Growing up, the characters on the pages of comic books were sacred. Attempts to bring some of Marvel and DC Comics’ greatest protagonists to the big screen typically saw mixed success at best. Sure, Richard Donner’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman exploded at the box office, while other comic book inspired films saw some success too, but there was also plenty more that flopped, as movie companies couldn’t replicate the extensive universe the writers and illustrators had created for years.
With the emergence of computer-generated imagery in the 1990s, the ability to reconstruct these comic book universes became much more viable – and all of the sudden, there was a boom.
Now, almost two decades into the comic book film boom, most of the recognizable superheroes have donned the big screen – typically with great success – and now Marvel, especially, has moved to second tier, lesser-known, superheroes such as The Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. I’ll be completely transparent here, the films these two comic book companies put out are still must-see. It’s a must-see-it-in-the-theater kind of relationship for me when it comes to basically anything Marvel or DC – yes, I’m one of those nerds who believes DC has gotten a bad rap and, not to mention, I still like their heroes the most.
It has been appointment viewing since X-Men hit theaters in 2000 but, having said all of that, could we potentially see the comic book film bubble pop sooner rather than later?
Think about it – Hollywood still produces a significant amount of films but most of the blockbusters and franchises revolve around the illustrations many of us enjoyed as children. If it’s not an indie film or a one-off drama, the bulk of the films – and, more importantly, the franchises – that succeed are around comics. In the grand scheme of things, this genre is still new when it comes to the film landscape but already we have seen reboots for franchise that are no more than two decades old. Hell, there have been six Spider-Man films since 2002 – with three different actors playing Spidey – and more are likely on the way. The most recent, Spider-Man: Homecoming, was good but I’m getting burnt out on the character. Each year, there are typically three or four new Marvel films appearing in theaters but you ain’t seen nothing yet – the Marvel Cinematic Universe has massive plans and a lot of content coming.
Last year, the Disney-owned company’s president, Kevin Feige, announced it has plans to create 20 films that will span quite a few years – all of which will be released after the fourth Avengers film. With the release of Black Panther almost a month away, Marvel is in the midst of what it’s deemed “Phase 3,” a planned outline for the films and directions in which the storyline will go – started in 2008 with Iron Man. That many films could simply inundate fans with too many stories, too many characters and the potential for unnecessary reboots, so Marvel must really be careful and continue to strategically develop its universe.
However, we cannot forget DC, a company chasing its tail since Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman trilogy, which is creating apocalyptic, abundantly-serious stories, with little fun or jest. One diamond in the rough was certainly Wonder Woman. The Patty Jenkins directed film was unequivocally the best film DC has put out since Heath Ledger’s swan song, The Dark Knight, back in 2008.
But the biggest factor that could lead to the demise of comic book films is the moviegoer. People are going to the movies less and less these days. Blame it on often lackluster content, constantly increasing ticket prices and the ability to watch many more options at home and it’s the perfect storm for theaters across the United States. Last year, according to Bloomberg, was the lowest attendance for movie theaters in 25 years, with 1.24 billion people going to the theaters in 2017 – down 5.4 percent from the prior year. And moviegoers know what they want and are even hyper-critical when it comes to comic books transitioning to the big screen. One little thing, or even just a couple of bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, can change the whole tide for a film – just look at Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Each film seemingly gets bigger, both with the budget and the advertising, but simply too many of these films are being pumped out and eventually it’s going to come back and prove destructive, especially when the much smaller characters get their own adventures, or even more reboots. I give it five years, a decade tops, at which point actors will get turned over and fans will become bored but, for now, we all turn our attention to Black Panther, which recently broke the record for biggest first day of a film presale. Marvel clearly continues to thrive but DC probably hopes it’ll soon find similar success but with disappointing returns on recent films, thanks in part to huge budgets, there’s really no guarantee. As Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster clearly proves, there’s no potential burst to the comic book film bubble coming immediately. For now, let’s just continue to sit back in our red reclining chairs and enjoy it.