Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi epic, Interstellar, is set to make its theatrical debut a week from now and is already generating mostly positive responses from those who have seen it. However, the director rose to the limelight nearly ten years ago when he rebooted the Batman film franchise with Batman Begins. Spawning $2 billion-grossing followups in 2008 and 2012, the Dark Knight trilogy became not just a watershed moment for the comic book genre, but also movie fans in general.
Nolan stayed in the world of DC Comics to help produce Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (which was influenced by Nolan’s works), a movie that served as the launching point for Warner Bros.’ shared DC cinematic universe, which is expected to include more than ten movies between 2016 and 2020. Nolan is no longer involved with the franchise, but he’s still very aware of what’s going on.
His Batman, famously (or… infamously?), was its own standalone creation, existing in a world in which Bruce Wayne was the only “superhero” fighting crime. With WB now going in an entirely new direction, one would think that the filmmaker would have some interesting thoughts on the studio’s current plans. In an interview with Time Out, he took the time to share them:
“You don’t want Hollywood to hit saturation point with those things. But then Zack Snyder is now doing his part by bringing Batman and Superman into one film [for 2016’s ‘Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’], so that limits the number!”
With no fewer than 40 films based on Marvel and DC properties on the horizon, that “saturation point” is becoming a larger discussion topic with both Disney and WB invested in the shared universe model (not to mention Fox and Sony). As such, executives and filmmakers are going to be pressured into making each project feel like its own unique thing so it stands out. Combining lead characters into a single movie (see also: Captain America: Civil War) is indeed a smart way to not only break the bank, but cover more material in an economic fashion.
In our writeup on the takeover of superheroes, one point we raised was that superhero movies have the ability to blend genres (space opera of Guardians of the Galaxy, crime drama of The Dark Knight) so that they offer moviegoers more than just super-powered action sequences. Superheroes are the “American myths,” but they can also be used to tell entertaining, relatable stories through a different lens, crafting something that feels fresh and exciting for viewers.
This fact wasn’t lost on Nolan, either, as he commented on the long-term sustainability of comic book films:
“I don’t see it as a limited genre. If I did, I never would have worked for almost ten years in that genre. I think like any genre, like the Western, it has limitless opportunities. It’s just about the audience’s appetite. What’s very important is that the studios be open to making other sorts of films at the same time.”
The limitless possibilities of superhero films are well-documented, but the last part of Nolan’s quote is equally pertinent. Basing a movie on a comic book is a quick way to break box office records, but it’s hardly the only way in this business to turn a profit. One look at the highest-grossing films for any year will show you that straight action, sci-fi, or even Oscar-contending dramas can be commercially viable when the right pieces fall into place. Everyone loves Rocket Raccoon and Groot these days, but people still have a soft spot for diversity.
An endless barrage of comic book films in such a short span could expedite the audience fatigue for the genre, so the studios involved would be wise to mix it up so casual viewers don’t tire too quickly. They seem to have a good handle on that, with Jurassic World, Star Wars: Episode VII, Tomorrowland, and Star Trek 3 among the many non-superhero tentpoles that will reach theaters in the next couple years.
And in the grand scheme of things, are we really getting as many as everyone is making it sound? WB’s confirmed slate has two films per year (with solo Superman and Batman films to be dated) and Disney is raising their annual total to a whopping three beginning in 2017. There were 687 movies that were theatrically released last year. Looks to us like there’s plenty of room to go around for all kinds of films to have their time to shine.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters March 25, 2016.
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.