29 Superhero Movies Through 2020: A Breakdown of What's Coming
Is the universe big enough?
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Taking a page from the Marvel Studios playbook, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara unveiled a 10-movie slate of superhero movies Oct. 15 (in addition to $200 million in studio cost cuts) as he sought to reassure nervous investors. "DC will be a key engine for growth across all Warner Bros.," he told analysts. But between Warners' DC-based movies, Disney's Marvel, Fox and Sony (which both hold licenses to key Marvel properties), nearly 30 hero pics are planned through 2020. Is the movie universe big enough for them all?
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Marvel completes Phase 2 of its master plan next year with Avengers: The Age of Ultron and will introduce Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. Then in 2016, the supercrush starts with seven or eight comics adaptations each year, including Marvel-licensed Sony Spider-Man spinoffs such as The Sinister Six and Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse. (And, adding to the competition, Disney launches the first of an ongoing series of Star Wars movies with Star Wars: Episode VII.) Marvel was first to claim the lucrative first weekend in May from 2016 through 2019, forcing Warners to shift Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to March 25, followed by Suicide Squad (which is seeking top stars) on Aug. 5. The success of Guardians of the Galaxy ($733 million worldwide), released in August, proved the right superheroics can overcome less-than-prime release dates.
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"2016 is really crowded, but then you look at 2017 and who knows if those movies even end up getting made," says one rival distributor. "It's like a game of darts. Warners has had to date around Marvel. Marvel can claim dates like the beginning of May because they have had huge success, and I wouldn't want to challenge that." Still, even if it becomes a challenge for the multiplex to absorb so many movies, analysts give Warners props for finally committing to a full slate of DC-derived films. "Warners is looking to create new growth engines and monetize them, similar to what Disney has done," says Janney Montgomery Scott's Tony Wible. "Time Warner has the I.P., so it makes sense for them to do it. At the same time, there is risk, because it's a very crowded slate." Comments BTIG's Rich Greenfield, "Look at the way Disney executed its Iron Man, Captain America, Avengers movies. Whether Warners will be able to do that, time will tell. A lot is riding on the Batman v. Superman movie. They've had a successful Batman franchise, but they have to relaunch a multicharacter movie to establish characters like Wonder Woman. You can't talk about how the next 10 movies will do until we see how successful Batman v. Superman is."
While Marvel's Kevin Feige exerts an iron grip over his universe, more hands stir the pot of DC movies. Warners production president Greg Silverman guides the slate, with executive vp production Jon Berg as point person. Input is also provided from DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns (who also busy with the DC-derived TV series like the newly debuted The Flash) and DC president Diane Nelson. And Zack Snyder, having directed Man of Steel, is a force as well, working with his own writers as he helms Batman v. Superman and the two Justice League movies to follow. Warners also is opting for strong directors, tapping David Ayer (Fury) for Suicide Squad and seeking a female helmer for Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman.
Marvel has made offbeat casting choices. like paging Rudd for Ant-Man, but it generally sticks with stars. DC isn't star-averse, chasing Will Smith and Tom Hardy for Suicide Squad. But it also is betting on unknowns such as Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) to headline The Flash, Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) for Aquaman and young stage actor Ray Fisher, who never has appeared on film, for Cyborg. The actors will first be introduced in the early films in the series — Fisher, for instance, is signed for four films — before they are each asked to shoulder an entire movie themselves, so Warners hopes that will help to transform them into stars. Wible, though, doesn't see that as one of the riskier elements of the overall strategy, noting that Chris Hemsworth had only had a small part in 2009's Star Trek before he was given the title role in Thor. "You don't really have to have stars to pull big numbers," he says. "It's all about the story and everything coming together to make a good movie."
In the meantime, Warners is getting credit for bringing some welcome diversity to the superhero universe. Miller, who has identified as "queer," would become the first openly gay actor to head up a superhero franchise — although Ian McKellen certainly paved the way with his contributions to the X-Men movies. Momoa is a native Hawaiian. And Fisher will be playing the first black superhero to anchor a studio film. Plus, while Marvel has yet to commit to a movie built around Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, Warners has promised Gadot a solo turn of her own in 2017's Wonder Woman.
And if one or two of those projects do fail to jell, Warners can always turn to its two stalwarts, Batman and Superman, for whom, it said, it's also developing future stand-alone movies it has yet to reveal.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)
Director: Joss Whedon
Ant-Man (July 17)
Director: Peyton Reed
The Fantastic Four (Aug. 7)
Director: Josh Trank
Deadpool (Feb. 12)
Director: Tim Miller
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Mar. 25)
Director: Zack Snyder
Captain America 3 (May 6)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)
Director: Bryan Singer
Marvel Untitled (July 8)
Suicide Squad (Aug. 5)
Director: David Ayer
The Sinister Six (Nov. 11)
Director: Drew Goddard
Untitled Wolverine (March 3)
Marvel Untitled (May 5)
Wonder Woman (June 23)
The Fantastic Four 2 (July 14, Fox)
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (July 28)
Director: James Gunn
Marvel Untitled (Nov. 3)
Justice League, Part One (Nov. 17)
Director: Zack Snyder
The Flash (Mar. 23)
Marvel Untitled (May 4)
Marvel Untitled (July 6)
Untitled Fox Marvel (July 13)
Aquaman (July 27)
Marvel Untitled (Nov. 2)
Untitled Spider-Man 3 (Date TBA)
Shazam (April 5)
Marvel Untitled (May 3)
Justice League, Part Two (June 14)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cyborg (Apr. 3)
Green Lantern (June 19)