Ever since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man opened in theaters in 2002, breaking box office records around the world and mainstreaming the superhero genre, Marvel and the various studios holding rights to its characters have successfully reigned over the month of May when it comes to launching blockbusters. Fox and Sony traded years, alternating between X-Men and Spider-Man sequels in the mid-2000s until young Marvel Studios came along in 2008 with an unexpected megahit known as Iron Man which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it.
After The Avengers continued upping the success by becoming the third highest grossing film of all-time in 2012, and after Iron Man 3 continued the success last summer, Disney and Marvel Studios were quick to lock down the opening May weekends for 2016 and 2017 with release dates for unannounced feature films. With Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment delaying Batman vs. Superman, it now shares one of those very same weekends and we have an epic fight on our hands.
Over the last decade or so, Marvel has traditionally owned May and owned it well, and they plan to continue the trend (up until 2021 according to Marvel Studios' boss). See for yourself:
- May 3, 2002 - Spider-Man
- May 2, 2003 - X-Men 2
- May 26, 2006 - X-Men: The Last Stand
- May 4, 2007 - Spider-Man 3
- May 2, 2008 - Iron Man
- May 1, 2009 - X-Men Origins: Wolverine
- May 7, 2010 - Iron Man 2
- May 6, 2011 - Thor
- May 4, 2012 - The Avengers
- May 3, 2013 - Iron Man 3
- May 2, 2014 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2
- May 23, 2014 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
- May 1, 2015 - The Avengers: Age of Ultron
- May 6 2016 – Unannounced Marvel Film
- May 27, 2016 - X-Men: Apocalypse
- May 5 2017 - Unannounced Marvel Film
- May 4, 2018 - The Amazing Spider-Man 4
The Hulks, Fantastic Fours and the first Captain America took later summer dates while Daredevil, Elektra, the Blades and Punishers took other dates throughout the year.
On the DC side, the Batman and Superman films (even Green Lantern) have all taken June and July dates, two of which (The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises) earned over a billion dollars. It's for that reason that Batman vs. Superman (Man of Steel 2) had to delay a whole 10 months since it was originally scheduled for July 17th, 2015, the same weekend where DC saw incredible success previously:
- July 18, 2008 - The Dark Knight
- July 20, 2012 - The Dark Knight Rises
July 17, 2015 - Batman vs. Superman
While WB and DC would normally love that July 2015 date, if they needed even just a few more weeks of production time, that would mean the film would need a massive delay and that's what it got. Here's why: There's no way the studio would push such a high ticket blockbuster into August where its earnings could practically be cut in half and it'd be financial suicide to go for an otherwise-strong fall date with Disney hosting the return of Star Wars with Episode VII that December, not to mention Lionsgate's finale of The Hunger Games franchise in November. Do we even need to list the next James Bond and Mission: Impossible installments? How about the sure-to-be-huge animated features Kung Fu Panda 3 and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur? All of these release late 2015.
2015 is too crowded with big-brand megahits and there's no room later in the year for Superman and friends. So, looking to 2016, DC took the aggressive approach in planting its Kryptonian feet in the first blockbuster weekend slot - the opening weekend in May where records are meant to be broken. Thing is, Marvel Studios was already planning on putting their second Phase 3 feature film there (the first being Ant-Man in July 2015). While we won't know that that film is until Marvel Studios hosts a panel at San Diego Comic-Con this July we do know it's a followup to an established property. According to Marvel boss Kevin Feige, the strategy going forward is to continue releasing two films per year with the first of each pair being a sequel and the second being a new IP.
Logic would then dictate that May 2016 is when they want to release Thor 3. Why? Thor 1 launched May 2011 before Captain America: The First Avenger and the character is now their most bankable solo hero since the Iron Man series is over for the time being. Thor 3 would also come before Captain America 3 according to their release schedule thus far.
So now we have a fight on our hands.
Next Page: Batman vs. Superman vs. Thor. Let It Begin.
Batman vs. Superman is scheduled for May 6, 2016.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014, The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 31, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016, July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.