Mark Millar on superhero movies: “Every boom becomes a bust”

Is 2016 a pivotal year for superhero movies? In a new interview, Mark Millar talks about the future of the genre in Hollywood...

You don’t need us to tell you how important Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is to Warner and the future of its DC Extended Universe. The potential launchpad for its slate of superhero movies over the next few years, the Batman-Superman face-off paves the way for next year’s Justice League and Wonder Woman, plus future movies from other DC characters, including The Flash and Aquaman.

With Marvel also hoping to land a major hit with Captain America: Civil War and Fox still to release X-Men: Apocalypse this year, and Suicide Squad still to come from Warner, 2016 is a busy year when it comes to superhero movies. According to comic book writer Mark Millar, it could also prove to be a pivotal year for the genre’s future in Hollywood.

Speaking to French outlet Le Point Pop, Millar described Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War as the two key films in Marvel and DC’s immediate future; pointing to the explosion in popularity of superhero films over the past few years, Millar argues that the if those films don’t do as well as expected, then Hollywood could take this as a sign that the genre’s boom years are drawing to an end.

“Every boom eventually has to become a bust and the only way to delay that bust is to make sure the quality of the work is really good,” Millar said. “When something like Deadpool comes out and defies all expectations, it shows us that the trend is clearly not over yet: there’s still an appetite for these movies, but the audience has to connect with them.”

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Batman V Superman, unlike the relatively inexpensive Deadpool, cost anywhere from $250m upwards to make, according to which reports you read – some put the price tag at over $400m including marketing. With figures like that hanging over the movie, you can see why Hollywood’s accountants and investors would be looking closely at its weekend numbers.

“[DC-Warner] have a bunch of untried things coming up,” Millar continued. “And if Batman V Superman doesn’t break even at least, I can’t imagine these projects are gonna happen in most cases. I’d imagine they’ll make another Batman movie at least, anyway something safe, instead of doing an Aquaman movie… Everything depends on how much of a break even or how much of a loss does BvS make. If this movie comes out and make $600m like Man Of Steel, then that will be it, they won’t do more of those movies because they will have lost an awful lot of money. But if the movie make $1.2bn, they may break even.”

Millar also suggests that, while Marvel are in a stronger position than DC-Warner with their proven success, the smaller-than-expected gross of Avengers: Age Of Ultron could, he says, indicate a cooling of interest in the largest, most bombastic superhero movies.

“I don’t wanna say Marvel had a bloodrun, but they’ve definitely had a slowing down of their momentum last year, on pure box office (as well as critical reception) level. Avengers: Age Of Ultron was expected to be bigger than Avengers. And the fact that, in America, it was 25% smaller, that it was about globally $200m less, when taken price inflation has gone up, plus there’s more cinemas than ever because of China… Well that’s interesting because that’s the way any economic boom has started. Ant-Man is a very good and very fun movie but it kind of showed Marvel’s fallibility: the movie made a little bit more than $500m worldwide, whereas Guardians Of The Galaxy made almost $800m, so it will be interesting to see how their next movies make. All eyes are on Captain America Civil War now. If this movie makes less than the last Captain America movie, I think there will be a problem.”

The important thing in both Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War’s favour, as movie fans will know, is that they don’t rely on the popularity of just one superhero for their success; both movies have the novelty of clashing superheroes to hook audiences in, meaning that novelty factor alone should help their chances at the box-office. But audience interest is only one part of the equation, Millar warns – there’s also the rising cost to factor in, with the budgets for superhero movies steadily climbing in recent years from the $150m range to well in excess of $250m.

“The incredible success of Deadpool must be an interesting model for studios because the grosses for superhero movies are either staying the same or getting smaller, but the cost are going up and up,” Millar said. “These movie historically cost between $150 and $200m to make. And then they are now reaching the $400m+ threshold for cost. One of my best friends is a banker, and he said to me, ‘This is starting to smell a lot like banks in 2007.’”

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While Millar’s quick to point out that the superhero genre’s in no danger of going away, he maintains that “the genre has got to evolve” in order to retain its mass audience.

“I have a feeling that eventually everything will be fine, but that is very interesting to see that, after 16 years of massive success, people are starting to get a little nervous.”

Only time will tell whether Millar’s right about the future of superhero movies in Hollywood. The iconic status of such characters as Batman and Spider-Man means that audiences will surely flock to see them for years to come. A dip in profits could leave the fate of lesser-known characters like Shazam and Aquaman hanging in the balance.