The hottest topic in the film business surrounds the business's hottest genre - the Superhero Movie. What has become the surefire Summer Blockbuster formula - masked action stars battling destructive special effects - has also sparked radical debate and taking of sides among even casual film-goers. The rivalry between comic publishers DC and Marvel has existed since the middle of the last century and doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. But now its bled over into a bigger, more popular and business-oriented medium in Hollywood filmmaking. Fans can argue over preference and differing quality forever but its really pointless. The bickering is only gaining interests for these films and their pulpy source material. But there's something bigger here than Hulk vs Superman or Batman vs Iron Man. Something way more historic and important to filmgoers.
This rivalry between Marvel and DC is simply a smaller dispute between the two largest film studios in the world - Warner Bros. and The Walt Disney Company. The two most dominant media companies in Hollywood are having a battle right now to decide the direction of Hollywood for the next decade. And the weapons are franchises. Popular film franchises have become the major marketing tool in the movie business in the last 15 years, thanks in part to the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings sagas.
After the unprecedented success of films based on a children's books and audience's sudden acceptance of endless sequels, every studio started looking for the next fantasy film franchise phenomenon. Franchises came back with darker yet cartoonier vengeance. Young adult books (Twilight, The Hunger Games), Adult books (James Bond, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Jack Ryan) 80s slasher films (Halloween, Friday the 13th), new horror franchises (Saw, Final Destination, Paranormal Activity, James Wan movies) 80s action cartoons (Transformers, GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and of course magical family films (Night at the Museum, The Hobbit) all found gold. But Hollywood found its "next big thing" in the success of the Batman Begins and its campier clone Iron Man. Echoing their rivalry in colored pages, DC and Marvel were now trading blows on big screens. And it hasn't stopped. We're now about to get these two superstar superheroes accompanied by 10 or 20 of their costumed buddies. But the enthusiasm seems to be waning.
Some blame the decline in quality, but there must be severe burnout on such an exhausted and aging trend. Marvel has relaunched itself, since Bob Iger became CEO, as a home of interwoven franchises who can populate their theme parks and office trinkets: the newly bought Star Wars and Marvel universes colliding with their stable of classic cartoon characters and Pixar creations. Warner Bros has an equally impressive stable of franchises in DC comics, Mad Max, Harry Potter, Peanuts, Lego, a host of Cartoon Network characters like Scooby Doo, as well as their long list of classic films.
Neither side can beat the other. And they don't seem to be fighting for the same viewership anyway. WB has always catered to the more mature crowd, with its darker themes and testing the censors. Meanwhile, Marvel is more geared to family entertainment than ever, having gotten rid of their adult film studios Dimension and Miramax, while cutting back in production for their Touchstone Pictures. WB and Disney are two separate brands not competing for any shared prize outside of money. And there's plenty of money for both to make without attacking one another. But my concern is how the dominance of these two studios and their committed strategies will effect filmgoers and the other major studios. Filmgoers are growing more vocal about their boredom with rebooted franchises and desire for more original and more realistic films. But how can other studios give them anything new when they must compete with Warner and Disney?
Shockingly, these studios have more franchises than Warner and Disney combined and we may get more of the same, before we get anything new. Paramount owns GI Joe, World War Z, Paranormal Activity, TMNT, Mission: Impossible, Transformers, Star Trek, Friday the 13th, Spongebob, Jackass, Indiana Jones and helped usher in this new Hollywood climate with the original Marvel Universe films like Iron Man. 20th Century Fox is the original franchise machine, the parent of the original 2 Star Wars trilogies, Planet of the Apes, X-Men, Independence Day, Power Rangers (bought back from Disney!), Alien, Predator, Die Hard, Taken and probably more. Don't count out Universal who've shattered records with Jaws, Jurassic Park, Despicable Me, Fast & Furious, King Kong, Ted, the Bourne films, The Purge, The Mummy, Riddick and have kept franchises alive since the original Universal Monsters franchise (the prototype for Marvel's Universe). I'm going to cheer you up and/or depress you by mentioning MGM who keep James Bond, Rocky, Poltergeist, Robocop, Jump Street, Hannibal and The Pink Panther on eternal life support. Franchises are here to stay. And none of these studios are going anywhere. And until people stop going to these movies, they will keep resurrecting familiar titles.
So now I propose that if you want new movies, GO AND SEE THE ORIGINAL MOVIES! You can go and watch the new Star Wars, but don't wait for Bridge of Spies or Sicario to hit Netflix before you check them out. At least to compare them to your Suicide Squad movie. Because if you only care about big name, big budget movies aimed at anyone who will buy a ticket, you're missing out on a vast world of movies that were made to be special and unique and truly new.