So, providing nothing new is announced between writing and submitting this post (edit: well, I tried), here’s roughly what the next 5 years (!) look like:
Like a large proportion of the audience for these films, I’ve read very few comics; most of what I know about superheroes comes from the films themselves, video games (like the Arkham series), or just general Internet osmosis. So, I’ll be approaching this from the perspective of a filmgoer and casual superhero fan, instead of pretending to know anything about comics (I haven’t followed any of the TV shows either. Please don’t hate me, I just can’t be bothered with 20+ episodes per series).
Undoubtedly at the forefront of the current superhero film movement, Marvel have built up a reputation for providing consistently entertaining films and for kicking off the ‘shared universe’ approach to franchising. Ever since it took a risk with Iron Man back in 2008, the blockbuster juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down, with almost a dozen films slated until 2019. Their two most recent films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were both hits, critically and commercially, which is impressive considering the obscurity of the latter’s source material. A few other lesser-known heroes can be seen amongst the future releases, with their next film being Ant-Man. Originally to be directed by Edgar Wright, his much-publicised departure over “creative differences” shortly before shooting was a disappointment to many, including me. Begin a fan of his ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ and Spaced, I was looking forward to seeing his take on a superhero film, but apparently it just wasn’t to be.
Saying that, Marvel’s decision to make each film with a distinctive style and genre (spy/thriller in The Winter Solider or the space opera of Guardians of the Galaxy, for example) is partly how they’ve avoided feeling repetitive so far (in contrasts to the currently Snyder-centric and 'gritty' approach of DC). The shared continuity of the films also provides a fun opportunity to see all the characters together on the big screen – something fanboys could only dream of a decade ago. Marvel are understandably cashing in on this, with each of their ‘phases’ seemingly accumulating in an Avengers film, the next one being Age of Ultron in May and the two-part epic Infinity War three years later.
For now then, it looks like Marvel have no reason to worry about the foreseeable future, and are confident enough to plan all the way to 2028. Even if the introduction of new heroes doesn’t pay off (although they’ll probably do fine), the prospect of team-ups/face-offs between heroes is sure to keep audiences entertained. Which brings us nicely to…
DC (Warner Bros.)
Without the benefit of an established shared universe built up over several films, DC are currently playing catch-up to Marvel. 2013’s Man of Steel built the foundations for a new continuity, but it’s safe to say it didn’t impress all that many people. Personally, I found it all rather soulless and empty, and although the action scenes were cool, they went on for far too long and the levels of destruction meant they lost all sense of consequence - there’s only so many times Superman and Zod can throw each other into skyscrapers before even that becomes boring. When discussing the film with a friend in the pub (‘cause that’s the kind of thing film students/geeks talk about on nights out), he described it as a film with a first and third act, but no middle, which sounds about right.
2016’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, then, has a lot to live up to. Of course it’ll do fine at the box office based on that title alone, but whether it’ll be well received is another matter. I won’t pass judgement on a film until I’ve seen it, but I just hope they don’t rely on the novelty of the characters alone. My main doubt is that Batman, even with all the gadgets in the world, would have very little chance against the Superman we see in Man of Steel (though that might be straying back into ‘who would win’ pub talk), and the fact that Henry Cavill’s portrayal is so dark and brooding it makes Batman seems almost obsolete. Unlike Marvel (I don’t want to sound like I’m shitting on DC here, I’m a Batfan (is that a thing? It should be a thing)), Dawn of Justice will introduce a bunch of heroes in the space of just one film in preparation the Justice League; as well as a rebooted Batman, we’ll be seeing Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman in some form. There’s a huge amount riding on this film as well as a huge amount to cram in, especially with the choice to line up at least nine films in the next five years. These include a stand-alone Wonder Woman, a very welcome announcement in the male-dominated genre, The Flash, Shazam, Cyborg, and Green Lantern (in 2020, once enough time has passed since the failed Ryan Reynolds film).
