With the release of [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) this August, this new superhero movie will be the tenth feature film from Marvel Studios in six years! Ever since the release of Iron Man in 2008, general audiences come flocking to their local movie theater to plunk down their hard-earned money to watch the latest and greatest Marvel Entertainment has to offer. By combining these movies into one shared cinematic universe, Marvel has effectively made film franchises from the individual superheroes such as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, and The Avengers, overall. However, ten movies over six years is a lot to ask for audiences to keep returning to movie theaters again and again, and at some point the bottom is going to drop and the Marvel brand will experience franchise fatigue.
What is franchise fatigue, you ask? Franchise fatigue is when general audiences start to find a once popular movie series getting stale with every new sequel. The best example of franchise fatigue is the release of Batman & Robin in 1996. When the Batman film franchise started in 1989 with Tim Burton’s iteration of the Caped Crusader, the property was hot and popular, as Warner Bros started working on its sequel for 1992. Batman Returns was even more popular with general audiences and fans, as Warner Bros started to plan for Batman Forever with Val Kilmer as Batman and Joel Schumacher in the director’s chair. Despite the change in direction, Batman Forever actually grossed more than Batman Returns. However, once Batman & Robin hit theaters in 1996, franchise fatigue already set in. Critics and audiences hated the new entry and the Batman franchise was on the verge of going away forever. That was until Warner Bros took another chance with Batman and director Christopher Nolan for Batman Begins in 2005. Nine years later, audiences forgot about Batman & Robin, as Nolan gave moviegoers The Dark Knight trilogy.
All popular franchise film series go through franchise fatigue. Star Trek saw a decline with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. James Bond started going downhill in the '80s with Timothy Dalton’s entry in the franchise with The Living Daylights and License To Kill. X-Men saw a decline with X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s only a matter of time before audiences get sick of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to box office analyst David Mumpower, who tells io9.com:
"Consumers are tricky in this regard because they vote with their wallets, and those votes overwhelmingly indicate that comfortable concepts are their favorites. Still yet, they expect originality within the sameness."
But as you can see, the franchises listed above are still thriving today and that’s because of Hollywood’s time honored tradition: the reboot. In 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, Daniel Craig took up the mantle for James Bond with Casino Royale in 2006, and X-Men: First Class saw a new spin on beloved comic book characters such as Professor Xavier and Magneto in 2011. Not to mention the return of the Planet of the Apes film franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011. [The Avengers](movie:9040) franchise is a long way from a reboot, but it’s something to consider for its future.
The reboot can, in fact, re-invigorate a dying film franchise, but it’s not the end-all cure for franchise fatigue. Sony rebooted the Spider-Man franchise in 2012 with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and director Marc Webb at the helm. The Amazing Spider-Man met middling reviews only five years after Sam Raimi delivered the most popular Spider-Man movie to date with Spider-Man 3. In fact, the two reboot films have yet to find the same kind of success domestically as its original counterpart. [The Amazing Spider-Man](movie:45497) shows that even a rebooted film franchise isn’t a sure thing.
Now with the thesis for this article: when will Marvel Studios experience franchise fatigue? Who knows, possibly after the release of [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035) in 2015. While The Avengers sequel is likely a surefire hit like its predecessor, the films following afterwards are big question marks around the franchise. [Ant-Man](movie:9048) is due in theaters two months after Age of Ultron in July 2015, but with director Edgar Wright exiting the project, Marvel’s almighty armor just might have been chipped with the unexpected news! If Marvel decides to take another chance on an unknown character like [Doctor Strange](movie:559685) and [Black Panther](movie:9047), then that might contribute to franchise fatigue as well. It could also keep the franchise fresh and interesting for audiences. Once again, it's a crap shoot!
The true test for Marvel’s hold on the general public will come if and when the comic book movie studio decides to re-cast their popular superheroes like Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark. Chris Evans has already expressed an interest to stop playing the character once his first contract with Marvel is fulfilled, while Robert Downey, Jr. has already re-negotiated his deal with Marvel, but for only two more appearances as the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist slash superhero. Ten movies over the course of six years is a lot for anyone, so if Marvel isn’t careful with their brand, audiences might just get sick of Marvel movies sooner than later.
For more on franchise fatigue, read Charlie Jane Anders wonderful article on io9.com.