Are we headed for multiple superhero movie universes?

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5 2013 8:15 p.m. MDT

Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-man." (Columbia Pictures)

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.

"Marvel's The Avengers" Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans). (Marvel)

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.


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.

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in a scene from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in a scene from "Iron Man 3." (Marvel)

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.

Henry Cavill as Superman in Henry Cavill as Superman in "Man of Steel." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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.


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.

“What you’ve got to do is be smart about it," Millar told Collider. "You’ve got to grow things organically. We’re not talking crossovers and that sort of stuff yet. I mean the idea is to build everything up quietly, in its own way, and bring in the best possible talent.

"Marvel sold the X-Men franchise off to Fox back in the ’90s when they needed the cash, but you have to remember that (the X-Men) were the crown jewels. The reason they got snapped up is because they were Marvel’s biggest-selling book for 20 years, so you’re sitting on a gold mine there. We’re all taking about — very vaguely — lots of possibilities, but I think there’s a good five to 10 potential golden franchises there, you know.”

And the first of those new franchises is almost guaranteed to be “X-Force.” News broke a couple months back that director Jeff Wadlow had been hired to write and direct a film based on the ‘90s comic book that introduced fan-favorite characters like Deadpool and Cable.

Whatever Fox has up its sleeve, though, a lot of it will likely hinge on the success of next summer’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which many have theorized could serve as a reset button for the entire universe, thanks to a plot involving time travel and parallel realities.


Not to be left out, Sony has its own plans in the works using another Marvel comic book property, namely Spider-Man.

Fans have long speculated that Sony’s upcoming sequel to last year’s Spider-Man reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” might lay the groundwork to eventually see ol’ Webhead face off against the Sinister Six — basically, the Avengers of supervillains.

However, speaking to Crave Online at this summer’s Comic-Con, director Marc Webb dropped a huge hint that there could be something even bigger in the works.

"(‘The Amazing Spider-Man’) was conceived of as a trilogy, so there was a defined architecture to the story we were telling and we had sort of a rough outline of what was going to happen," Webb told Crave. "I think (for) the fourth movie, what we've discovered is there are so many ancillary characters that have enormous, cinematic potential that there may be other ways to exploit those characters in a way that is exciting and fun and worthwhile.

"It might not just be a Spider-Man movie," Webb went on. "You know, what was fun about the comics is that there's an entire sort of encyclopedia of characters and stories and histories and nuances and idiosyncrasies and offshoots. I think that that is something that seems to be really successful and has a lot of potential so it's sort of, as yet, undefined, but intentionally so."

Of those ancillary characters, Venom — the character played by an unfortunately miscast Topher Grace in “Spider-Man 3” — is an obvious choice to help expand the scope of Webb’s Spidey films. A solo feature starring the alien symbiote has been rumored for a while, including most recently with “Chronicle” director Josh Trank supposedly attached, according to Indie Wire.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 4” isn’t slated for release until 2018, though, so don’t expect any big announcements for a while.

DC/Warner Bros.

After several false starts, it looks like DC might finally have a roadmap to its own cinematic universe thanks to “Man of Steel.”

The destruction-filled Superman reboot made just shy of $650 million this summer — more than enough for Warner Bros. to get things moving on the long-in-development Justice League movie.

And the first step is 2015’s Superman/Batman mashup starring Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader.

Affleck’s casting was a huge surprise when it was announced a few weeks ago, but from Warner Bros.’ perspective, it makes perfect sense. The Academy Award-winning director was actually approached by Christopher Nolan to take the reins as director on “Man of Steel” back in 2010, but he declined, according to Collider.

Affleck’s name also came up when Warner Bros. wanted to move ahead on a Will Beall-scripted “Justice League” with plans to have it in theaters by 2015, according to screenrant.com.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, his involvement in the “Man of Steel” sequel could end up with him finally taking the director’s chair for “Justice League,” which will see Batman and Superman joined by other DC heavyweights like Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Aquaman.

If rumors are to be believed, Warner Bros. is aiming for a 2017 release date with a possible Flash movie possibly hitting in 2016.

But “Justice League” isn’t the only DC teamup that might make it to the big screen. “Pacific Rim” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro is currently at work on a project called “Dark Universe” that would unite many of DC’s supernatural characters, including Swamp Thing, Etrigan the Demon and John Constantine (the same one from the Keanu Reeves movie) for a horror-tinged version of something like “The Avengers.”

When asked by MTV whether that movie would share continuity with “Man of Steel,” del Toro said, “I would love to see the DC Universe become as cohesive as the Marvel filmic universe. So if there’s any correlation, I will honor it.”

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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