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

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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.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 5:31 AM, Scobe wrote:

    I hae been a comic book fan since I was a little kid and read "Fantastic Four" when that came out. Over the years I dropped the habit but the films have brought me back. The key is not the special effects because just about all effects now are good to excellent; the key comes from crisp character-writing. So far Marvel has maintained a higher level of characterization in its films, although its television show "Agents of Shield" has thus far been a major disappointment.

    Frank Scoblete, author of "Confessions of a Wayward Catholic"

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 8:37 AM, palmer65 wrote:

    first of all you got yahoo's who try to put a star in a movie which dosnt match. nick cage as ghost rider? come on read the comics! thats like letting will smith's kid play elvis presley..somethings are not meant to be. daredevil..flop. hulk flop....we get a few that are done right..ironman comes to mind. the lone ranger i dont what they were trying to pull over. they always say reboot..maybe we want the way it was written. green hornet with seth? come on...john carter ( who?) you should put the title on the billb oards john carter of mars. disney wont chance another...which by the way the movie was great..just the yahoo in charge didnt know mighty mouse from minnie mouse. but hey lets have another fast and fed up movie. chapter 45

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 9:45 AM, darkmeter wrote:

    I have been pleasantly surprised how well these films have been doing. As a life long fan of comics, I have always wanted to be able to watch my favorite superhero on the big screen. I really hope these quality films will not stop. I can't wait for this year where we will be seeing a good deal of these films. I hope for more avenger quality than ghost rider ones. My goodness that was one bad series though I did like the first one a bit. haha

    Heather, owner of

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 6:53 PM, Amberyerno wrote:

    I'd LOVE to see an X-Films spinoff, maybe featuring the New X-Men.

    I'd see a main lineup of:

    X-23, Hellion, Surge (team leader), Mercury, Dust, Rockslide, Anole, Prodigy and Elixir, with maybe Jubilee as a mentor since she got underused in the films, with the ability of having other characters pop in and out (Pixie, Wolfsbane, Cannonball, etc.). Have periodic cameos by Xavier (Stewart is one of the most awesome human beings on the planet, so would surely do it), Magneto (same reason as Stewart), Wolverine (probably a bit more expensive, but Jackman really comes across that he "gets" the fanbase, as well), or other established characters (Rogue especially would work pretty well, since Anna Paquin is primarily a TV actress as it is).

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John Casteele

John Casteele is a freelance writer, editor, and occasional web cartoonist. He prefers long-term investments, largely in retail, medical, and tech.

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