In short- expectation management.
Comic book films have always been rock-solid box office hits and nowadays more than ever, with record breaking blockbusters like The Avengers and Iron Man 3, earning over a billion worldwide gross, placing them both at the top 5 list of highest grossing movies ever made.
And people used to think that comic books are only for a small number of geeks, when in reality they seem to be more mainstream than ever. With technology going towards huge screens, better effects and amazing 3D experiences- comic books are ideal for this medium, especially when thousands of scripts are just laying around waiting for someone to make them into a movie, and the best thing is that these films already have a fan base, before the film is even made.
It really seems like it’s hard to go wrong with these films… And the studios risk is getting lower by the day, which is good for us fans, who will probably get to enjoy hundreds of new comic book films in the years to come. But is a successful comic book film necessarily a better movie?
The obvious answer is no! Take the Iron Man films- the first film earned $585M, the second film $621M and the third film $1.2B (B for billion!). Was the third film really that better than the first? Same goes for Nolan’s Batman franchise and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, each film made more money than the next at the box office, with the third film in the series making the most.
Meaning that if a series of films are considered to be good, moviegoers are much more motivated to see the next one and it builds up. But if a bad hype surrounds a film, something else can happen.
Take the first Superman film which was released in 1978 and was considered a huge success, earning over $300M, as well as three Oscar nominations, making it the second highest grossing film that year. The second film which was released just two years after, earned $108M, the third $59M and the fourth just $15M, being one of the lowest earning comic book film ever!
The fact is that these films were the only comic book films at the time, the special effects were not great, a new film was released every two-three years (counting also the Supergirl film) and in general the expectations from these films dropped.
But look what happened just 20 years later, with Superman Returns (2006) earning $391M and Man of Steel (2012) making a record breaking high of $662M for the franchise. So what happened? These films were certainly not better than the old ones and were not really receiving a wide critical praise.
When Tim Burton left the director role of the Batman films, after just two masterful films, Warner Brothers went ahead and released Batman Forever (1995), also replacing Michael Keaton with Val Kilmer as Batman and several other changes. To say that the film was just plain bad would be an understatement, yet it still made $336M at the box office.
The same cannot be said about Batman & Robin (1997), which followed, who came at a near loss domestically, but was saved by having success internationally. The 8 year wait until the return of the Dark Knight trilogy certainly helped build up expectations and paved a solid ground for its success (of course having a great director and script helps).
Nonetheless, you still can hardly go wrong with a superhero film these days, but bad reviews, low expectations and too much exposure can certainly affect a superhero films success.
With that said The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Man of Steel: The Darkness Within, should certainly watch their backs from becoming box office flops, while Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are much more expected films that are due to have a huge success.