At the start of the year Warner Bros. announced that the untitled Man of Steel sequel (Batman vs. Superman) needed more development time. Since it was originally positioned in a late summer date already, and the 2015 fall season is jam-packed with blockbusters, that meant pushing it all the way back to summer 2016. The studio took a rather aggressive approach and decided to place the sure-fire success in the first May summer weekend, right up against an unannounced Marvel Studios production that had claimed the date months earlier.
It was an odd and bold move. Warner Bros. typically schedules their DC Comics adaptations in June and July, and for a decade and a half, Marvel-branded features from Fox, Sony and Marvel have traditionally taken May dates. Warner Bros. was presumably expecting Marvel - backed by Disney - to move away. We think.
Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige, while promoting the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, said he and Marvel had no intentions of moving. And he wasn't joking. After breaking box office records and becoming the biggest April opening of all-time, Marvel was quick to make Captain America 3 official, putting in in that May 2016 slot.
It was no surprise since it was already public knowledge that writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo were all confirmed to be back, already breaking the story for the followup. The directors even told us they were going to be shooting the film in 2015, meaning it would be one of Marvel's two 2016 releases. Since we know the formula is to release a sequel first, followed by a new property, it was a given that Cap 3 was Marvel's first 2016 release.
So now we're in a spot where Marvel isn't moving for a pile of reasons I mentioned on the Screen Rant Underground podcast weeks ago. What will Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment do in response? Bloomberg spoke with Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., and got his thoughts on the opening May summer weekend competition.
“It doesn't make a lot of sense for two huge superhero films to open on the same date but there is a lot of time between now and 5/6/16. However at this time, we are not considering a change of date for ‘Batman vs. Superman.’”
While fans would love the idea of seeing Captain America 3 and the Man of Steel followup back-to-back in the same weekend, studios and theater chains would not. Both films will be in 3D and there's a limited amount of screens available. Most moviegoers wouldn't see both in the same weekend, so the dual release would involve each film cannibalizing each other. For Warner Bros., who at this point are only releasing a single DC Comics film every few years (this will hopefully change post-BvS), they can't afford to share a weekend, and Disney-Marvel isn't going to hand it over, since they're pumping out two releases annually as part of a larger plan, and making sure there's space between releases for Fox and Sony's Marvel-branded tentpole releases as well.
Warner Bros. has already shown that the release dates of their Superman flicks are flexible, delaying both once already. Batman vs. Superman will move and that likely means another delay, either to June where Man of Steel released, July where The Dark Knight films saw success or perhaps to the fall. Although, that would make an already long wait even longer for fans. Could WB try moving it earlier and seek out an April date that Captain America 2 just saw success at?
Batman vs. Superman is going to be a massive release for Warner Bros, and Captain America is increasing in popularity with the success of The Winter Soldier and the boost from The Avengers: Age of Ultron. They each need their own weekend. Like Fellman says, there's lots of time before that weekend and lots of things can change. One of the films will move. You can guess which.
Batman vs. Superman and Captain America 3 are scheduled for May 6, 2016.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.