It’s almost here. Can you feel it? Can you feel the fight to end all fights approaching? We are literally just days away from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that should shake up the cinematic landscape in a big, big way. But what if it doesn’t?
You don’t want to bet against a film like Batman v Superman. These days, you don’t want to bet against any superhero film. So, so many of them are sure things. Even those that seem too different or off-beat end up being runaway hits. Deadpool, anyone? However, the problem with superhero films are that they’re getting so big and so expensive. It’s getting to the point where these films have to draw in at least several hundred million dollars or else they’re considered a flop. What would be the consequences if that happens to Zack Snyder’s superhero beat-‘em-up? What if Batman v Superman lights the box office on fire… but not enough? What are the options for the Caped Crusader, the Last Son of Krypton and all DC characters?
A lot is riding on Batman v Superman’s success. Literally billions of dollars are being spent on the films that’ll follow it up, from Justice League: Part One and Two to Wonder Woman, The Flash, Suicide Squad and any Batman or Superman sequels. Like Marvel before them, DC and Warner Bros. are getting very excited about building their own cinematic universe. But if Batman v Superman comes in lukewarm, WB might use this as an opportunity to separate their films, loosening the plot ties that bind. This way the movies can live and die on their own without being dragged down by the failures of any others. Instead of the movies relying on each other so much, they will be distanced. Batman v Superman won’t be the center that holds them together, it’ll be just another film in the DC line-up.
That’s not bad. In fact, as we’ve argued before, that’s a good thing. Marvel has already mastered the art of making a cinematic universe work well and DC just runs the risk of seeming like copycats by attempting the same. Pushing away from that and giving each superhero film independence from the others could foster exciting, different movies. Even if Batman v Superman is a box office triumph, this would still be a smart approach for DC.
Or maybe DC would take a cue from the success of Deadpool and venture into more adult-oriented, R-rated superhero fare. As we’ve discussed before, making comic book films R-rated is tricky and could be a mistake. But if Batman v Superman flounders in cinemas then DC and WB will be desperate for a hit. Don’t be shocked if the Joker gets his own dark, gruesome film or Batman’s next movie is the most graphic and upsetting yet. Instead of being fun like its competition, DC may go dark as night. The results could be underwhelming and unnecessarily violent but certainly different.
It’s not just the MPAA rating that could change if Batman v Superman sputters, it’s the personnel too. If Dawn of Justice falls short, you will most definitely see Zack Snyder lose the keys to the kingdom. Make no mistake, he will still direct Justice League (the film starts shooting in just a few weeks) but WB will be anxious to get a new godfather to usher in the next set of DC films, injecting new blood and a new vision. Who would slide in to replace Snyder? That’s up for debate, but George Miller’s name has been tossed around a lot. He was previously tapped to direct a Justice League film years ago and is reportedly involved in the upcoming one. With the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, fans and the studio would be very, very happy to see Miller take the reins. It would be different from Snyder’s work — perhaps jarringly so — but if Batman v Superman doesn’t set the world on fire, that’s exactly what Warner Bros. and DC would want.
There’s one more, drastic thing that could happen if Batman v Superman bombs. If the film flops — and flops horribly — WB and DC could cut their losses and focus on the future of their television adaptations instead. The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl have pleased most fans and have achieved varying degrees of success on the small screen. All in all, these shows are hits. Maybe they call it a day after Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman, and spend a few years building something small on TV. Would these characters eventually make a leap to the big screen? Perhaps. Or maybe they would just double down on the TV success and introduce more characters to broadcast. This would allow them to venture out and try less well-known characters, fleshing them out and exploring a much larger, richer universe. Does this mean we would finally get a Martian Manhunter show? One can only hope. What’s one way to beat Marvel if they’re kicking your butt at the box office? Don’t compete with them. Take the fight to television and build up from there.
The truth is that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will probably be a massive success. Will it beat expectations? Will it smash The Avengers or other Marvel films? That remains to be seen, but it’ll certainly bring in lots and lots of money. But if the unthinkable happens and audiences don’t take to Zack Snyder’s film then the entire playbook will be tossed aside and things will change. Warner Bros. and DC have options, lots of them, but they’re hoping — and betting — they won’t need them.