The success of Marvel's The Avengers was a major coup for Disney (NYSE:DIS). The five-film lead in to the eventual mega movie successfully introduced the members of the team and established viable individual franchises. It also kicked other studios into assembling their own expanded superhero universes. Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL), Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX), and Sony (NYSE:SNE) all have upcoming movies featuring super-casts that aim to replicate the success of The Avengers.
Warner is in the process of getting its Justice League together with big characters like Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern on track to receive some manner of introduction in 2015's Batman vs. Superman. Twenty-First Century Fox is also set to release its X-Men universe unifier, X-Men: Days of Future Past; the movie has perhaps the most impressive cast of 2014. Meanwhile, Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Sony appears to be setting up a third film that assembles the franchise's team of super-villains, the Sinister Six. Another character from the "Spider-Man" series is also set to get a stand-alone film. Is having a superhero team up movie the big studio film industry's new right of passage?
Hollywood's new prestige projects
Twenty years ago, a film that had a cast of stars comparable to Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past would have probably been medium-budget Oscar bait. The film assembles the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stwart, Halley Berry, Peter Dinklage, Ellen Page and more. The film is booked for a May 23 American opening and sees time-travel and inter-dimensionality used as devices to join what have might have otherwise been two largely separate "X-Men" franchises.
Bryan Singer, the director of the first two "X-Men" films, is back on board to helm the picture. Singer left the series after the second "X-Men" film to direct Superman Returns, an exercise that ultimately left both Warner and the director dissatisfied. The "X-Men" films connected to the universe he helped create have outperformed X-Men: First Class in global box-office take, so it will be interesting to see what effect his return and the strength of Future Past's super-cast will have on its success. Even if the film disappoints, more are sure to follow. If Fox were to stop developing "X-Men" films, the rights would revert to Disney's Marvel Studios. For this same reason, Fox is also working on a "Fantastic Four" reboot.
Spidey's enemies team up
In the same contractual boat, Sony looks to develop Spider-Man films indefinitely so as not to lose the license to the House of Mouse. There was some talk that Disney could buy Sony out of its Spider-contract, but such a deal is unlikely. A relinquishing of the Spider-Man property would likely correlate to Sony selling of its film wing. Its slate of in-development Spider-Man films shows that it won't be happening anytime soon, regardless.
The company's Amazing Spider-Man 2 sees Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti step into the roles of villains Electro and Rhino, respectively. Sony's Spider-Man license doesn't offer much in the way of other heroes to mine, so the new super-casting trend looks to play itself out with big names being attached to the dastardly constituents of the Sinister Six. Foxx and Giamatti will join Andre Garfield, Emma Stone, and Denis Leary in the May 2 release that aims to outdo its immediate predecessor and land closer to the success of the Sam Raimi trilogy that grossed over $2.5 billion.
Sony also hopes to launch a franchise around Spider-Man's black-suited anti-hero, Venom. If such an attempt were successful, some manner of crossover would likely follow. After all, the two characters share a very similar look and have a tendency to cross paths on a regular basis.
New Batman and friends
Casting rumors connected to Warner's attempts to position Batman vs. Superman as an introduction to DC's Justice League continue their rampant circulation. A tweet from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson suggests he will be on board for some manner of DC film. Rumors also have Denzel Washington as a frontrunner to play either Lex Luthor or Green Lantern. The importance of nailing casting in megabudget superhero movies is impossible to ignore. Early outcry against Ben Affleck being cast as Batman is not a sign that the character's 2015 battle with Superman will stumble, but there will be a lot of weight on those broad and padded shoulders.
The Avengers target the unsinkable boat
The Avengers is currently the third highest-grossing movie in history. What's more, each of the subsequent films in the film's universe have shown growth over their previous installments. When it comes to box-office grab, it likely won't be a question of whether a "Justice League" film, let alone the X-Men or Spider-Man and friends, can unseat the Avengers, but whether Avengers: Age of Ultron can take out current no. 2 Titanic.
Keith Noonan 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.