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How The 'Avengers'-Izing Of Blockbusters Is Killing Movies

by Gabe Toro
December 18, 2013 4:50 PM
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Is it enough to just make one movie anymore? In the wake of Marvel’s audacious world-building in an assembly line of completely indistinguishable adventure movies, the studios would answer no. What used to be one series of movies has become a web, one that involves various other series’ and offshoots of one particular brand. Fittingly, the last to jump into this web was “Spider-Man,” as Sony recently announced a writing team to tackle both a “Sinister Six” and a “Venom” film that would interweave themselves through the three more “The Amazing Spider-Man” films coming from 2014 to 2018. But no one should be surprised: every studio has been headed in this direction for quite a while now.

When Marvel hired Samuel L. Jackson for what seemed like a day of work on a post-credits sequence in “Iron Man,” few imagined it would be the beginning of something much bigger. The fans turned out for the “Iron Man” films, but they showed up in lesser fashion with “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor,” and few had complimentary things to say about “The Incredible Hulk.” But joining those characters together provided the bingo Marvel sought, with “The Avengers” becoming the third biggest film of all time. It seems clear that teaming these characters with each other affected their individual bottom lines: “Iron Man 3” nearly doubled the gross of its predecessor, and “Thor: The Dark World” nearly tacked on an extra $200 million from the first “Thor.” Unifying these characters cast doubts as to whether the separate franchises were viable afterwards, but those fears have long been put to rest.

Warner Bros.
It’s the approach Warner Bros. has in mind for a follow-up to this year’s “Man Of Steel” as well. $662 million worth of viewers enjoyed the latest exploits of Superman, but the studio racked up a massive tab putting this latest adventure together, and they were out-grossed 2-to-1 by “Iron Man 3." Their contingency plan seemed to involve dusting off Batman, who had been retired in 2012 with “The Dark Knight Rises.” But now that we’ve had the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, as well as rumors about the involvement of major DC Comics characters like Nightwing and The Flash, it looks like this is the WB’s chance to chart the course for the next few years of blockbuster offerings. A “Justice League” movie has been bandied about, but this latest film, tentatively slated for 2015, seems to be packing in plenty of heroes already. Why just have Superman and Batman when you can have the whole crew?

All those years of television trying to be like television, and now the biggest movies in the world are being run like an NBC show.

20th Century Fox 
The shared universe hasn’t been ignored by Fox, who have turned to Mark Millar and Simon Kinberg to map out the futures of their two Marvel properties. “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” will be the seventh film in that series, tying together the various continuities set forth in these pictures, leading into 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Lest we feel any suspense regarding the fate of these characters, a follow-up to this year’s “The Wolverine” has also been promised, while Jeff Wadlow (“Kick-Ass 2”) will write a script for an “X-Force” film. Fox also relaunches “The Fantastic Four” in summer 2015 under the hand of director Josh Trank. Because both are under the Fox umbrella, Millar and Kinberg have been tasked with finding a way to tie those franchises together, possibly sharing the same stories and characters. It’s a stretch, but it was done in the comics many times, so Fox probably isn’t fazed by the challenge.

What hasn’t been done in the comics often is the sort of experiment Sony is trying. They only have one Marvel franchise, and “Spider-Man” isn’t necessarily team-centric (Sony recently let go of their other Marvel property, “Ghost Rider”). Their solution suggests they’ve been watching the Marvel films, but seek to one-up them with villain team-up pictures. Fans know two facts: That Marvel tends to have more relatable and exciting villains than DC, and that outside of Batman, Spider-Man has the strongest rogue’s gallery. But those two facts are larger in opposition of each other: Spider-Man’s villains, with the exception of grim-and-gritty Venom, tend to be a little silly and larger-than-life. When they get together in the source material, either they’re a one-dimensional threat, or they’re the source of gags: the recent comic “Superior Foes Of Spider-Man” mines Peter Parker’s villain depth chart for working-class gags about being a gimmicky bad guy in a world of omnipotent heroes.

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  • Great Milenko | May 29, 2014 11:22 AMReply

    @Fredz No, even if something fails Hollywood still doesn't listen ... And as far as putting out repetitive sequels is concerned, comic movies aren't the originals, I mean how many Beethoven, Land Before Time and "Buddy " sequels are they to? Beethoven's 29th? Air Buddies in Space on Uranus? Land Before Time XXX?!? ... and then there's the remakes... how many more f*cking times are they going to make Carrie, seriously! Hollywood has been washed up for decades aside from putting out a few amazing franchises here and there; amongst them are the Marvel Movie Universe and the Dark Knight trilogy. The only way Hollywood can recover from crap the likes of Twilight or others like it is to do exactly what Marvel has been doing. Their revenue for these films is proof they're doing something right. How long it'll be effective? Long as little kids love to pretend that they're Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, etc. ... It's not just a niche, these movies are meant to appeal to "kids", both young and old. Then again, I'm one of those comic fans that actually read the books I purchase & collect and specifically buy the cross-overs because of how in-depth they make the storylines intertwine with each other whenever there is one. I watch the movies because I enjoy seeing my favorite characters come to life, not just because of the storyline involved nor do I care if it's a solo film or a team-up ... to me, it's Marvel. It's D.C. ... it's Spiderman or Iron Man... It's the Avengers ... damn right I'm going to see those movies! Hell, I even watched the very first Hulk (and was horribly disappointed because the script & acting completely sucked!) and Daredevil (which was almost as bad as Batman & Robin; which I actually enjoyed as a kid and I still enjoy it today despite the overacting and horrible one-liners) ... I can't wait to see Days of Future Past and just recently watched The Wolverine; I enjoyed BOTH Ghostrider movies and think that Nick Cage was the best person to play the role... I'll continue watching these movies as long as they make them because they are based upon the characters I know and love; a bottom line that most of the fans of these movies share... and that's the reason why these movies keep on getting billions in revenue, the characters and franchises already have an existing fan base. In fact, most of these movies got me into actually reading comics more than I did as a kid... and I think that's another goal for these franchises is to help them sell the comics these characters are based upon.

