Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios has officially confirmed what has been rumored for a while: the first film from the studio in 2016 will be "Captain America 3." This has been a major source of discussion in recent months because the date slated for the previously unannounced film was also occupied by the upcoming "Batman vs. Superman" project from Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio.
In what boils down to a game of cinematic chicken, the studios behind the two superhero films seemed committed to holding that date in hopes that the other would shift. Given that Captain America: The Winter Soldier has already set box-office records and garnered nearly universal acclaim in its first weekend in the U.S. (and its first week worldwide), is Cap ready to take on Superman and Batman?
When "Batman vs. Superman" was delayed 10 months by Warner Bros., the film was moved from a mid-2015 release to the summer-opening date of May 6, 2016. At the time, the slot was held by an unannounced Marvel Studios film that was alternately rumored to be "Captain America 3," "Thor 3," and "Guardians of the Galaxy 2." Though some saw the shift as a sign of weakness for the film, delaying it made sense; not only did it get the superhero team-up away from the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, it also allowed Warner Bros. to challenge Marvel head on with a film containing some of its biggest draws.
While Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige had stated publically that the studio had no intentions of shifting its unannounced film, going head-to-head with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman was potentially a bigger risk than making a movie that co-starred a talking raccoon and a tree. Winter Soldier opened with $96.2 million in the U.S. box office alone, however, on top of the $303 million that it has grossed internationally in the 10 days since its release. This not only broke the April box office record in the U.S., but also brought in over twice the film's production budget and over half of Man of Steel's worldwide gross of $668 million.
A follow-up to a film that's turning out this popular seems like the perfect movie to go up against Warner's heavy hitters.
Betting on super-soldier success
To further improve the chances of "Captain America 3" against "Batman vs. Superman," Marvel Studios announced that the creative team behind the new film would be the same people who brought Captain America: The Winter Soldier to life. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are attached to the new film, which is being written by First Avenger and Winter Soldier screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Given the positive reactions to Winter Soldier, it's likely that fans will embrace the return of the directors and writers of the film.
Though no casting or plot details have been confirmed, it's likely that the film will draw inspiration from other popular comic storylines as Winter Soldier did as well. The most commonly cited storyline among fans is the "Death of Captain America" arc that ran in 2007 and 2008, in which the Winter Soldier character played a prominent part. While that story played out in the aftermath of Marvel's "Civil War" event, it could theoretically be adapted to follow up the events of Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron as well.
A post-Cap bump?
In addition to making "Captain America 3" a potentially worthy competitor to "Batman vs. Superman," the runaway success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier could benefit Marvel Studios in other ways as well. With it looking very likely that the film will be the studio's next billion-dollar hit, it could provide a "bump" to the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy in a similar way to how the studio's massively successful The Avengers improved the popularity of the films released in its wake.
Marvel's The Avengers earned $1.5 billion worldwide during its theatrical run, becoming the no. 3 top-grossing movie of all time (when you don't account for inflation). Its massive success went a long way toward familiarizing audiences with its heroes, and each Marvel Studios film since then has seen significant improvements in its box office results compared to previous films in the same franchise. Iron Man 3 earned $1.2 billion in the global box office, and Thor: The Dark World earned $664.7 million (compared to the first film's $449.3 million). With The Winter Soldier's success and possible billion-dollar box office, it should go a long way toward reminding audiences of the quality of Marvel films heading into the release of an untested and relatively unknown property such as Guardians.
Which hero will reign supreme?
It remains to be seen what will happen on May 6, 2016, and there's still a lot of time for scheduling changes between now and then. If the two films go head-to-head, both will likely perform well though it's doubtful that either will do as well as if the films were separated. Still, the competition isn't nearly as one-sided as it might have appeared prior to the release of The Winter Soldier.
If one of the films does get moved, though, expect it to be "Batman vs. Superman." The Winter Soldier has renewed confidence in Marvel's property, and that confidence will go a long way toward making "Captain America 3" a major draw provided that the studio doesn't show any weakness. "Batman vs. Superman," on the other hand, has already had its share of critics and may not be up to the challenge of facing off against Cap.
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.