Superhero Apocalypse Averted
May 6, 2016 loomed large, the date on which Marvel and DC would pit their cinematic universes against each other in a billion-dollar death spiral, but in the end, there could be only one. As I predicted months ago, Warner Brothers/DC flinched and Superhero Face Punch has been pushed back to spring—to March 25, 2016 to be exact—taking it out of direct competition with Captain America 3. So much for going mano a mano; DC and Marvel won’t even square off in the same fiscal quarter.
First and foremost, this is good business. Cannibalizing your audience just to piss in the other guy’s Cornflakes is a dumbass thing to do. And on top of this move, Warner Brothers has announced a slate that runs through 2020, with two DC films a year, plus bonus “event films” in 2018 and 2020 (dare I hope, the new Harry Potter movies?).
They’re blatantly copying Marvel’s playbook, and they're doing it before they're even sure their superhero ecosystem can sustain it. Plans are nice, but ultimately you have to deliver (see also: the Spider-Man mess at Sony). And with 30 superhero movies through 2020, audience fatigue becomes a real threat. As long as the movies are good, people will watch them, but all it takes it one person sh*tting in the punchbowl to ruin it for everyone else.
More immediately, though, there’s no escaping how this looks. They tucked tail and ran, and worse, they did it this week of all weeks, when Marvel is celebrating yet another box office bonanza. I expected WB to be the one to blink—they had more to lose—but I thought they’d do it quietly, at a time when it couldn’t possibly be construed as reactionary. By doing it now, they’re admitting they find Marvel as sh*tty scary as everyone else. Plus they cried uncle to CAPTAIN AMERICA. Not even Iron Man—Captain “Nobody’s Favorite” America chased off comic books’ Holy Trinity, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. This is as much a PR game as it is economic, and WB\DC didn't play this for maximum positive press.
And then there’s the issue of March. March is a soft month for box office, when studios release titles that are better than being buried behind the January woodshed, but aren’t strong enough to hack it in summer, either. Money can be made in March—The Hunger Games opened with $152 million in 2012 and Alice in Wonderland with $116 million in 2010—but those are the outliers. Typically March releases open in the $40-55 million range. March is when middling movies are made to look better by default, since there’s so little competition (see also: Divergent).
There is no question that Batman v. Superman: Trial of the Century will make a LOT of money. They could move it anywhere on the calendar and it would make bank. But putting it in March looks like a tacit admission that they don’t think it can stand up to the stiffer competition of summer. It's a smart move not to divide your own audience, but goddamn do they look like a bunch of assholes making it. They engaged in a pointless dick-waving contest with Marvel which they predictably lost, and now they're releasing their movie in March, the scheduling equivalent of bowling with bumpers. Superhero Face Punch is as close to a sure thing as movies get—why can't WB at least fake confidence in it?