts on “Superhero Smackdown Set for 2015?

  1. DC has a few major advantages over Marvel when it comes to the Justice League versus the Avengers – most of their characters are well known compared the Marvel characters. Baby boomers may recall the DC characters from “Super Friends” or other cartoon shows and most kids remember the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited cartoons (which are still running today as part of the CW’s Saturday morning line-up…) There have been several Superman related shows over the past 40 years and seven Batman films to put these characters into the public’s mind.

    The Big Three of the DC Universe, Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman are iconic figures and they represent the mainstays of the Justice League – most non-comic fans would’ve been hard pressed to name the Avengers counterparts (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor) if Marvel hadn’t made the movies that established these characters the Avengers might not have been the success that it turned out to be. Marvel’s most well known characters are probably Spider-man, Wolverine and the Hulk (and only the Hulk is part of a classic Avengers line-up).

    Secondary characters like Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, the Martin Manhunter, tGreen Arrow and others may not be as well known as the Big Three but there less of a need to have a number of successful lead-in films – you can introduce these characters during a Justice League film and they can play important roles in the film without providing origins to them (think of the Star Wars films – how much of a background did you get for Han Solo, Yoda or Lando Calrissian before each played a major part in advancing the plot?)

    A Justice League movie can only be successful if they come up with the right cast, a good director, a strong script and they add special effects that support a good movie. Otherwise it may be doomed to fail. Let’s see what they come up with bef.ore we make any decisions on this project


  2. I know I’m late to this, but I agree with everything Mike said above. WARNING: This is a long one.

    Warner Bros. / DC has a very interesting history with bringing their characters to film. They were responsible, in my opinion, for the opening of what I call the Golden Age of Silver Screen Superheroes [Aborted]. They took a character that was universally known from comics and especially TV, and were able to court both audiences with a radical re-envisioning.

    There were two problems, however. The first is that Warner’s burst right out of the gate with the most famous non-powered superhero of all time. Where were they going to go afterward? Special-effects technology was too limited at the time to make convincing superpowers cost-effective, let alone possible. Having the Flash run faster than a hummingbird could flap its wings could be pulled off, but what about the supervillain challenging him? In order to present Wally (or Barry) with an equal threat, you’d have to amp up the battles to the point where the film’s budget would rival that of the GDP of a small nation.

    This could be seen in the productions of the time. Far from seeing the amazing adventures of The Avengers, The X-Men, or even less glitzy characters like Spider-Man, Hollywood instead gave us Tank Girl, The Shadow, and Dick Tracy. Heck, even the Punisher got a less-than-stellar box-office debut.

    Warner’s started out at the top of their game, but found they had nowhere else to go – which was indicative of their second problem: They had no idea how to drive this batmobile.

    When Batman took flight in ’89, the box-office take went through the roof. The merchandising for the movie, however, blasted through the stratosphere. Warner’s definitely wanted another hit o’ that, and so they allowed director Tim Burton to do whatever he wanted with his second outing in Gotham.

    Whatever he wanted. This didn’t turn out well.

    So, what did Warner do then? Have a board meeting about getting the best film they could out of this young series? Nope – they wanted a FRANCHISE.

    Maybe it was because I was young and naive, but Batman and Robin was the first time that I could recall Hollywood execs referring to a movie series as a “franchise”, or at least as openly as the folks at Warner’s were doing at the time. Batman Forever isn’t the worst Batman film I’ve seen – I’m kinda fond of it, in fact – but what happened afterwards clearly demonstrated that Warner’s had struck oil again, and wanted to set off fireworks in celebration.

    Batman and Robin … well, we know what happened there. And why? Well, it seems to be due to the EXACT same problem that plagued Batman Returns: Warner Bros. realized that if 2 was good and 5 was over the top, then go for 50. Whereas Batman Forever was considerably lighter than its predecessor (particularly after the editing stage), Batman and Robin was so light, it virtually floated away. In one of the more bizarre attempts at marketing, Warner’s had tried to sell the DVD as a family film, prominently featuring the “Bat family” on the back.

    And then Catwoman came out.

    And then we were graced with Superman Returns.

    While the latter isn’t a bad film (and the former isn’t a good film), it clearly showed that the studio was trying to launch more franchises without thinking them through. This makes the Nolan films into incredible anomalies: It was apparent by the end of the second film that a long-spanning series with that version of the character was not in the cards. Nolan thought his Batman through, but where did it leave WB? What’s more, where can they go? Give a cape to Christopher Nolan, and he scales down the spectacle and makes three enormously successful and popular films. Give a cape to Bryan Singer, who’d proven himself previously with X-Men, and who did the exact same thing as Nolan did – and then do a reboot some years later.

    This is not to say that Marvel hasn’t had its share of failures, but its almost an issue of quantity vs. quality. Sure, nobody asked for an Elektra movie, and everybody snorted at Spider-Man 3, but both films were offshoots of other productions, both movies were out there. Comparatively little has been offered by DC.

    It still seems they’re not really too keen on how this superhero movie thing works. Putting it all on two films, one of which could ruin the Superman series, and the other which could injure the iconic DC character lineup in general seems like an overly risky and none-too-clever gamble. As a superhero fan, I hope it pays off.


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