Warner Bros. may have moved its Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice away from Disney/Marvel‘s May 6, 2016, threequel Captain America 3, but the switch to March 25 was more bold strategy than tail-turning. Instead of going head to head (to head) with Cap, Warners now will open its DC superhero faceoff ahead of the summer movie crush, as director Zack Snyder’s 300 and Watchmen did in years past. It’s just the start of WB’s long-game plan to release two new superhero tentpoles per year through 2020 — following Marvel’s example of long-range flag planting and going farther than their rival’s schedule by a year. Your move, Disney.
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The mic drop is particularly strong coming off a Comic-Con where Snyder’s Batman v. Superman teaser blew away the competition and Marvel’s presence uncharacteristically floundered. WB is staking strong claim to the next six years in the blockbuster biz even before it can prove it can make a new-generation hit. Consider it a reclaiming of the comic book movie crown WB once won when it changed the superhero game with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. WB and DC now finally are taking back the momentum they lost when Marvel and upstart exec Kevin Feige seized control with 2008′s Iron Man; that reign that’s steadily continued for six years, all the way through last week’s monster opening for the once-obscure and now-beloved Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise. Now fans have nine new unnamed DC films to speculate about. So what could be up WB’s sleeve?
After winning the coveted Wonder Woman gig, Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious 6) stood side by side with the boys, Henry Cavill (Superman) and Ben Affleck (Batman), onstage at Comic-Con last month, where the first peek at her in costume garnered huge attention. Look for a stand-alone Wonder Woman pic and possibly an Aquaman film to join WB’s future rollout, as both are expected in WB’s Justice League movie penned by Argo‘s Chris Terrio. That’s in addition to a stand-alone Batfleck and another Cavill Superman pic that could appear in the pipeline. Earlier this year WB set Jack Thorne to script a Sandman movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt aboard as producer and possible star. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been teasing for eight months that he’d be starring in a DC Comics movie thought to be Shazam, while movies based on Fables and Metal Men have also been bandied about.
But don’t forget the long and drawn-out legal battle WB waged and won against the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. WB emerged victorious in April as a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the studio’s rights claim to the Superman character right before it rebooted Superman with Man Of Steel. In the interim, WB diversified its DC Comics portfolio, launching DC heroes Green Arrow and The Flash as small-screen superheroes via their TV arm — something Marvel can’t do with its superhero franchise rights divided among Disney, Fox, and Sony. WB TV also will debut the anticipated Batman prequel series Gotham this fall, further strengthening its comic book brand. And there’s also Superboy. WB emerged from court last year with the rights to the character, opening up more potential to explore a young Superman onscreen.
It all means open runway ahead for WB — but also spandex fatigue for audiences. Between Marvel and DC’s turf war, Sony’s recent Spidey jockeying, and Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot and X-Men pics, moviegoers are set to be smothered in 30 tentpole comic book movies in the next six years with nine of those titles landing in 2017. (And that’s not even including WB’s Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, slated for November 16, 2018, and another untitled non-DC Event Film reserving the November 20, 2020, slot.) Marvel’s Doctor Strange likely is gearing up for a spring 2015 shoot and could take the July 8, 2016, slot as TBA properties and Avengers and Guardians sequels, including a very possible Black Widow stand-alone, might end up filling in the gaps.
Deadline’s Brandon Choe contributed to this report.