Marvel Studios Muscles Up for Multiyear Superhero Arms Race With DC

Guardians of the Galaxy Photograph by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Everett Collection

Marvel Worldwide has typically kept quiet about its movie plans. Until recently, all we knew was that the Disney-owned studio was preparing Avengers: Age of Ultron in May 2015 and Ant-Man in July 2015, followed roughly one year later by a third Captain American vehicle. There were rumors of movies in production featuring such cult favorites as Dr. Strange and the Black Panther, but Marvel wasn’t confirming anything.

Then, on Tuesday, Oct. 28, Marvel released a plan for a slate of nine new superhero movies featuring the Avengers, Thor, and a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. What’s more, Marvel will be increasing its yearly output from two films a year to three in 2017. That’s a lot of spandex. But Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige assured an audience of fans in Hollywood that his team was up for it. Marvel “is firing on all cylinders, which made us comfortable for the first time that we had the ability to increase to three films a year from two,” Feige said.

Why was Marvel inspired to publicize its long-term schedule? Two week ago, its primary competitor, Warner Brothers, released a 10-movie slate of films featuring such DC Comics heroes as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Justice League, sucking the wind at least temporarily out of the superhero movie market. The Marvel announcement was a response.

It’s also a show of force. Any true comic book fan would have to acknowledge that the Marvel lineup is formable. Captain America: Civil War, the third film, will feature a battle between the shield-carrying hero and Iron Man. The next Thor movie, scheduled for July 2017, will have a Wagnerian Twilight of the Gods theme. Marvel isn’t just planning a third Avengers movie—this one will be the two-part Infinity War, which will appear in theaters in May 2018 and May 2019. That’s not to mention the studio’s plans for hotly anticipated movies built around Dr. Strange (2016), the Black Panther (2017), and Inhumans (2018).

There’s no question that Warner Brothers has been closely watching Marvel and trying to learn from its success. But Marvel has been paying attention to its rival, too. You don’t throw together a slate like the one Marvel announced in two weeks. It was undoubtedly expecting Warner Brothers to make a big move in the superhero movie market. So Marvel has raised the bar. Its new movies are more ambitious than its earlier ones, and it will be making more of them.

In other words, the biggest battle in the superhero movie world won’t be the one between Captain American and Iron Man, although that’s bound to be big. It will be the one fought by Marvel and Warner Brothers for the attention and wallets of movie fans.

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