Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Warner Bros. studio recently announced that it was delaying the release of the Man of Steel sequel, tentatively known as "Batman vs. Superman," by 10 months. I recently discussed some of the possible reasons for this, including the film's rivalry with the Marvel universe films being released by Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Studios. The film's new release date schedules it on the same day as an as-yet-undisclosed Marvel release, setting up a game of cinematic chicken to see which studio will blink first.
Though Marvel's cinematic universe remains a dominant force in the summer blockbuster season, Warner's move was a smart one if it wanted to challenge the rival franchise head on. "Batman vs. Superman" will set the stage for an eventual "Justice League" film and will contain three of DC Comics' biggest characters: Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The mystery Marvel film won't be an "Avengers" team-up or part of the blockbuster "Iron Man" franchise, so it's possible that Warner actually has Marvel outclassed this time when it comes to the draw of the film. This left some wondering whether Warner might actually win this duel, causing Marvel to change its release date to something a bit safer.
Meeting the challenge
Though victory for Warner Bros. wasn't a sure thing, it seemed as though the strength of the "Batman vs. Superman" lineup might at least give Marvel Studios a moment of pause. Marvel's reaction to the change makes the possibility of the studio shifting its release date suddenly seems a bit more unlikely, however.
With "Batman vs. Superman" delayed until May 6, 2016, Warner moved another film up into the now-vacant July 17, 2015, release date: director Joe Wright's as-yet-untitled "Peter Pan" film. Hugh Jackman recently signed on to the film as Blackbeard the pirate, acting as an antagonist in the film, which serves as a prequel to J.M. Barrie's story (and presumably a corrupting influence on Garrett Hedlund's James Hook.) This seems like a solid choice for a mid-summer release, as it will likely be an effects-heavy fantasy pirate story akin to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films.
It didn't take long for Marvel to respond to the release date shuffle, and the studio did so wordlessly. Marvel's Ant-Man, previously scheduled for release on July 31, 2015, was moved up two weeks to release alongside the "Peter Pan" film.
Cold war in the heat of summer
The move to July 17 makes sense for both Ant-Man and the "Peter Pan" film, as that release date puts both films in the middle of a summer filled with potential blockbusters such as the upcoming Terminator: Genesis franchise reboot and 21st Century Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) Fantastic Four (a reboot of the licensed Marvel Comics franchise.) It is possible, of course, that the move by Marvel was simply the studio taking advantage of a better release date... but given Warner's move to place "Batman vs. Superman" against one of Marvel's summer openers, it doesn't seem likely.
Given how crowded the summer of 2015 is, "Peter Pan" and Ant-Man will likely have a fairly limited window to come out on top at the box office. Given how Ant-Man ties in with the larger (and insanely popular) Marvel film universe and is directed by Edgar Wright (who carries with him dedicated fans), the film's move has likely put a serious damper on any shot that the "Pan" film might have had at the no. 1 slot.
This could in turn put more pressure on Warner Bros. when it comes to promoting the film, which is being released in the middle of a blockbuster-filled summer. In addition to the aforementioned "Terminator" and "Fantastic Four" films, the July 17 release date follows the release of Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, Despicable Me Minions, Disney's Star Wars Episode VII and Marvel's own Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Who will win?
Both Warner Bros. and Marvel Studios seem unwilling to budge in their standoff, but there's still a lot of time between now and the summer of 2016. If Warner was hoping for an easy victory over Marvel, the shift of Ant-Man to potentially upset the studio's "Peter Pan" release serves as a strong hint that Marvel isn't going to back down.
The summer of 2016 still has a number of empty weeks -- so far, Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse and Disney's Alice in Wonderland 2 are confirmed as slated for May 27 releases). Given the likelihood that Marvel's unannounced project is part of a major franchise like the "Captain America" or "Thor" films, it isn't likely to be as much of a pushover as Warner might hope either. Though anything could happen, I personally would expect Warner to shift "Batman vs. Superman" slightly to a week with less direct competition.