So as you might have seen yesterday, Marvel announced a shuffling of its Avengers film lineup, which has been scheduled to put geeks on life support from 2010 to 2011.
For those needing a score card, the original Marvel schedule:
IRON MAN 2 – May 7, 2010
THOR – July 16, 2010
THE FIRST AVENGER: CAPTAIN AMERICA – May 6, 2011
THE AVENGERS – July 15, 2011
And now, the revised schedule as it currently stands…
IRON MAN 2 – May 7, 2010
SPIDER-MAN 4 – May 6, 2011
THOR – June 17, 2011
THE FIRST AVENGER: CAPTAIN AMERICA – July 22, 2011
THE AVENGERS – May 4, 2012
Now you might be asking — what does that all mean? Well, I’m glad you asked, Gentle Reader! I think a major part of all this is the fact that one of Marvel Studios’ flagship franchises is not like the others: Spider-Man. While the Avengers flicks are all nestled in with Marvel Studios and Paramount, lonely Spider-Man (as always) is an outsider, as Sony will let the rights for the seminal superheroic cash cow revert only after hell freezes over.
For those of you who don’t remember, superhero movies have also seemed to dominate the summer schedules (see Lionsgate’s Christmas time Hail Mary with the Spirit if you don’t believe me). The original Spider-Man came out May 3, 2002, and Spider-Man 3 hit theaters almost five years to the day after the first film came out, on May 4, 2007. Iron Man staked out that same weekend turf a year later on May 2, 2008, utterly destroying its only competitor, Made of Honor. (Sorry about that, McDreamy.)
Well, here’s the problem. With Marvel and Paramount calling the shots for all the movies, the initial schedule seemed fine. But Sony has a little bit of leverage to mess with things: (A) Spider-Man is the biggest superhero film franchise of all time, with the trilogy totaling nearly $2.5 billion in sales worldwide, (B) the three pillars of the franchise — Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, and Kirsten Dunst — have been notoriously finicky about doing a fourth film (especially after the disappointingly-reviewed third film), and both Sony and Marvel doesn’t want to screw around with a winning formula.
So with Spider-Man now shoehorned into the schedule, Captain America has been — wait for it — put on ice until July 22, 2011. Curiouser and curiouser — isn’t Captain America a shoe-in for a July 4th opening?
There’s a reason for that, as well. His name is Harry Potter.
Now, would you rather get completely flat-tired by a movie that comes right after you, or would you like a chance to do the flat-tiring? The original schedule placed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two and Avengers on the same weekend, and this reshuffling certainly had something to do with this. I think Marvel knows that out of all its films, Captain America is the biggest gamble: by operating as a World War II-era prequel, this has few of the familiar hallmarks of a superhero film, and currently doesn’t have big names like Kenneth Branaugh attached.
Indeed, the fact that this movie is meant to be a prequel to a bigger film already shows that out of all the Avengers slate, this is the most expendable. Of course, the further you push back these summer blockbuster films, the less and less likely you’re going to strike gold — so in this case, I think Marvel is making an effort to take the bull by the horns by putting Captain America one week after Harry Potter, but still saving its nest egg for a clearer, franchise-free season. (That said, it could also get murdered the same way that Speed Racer did, coming one week after Iron Man.)
There’s another misconception here, as well — the 4th of July weekend. As I mentioned earlier, most superhero movies have actually taken the early May slot as opposed to the 4th. That said, genre films have had the largest draws when they do come out: Spider-Man 2 still holds the highest 4th of July grosses in history, and Will Smith vehicles like Independence Day and Hancock did quite well for themselves. (Terminator 2 even came out on a 4th of July weekend.) While it’s unclear what will come out that weekend, it’s obvious the studios are circling around something. Whether it’s a Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean-style franchise remains to be seen. (UPDATE: 3/17/09: Yep, I called it. Paramount just announced that the third Transformers movie is coming out on July 4th weekend 2011.)
Something else to consider, though, is the Iron Man-Dark Knight Effect. What does that mean? Iron Man was a comparatively lighter, more simplistic kind of blockbuster. It came into theaters about two months before the Dark Knight, which gave it a good eight or so weeks to clean up before getting siphoned by the Dark Knight hype. There is a strong chance that Thor — which, based on Marvel’s comments, seems to be the Next Big Thing for the Marvel movie machine — will do the same, being an underdog to Harry Potter’s obvious commercial appeal. (That said, look at split films like the Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean — the third films were panned after audience momentum plummeted with a crummy first act.) I think in this case, Marvel is trying to use Spider-Man to alley-oop with Thor before Harry Potter comes out, and then to have Captain America make a token effort to stop the beast before it gets too strong.
(Wow, fantasy novel analogies mixed with sports. I confess, I am a geek!)
So the real questions still remain: is Marvel trying to shoehorn in too much into one summer? Will the time they allot to each of these films give them a chance to shine, or will each film get run over by the one following it? Will Harry Potter pull a rabbit out of his hat and destroy his numerous genre foes? We’ll have to wait and see.