It looks like DC will have a hard time ahead, although the release of Suicide Squad, with the first on-screen Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as The Joker, should be really fun. Still, it says a lot that I’m looking forward to the Lego Batman film more than actual Batman…
Fox have had a successful time with the rights to the X-Men Universe; since the first film back in 2000, half a dozen more have followed, with Days of Future Past being the most recent. It’s impressive to think that Superman, Spiderman and Batman have all been rebooted a couple of times in the last decade, yet X-Men are still going strong. Despite an apparent contractual obligation to force Wolverine into almost every film, the franchise has just about managed to stay fresh, partly thanks to an expansive cast and some timey-wimeyness of older and younger versions of the characters.
With the all-round success of Days of Future Past, a film I personally really enjoyed and features with one of the best scenes this year (if you’ve seen in, you’ll know the one), Fox are pressing on with X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016. But before that, there’s a reboot of The Fantastic Four, and rather optimistically a sequel is already planned. It’s not something I’ve really been following, but every new piece of information about it seems to be met with negativity, although I did enjoy the director’s previous work on Chronicle. There’s also Channing Tatum as Gambit, but a bit more intriguing is the long-awaited Deadpool film, starring Ryan Reynolds. Known for his fourth-wall breaking humour and ultra-violence, Deadpool could be something really fresh amongst all these other films. There should be plenty of targets for his meta-humour (least of all his much-derided X-Men Origins: Wolverine appearance), although the biggest concern amongst fans is the likelihood of a PG-13/12A rating; Deadpool’s vulgarity and violence doesn’t really lend itself to a family audience.
Like Fox, Sony own the rights to a specific superhero universe. Unlike Fox, Spiderman’s universe isn’t nearly as expansive as X-Men’s. After a mostly-successful reboot in 2012 and a not-as-successful sequel, Sony seem to be at a bit of a loss as to what to do with their friendly neighbourhood Spiderman – please refer back to the top of this article. Nothing is concrete about his future, although it recently came to light that they were in talks with Marvel for him appear in Civil War. As cool as that sounds, it’s all fallen through, and he’s still not allowed to play with the rest of his Marvel buddies - much to the annoyance of fans. It’s a shame to see, since Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man was so influential in kicking off the type of comic book films we see today.
So, while superhero films are here to stay, and some seemingly destined to be more successful than others, that brings us back to the big question: will they stay popular? They’ll always be an audience for superhero blockbusters, and I’m happy to count myself among them, but with more of them than ever in the foreseeable future and the inevitable changes in taste, will we become more selective when going to the cinema? The studios are certainly confident, but we’ll have to wait and see if this oversaturation is just an extended trend. As entertaining as comic book films are, they’re still pretty formulaic; perhaps a shake-up is needed, as we’re already seeing with heroes going head to head with each other, and it’s only a matter of time before a major player is killed off on Marvel’s side.
This will sound a bit contradictory to everything I’ve just written, but I just wanted to say something on the topic of far-off films. In this age of constant release dates (with teaser trailers for teaser trailers surely being the epitome), it seems like a lot of us cinema-goers have stopped 'living in the now', as cliché as that sounds. I’m know I'm guilty of this, but although I’m looking forward to some of the films I’ve mentioned above, I think 'excited' is the wrong word to use for something which is years away from happening. That’s why I find these decade-spanning studio plans a bit uncomfortable, and honestly too presumptuous. Anything can happen in that time, particularly in the film industry, and I’m certain that a few of the above will remain in production-hell for some time. Not that it isn’t nice to have things to look forward to, but none of us are the same person we were five years ago, and by 2020 they’ll be a whole new line-up of films planned, while our current present will be mostly forgotten. Hype about something can be great, but when it’s so far in advance, it risks leaving you disappointed. To be honest, talking about Batman v Superman and Star Wars: The Force Awakens just makes me feel somewhat exhausted; I’d rather be discussing Gone Girl and Interstellar for now. In a broader sense (and at the risk of turning this into some kind of pseudo-philosophy) maybe we should spend a bit more time appreciating what we have now instead of living in a far-off future. And that doesn’t just apply to cinema.
…In other just-announced news, Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa has signed up for at least three Aquaman films after Dawn of Justice.