Superhero Studios Need to Look at the Present, Not the Future by Tom Beasley

In 2014, Marvel Studios announced their slate of superhero movies up until 2019, including new solo outings for Thor and the long-awaited Doctor Strange film. Their rivals DC, best known for Superman and Batman, went one better with Warner Bros. revealing their comic book plans up until 2020.

This reflects a rather odd trend in the film industry in which studios compete with each other to have the most ambitious and lengthy future strategy. It shows a remarkable and perhaps misplaced confidence on behalf of these two studios.

The whims of cinema audiences are difficult to predict, so it is impossible to know whether superhero films will still retain their popularity in five years’ time. If there’s a sudden drop in the box office fortunes of the superhero genre, then Marvel and Warner Bros. are both going to have egg on their face, with their cinematic empires collapsing around them. Planning so publicly in advance makes it very embarrassing if things go wrong.

It feels as if this is the logical conclusion of cinema’s franchise mentality. Once upon a time, the words sequel and spin-off only arose if the first film in a potential series walked away with a tonne of money. Now, it’s increasingly common for sequels to be announced before the first film has even seen the inside of a multiplex and films are judged just as much on their franchise potential as their cinematic quality. We live in a world where studios are reluctant to give anyone other than an A-list director any money to make a big movie unless they can reveal plans for a franchise off the back of it.

This is an unsustainable model. Film studios should be chasing individual hits rather than pushing hard for franchises straight away. There are few things less fulfilling than a film that holds back its plot in an attempt to set up building blocks for a continuing series. Every film should feel like a complete work in its own right, not just chapter one of a lengthy saga. It’s just another cynical strategy to line the pockets of studios with yet more cash.

The best film series’, from Toy Story to Star Wars, can be enjoyed as individual films just as much as they can as part of a franchise. That is something that cannot be the case if everyone involved in making the film is preoccupied with developing a bigger movie that’s as many as five years away. It’s baffling that such successful studios as Marvel and Warner Bros. are willing to risk its credibility by counting all of its chickens well before the eggs have even been fertilised.

The obsession with franchise forward-planning is yet another symptom of a movie industry that exists solely as a money-making machine rather than a form of art. Interesting one-offs from independent filmmakers are too often shoved aside in favour of the crowd-friendly blockbuster sequels that are guaranteed to get bums on seats and bucket-sized drinks in the cup holders.

Avengers 2, anyone?

© 2015 Tom Beasley

Tom Beasley from Coventry is studying Multimedia Journalism at Bournemouth University, and each edition he offers his perspective on the world around us.  Email: tomjbeasley@gmail.com  Twitter: @TomJBeasley