Time Out! Why Strike Delays Might Be Good for Ailing Superhero Movies

DC’s “Blue Beetle,” with its soft $25 million opening, is the latest superhero movie to prove that the genre isn’t the surefire box office hit it used to be. And whether or not the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are taking their toll, studios could use this time to take another look at their superhero movie strategies.

“What’s affecting superhero movies or other big IP franchises isn’t a labor stoppage,” a top agent told TheWrap. “It’s that Gen Z is now the main theatre-going demographic and they don’t care about superheroes nearly as much as Millennials and Gen X. And that’s a massive problem for Marvel/DC.”

Top-tier examples like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” are among this year’s biggest-grossing films. However, the other four out of six Marvel or DC movies released thus far this year will each take in less domestically than the $178 million earned by Angel Studios’ conservative drama “The Sound of Freedom.”

The major studios behind comic-book movies can take the strike delays as an opportunity to sort out how to continue on the other side. While Disney needs to figure out how much of its resources should go to Marvel productions, DC has to reinvent its brand under a new administration. Meanwhile, Sony needs to stay the course.

The strikes grant Disney’s MCU wish

Marvel Studios helped make Disney king of the hill. But even Disney CEO Bob Iger has suggested that comic-book fare is delivering diminishing returns. “Disney is getting some religion in terms of making fewer Marvel films and shows,” noted a top distribution executive.

During Iger’s recent CNBC interview, the CEO declared that the increase in Marvel movies and Disney+ television shows “diluted focus and attention.”

Disney told TheWrap that Anthony Mackie’s “Captain America: Brave New World” has finished principal photography. “Deadpool 3” and “Thunderbolts” paused production upon the onset of the strike while “Blade” pushed pause prior to the labor stoppage. And while “Loki” completed its second season in time for an October debut, the “Daredevil” episodic was still shooting when the pens and clapboards went down.

Disney can use strike delays to decide whether they will make fewer (and cheaper) MCU theatrical releases. The strikes may create a comparative gap between installments and an opportunity for Disney to step back and reevaluate the rollout of the MCU’s next phase.

Strike or no strike, DC takes a breather

With a gap between the last Walter Hamada-produced DC flick – “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” and the new DC reboot overseen by James Gunn and Peter Safran, the new iteration of DC has plenty of breathing room to more clearly define the next batch of films as the start of a new continuity.

With Gunn’s “Superman: Legacy”; “Joker: Folie à Deux,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga; and “The Batman Part II,” which is said to pit Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne against Clayface, all paused at various stages, DC seems mostly safe from the strikes. But, it may have bigger problems as a brand that it needs to sort out.

The earlier incarnation of DC didn’t survive the constant leadership changes (from AT&T’s Jason Kilar to Discovery’s David Zaslav) and the 180-degree corporate mandates (from going all-in on HBO Max with “Project Popcorn” to prioritizing theatrical and shelving “Batgirl”) that partially stemmed from figuring out how to maneuver a global pandemic. This new iteration should be at least able to wait out this latest industry-wide turnabout.

“The last several DC regimes were always reactionary versus understanding the actual market and audience,” a DC insider told TheWrap. “The sequels to ‘Joker’ and ‘The Batman’ [both Elseworlds] will carry them until the Gunn-created reboot launches. But honestly, if ‘Superman Legacy’ doesn’t work, their shared universe concept is truly dead.”

However, with “Barbie” setting new box office milestones, Warner Bros. Discovery can afford to not treat DC Studios as the franchise that keeps the studio afloat and really take the time to redefine its brand.

Sony sits and waits out the strikes

“Sony treats itself like an independent in the comic book movie world,” noted the distribution executive. “They have fewer constraints due to not having their own first-party streaming platform.”

Aaron Taylor Johnson’s R-rated “Kraven the Hunter” is, thus far, the only clear-cut strike casualty. The film moved from its early October 2023 date to Labor Day weekend 2024. Sony was upfront about wanting its top-billed star to be working the publicity train. No other major Sony-produced Marvel movies are in play.

As the distribution executive further explained, Sony’s films – save for Spider-Man-centric movies – don’t have the same expectations of success as their comic book movie-producing rivals. No one expects movies based on B or C-level characters “Kraven the Hunter” to perform like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” or “The Batman.” Presuming the likes of “Bad Boys 4,” the next “Karate Kid” movie and the next “Ghostbusters” all perform as hoped, “Kraven the Hunter” will not be the arbiter of Sony’s fate.

The strike played a role in the delay of “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” with voice actors currently unable to participate. However, considering the sheer amount of work needed to finish the animated trilogy capper, a delay was not remotely surprising.

Insiders confirmed that “Madame Web” – starring Dakota Johnson, Emma Roberts, Isabela Merced, Sydney Sweeney and Adam Scott – is still set to open this coming Valentine’s Day. Ditto Kelly Marcel’s “Venom 3.” The threequel began production this past June but stopped amid the strikes in mid-July. Nonetheless, the Tom Hardy-starring vehicle recently got a “business as usual” July 12, 2024 release date.

The end of superhero domination or just overall franchise fatigue?

“The genre itself is running its own trajectory,” stated the distribution executive. “There is concern about so-called superhero fatigue, but each film will likely live or die on its own commercial merits.”

The consensus is that the ongoing sea change — whereby some comic book superhero movies become big hits, but the likes of “Barbie” or “Top Gun: Maverick” dominate the zeitgeist — is real. And it has the ability to truly take the superhero sub-genre down a peg, strike or no strike.

One insider noted that classic franchises like “Indiana Jones” and “Mission Impossible” all underperformed. “It’s clear the audiences want new franchises like ‘Barbie’ or ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ or a new twist on existing franchises like ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ and ‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem.'”

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