Like many of you, I jumped head-first into the superhero movie craze that started with Iron Man back in 2008. And, like many of you, I’m starting to feel the terminal stages of fatigue and apathy after a full decade of constant movie releases. But the studio powers-that-be can still get this cash cow to produce milk. So it looks like we’re stuck with several releases a year until the entire superhero genre collapses in on itself like a dying star. But it’s not just films of our favorite comic book characters that are in danger of burning out.
If they’re not careful, they’re going to take the entire main-stream movie industry down with them.
Hollywood studios have painted themselves into a corner. With each new production, a bigger and bigger budget comes along with it. Way back in 2008, the first Iron Man cost a scant $140 million to make, and earned Marvel $318 million here in the States. They had a hit on their hands and they were just getting started. But Thor: Ragnarok, which came out last year, had a production budget of $180 million and only made $313 million domestically. The first Avengers cost $220 million to make, and raked in $623 million; fast forward to Avengers: Age Of Ultron which cost $250 million and only grossed $459 million. The spectacle costs more and more each time, but the return keeps getting smaller.
You may not see the problem here. “So, they’ll just stop making comic book movies. They’ll find something else,” you find yourself saying to nobody in particular. Well, that’s not entirely true, dear reader. See, these gigantic movies are what’s known as ‘tent pole’ movies. Theoretically, they’re supposed to make enough money to cover other, less lucrative films’ budgets. But with their profit margins getting smaller, it’s harder and harder to pay for the other flops on the slate. Especially when the budgets for those flops, like Baywatch or Ghost In The Shell, are in the $100 million range as well.
And that’s from studios that make consistently good movies.
Warner Brothers and DC struck some gold with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. But their more recent fare has been critically and financially disastrous. Their latest film, Justice League, didn’t even recoup the production cost, let-alone cover the advertisement and distribution costs to break even. See, that’s the thing: the general rule for a movie is that it has to make twice its production cost to just break even, given all of the money it takes outside of the production budget to get people interested in your movie and to see it.
Wonder Woman was a surprise hit for DC and brought in over $400 million (B.T. Dubs, that movie rocked my proverbial socks off). But that’s barely a band-aid for a company that is straight-up hemorrhaging money. Now, if there is one thing you should remember from that economics class you mostly slept through, it’s this: businesses that spend WAAAYY more than they’re bringing in, generally don’t stay in business long.
Now, to be fair, the international film market is a rapidly growing one. Big studios have managed to stay afloat by still putting butts in seats abroad. That’s why were on Transformers 13: How Optimus Got His Groove Back. But with a growing market comes new and stronger competitors. Competitors like China that are going to be looking for ways to take a chunk out of your profit margins. And with our own film industry perched precariously atop a very burstable bubble, Hollywood might just lose its stranglehold on the world’s silver screens, and most of their revenue as well.