Why Did Warner Bros. Push 'Batman vs. Superman' Back a Year?

Warner Bros. announced that its upcoming superhero team-up "Batman vs. Superman" was being delayed by almost a year, moving its release to May 2016. Is this a sign of trouble for the film, or does the studio have a larger strategy?

Jan 20, 2014 at 11:38AM

On Jan. 17, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio announced that it was pushing back the sequel to last summer's blockbuster Man of Steel by almost a year; instead of being released on July 17, 2015, the film that is currently known by its project title of "Batman vs. Superman" is slated for release on May 6, 2016. This caused both fans and detractors to launch into speculation as to what caused the delay.

The official word from the studio is that the delay is intended to "allow the filmmakers time to realize fully their vision, given the complex visual nature of the story." Of course, not everyone is buying this answer... it seems conveniently vague without actually explaining what the extra time will be used for. Let's take a closer look at the situation and see if we can't figure out a few more possibilities than simply "realizing a vision."

The Bat-fleck factor
Despite what viewers might want, it's highly unlikely that the backlash against Ben Affleck starring as Batman/Bruce Wayne had anything to do with the decision. There is next to no chance that Warner is going to recast him, especially after making it through the initial backlash without blinking an eye.

There were rumors before the delay was official that Affleck had injured himself, with the claims first saying that he injured his leg (which was debunked soon after) and other claims saying that it was his ribs that were injured. While an injury could cause such a delay (since even a six-week delay could put the film outside of the summer blockbuster sweet spot, making it a smart move financially to wait until the next summer), unless Warner Bros. or Affleck step forward to confirm this then it's best to treat it as simply a rumor.

Superman vs. Ultron
One potential problem with the original release date for "Batman vs. Superman" is that it put the film in competition with Disney's (NYSE:DIS) next "Avengers" crossover, Avengers: Age of Ultron. This isn't necessarily ideal for Warner as it would put its crossover film (which will reportedly contain Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) coming out two months after the sequel to the third highest-grossing film of all time.

While the film wouldn't really suffer from direct competition from Age of Ultron, it would run the risk of drawing comparisons from the start. Though it's not uncommon for similar films to compete within a single summer, one typically does much better than the other. A release on the tail of Age of Ultron could make "Batman vs. Superman" the Dante's Peak to the former's Volcano.

Challenging Marvel head on
Ever since Iron Man was released on May 2, 2008, Marvel Studios has been a dominant force at the beginning of the summer movie season. If a Marvel film doesn't open the summer blockbuster season, it generally opens within a few weeks of the first major film of the summer. Moving "Batman vs. Superman" places the film in direct competition with Marvel's first film of 2016, as the studio had previously scheduled an as-yet-unannounced film on that same date.

Of course, it's highly unlikely that both films will actually be released on the same day. Warner Bros. likely hopes that Marvel will flinch, not wanting to pit an unannounced film against the blockbuster power of Superman and Batman. The Marvel film will likely be a sequel to one of its stronger franchises such as Captain America or Thor, though, so it's possible that Marvel will stand its ground and make the May 6 release date into a game of cinematic chicken.

Slowing things down
Perhaps the most likely reason for the shift is that things simply aren't coming together as quickly as they needed for the rushed production schedule that Warner Bros. was hoping to achieve. Early rumors actually had a Man of Steel sequel pegged for a 2014 release, and the official "Batman vs. Superman" announcement placed the sequel in 2015. This would be followed by a stand-alone Flash film in 2016, and a Justice League crossover in 2017.

This film slate had Warner Bros. jumping from one-at-a-time development to a full yearly production plan without the buildup that Marvel had for its current two-a-year slate. This put a lot of pressure on Warner Bros., especially as it needed to not only develop "Batman vs. Superman," but would also need to begin production on the other films soon. A 10-month delay slows this down, giving more time for script development, visual effects planning, and cross-film world building.

Is the film in trouble?
Any time there's a high-profile film delay, online commenters tend to assume that the film is in trouble. In this case, however, it's likely a much more strategic decision. The delay gives Warner Bros. more time to develop its film slate, and the new date gives the studio a chance to test Marvel and see if it will flinch. Warner Bros. needs to make the most of this extra time, since further delays may make the film look weak and may leave fans wondering whether this will be a repeat of previous failed Justice League attempts.

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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.

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