Are we headed for multiple superhero movie universes?

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5 2013 8:20 p.m. MDT

Judging by this year’s end-of-summer box-office numbers, moviegoers are still pretty excited about superhero movies.

According to figures provided by boxofficemojo.com (and compiled into a handy infographic online at movies.com), films based on comic books accounted for 23 percent of the season’s total domestic box office. Worldwide, Tony Stark alone managed to rake in more than $1.2 billion.

And it’s a good thing people aren’t growing tired of superpowers and secret identities, because if everything pans out, this could still be the beginning of a much larger phenomenon.

In the next few years, moviegoers could have four distinct superhero universes all going on at the same time and each one composed of multiple mega-budget franchises. Here’s a rundown of what studios have in the pipeline.

Marvel

This summer, “Iron Man 3” kicked off phase two of the Marvel cinematic universe. In a lot of ways, Shane Black’s unconventional take on the Armored Avenger probably serves as a decent indication of what to anticipate from the House of Ideas during the next stretch — divisive, twisty, subversive, character-driven flicks that upset the superhero movie formula.

In other words, don’t expect the “Captain America” and “Thor” sequels to feel like retreads of the first installments.

But what about phase three? Never one to rest on its laurels, Marvel is already looking to expand the scope of the universe it’s established by introducing new stand-alone characters.

One of them will be Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man,” slated for release in 2015.

Based on comments made by everyone from Stan Lee via comicbookmovie.com to Marvel’s president of production Kevin Feige via Entertainment Weekly, phase three also looks poised to delve into the magical side of the Marvel universe in the form of Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme.

Other rumored candidates for phase three, according to Entertainment Weekly, include Black Panther, Luke Cage, the Inhumans or even one of several properties whose rights recently reverted back to the studio — Daredevil, the Punisher, Ghost Rider or Blade.

But that’s not all. Marvel is also getting into television with this fall’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” premiering on ABC. If that proves successful, it’s not impossible to imagine lesser-known properties like “The Runaways” getting the TV treatment, as well.

Speaking with Moviefone, Feige summarized the philosophy that has allowed Marvel to be successful through phase two: “Play the long game, stick with what you believe in, and when there is a fork in the road and one (path) seems safer and maybe a little boring, and one seems risky and harder, we always go the risky and harder way.”

That definitely seems to apply to their upcoming plans. Just look at the profoundly weird “Guardians of the Galaxy” for proof.

Fox

In many ways, Fox is responsible for the current superhero movie craze. Before Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” in 2000, comic book movies meant offerings like “Batman and Robin” and “Judge Dredd.”

Thirteen years later, the studio is hoping to build its own cohesive superhero universe á la Marvel using characters pulled from the X-Men comics.

In a video interview with Collider from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Scottish writer Mark Millar (“Wanted,” “Kick-A--”), who was brought in to act as a creative consultant on all of Fox’s upcoming superhero movies, spoke about the studio’s long-term plans.

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