Superhero Movies Are Big Business, But TV Might Be the Next Big Thing

There are a number of superhero films coming out in the next few years, and some are beginning to worry that the genre itself is becoming fatigued. For the companies behind the movies, though, there's more in the works than just the big-screen features.

Jan 6, 2014 at 12:41PM

Disney (NYSE:DIS) hasn't been shy about pushing forward with its Marvel Comics properties on the big screen. Releasing two films per year in its Marvel Cinematic Universe, over the next two years alone the company will release Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man (and at least three films in the company's "Phase 3" rollout are already slated after that, one of which might be the long-rumored introduction Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange.)

Hoping to avoid being left behind, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio is trying to mimic some of Disney's success by expanding the sequel to this summer's Superman blockbuster Man of Steel into the launching point of a major DC Comics-based franchise that will lead into a "Justice League" film in 2017.

These aren't the only companies betting big on superheroes, either. Both Sony (NYSE:SNE) and Twenty-First Century Fox have major interests in big-name heroes as well and are both in the middle of major ad campaigns for upcoming movies. Some have worried that the glut of superheroes on film might lead to genre fatigue, but so far the trend shows little sign of slowing down.

Not every hero's a hit
While movies like The Avengers show that superhero films can be major blockbusters, the superhero genre has had its share of flops. Some of these films, like Fox's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, set the franchise up for a reboot (which Fox is currently working on). Others have resulted in the abandonment of the franchise entirely, as with Sony allowing the "Ghost Rider" film rights to lapse back to Marvel after the disappointing release of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Likewise, Warner Bros. has had a few problems building franchises based off of Time Warner's DC Comics properties. Neither 2006's Superman Returns or 2011's Green Lantern were met with a strong fan following despite earning $391 million and $219.9 million worldwide, respectively.

Try, try again
There are a few superheroes that have taken multiple attempts to get right on the big screen. Ang Lee's 2003 Hulk performed relatively poorly, failing to earn back its production costs in domestic sales; the 2008 Marvel Studios reboot didn't fare much better, topping the 2003 film's domestic gross by only $2 million. The character was a fan favorite in The Avengers, however, leading to calls for a new "Hulk" film in Marvel's slate.

Similar stories can be seen at the other studios with major superhero films in development. After the fan backlash surrounding Spider-Man 3, Sony opted to cancel its plans for a fourth "Spider-Man" film with Sam Raimi and instead rebooted the franchise to more closely follow the Ultimate Comics take on the character; reactions to The Amazing Spider-Man were mixed, but the film did well enough to warrant both a sequel and plans for at least two spin-off films (though it remains to be seen how these spin-offs will fit into the larger world of the franchise).

Animation domination
Just because Marvel Studios has had fewer flops on the big screen doesn't mean that it's dominating every venue. Its feature-length animation releases have been lackluster, especially compared to Warner Bros.' animated DC Comics Blu-ray and DVD offerings. The DC animated features typically have better writing, more well-known voice actors, and draw directly from popular comic miniseries for inspiration.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Marvel has cut back on its feature-length animated offerings and is instead pushing out child-focused animated series on Disney XD. In addition to "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Avengers Assemble," and "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.," rumor has it that a "Guardians of the Galaxy" series will be added to the network to help capitalize on the upcoming Marvel Studios film.

Look to the small screen
Both Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. have small-screen offerings competing for eyes as well. Warner is currently enjoying the growing popularity of "Arrow," featuring a version of the Green Arrow character. It is also spinning off a new series following the Flash, allowing the company to show both non-powered enemies (on "Arrow") and super-powered enemies (on the Flash spinoff) without having to worry about differences in power sets.

Marvel, on the other hand, currently has its Avengers spinoff "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." airing on ABC. With ratings dropping, however, it remains to be seen whether the show will survive its first season. Even if it does get canceled, though, there will be more Marvel heroes on the small screen. Marvel is supposedly moving forward with a new period series based on its Agent Carter short film and will also have four original Marvel Studios series and a miniseries debuting on Netflix starting in 2015.

Who has the most must-see heroes?
The next few years will see a number of offerings from Marvel Studios, Fox, Sony, and Warner Bros., giving comic book fans a lot to look forward to. Disney seems to have the strongest lineup with its Marvel Studios slate, while Warner currently seems to be struggling to build a successful franchise out of Man of Steel. Fox seems poised for third place with both the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises supposedly sharing a cinematic universe, though to date there are no plans to cross them over in a single film.

The next step
Want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this? The key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal-finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even gives you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers