At today’s big Marvel la-di-da held in Los Angeles, Marvel’s Head Geek In Charge, Kevin Fiege — along with Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, Iron Man and Captain America — announced the shape up their upcoming movie slate, which now includes their first female-led film (Captain Marvel), their first African-American-led film (Black Panther) and their first recovering-dick-doctor film (Doctor Strange).
(They also announced the Inhumans, but no one cares. Then again, no one cared about Guardians of the Galaxy before Guardians of the Galaxy, so what do I know.)
So if you’re keeping track of the troop movements in the Great Superhero Movie War, here’s what it looks like:
Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/1)
The Fantastic Four (8/7)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (3/25)
Captain America: Civil War (5/6)
X-Men Apocalypse (5/27)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (6/3)
Suicide Squad (8/5)
Doctor Strange (11/4)
Sinister Six (11/11)
Untitled Wolverine (3/23)
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (5/5)
Wonder Woman (6/23)
The Fantastic Four 2 (7/14)
Thor: Ragnarok (7/28)
Black Panther (11/3)
Justice League, Part One (11/17)
Amazing Spider-Man 3 (tbd)
The Flash (3/23)
Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (5/4)
Captain Marvel (7/6)
Untitled Fox/Marvel (7/13)
Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (5/3)
Justice League, Part Two (6/14)
Green Lantern (6/19)
That’s 30 movies in six years. Sure, some of these movies may switch dates, but there are some years where superhero flicks will open right on top of each other. In 2017, for example, Wonder Woman will open on June 23, followed by The Fantastic Four 2 three weeks, followed by Thor: Ragnarok two weeks after that. Each of these movies will cost $200 million-plus to make. Each of these movies needs to make at least $500 million worldwide in order to be profitable. (Don’t ask about Hollywood math. It doesn’t make sense.)
Can a movie make $500 million in two weeks? Even when one which is, for all intents and purposes, identical opening just after it?
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers — each of which grossed over a billion dollars worldwide — have infected Hollywood with a bad case of Heroitis, and what we’re seeing now is how its spread is threatening to kill it.
A couple of years ago we saw a glut of high-end CG animated movies, where movies like Epic and Turbo and Smurfs 2 and Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 and Planes all opened on top of each other. Back then, industry heavyweights like DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg were zen about it:
“There are 14 days between four films,” Katzenberg told The Hollywood Reporter. “Is two weeks enough? If you look at the summer playtime, every day is like a Saturday since kids are out of school. So those 14 days between each are the equivalent of seven weekends during any other time of the year.”
But both Epic and Turbo were strangled that year by an overwhelming amount of product and an audience that grew weary of being sold the same things the same way.
Which of the above films are going to share the same fate? Too early to tell, of course. But I don’t think every one of these are gonna be hits; not the way the studios need them to be hits. Nothing can sustain at the pace, not when they’re competing with each other for the same audience dollars. (And this isn’t even considering the other non-superhero-but-still-giant-blockbuster movies that’ll hit theaters in these same time frames.)
Even though this kind of lineup sounds like nerdvana, one has to ask: Is Hollywood simply chasing comic-book-based profits into the abyss?
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. Yes, he can harsh mellows with the best of them.