Batman V Superman Concept Mashup

A rapid succession of new DC movies could be headed to theaters after the Batman vs. Superman movie opens in May 2016. Source photos: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Zack Snyder's Batman vs. Superman movie -- of which I've been skeptical -- is getting more punch. Variety is reporting that Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) has cast actor Ray Fisher to play the role of Victor Stone, known to DC Comics fans as the superhero Cyborg. From the article:

"[Cyborg], while not a major part in the Batman-Superman feature, is a member of the Justice League, and the role will become much more significant as Warner and DC develop more films related to the Justice League universe, sources confirm."

Three's company, but is four a crowd?
As if we needed a source to know that. The Batman vs. Superman movie has been shaping up as more than a sequel for a while now. It's also a vehicle for expanding the DC Cinematic Universe. Fisher's Cyborg will join Henry Cavill's Superman, Ben Affleck's Batman, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. They'll be opposed by Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

Or at least that's how it is right now. I've long suspected that Warner envisions the Batman vs. Superman movie as a Justice League origin story. If I'm right, fans and investors can expect lots more casting news leading up to San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).

Is that a good thing? Or is Warner's strategy of introducing so many heroes and villains, so soon, an unreasonable risk? Not when you look at the top 10 grossing comic book movies of all time:

Worldwide Gross
Est. Box Office ROI
No. of Heroes and Villains in Primary Roles

Marvel's The Avengers

$1.519 billion



Iron Man 3

$1.215 billion



The Dark Knight Rises

$1.084 billion



The Dark Knight

$1.005 billion



Spider-Man 3

$890.9 million




$821.7 million



Spider-Man 2

$783.8 million



The Amazing Spider-Man

$752.2 million



Man of Steel

$668.0 million



Thor: The Dark World

$644.8 million



Sources: Box Office Mojo, IMDB, TMF estimates.

The message? While the classic story features one hero facing off against one villain, larger casts don't always make for big trouble at the box office. Look at Iron Man 3, which scored well even as the titular character shared screen time with War Machine (or, if you prefer, Iron Patriot), The Mandarin, and the villainous Aldrich Killian.

Yet there are also plenty of instances where crowded epics failed to deliver. Take Green Lantern, which featured classic villain Hector Hammond as well as the monster Parallax and multiple members of the Green Lantern Corps. The result? A negative 63.4% return on investment at the box office.

Or how about Watchmen? Snyder's other superhero team-up movie did well enough with critics and audiences -- earning 65% and 70% approval, respectively, at Rotten Tomatoes -- yet failed to bring fans to the theater. The movie's negative 52.5% return on box office investment still casts a shadow.

Cyborg Justice League

Adding Cyborg will help set up DC for a Justice League movie, though a solo film could come first. Credit: DC Comics.

1 way this crowded epic could pay off big
Here, the potential upside could come via spinoffs. Rather than taking the Marvel approach of building a movie at a time into a larger epic, Warner could use the Batman vs. Superman movie as an introduction to the wider DC Cinematic Universe and its various inhabitants, then jumping off into solo movies that develop the characters in more detail before meeting again for a Justice League movie.

We've already seen Warner tease this approach on TV. Arrow has introduced us not only to Oliver Queen's emerald archer but also the Suicide Squad and The Flash. Executives recently saw a screening of the pilot starring Grant Gustin as the scarlet speedster. I'd be surprised if we don't have word of a series order by SDCC.

On the big screen, Snyder and writer David S. Goyer could take a portion of the next two years to develop cinematic spinoffs while shooting the Batman vs. Superman movie. Imagine a Wonder Woman movie in 2017 followed by a Cyborg movie in 2018 and a new Batman movie in 2019, all leading up to Justice League in 2020. Or some other schedule that makes sense. The point is that a crowded Batman vs. Superman movie could be made to serve a larger purpose that we don't yet understand.

Foolish final thought
Concurrent shooting has also become popular when developing film franchises. Think of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Or more recently, The Hunger Games movies. These combined productions help create a shared universe for audiences to engage with over and over.

In the end, that's what Warner and DC want: an interconnected superhero universe that lures us in and makes us beg for more. Marvel achieved that by introducing characters one at a time and then bringing them together in the Avengers. Warner and DC no longer have that option, yet that doesn't have to be a disadvantage when it comes to connecting with fans.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you see the growing cast of the Batman vs. Superman movie hurting Warner's chances of building a sustainable franchise? Please leave a comment below to let us know your take, including whether you would buy, sell, or short Time Warner stock at current prices.

Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Time Warner at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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