Welcome to 2015, everyone. This is the last year that multiplexes around the world will not be completely inundated with comic book movies. The slate for this year includes only the meager offerings of Kingsman, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot.
But get ready, everyone. This ride is about to get crazy.
The next five years will see no fewer than twenty-seven comic book movies, at an average of just under eight per year. That doesn’t even include the projects which haven’t been given official release dates. The folks over at Comics Alliance put together a handy guide, which I’ve included for your convenience and awestruck amazement.
Now, before you start waving your American flags and chanting “USA! USA!”, there’s something you should know.
The American movie market matters less and less every year, and it’s been going on for a while. Last year the BBC published a piece exploring the larger effect of international film markets on Hollywood-produced content, even mentioning the inclusion of additional Chinese-focused subplots in Marvel’s Iron Man 3.
The signs have been there since the beginning of the modern superhero revolution and, on a deeper analysis, go back even further than that.
The first major international hit among comic book movies was the granddaddy of them all: Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie. The film’s foreign gross of $601,252,000 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) places it fifth all-time, behind The Avengers, Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, when one examines the numbers over time, Warner Brothers shows that they were ahead of their time, effectively drawing over half of their super-hero revenue from international markets since the outset. There are, of course, a couple of notable exceptions. None of the Superman sequels received an international release, and neither did the 1984 Supergirl fiasco (the single biggest loser among comic book films when adjusted for inflation at a staggering $47 million) or 1997’s Steel. I suppose international audiences were leery of the Shaquille “He Of Infinite Nicknames” O’Neil as a franchise superstar off of the basketball court. Those same audiences wisely avoided DC/WB’s ill-fated Jonah Hex, bringing in only $385 thousand. On the flip side, global reach was the only reason that the Keanu Reeves-led Constantine didn’t lose money, delivering more than twice the domestic gross at $187.2 million.
Where the trend truly becomes undeniable is with the modern comic book movies revolution, beginning with New Line’s 1998 breakout Blade. Despite declining domestic numbers, the franchise maintained solid numbers overseas, eventually deriving almost 60% of its revenue from international markets.
The lessons of this franchise were not lost on Hollywood’s other major players. Between Sony and Fox, the international box office made keeping comic book movies flowing in the pre-MCU world a financial viability. The Spider-Man franchise, despite flagging domestic interest, has remained incredibly popular overseas. In fact, the much-derided third installment of Sam Raimi’s trilogy is Sony’s highest-performing super-hero film to date and almost 70% of the revenue for X-Men: Days of Future Past came from the wider cinematic world.
When you examine the complete history of comic book movies around the globe, one thing becomes undeniably clear: that’s where the future is. The percentage of revenue which Hollywood derives from international markets continues to climb, year after year. With the world growing flatter, as economists say, the dominance of theaters from sea to shining sea will continue to wane in favor of a market on which the sun never fully sets.
Curiously, the studio least tied to international success is Marvel. While their films have certainly performed well overseas, the last several comic book movies from the House of Mouse have actually seen international box office revenue decline as an overall share of the take.
So, what does this mean for comic book movies themselves? The most obvious upshot is that they will keep on coming. While one market may feel inundated, the international market is much harder to exhaust. It may mean more regionally specific sub-plots. It may also mean a move towards characters who may lack domestic appeal, but have greater appeal abroad. It is why Sony is ferociously holding on to Spider-Man, and why Fox will almost certainly never relinquish control of the X-Men. The wild-card is Marvel. Will they change up their formula in an attempt to recapture some of the international audience or will they be satisfied with a more Amero-centric approach to comic book movies?
Time will tell, but one thing is certain: the cash register will keep ringing and the age of the super hero flick is far from over.