Saturday, April 12, 2014

Now 2016 is Getting Crowded

2015 was billed as the year that we were going to be overloaded with major event movies. Summer was going to be a showdown between some of the biggest names in blockbusters, including a potential "Avengers 2" face-off with "Batman vs. Superman." In a post I wrote up a year ago, I listed over two dozen major titles expected to debut in 2015, but also noted that we were probably going to see many of these projects delayed or cancelled. I was right. 2015 is still going to have a lot of big movies from big franchises, including "Fast & Furious 7," "Avengers 2" plus Marvel Universe film "Ant-Man," two PIXAR movies, a James Bond movie, "Jurassic World," "Terminator 5," "Bourne 5," "Mission Impossible 5," the last "Hunger Games" movie, and of course "Star Wars: Episode VII," but a lot of the biggest potential moneymakers have been pushed back to 2016. And now the 2016 schedule is starting to look crazy.

May and June are battlefields already. May 6th has "Batman vs. Superman" pitted against "Captain America 3," which is suddenly looking like a much more even match-up since "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" has cleaned up at the box office and received sterling critical notices to boot. Memorial Day pits "Alice Through the Looking Glass" against "X-Men: Apocalypse." Two weeks after that comes "The Amazing Spider-Man 3." And then a week later, "Finding Dory" is somehow scheduled to open on the same day as "How to Train Your Dragon 3." Later in the season comes "Independence Day 2," "Ice Age 5," "Planet of the Apes 3," and another Marvel universe movie that we don't have the details for yet. Not on the schedule yet but certainly still in play are "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" and "Avatar 2." As usual, we must provide the caveats that many of these projects are going to shift dates or be delayed, and there's no way that the three showdowns I've listed won't result in some of these movies getting bumped a few weeks earlier or later.

Still, we're looking at another packed year in the making. It's scary to think of it, but the overstuffed 2015 roster may have been the start of a trend. With the exception of that last "Hunger Games" movie, all those titles I listed for 2015 will spawn sequels if they do well enough, and the studios have every expectation that they will. Four of the movies jockeying for prime release dates in 2016 are direct sequels to films that are coming out in the next few months of 2014. That means that we can expect sequels to most of those 2015 films coming in 2017 and 2018. Considering how much they've invested, Disney will be pressing on with more "Star Wars" movies no matter what the response to the first one is. And we can expect more Marvel movies on the way, at the rate of at least two per year. And two to three animated Dreamworks movies. And the goal is three yearly releases from PIXAR and Disney Animation combined. And remember that WB, Sony, and Fox want their own comics-based movie franchises following the Marvel model, built around the DC, "Spider-man" and "X-men" universes.

Can anything stop the inundation? Well, yes. The studios keep making more and more big films because there is the demand for them, but we're reaching a point where the market may not be able to sustain them all. The disastrous "implosion" of the film industry predicted by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas last year hasn't come about, but too many crowded movie seasons like 2015 and the summer of 2016 certainly appear to be setting the stage for it. Eventually we are going to reach a point where making so many movies this way becomes unfeasible. Some big, expensive projects are going to go down hard, and create losses too big to be absorbed. Disney's more notorious misses like "Lone Ranger" and "John Carter" are made up for by their profits from hits like "Avengers" and "Frozen," but the prediction is that one of these days, one of the major studios will have one bomb too many, and get wiped out.

And honestly, that may not be such a bad thing. The current practice of dragging some of these franchises on to fourth and fifth installments and beyond, rebooting old properties that should have stayed dormant, and pumping out way too many gargantuan movies based on little more than good branding is far too prevalent. If audiences keep shrinking the way that they have, and the release calendar gets more and more crowded every year, diminishing returns are inevitable. Until that happens, though, moviegoers are in for some wild times as event movies go bigger and bigger, and the studios pit them against each other in increasingly high stakes matches. Here's to the upcoming battle for the summer of 2016.

May the best movie win.

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