Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Warner Bros.’ only hope to compete with Marvel Studios in the realm of big budget blockbuster superhero flicks!
Variety recently published an article which profiles Jeff Rubinov, the president of the Warner Bros. picture group. Ostensibly it’s a detailed examination of the hurdles Rubinov faces as head of such a major studio, but for our purposes the important bits all center on Warner Bros.’ burgeoning slate of films based on properties and characters initially created by DC Comics. Though WB recently struck gold with Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films, the studio has long had trouble in trying to exploit its access to DC’s characters. That could change in the near future, as Warner Bros. is now swiping cues directly from the wildly successful Marvel Studios. To counter Marvel’s The Avengers – a film which has pulled in more than $1.51 billion since its debut last summer – Warner Bros. hopes to release a superhero team film of its own based on DC’s Justice League, but before it can realize those plans there’s one major hurdle to jump over.
Fortunately, Warner Bros. happens to know a guy capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
Superman, the world’s most famous superhero has seen the silver screen treatment a number of times, not to mention plenty of TV outings, yet never before has so much pressure been laid on the Kryptonian’s shoulders. If the upcoming Man of Steel (slated for release on June 14) doesn’t perform as well as Warner Bros.’ executives are hoping, the Justice League movie may never get off the ground. Burned by the abysmal Green Lantern staring Ryan Reynolds, and with a looming budget for the Justice League film in the hundreds of millions, not to mention the dozens of DC properties ripe for big screen success if it all works out, WB is being cautious. Before moving ahead, WB will want to see solid results from Man of Steel. And not just good numbers, but great.
Well that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, you may think to yourself smugly. After all, this is Superman we’re talking about. He’s invincible, endlessly strong, and people the world over know him as the face of superheroes. Superman is a very popular hero. However, his box office track record is less than golden. 2006’s Superman Returns was widely slammed by critics, and while it earned a respectable $391 million worldwide, that’s barely more than a drop in the bucket compared to the blockbuster comic book films coming from Marvel Studios. X-Men: First Class, by contrast, featured characters that were largely unknown to the average person and nowhere near the promotional budget of Superman Returns, yet critics loved it and the film has accrued over $353 million since its debut last year. Given that it was filmed on a $160 million budget (compared to the $270 million spent on Superman Returns), you can see why the WB would want to ape Marvel Studios.
So it all comes down to director Zack Snyder, whose last three films – the adaption of the classic comic series Watchmen, the animated Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and Sucker Punch, which Snyder co-wrote, produced, and directed- were all only slightly profitable, and all three received mixed to negative reviews. And now the future of the DC universe is in his hands. At least for the next few years until someone at WB decides to try again with another reboot.