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Superhero saturation: How much is too much?

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
July 18, 2012

If you've been to the movie theatre at any point in say the last ten years, you've probably noticed a bit of a trend: Superheroes are in. Caped crime-fighters are cool. Comic book movies have become a dominant force at the box office over the past decade or so and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Take 2012 as an example. Marvel's superpowered ensemble "The Avengers" and DC's brooding conclusion to the Batman trilogy,"The Dark Knight Rises," will easily be the two highest-grossing films of the year. "The Amazing Spider-Man," another major superhero film out this year, will likely be not too far behind in terms of box office success.

See also: Negative 'Dark Knight Rises' reviews result in insults, death threats

Save for a few examples (we're looking at you "Green Lantern") audiences seem happy with the current crop of superhero movies, and the studios have the box office receipts to prove it. At last weekend's Comic Con, Hollywood studios unveiled countless superhero flicks pegged for release over the next two to four years. Marvel and Disney teased sequels to "Iron Man," "Thor," "Captain America," and "The Avengers," and also announced new projects like "Ant-Man" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Warner Bros., meanwhile, showed off "Man of Steel," a reboot of the Superman franchise directed by "Watchmen" and "300" filmmaker Zack Snyder. Sony didn't have anything to show at Comic Con, but recently announced that "The Amazing Spider-Man" would be the first in a trilogy of Spidey films that could hopefully spin-off into other movies centred on Marvel characters like Venom. Add to that Fox's plans for more "X-Men" and "Wolvernine" movies, and the next few years are going to be chock-full of comic book flicks.

But is it too much of a good thing?

While there's certainly no shortage of characters or stories to be told, or new and exciting angles to be explored by filmmakers, are audiences simply going to get sick of the superhero film? It's a definite possibility, especially given Hollywood's penchant for rebooting franchises that don't really need to be rebooted. Every time a comic book franchise is re-imagined, the main character's origin story needs to be told all over again in order to set up the inevitable sequels.

See also: 'Thor 2' loses its villain to Hannibal Lecter

To avoid origin overload, the future model that studios should follow is the superhero ensemble. Part of the reason that "The Avengers" was such an unbridled success was because it was about a team, not a single hero. With the heroes' respective origin stories out of the way (thanks to their own standalone movies), "The Avengers" didn't need to waste time on all that setup.

Let the heroes shine in their own films and then bring them together for one big bash. Marvel/Disney are pursuing this contiguous universe model and it's paying off for them big time. If DC/Warner Bros. can do the same with their stable of heroes, then they'll be able to compete with their rivals. The catch is that they would need to produce a slew of origin pictures first before a "Justice League" team up could ever happen. Good luck pulling off those "Aquaman" and "Wonder Woman" movies, guys.

See also: Scarlett Johansson's $20 million 'Avengers 2' payday?

As Sony, Warner, and Fox try to play catch-up, Marvel's superteam strategy will either be vindicated or seen as a fluke. At the end of the day though, it won't matter to audiences how many heroes you've got on your superteam, but who those heroes are. Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and Iron Man? Those guys are hard to top. We wish the Justice League, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men good luck.

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