When Warner Bros. pushed the release date for its Batman and Superman movie from 2015 to 2016, the biggest story aside from the delay itself was the new date Warner Bros. chose. The studio selected May 6, 2016 as the release date for the MAN OF STEEL sequel. Release date shuffles such as this tend not to make waves, but this was different.
The issue: Marvel Studios had already announced it would release an unnamed film on May 6, 2016.
The immediate expectation from fans was that Marvel would abandon that release date in favor of something a little less crowded. After all, no studio executive in his or her right mind would want to take on the first ever cinematic pairing of, arguably, the two most popular superheroes in the world, which also happens to be the feature film debut of Wonder Woman. Upon further review, however, Marvel moving so quickly off of a release date it had already claimed would set a problematic precedent.
Before Marvel became its own studio, the company’s characters have owned and made billions of dollars off of the first Friday in May since the original SPIDER-MAN was released on May 3, 2002. Never mind Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, the first weekend in May is the most valuable weekend of the entire movie year, at least for the superhero genre. If Marvel decided to cede that weekend in 2016, there would be nothing to stop Warner Bros. or another studio from attempting a similar move in the future.
As it turns out, Marvel is not planning on moving. Earlier this week, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige told Slash Film, “We’re certainly keeping the date there and we’ll announce what that movie is, I assume, in the next few months.” Marvel, for now at least, is prepared to share May’s money weekend with DC’s Trinity.
Never mind all the “Marvel vs. DC” hate that fans on message boards will fling each other’s way. This is business, plain and simple. Two huge superhero blockbusters sharing the same release date ultimately takes money out of each studio’s pocket. Such an occasion would certainly be fascinating to watch from the outside, but within the Burbank walls of each studio, executives know that both films debuting on May 6, 2016 is not what’s best for business.
Regardless of whatever posturing we hear now, one of these studios is going to move its film to a different date. The question is which studio will blink first and how it can best save face. We can start by examining what each studio has to lose by seeing this game of chicken all the way through.
Marvel appears to have more to lose at the outset since it would, in theory, offer a film based on a character or characters that are not as popular as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Based on rumors and what Marvel has confirmed to be working on, the most likely films for that May 6, 2016 release date are CAPTAIN AMERICA 3, THOR 3, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, or DOCTOR STRANGE. None of those films scare Warner Bros., but perhaps a couple of them should.
Early buzz on CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is great and it could propel the franchise to a whole new level of mainstream popularity. Another team up boost from next year’s THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON will also help. The THOR franchise saw tremendous growth from its first film to its second and will also get another AVENGERS shot in the arm, so it cannot be dismissed. We’ll just count a potential GUARDIANS sequel and DOCTOR STRANGE as wildcards for now.
The tipping point in this calculation of risk is the power of Marvel’s brand. Without question, Marvel Studios is currently the dominant brand in superhero moviemaking. Marvel sets the pace for the genre, making sure audiences stay in their seats all the way through the credits, even for movies not made by the studio. Suffice to say, Marvel is not short on cause to be confident in its brand. It may not even matter if Marvel has more to lose since the studio can afford to lose more.
Marvel is on a hot streak and has earned enough goodwill with audiences to lose one. The studio would not intentionally take a loss, but it could be willing to roll the dice a little more. Even if one of Marvel’s 2014 or 2015 movies ends up being a letdown, the studio could still afford another hit. Remember, Marvel will release another film in July 2016. Warner Bros. does not have that luxury.
All of Warner Bros.’ cinematic dreams for its DC properties are being pinned on the MAN OF STEEL sequel. Its three biggest, most popular characters are all featured. The film needs to be an unqualified success like THE AVENGERS was in 2012. Beating the Marvel movie that weekend will not be enough. A dominant box office showing that ranks among the very best of all time is a must. Marvel or not, the presence of any other noteworthy blockbuster significantly impedes Warner Bros.’ ability to make the kind of impression it needs to with the Batman/Superman movie.
Regardless of which film is the box office king that weekend, both studios will have thrown money away by refusing to budge on the date. Marvel can try to make up that ground two months later, though, and Warner Bros. cannot. Batman/Superman is the studio’s only superhero film that year and is supposed to kickstart a cinematic universe, which Marvel already has. There is no sense in putting a dent in such a vital film’s box office by sticking with a release date that was already occupied when the studio selected it.
The next issue for whichever studio decides to move is which other release date in Summer 2016 is optimal. First, take a look at the superhero movie schedule for that season.
May 6, 2016- Untitled Marvel film, Batman/Superman movie
May 27, 2016- X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
June 10, 2016- THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3
July 8, 2016- Untitled Marvel film
That makes five superhero films scheduled for release within a span of just over two months. It’s easy to see why Marvel would not want to move back since the studio would not want to put its own two films right on top of each other. Warner Bros. has used June for superhero movies before, but never got exactly the results it was hoping for and June 2016 is crowded with Spidey, FINDING DORY, and perhaps a third HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON film.
July is also crowded with proposed sequels for INDEPENDENCE DAY, ICE AGE, and PLANET OF THE APES. Plus, Warner Bros. may not want to have its big superhero movie go on last just in case audiences experience some genre fatigue that year. Moving back a bit in May is possible, but tough with X-MEN and an ALICE IN WONDERLAND sequel hanging around. The best option could be to move up, and Marvel might be the studio to do it.
Marvel has been releasing its films internationally in April for the last few years and found great success. The studio is trying to see if an April domestic release can be just as lucrative with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER next month. If the CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel opens huge and follows through with big weekends through the rest of April, then Marvel can tout its redefinition of the superhero summer and be first to market in 2016 by moving the May 6 movie to April 1 or April 8.
In this scenario Marvel saves face by simply learning from and capitalizing on its own success rather than running from Batman and Superman. Getting out in front of the competition does not look or feel quite like being pushed around. Marvel can just dub April the new May and move on.
Warner Bros. could make the exact same move if the studio wants to cast a large shadow over April and early May, which would prevent the studio from losing any money to its competition and make the marketing jobs of its competition that much harder. Then again, Warner Bros. could always move back to the third weekend in July, where it found much success with THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY, and force someone else to move. The studio could combat genre fatigue by marketing its superhero film as the season’s headliner.
As it stands, this potential showdown is still more than two years away and a lot can happen between now and then independent from competition that could force either studio to change the release date of its film. At some point, we can expect Marvel or Warner Bros. to issue a press release with a new date without citing the presence of the other studio’s movie as cause for the change. The studios can posture all they want, but audiences will likely not have to choose Marvel or DC on May 6, 2016.