3. The Genre
There will be no less than 40 Marvel/DC movies in the next 6 years - that's a lot, considering that 2014 alone had 5 superhero films - Captain America 2, Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: DoFP, GoTG, and Big Hero 6 - and a fair number of viewers felt burned out by that much exposure. We suggested that continued genre-blending tactics could keep the genre fresh - but there is another answer, and it is crossover event films.
The strength of a crossover event film is that - unlike so many other cinematic narratives - it can hit the ground running with a lot of context (the world, the characters, the general state of affairs) already established and known. With less setup required, a crossover movie can spend more time servicing the primary conflict and make more time for the larger ensemble of characters. In short: we can get to the big exciting stuff a lot quicker, and/or spend more time getting to know the characters.
Crossover event Films also further open up the possibilities for Marvel and DC to utilize their respective libraries - something I personally stated already on the SR Underground podcast. Up until now, the genre has focused on developing individual heroes - almost exclusively through solo origin films and planned trilogy arcs; however, ever since the 1990s when publisher-wide comic book crossover events really started to become an annual ritual, there's been a new valuable commodity waiting to be utilized by film studios: big crossover event storylines - the type you now find collected in their own graphic novels.
Fox got wise to such an approach by pulling from one of the most famous X-Men storylines (and graphic novels), "Days of Future Past", and using it to both regain fan interest and jump-start the stalled X-Men Movie franchise. Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tried to brand itself as a major event starter - didn't pull from a famous Spidey crossover or event storyline - and ended up getting lukewarm reception. We're not saying that adapting a famous event storyline was the sole reason X-Men: DOFP did better (obviously not) - but it is an interesting distinction.
We've said time and again that DC has no shortage of famous crossover event storylines to pull from ("Crisis", "Sinestro Corps War" "Throne of Atlantis"); on the Marvel side, "Civil War," "World War Hulk" and "Inifinity Gauntlet" have all been on fans' cinematic wish-lists for a long time. Any of them could be marketed and produced as huge superhero crossover event movies - likely inspiring more buzz than a film that just says Avengers or Justice League with some number and/or subtitle attached. Marvel's Civil War just sounds more epic than the limits of an Avengers title - and even helps to engender thoughts like our #2 item (see below).
2. Crossover Cooperation
Okay, so maybe this has a lot more to do with Marvel Studios than DC Entertainment - as the latter has all of its properties and characters safely tucked under the Warner Bros. tent. But there is room in this discussion for DC as well (more on that later). With superhero crossover event films eventually being cemented as their own brand, there will naturally come a different way of viewing and approaching those brands.
Marvel is fiercely protective and controlling of their Avengers team and solo films (it's a billion-dollar name, after all); Sony is protective of Spider-Man, and Fox of X-Men (those studios' only major superhero brands). However, outdated, defensive ways of making superhero movies could finally bend in favor of the potential returns on big crossover event films - returns that could extend far beyond the financial.
Spider-Man is the keystone character to watch. Talk of Sony lending Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or vice versa) has never ceased - even though certain powers that be maintain that Spider-Man should remain the only star of his own franchise. Well, with event crossover films, any studio's heroes can still retain individuality and separation while also still getting exposure, dividends and possible acclaim from appearing in a big ensemble blockbuster.
In comic book lore, Spidey was the figurative child of divorce in Captain America's Civil War against Iron Man; it would be a shame if a Civil War movie couldn't give fans the Web-Slinger as a central figure in the conflict. No matter the allure of seeing RDJ and Chris Evans battling it out, there is no character currently in the MCU who embodies the struggle of superhero secret identity vs. registration as well as Spider-Man. There just isn't.
Studios starting to share characters for big event crossovers like Civil War also makes sense from a business perspective. As the cast of characters and salaries for returning actors continue to grow with these universes, financing bigger and bigger blockbuster films with global reach is going to get more and more expensive; costs that no studio would likely want to shoulder alone. However, with multiple studios pitching in for production, marketing, distribution - for a project that essentially functions as a one-shot event, largely separate from the individual franchises while still promoting ALL of them - many hands could make for lighter work.
Tell the world that a Civil War movie with ALL the relevant Marvel superheroes is coming their way - The Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc. - and just see if you don't create a potential TWO billion-dollar movie event. As for DC/WB: "DC vs. Marvel" still remains a popular crossover event experiment born of the '90s - who's to say we couldn't one day see that onscreen (that two-plus billion payday)?
If superhero crossover event films prove to be the cash cows we think they can, nothing is outside the realm of po$$ibility.
1. The Setup
One may think that making the impossible happen (movie studios working together - gasp!) would be our #1 goal for this - but it's not. There is a clear problem facing the superhero genre right now, and it is indeed one of repetitiveness. We've seen so many origin stories - some of them multiple times onscreen - and even a wonderfully strange bird like Guardians of the Galaxy carried some earmarks of origin story deficiency (familiar arc, thin villain, lot's of setup, etc.).
Thanks to films like Guardians, however, movie studios now seem more confident in investing in some of their more obscure or lesser-known comic book properties. Deadpool finally got a green-light; DC's Suicide Squad looks like it's happening, while Marvel is now dipping into things like mysticism (Doctor Strange) and alien/human hybrids (Inhumans). One thing to keep in mind moving forward is that - if only as a second thought - big superhero crossover event films can also lay the foundation for new superheroes to enter cinematic universes without the usual origin story drags.
If Civil War or Infinity Gauntlet force Captain America and/or Tony Stark to recruit new Avengers to battle a threat - how many fans are going to complain? If one crossover event film gives you three new superheroes - who get to debut in the midst of some epic action and thrills - we're willing to bet that most fans would be sated enough to wait for proper introductions later.
...And if Marvel is truly planning moves like having Cap 3 be a Civil War prologue that leads into something like a full-on Avengers 3 Civil War battle - which is then quickly followed by something like an Inifinity Gauntlet or Secret War crossover event film? Well, that would just open up three opportunities for any new Avengers introduced in Captain America 3 to get in some screen time and development and really establish themselves - without need for a single origin story or solo film.
On the business side, this system is a setup for possibilities that can keep superhero movies going for a long time. Once studios have a system of one-off crossover event film contracts and legalities worked out - and hopefully some collaborative spirits - then any combination of heroes would be possible as a film concept. Spider-Man & Iron Man; Hulk vs. Wolverine; Deadpool vs. DC/Marvel - it could all conceivably be done, and it would bring people to the theaters for what is a hopefully fresh, different and well-coordinated comic book movie experience each time. In short: every single film could be an event worth seeing.
The superhero movie business has already gone through so many transitions. From the failed attempts of the '90s, to the separate (sometimes misguided) studio tentpoles of the 2000s, to the new shared universe model of today - there has been much trial and error in trying to figure out how to best utilize the deep archives of these comic book publishers.
There is so much potential for an crossover event film to break old paradigms, establish new foundations, and circulate new and old characters in and out accordingly (as crossover events often do in the comics). The limitless combinations of heroes also ensures that the genre can always offer audiences new character and/or story events worthy of blockbuster prices.
It's clear that we believe creating new Crossover Event films is a strong way to keep the superhero movie genre from drying out. But do you agree? Are there any up or downsides we didn't point out? Do you think TRUE Marvel character crossovers (like Spider-Man and The Avengers) or a DC/Marvel crossover are something that could ever happen onscreen? Sound off in the comments!