Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Superhero Stakes High in 2012

Last summer we saw a bit of a dip in ticket sales for superhero movies at the box office. Whether you want to blame the economy or the characters themselves, audiences didn't flock out to see X-Men: First Class or Captain America quite the way they have previously for Batman, Spider-Man, and more recently Iron Man. This summer has some of comic book's biggest stars hitting the screen and I wonder how receptive general audiences will be. Are this year's superhero movies going to rival last year's numbers or are these superstar superheroes going to bring in the big tickets sales once again?

A big part of me wonders if the market is becoming over saturated with comic book movies. The last four to five years we have seen comic book movie after comic book movie release. Some have been heavy-hitting, A-list books that have millions of fans generating top proceeds at the box office, while most have been lesser known books that have a small demographic studios banked would show up.

Last year seemed like a very strong year for comic book character films yet the results all came in as if the films were just second-tier superheroes (in some cases they were). Captain America is an A-list comic book character yet you couldn't tell by its opening weekend numbers. "Captain America: The First Avenger" made practically identically the same amount as "Thor." Captain America is far more name recognizable than Thor, but wouldn't know it by looking at the box office. Other A-list characters like Spider-Man or Batman have generated close to double the numbers Captain America and Thor did, but why? Is it solely popularity?

If popularity is the answer, how do you account for Iron Man's box office success? Iron Man is not anywhere near the superstar Spider-Man, Wolverine, or Batman are, yet when the first "Iron Man" released in 2008, it nearly doubled the amount "Batman Begins" took its opening weekend. Perhaps movie goers were just really itching for a new superhero to get excited about and you have to factor Bat-fan exhaustion from previous Schumacher films into the soft opening for 'Begins.' Fans were rightfully weary that a reboot would end up just as bad as the last attempts. The same can be said about "X-Men: First Class" after 'Wolverine,' X-Men fans had a right to be furious and most of them stayed home exercising that right giving 'First Class' the lowest opening of an X-Men film since the original Bryan Singer directed film.

This brings me to summer 2012 and all of the tent pole superhero films releasing. Sony has the "untold" version of Spider-Man swinging into theaters and they could be facing the very same trend 'Batman Begins' saw back in 2005 and 'First Class' saw last year. Are general audiences ready for a new spin on Spider-Man only five years after the last awful installment? Sony recently had a sneak-peek event showcasing a few scenes from the new version directed by Marc Webb, dubbed "The Amazing Spider-Man." Word of mouth following the event was positive, but will that carry over into box office success is a whole other question. Sony is hoping that name recognition and  promotions for this so-called "untold story" of Peter Parker will bring back the majority of audiences that gave the previous movies box office openings other studios only reached with sequels. In short, Sony hopes you are willing to give your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man another shot.

It will be interesting to see how things play out this summer. Perhaps we will see audiences back out in droves ready to watch the biggest superheroes in action once more or perhaps we will see something similar to last year. "The Dark Knight Rises" is clearly set up to break records again and I assume it will being the final piece to director Christopher Nolan's trilogy but what about "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-Man"? Can we expect they will also hit a $100+ million opening weekend or will they settle somewhere in the $50 to $70 million dollar range? Marvel Studios and Disney certainly hope audiences will come out for the team-up they've been building towards for the last four years but if 'Avengers' only pulls in audiences like Captain America, Incredible Hulk, and/or Thor did, this massive team-up they've worked towards may end up a dud. Marvel is invested in building their brand and they are no where near done with the desire to continue making superhero movies, however the question remains, will audiences continue to want to see them.

Below I've included the latest trailers for "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Avengers" both of which do a damn fine job of selling the merchandise each particular studio is peddling this summer.

Finally, all of this is just fun speculation on my part and something I will continue to track. Box office results aren't what make a quality movie by any means, but I do find it engaging to track general audiences and their constantly shifting interests.