Despite a few critical misfires in the form of Suicide Squad (2016) and Iron Man 2 (2010), the past decade can surely be viewed as the golden age of comic book superheroes on the big screen. The likes of disastrous adaptations such as Catwoman (2004) and Batman & Robin (1997) have given way to rich, engaging and cohesive worlds between franchises – thanks in no small part to the ambition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whose 14 films have gone on to gross a combined $10.9 billion worldwide and receive widespread critical acclaim. Despite their longtime rival having such a comprehensive headstart, DC and distributor Warner Bros. have gone some way to close the gap between the two comic-book behemoths. the DC Extended Universe has grossed over $2.28 billion worldwide in its first three entries.
According to reports that surfaced earlier this week, DC will be looking to close in on Marvel even further as we head into the new decade, with the studio set to release four separate films based on the Batman franchise in 2019 alone. Add these to the Caped Crusader’s appearance in this year’s Justice League and rumoured cameo in the Wonder Woman movie, and the amount of screen time given to Ben Affleck’s Batman is staggering. In addition to The Batman, media reports suggest DC is also targeting 2019 as the release date for Robin-based flick Nightwing, as well as Batman spinoffs Gotham City Sirens and Batgirl.
DC Growth Not Limited to Box Office
With superheroes generating such massive revenues at the box office, it’s inevitable that toymakers and apparel manufacturers have looked to cash in on their popularity. According to Slice Intelligence, Batman is by far the most popular superhero in terms of online toys and apparel sales, accounting for almost 28% of all such sales since January 2015 – with Spiderman a distant second on 13.5%. Batman’s dominance goes a long way to explaining why DC have so many films based on the superhero in the pipeline, especially as Marvel characters make up the remaining top five.
According to the same report, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, some 60.7% of purchasers of superhero merchandise were female. Again, DC seems to have its finger on the pulse on current buyer demographics and trends; the company announced a deal this week with fashion house Her Universe to create a line of DC activewear for women, spanning T-shirts, leggings, sports bras and more. The increasing emphasis on adult themes and action in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes has also led to more and more adults purchasing expensive superhero toys; helping to boost the collectables sector by 33% in 2016, against an overall market increase of 5%.
Licensing deals signed elsewhere also suggest that DC is in a strong position heading into the 2020s. Back in February, iGaming developer Play Tech confirmed it had signed a multi-year deal with DC to develop a series of slots, bingo and roulette games based on its superhero franchises. Such games are likely to follow the example set by other licensed titles such as Betway Casino hosted slot based on hit TV franchise Game of Thrones, which uses iconography and music associated with the HBO show to supplement a 243-ways-to-win slot game. Still in gaming, video game developer WB Games Montreal is known to have at least two untitled DC Comics-based titles in production, while fighting game Injustice 2 is scheduled to launch on May 16, 2017.
The Year of Batman?
If the rumours of DC’s decision to release four Batman films in one 12-month period prove to be true, it will be a significant year in a number of ways. Originally named “the Bat-man”, the character was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger for DC in 1939 – making 2019 the franchise’s 80th anniversary. Of the quartet, the most intriguing film is most likely the Matt Reeves-helmed The Batman. Originally touted to direct the film himself, Ben Affleck exited negotiations with Warner Bros. in order to focus his attention on producing and playing the lead role, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield director Reeves confirmed as filling his place back in February. According to subsequent reports, the film’s script was greenlit by the studio, having been penned by a combination of Affleck, comic book writer Geoff Johns and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s Chris Terrio.
While the aforementioned Nightwing, directed by Chris Kay, is yet to officially cast its lead, Now You See Me’s Dave Franco has reportedly expressed a strong interest in stepping into the lead role of Dick Grayson. Batgirl, meanwhile, will be helmed by Joss Whedon – best known for penning and directing The Avengers (2012) for Marvel, which grossed a record $1.5 billion at the box office. Once again, DC and Warner Bros. will have to move quickly to cast the flick’s lead role if it is indeed earmarked for a 2019 release. Finally, Gotham City Sirens, based on the female-centric comic book series that debuted in 2009, will see Margot Robbie reprise her role as Harley Quinn; Megan Fox is reportedly being considered for Poison Ivy.
Whether or not the four films come to fruition by the turn of the decade, DC and Warner Bros. are faced with a fine balancing act: while there’s no doubt Batman remains one of the most enduring and popular superheroes of all time, could his appearance in so many movies – and spinoffs – in such a short space of time risk overexposing the franchise to moviegoers? Of course, if the quartet of movies ends up being a critical and commercial success, it could propel the DC Extended Universe onto a fast track to greatness and reignite the old debate of which comic book maker is best.