Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is more than a battle between two iconic heroes. It's a symbol of two massive studios — Warner Bros. vs Disney — waging war for your attention.
As owner of the Marvel Comics cinematic universe, Disney led the way in massively leveraging superheroic blockbusters.
From the charming, cocksure pleasures of 2008's Iron Man to the $1.5 billion success of The Avengers, Marvel succeeded in bringing the notion of comic book continuity to the cinema. Each movie feeds the need: bonus scenes in the final credits prime fans for the next installment. The company has created a new breed of movie fan — many who have never even cracked open a comic.
Warner Bros., which owns the rights to rival DC Comic's characters, has been playing catch up for years now. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy set the tone for DC's brand: a more moody, realistic version of vigilantes and heroes, with movies featuring themes that resonate in today's troubled times.
When Nolan closed out his Batman trilogy in 2012, Warner doubled down on the machismo and handed the keys over to Zack Snyder, known for 300 and Watchmen. Though Man of Steel, his interpretation of Superman, soared to more than $600 million at the worldwide box office, many critics and fans were uneasy about his overly violent and destructive interpretation of Kal-El.
So, with this week's release of Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder has something to prove. Not only is he launching Batman back onto the big screen, he's doing so in a field where the competition has multiplied. From Ant-Man to The Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney and Marvel have demonstrated an uncanny ability to make even the most unlikely hero a hit, all while encompassing different directors and styles.
In response, Warner has revealed an ambitious plan that stretches into 2020. Following this week's Caped Crusader versus Man of Steel slugfest, Suicide Squad will arrive this summer. The trailer promises irreverence, action and Jared Leto as The Joker — heavy on ink and attitude.
Meanwhile, next month, cameras begin rolling on Justice League, DC's answer to The Avengers and a super team that includes Batman, Superman, Aquaman, the Flash, Cyborg and Wonder Woman. It's slated to hits theatres in November 2017. Before that, however, we'll see how Wonder Woman fares on her own in a standalone entry directed by Patty Jenkins.
Following Wonder Woman will be Ezra Miller as The Flash and massive Jason Momoa as Aquaman, both set for 2018. The following year will introduce Shazam! (starring Dwayne Johnson), Justice League 2 and Cyborg. Another attempt at Green Lantern is also expected in 2020.
Much hinges on the success of Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, which is expected to introduce many of these characters: few who have the same iconic, cross-generational appeal of Superman.
Marvel superheroes queued up through 2028
As DC banks on Snyder's box-office muscle, phase three of the Marvel cinematic universe will be in full effect. The action begins in May with Captain America: Civil War, which depicts a schism in the Marvel realm that finds The Avengers battling each other.
November will see Benedict Cumberbatch bringing the Master of the Mystical Arts to the big screen in Doctor Strange. Next year, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok and a reboot of Spider-Man (co-produced by Marvel and Sony) will swing into theatres.
Black Panther, directed by Creed's Ryan Coogler, is arriving in 2018, followed by Ant-Man and the Wasp plus the behemoth Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1. The second half — Avengers:Infinity War – Part 2 — is scheduled for 2019, along with Inhumans and Captain Marvel, the studio's first female-led superhero film.
And after that? Marvel has at least 3 more untitled films scheduled for 2020 alone. According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, Marvel Studio President Kevin Feige has a blueprint in his office stretching into 2028!
For comic book fans, it's a golden age at the movies: we've gone from famine to feast. Counting Warner Bros. and Disney alone, there are already 20 comic-book inspired titles coming in the next five years.
The conventional wisdom has always been that it just takes one major flop and this comic fad would fade away. But, after the implosion of last year's Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox simply shifted gears to focus on the X-Men and Deadpool sequels.
It seems that when it comes to comic-book movies, the real super power is universal appeal. As the price of blockbusters grow, Hollywood is increasingly banking on the international marketplace. Colourful characters and stories revolving around supersized battles of good versus evil need little translation. Superman and his friends are here to stay.