When Marvel Studios started producing its own films with Iron Man in 2008, many in the industry and the public at large were quite sure that they would fail. Headlines famously accused the comic book company of delving into its “second-tier superheroes” in order to compete with the likes of Batman and Spider-Man at the box office, and few could have predicted just how successful the studio’s new venture would be—or that Iron Man was only the beginning. The tag at the end of the Iron Man credits introducing Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury kicked off one of the more ambitious feats in recent film history, beginning a series of interconnected movies that featured different lead characters inhabiting the same cinematic universe. This culminated in the 2012 team-up film The Avengers to the tune of $1.5 billion. Marvel Studios is now no longer just a production company; it’s a brand.
As with any successful brand, imitators followed. Other major studios are aiming to mimic Marvel’s success with their own interconnected universes, and just recently Warner Bros. announced release dates for nine untitled DC Comics adaptations that will surely all connect to one another. However, this new approach to franchise filmmaking—ostensibly treating movies as episodes in a TV series—may actually be robbing us of more creatively satisfying superhero adaptations.