With less than four weeks until the premier of Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Solider, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) already has fans of the franchise asking, "When can we expect Captain America 3?"
Nothing's officially confirmed yet, but reports surfaced in late January that overwhelmingly positive test screenings had Marvel already striving to get new directors Anthony and Joe Russo to return to helm a third installment. Just last week, Brooks Barnes of The New York Times suggested Marvel was close to finalizing the deal.
But that also begs the question: Should Disney and Marvel greenlight Captain America 3 before they've even seen how the second film performs?
I think so
After all, if we're focusing on the bottom line and Winter Soldier is a surprisingly massive hit, it could be in Disney's best interest to lock in a deal now before the creative team gains additional leverage.
We've also seen a lot of these sorts of deals lately, including Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) funding a third season of House of Cards leading up to the season 2 premiere, and Starz (NASDAQ:STRZA) pre-ordering two seasons of Black Sails before the first episode even aired.
Though it's tempting to think these small-screen efforts are in no way comparable to the estimated $170 million Disney dropped to produce Winter Soldier, remember Netflix had no problem assigning a $100 million budget for the first 26 episodes of House of Cards. It's less clear how much Starz is paying for its pirate drama, but it can't be cheap considering Starz enticed Transformers director Michael Bay to branch out into television as the Black Sails' executive producer.
Much in the same way Netflix and Starz are fostering goodwill by locking in talent and giving fans something to which they can look forward, something tells me you won't find a faithful Marvel-ite complaining at the confirmation of even more Steve Rogers down the road.
In three, two, one...
Next, the Disney hype machine is gradually picking up its pace -- this week alone brought both a new "Meet Black Widow" featurette and a massive 4-minute Winter Soldier clip to the table -- and it's already evident Captain America is capable of not only standing on his own, but also serving as an effective launching pad for future Marvel franchise hopefuls.
Consider the aforementioned featurette, for example, which is a likely nod to the fact a Black Widow film was confirmed in early development last month. You might recall back in November, I argued a solo Black Widow movie could provide Marvel a perfect opportunity to branch out with a delightfully unique take on the age-old spy thriller genre.
The longer preview also offers a tantalizing peek at what movie-goers can expect next month, including nearly as many heroes (and heroines) contained as in 2012's Marvel's The Avengers, and all the action and wit we've come to expect from producer Kevin Feige, the Russo brothers, and the first Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely:
As awesome as this all looks, however, we have to ask: What's the downside for Disney if Marvel is wrong?
Apart from simply being embarrassing, it could damage the rapport of a brand currently enjoying massive momentum. Captain America is also far from a sure bet; The First Avenger "only" grossed $370.6 million worldwide in 2011, including just $176.7 million in the U.S. That was well within Disney's realm of profitability, but is still the second-lowest total of any film in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only 2008's The Incredible Hulk fared worse, grossing $263.4 million globally.
Then again, every sequel Marvel has offered to audiences so far has improved considerably upon its predecessor. The first three Iron Man movies, for example, hauled in respective worldwide totals of $585.2 million, $623.9 million, and $1.215 billion. Thor and Thor: The Dark World tallied $449.3 million and $641.4 million, respectively.
Perhaps most important for Cap, however, is that those massive improvements from Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3 came after a significant boost in visibility from the $1.52 billion blockbuster that is The Avengers -- in which Captain America just so happened to command a central role.
All things considered, I think Marvel knows all too well it has a massive hit on its hands, so I'm simply not convinced it could do any wrong greenlighting Captain America 3 now.
Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix and 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.