Yesterday afternoon a flashy headline blared across the internet: STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTING SUPERHERO MOVIE! Nerds everywhere sh*t their pants. The thing is, it’s a little misleading. Technically, yes, Spielberg is developing a movie based on a comic book for DC Films. But he’s not making a movie for the DC Extended Universe, which includes Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Spielberg is adapting an old adventure comic called Blackhawk, about a group of World War II ace pilots who operate from “Blackhawk Island”. Basically imagine something like The Rocketeer. Or Red Tails, but about sensationalized white people instead of historically awesome black people.
And let’s not act like Blackhawk is a stretch for Spielberg. Yes, it’s based on a comic, but that’s not even a first for him, having previously directed The Adventures of Tintin. It’s also in line with the kind of adventure-serial-inspired movies Spielberg has been making since Raiders of the Lost Ark. Short of making a sequel to Tintin, Blackhawk is exactly the kind of comic book movie you’d expect from Spielberg. Is it a good deal for Warner Brothers and DC Films? Sure! They just collaborated with Spielberg on Ready Player One and that is going perfectly okay. It’s just hardly earth-shattering when it’s right in line with the type of adventure movies Spielberg has been making since 1981.
It’s also not happening any time soon. Spielberg has a fifth Indiana Jones movie teed up for 2020 (I LOVE Indiana Jones and even I don’t need that), and then he’s going to remake West Side Story because he hasn’t heard the word “no” since 1975. So the soonest we will see a Blackhawk movie from Spielberg is like 2025. There are three possibilities:
1) Spielberg directs Blackhawk and we don’t see it for nearly a decade.
2) Spielberg hands it off to another director, and we see it a few years sooner.
3) Theatrical movie-going collapses, and projects like this are abandoned in the wreckage.
Seriously you guys, by the time Spielberg gets around to making this movie, Hollywood could be VERY different. We’re about to lose a major studio in the Disney-Fox merger, and there is no one positioned to replace it. The industry is contracting, not expanding, and nothing on the horizon suggests a turnaround is even possible. The subscription service MoviePass is making waves with a Netflix-style monthly plan that allows people to see movies for less, but not all theater chains are excited about it and their business model is, right now, even more unsustainable than Netflix’s. There is a huge amount of uncertainty about where the industry is going and what the long-term prospects are as viewing shifts away from the theater and the gap between North American and world audiences grows (making it harder for those big budget investments to pay off with foreign box office).
Who knows what Hollywood looks like in 2025. Who knows what it looks like in 2020. The advent of sound in cinema ended careers and caused studios to collapse. Cinema survived, albeit in a new, advanced form. Well, we’re living through a paradigm shift equal to or greater than the arrival of sound, and there will be casualties. I’ve been warning about this for nearly a decade and we are finally here, on the cusp of the change that must come to accommodate a new technology and changing audience expectations. There is an assumption that Spielberg will always be able to get his movies into theaters—which is why he doesn’t understand the younger generation of filmmakers finding more support from streaming services—but the truth is, who knows? So, yeah, enjoy the headline about Steven Spielberg making a superhero movie for DC Films, because the headline might, in the end, be all that we get.
Here's Spielberg arriving for Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk's party the other night.