Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Future of The Amazing Spider Man Series

Where is the Spider Man franchise heading?

The Spider-Man franchise has gone a long way from its successful debut in 2002 with actors Tobey
Macquire and Kristen Dunst. It scored some of the biggest records at the time of its release, notably the first film to gross more than $100 million on its opening weekend. It garnered a similar success with its sequel, but things started to fall apart and Spider Man 3 wasn’t that lucky. Following some complications in pre-production and “conflicting schedules,” the Sam Raimi franchise lost its steam and was finally shelved.

In 2012, 5 years after Spider Man 3’s underwhelming release, Sony rebooted the franchise with The Amazing Spider Man (TASM) with director Marc Webb. Audience response was mostly unpleasant, with remarks along the lines of “been there, done that.” Despite Sony attempts to distinguish it from the initial franchise, comparisons to the original franchise and disdain towards an early reboot continued. And, most people overlooked the major reason Sony had to reboot the franchise so quickly. To answer that question a bit of background knowledge of Marvels’ history is needed.

Surprisingly before the successes of the X-Men and Spider Man, the company had financial difficulties and surely not enough money to produce a superhero film. So, the company sold different properties to various film studios. The agreement had certain provisos, one of which puts an expiry date on the film license that is contingent on the theatrical usage of the character.  If Sony didn’t claim its rights, by not releasing a Spider Man film, the character film rights would have reverted back to Marvel Studios which is currently part of the Disney conglomerate. Several properties have reverted/sold back to Marvel, notably Iron Man and Electra and recently Dare Devil. As such, Disney’s legal force has put many time constraints on studio schedules.

While North American audience members were less receptive to The Amazing Spider Man, international markets were more forgiving, invoking more than $495 million. This translated to a solid $757.9 million global gross, but it marked the lowest grossing Spider-Man entry in the franchise. The Amazing Spider Man 2 also lowered the margin with $708.3 million, partly due to a cannibalizing schedule in its North American market. Spider-Man was once the superior of comic book heroes, but now with a high influx of CB movies, it has become like the others, just another character in the group.

At this stage, Sony decided to work on a Spider-Man centered universe—in the hopes of replicating the astounding success of the Marvel/Disney universe. And, it’s no surprise. Columbia Pictures/Sony aren’t the only distributors who are fighting for the piece of pie in this business. Within 3 years, more than 18 comic book based movies are scheduled to be released from both Marvel and DC comics. As of now, it is unclear if they are only placeholders for other movies or if they are the real deal. Sony only claims 3 of these huge line up of movies—a far-cry compared to that of Disney’s and DC’s universe. In all fairness, though, Sony doesn’t have much to go on in order to create a sustainable universe. This is among one of the few reasons Sony will have a very hard time reproducing Disney’s success.

Peter and Gwen's relationship was the highlight of the first two films
Sony’s upcoming films may show off the idea of a connected franchise, but what makes a solid franchise is its base, i.e. The Amazing Spider Man 1 and 2. One of the main differences between the Amazing Spider Man and the original Spider Man franchise is the darker tone (A direct result of Nolan’s Batman trilogy). While I consider the darker tone far more interesting, it does have its drawbacks especially in the type of crowd it attracts. Spider Man’s core demographic is children, but the movie’s atmosphere is more apropos for adults. This struggle takes a huge toll on the audience’s interest from both young and adult demographics. The sequel reduces the dark tonality of the film, but replaces it with a cockier Spider Man that makes children laugh but not adults.  Once again, this imbalance continued the loss of interest and decreased numbers.

It has become a standard that a franchise is considered successful if a sequel can maintain or out gross its predecessors gross. At this point, the Spider Man franchise is still considered “successful” but its prospects aren’t auspicious. At face value, Sony’s effort at expanding the Spider Man franchise seems clever: by diversifying your characters, you have a better chance of attracting different audience members and making more money. But, it’s easier said than done.

Sinister Six marks the first film in Sony’s expanded franchise. It is set to be released on November 11, 2016. Considering it as a sequel to TASM2 would be a huge inaccuracy since the ending of TASM2 isn’t in a place that would encourage viewers to watch a Sinister Six movie. Instead it should serve as a buildup to TASM3. Without the image of Spider Man, the film will have a hard time advertising its worthiness, especially to younger audiences who are the main drive in this franchise. So, expectations for Columbia Pictures shouldn’t aspire high. They will need a very strong marketing campaign, which targets the correct demographic unlike TASM2 which suffered from ineffective market segmentation, especially for female audiences. With more complex and new characters, Sinister Six is supposed to change public perception and if possible attract a larger audience. However, previous evidence (eg. Catwoman) doesn’t accurately show how villain-centered movies perform at the box office. It remains unknown if villains can become a consumer attraction? With superhero fatigue on the rise, Sinister Six might just be the film that audiences are waiting to watch—just like Guardians of the Galaxy.

At this point, it’s very clear that all the weight is falling on the Sinister Six. If it succeeds, then it’s a blinkering green light for the TASM3. Evidence for Sony’s failing franchise has become quite conspicuous. Sony rescheduling plans were done in an impromptu manner. TASM2’s Blu-ray Release contains outdated bonus features in which Marc Webb incorrectly refers to the “next sequel” as TASM3 when in fact the new plans have Sinister Six as the next film. This type of sudden and unpremeditated changes are very concerning and they place a big question mark on the future of this rebooted franchise. It also is unsurprising that there is a 2 year time gap between the Sinister Six and TASM3. It offers the production company an excuse to back out of TASM3 before investing substantial amounts of money into it.

How they connect all the movies together in the franchise will play a critical role in determining how successful TASM3 would be. The four year difference between TASM2 and TASM3 is in itself a very problematic situation for the character. In fact, it is only a year short of how long it took Sony to reboot the franchise. From an investment point of view, it offers a lower financial risk but it also has negative consequences for the prospects of the franchise. Large gaps between movies, especially the way TASM2 ended, disintegrate audience interest.  The fact that the superhero market is also expanding is another warning for the company because it will have a hard time establishing its footing in the increasingly competitive market. If Sinister Six could keep the image of Spider Man alive and build tension to a growing battle in TASM3, then it might very well save the franchise and perhaps allow Spider Man to re-attain its place as the crowned king of superhero films.

Extra Note: Another option for Sony is making a Marvel reunion; it would most definitely insure a huge revenue for the film but the company’s profit is unlikely to be huge. If they can strike a good deal with Disney, then it would help the image of Spider Man and Sony significantly.

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