Marvel's Multiple Movies: A Crowded House of Ideas?


There are always a lot of comic book-based movies in development. That's been the case since at least the 1980s, even if back then many of the movies never ended up actually getting made, or didn't get a domestic theatrical release like the Dolph Lundgren Punisher.

But since the renaissance sparked by the original X-Men in 2000, there's usually been about three or four high-profile comic book films a year. With Marvel's The Avengers grossing nearly $1.5 billion worldwide at this point, and Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises also racking up impressive numbers, more are definitely on the way. And a lot of them are Marvel movies, either in-house at Marvel Studios or from licensees Fox and Sony.

Currently, there are 11 Marvel movies known to be in active development: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, sequels to Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men: First Class, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and reported Daredevil and Fantastic Four reboots. At the somewhat-standard rate of a sequel every two or three years, forget about four big comic book movies a year — that's four big Marvel movies a year.


Two Marvel Studios projects are set for 2013; the currently filming Iron Man 3, with a release date of May 3; and Thor: The Dark World, slated to open on Nov. 8 of next year. That's in addition to the James Mangold-directed The Wolverine, a Fox production featuring the return of Hugh Jackman to the title role and scheduled for July 26, 2013.

That's three Marvel movies out in six months, plus DC's Superman returns in Warner's Man of Steel on June 14 of that year.

The schedule only gets more crowded in 2014. The first major Marvel movie of the year is Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, and a confident Sony claimed the release date of May 2, 2014 for the Amazing Spider-Man back in 2011, nearly a year before the first one even came out.

Fox has set July 18, 2014 for an X-Men: First Class sequel, though no details (including a title) are known at this point beyond the return of director Matthew Vaughn. Then just two weeks later, Marvel Studios is planning on releasing Guardians of the Galaxy, the seemingly unlikely albeit long-rumored film that was made official at Comic-Con, with no talent yet announced for the project.


That's four Marvel movies in four months, without even taking in account Edgar Wright's long-percolating Ant-Man film. Though it's been kicking around since 2006 and still doesn't have a release date, it's been picking up steam as Wright screened test footage at the Marvel Studios panel in San Diego, and the company released an official (albeit possibly preliminary) logo.

So there are seven Marvel movies officially scheduled at this point, with one seemingly along the way, and several more — like Fox's Fantastic Four and Daredevil reboots — reportedly in the works, with creative talent attached. Then there are the Marvel Studios properties that haven’t been strictly confirmed, but have been the subject of some loud rumblings as of late, notably Runaways, Doctor Strange and Black Panther. And oh yeah, Avengers 2 is going to happen (duh), though there's no release date or definitive indication if Joss Whedon will return to direct.


Obviously, there are a lot of Marvel movies in development, at least a few DC projects outside of Man of SteelJustice League has apparently picked up a lot of steam this year, and writers have been hired for Wonder Woman and Flash. Outside of the big two, there's the Red sequel (yes, Red was published by DC under the WildStorm imprint, but it's not a DC Universe property), a second Sin City, 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this fall's Judge Dredd and plenty more.

Which begs the natural question: Is there a saturation point for comic book movies, and specifically Marvel movies, which account for the bulk of the upcoming releases? For years now, comic book movies have been coming more fast and furious than Fast and the Furious sequels, seemingly without noticeable audience burnout. But given the strong performance of this summer's three big comic book movies, it's likely to continue at an even greater pace beyond what's planned over the next couple of years. Will the growth continue, or is there a point of diminishing returns, where disappointing box office performances like 2011's Green Lantern become the rule rather than the exception?


And even if that doesn't happen — or at least not anytime soon — can studios realistically keep up this pace? It's standard practice for Marvel and DC to publish dozens of comic books starring various characters month, but even after the unparalleled success of Avengers, how many comic book movies can Disney and Warner realistically produce each year? With Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor now established as multiple-feature franchises, how much of a chance does future Ant-Man-level productions really have in the next few years?

Comic book movies have grown steadily — in terms of audience, production value, budgets and quality (arguably, but, come on) — for a dozen years now. Clearly, studios are predicting that's not going to stop anytime soon, and it's up to audiences to decide if that's a good bet. At the very least, fans certainly have a lot of viewing — and inevitable discussing, disseminating and debating — ahead of them.

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