Bibbsitorial: Batman vs. Superman vs. Captain America in 2016
You may have heard that Batman vs. Superman and Captain America 3 will open on the exact same weekend in 2016. Specifically May 6, 2016. You may even be worried about it for some reason, although I can't imagine why.
With neither Marvel nor Warner Bros. willing to back down at this point, despite a representative for Warner Bros. saying that it "doesn't make sense," audiences, fans, pundits and industry professionals are expressing concern about what it will all mean. They seem to be worried that one franchise will thoroughly trounce the other. Perhaps the novelty Warner Bros.' the first live-action superhero team-up will squash Marvel Studios' thus far nearly perfect box office record. Perhaps the juggernaut of good will for Captain America will undermine Warner Bros.' long-awaited foray into a continuity-driven multi-superhero movie franchise.
Or perhaps… and just stick with me on this, because I'm going way out on a limb… perhaps audiences will actually just pay to see both movies.
Why wouldn't they? When we were all children, the feud between Marvel and DC fanpersons was voracious and inescapable. But people who didn't define themselves as fan-[insert gender-specific descriptor here] couldn't care less. As much as geeks like to lay claim to these movies as their own, if only geeks went to see them then they wouldn't be breaking box office records. Casual interest in superheroes is at an all-time high. And the biggest choice these casual fans have isn't going to be which movie to see, it's going to be which movie to see first.
That's a minor issue, but it worries some people. They are going to have to make the horrible, perilous choice about which film they are going to see at midnight on May 5, and which film they are going to see later that weekend. Or, if the release pattern of major studio blockbusters continues unabated, which film to see at 8pm on May 5, and which film to see at midnight immediately afterwards. If the latter, then again, it's basically a moot point.
Assuming neither studio blinks – and I'd be surprised if we get all the way to 2016 without some sort of shuffle, but let's suppose that it doesn't happen – we are potentially looking at the biggest opening weekend in the history of the film industry. That's a win. Granted, the release of two prominent films with the same essential target demographic on the weekend is bound to eat into repeat ticket sales for each individual movie, but the theaters are going to sell out anyway. It's not like no one cares about Batman vs. Superman just because Captain America 3 is out, or vice versa.
But… let's suppose that they do. Let's suppose that Captain America 3 kicks Batman vs. Superman's financial ass. Warner Bros. will have learned a valuable lesson. Survival of the fittest. They should have been working on developing a competitive product to oppose the Marvel juggernaut for nearly a decade, and they didn't. They slow-walked the development process – perhaps for good reason, but at this point it's neither here nor there from a functional perspective – and then they got cocky with the release of a movie based on a marketing ploy, not a history of quality content that fans know they can rely on. If Batman vs. Superman loses, it's their fault. That might suck if the movie is actually really good and warrants further sequels, but it wouldn't be the first time that happened, and life went on.
And if Marvel Studios didn't top the box office on the opening weekend of Captain America 3, would that really be so bad? It's not like the movie is likely to tank. You can't stay at the top of the heap forever. It's only a matter of time before Marvel loses a little steam or – god forbid – releases a genuinely bad movie. Hopefully that will be a very, very, very long time from now, of course, and there's no particular reason to suspect that Captain America 3 will be bad, but if it doesn't top the box office and yet still makes an enormous profit, who cares? At the very least, why should audiences care, if they're still getting more of these movies anyway?
And if Batman vs. Superman absolutely kills Captain America 3, that would stink, but Marvel Studios is in a great place right now financially and critically. They can weather a single disappointment. But again, there's no reason to think that either film is going to bomb just because it's up against another blockbuster. Blockbusters open right next to each other all the time every single summer, and most of them make money. Besides, the opening weekend only matters to the film industry itself. What matters in the long run is whether the movies are good, whether they find an audience, and whether they withstand the test of time. That's entirely dependent on how good Batman vs. Superman and Captain America 3 turn out to be, not which weekend they open on.
A little bit of history: Ghostbusters and Gremlins, two of the biggest box office hits of 1984, two films that each became important pop culture touchstones, both opened on June 8, 1984. Ghostbusters made more money opening weekend, but only by a million dollars. Was either film really harmed in the long run?
A different little bit of history: Blade Runner and The Thing, two box office disappointments from 1982, two films that nevertheless became important pop culture touchstones, both opened June 25, 1984. Blade Runner made more money opening weekend, but in the long run – as far as audiences are concerned – neither film was hindered in the long run from being influential, groundbreaking and highly satisfying motion pictures that continue to inspire us today.
So in short, calm down. Two big films opening on the same weekend may seem like a risky venture, and perhaps it is, but if it does come to pass we will survive. We will see both movies and, if they are good, we can cherish them both forever. Regardless of who actually "wins" the weekend, audiences win in the end. Isn't that all that matters?