    Side Note: I honestly hope they continue the Evil Dead franchise because they completely reinvented the cult classic to be something incredibly awesome (I'm glad Sam Rami went back to where it all started, he needed to after Spiderman 3; completely disliked the ending, they killed off the leading arch-enemy and pretty much everyone else in that movie, left him with no where to go after that) ...

  • gabriel | January 6, 2014 8:47 PMReply

    All you superhero apologists really have little clue about storytelling.

    Movie of this scope, with characters of such physical powers, necessarily need to rely on 'M
    acGuffins' such as an object or character that could 'destroy the entire universe, space and time' etc. It gets repetitive.

    IronMan 3 was great though. A real meta-narrative.

  • Leo | December 22, 2013 8:56 PMReply

    Or maybe you can just enjoy one studio's movies without concluding that another studio making a bad franchise means that all franchises are bad?
    Iron Man - Amazing
    Incredible Hulk - Good
    Iron Man 2 - Mediocre, not even bad. Bad is an Ed Wood movie, or Batman & Robin
    Captain America - Good
    Thor - Great
    Avengers - Amazing
    Iron Man 3 - Great
    Thor 2 - didn't get to see it, heard good

    Sure, other franchises are blundering around from miracle to disaster and back again (X-Men, Spider-Man), but how is that an indictment of The Avengers?

  • Rob Peach | December 19, 2013 12:05 PMReply

    I agree, to a point. Why would you care what threat any of the individual characters face in their solo movies when you know the real villain is in the team-up movies? Then it becomes a contest between which hero audiences like more, and Iron Man seems to have won that battle this year. Also, Zach Snyder taking the Whedon role will not end well.

  • Josh | December 19, 2013 9:54 AMReply

    Has this emphasis on cross overs really started to hurt the quality of these movies yet? With Sony and WB it is yet to be seen.

    The early half of the last decade saw a massive surge of standalone comic films and most of them were awful. If the new films are awful also then nothing has been particularly "ruined."

  • hank | December 19, 2013 4:04 AMReply

    you hate everything and I feel sorry for you.

  • krusty | December 19, 2013 12:59 AMReply

    Sorry, but article comes off as another in a long line emo-faggish snobbery.

  • THE VOICE OF REASON | December 20, 2013 9:30 PM

    I agree.

  • Christopher Bell | December 19, 2013 8:26 PM


  • Gerard Kennelly | December 19, 2013 12:34 AMReply

    the last comic book movie was DREDD
    and the only reason that wasn't bloated was they didn't have the budget to go overboard

  • Gerard Kennelly | December 19, 2013 12:36 AM

    the last great * comic book movie was DREDD

  • Please | December 18, 2013 9:21 PMReply

    The last good comic book movie was Superman 2. The minute they started substituting rubber exo-armor for tights, the genre was dead.

  • DR.WHOCARES | December 20, 2013 9:27 PM

    Shut up. The Dark Knight Trilogy And Marvel Cinematic Universe are great movies and people like you who come online and post nothing but bitter comments are stupid. If you do not like something read an article about something you do like. I am enjoying all the new superhero movies and for you to call the genre dead is just showing how ignorant you are. They are billion dollar franchises for a reason man. People enjoy them.

  • Please | December 18, 2013 11:45 PM

    OK, I might make an exception for the bat-nipples of Batman and Robin. Self-awareness is a wonderful thing.

  • MovieLover | December 18, 2013 7:49 PMReply

    I thought maybe this would be an interesting article until the phrase "assembly line of completely indistinguishable adventure movies" when I realized that this was just another in a long line of snobbish articles.

  • CB | December 18, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    Well, done! Good points, well-written. I agreed with everything you said. Honestly, outside of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy and Raimi's first two Spidey films and Singer's first two X-Men films and maybe the first Iron Man, the modern superhero genre is mostly made up of by generic crap.

  • Josh | December 19, 2013 9:57 AM

    Which is so different than the days when we had things like Stallone Vehicle #342 and, who could forget, Schwarzenegger Feature #428. Such muscled variety!

  • Marko | December 18, 2013 5:03 PMReply

    I can't wait for the article "How Hyperbolic Think Pieces Are Killing Movies".

  • Josh | December 19, 2013 9:58 AM

    Fredz, that's the point, such statements are nonsensical and their implied criticism weightless.

  • Fredz | December 18, 2013 5:36 PM

    How do article remotely effect movies? Hollywood never listens until something fails.

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