Will The Avengers Usher in an Era of Crossover Films?

by David R.

And now it’s March. Summer’s sneaking right on up behind us at this point; it should be here any minute. And what’s kicking off the blockbuster season this year? The Avengers. The biggest superhero movie ever except for that other superhero movie coming out this summer.

I can’t even pretend to be impartial here. Holy crap.

Marvel is certainly trying to set a big stage. As we see in the promos, Armageddon approaches, seemingly brought by Loki – the best villain from any of the movies leading up to this one. The trailer isn’t specific about what form this Armageddon will assume, but it apparently involves a lot of planes and cars blowing up, and even Tony Stark seems to be taking it seriously.

But is it really that big a deal? You know, it really might be. Particularly if it’s actually good, which seems pretty likely at this point. Most of the movies leading up to The Avengers have been pretty solid.

Here’s Sam Rockwell saving the one that wasn’t.

Plus, we have Joss Whedon writing and directing. Now, Whedon has only written/directed one feature film before, but it was a hell of a space adventure movie called Serenity. That movie was funny, tense, violent, and cool. And, perhaps more importantly, it seamlessly introduced no less than ten major characters and got its audience invested in them in under two hours. When he’s not writing television or internet short films, Whedon writes comics for Marvel. So really, who would be better to take on the biggest superhero team-up to date?

Sorry, did I say superhero team-up? I meant team-up, period. Quick survey: How many of you have actually liked a team-up movie in the past? Anybody?

“Whoever wins, we lose.” Indeed.

The Avengers project is kind of redefining the way a franchise can work, period. This isn’t like Marvel had a few good things going and said, “Hey, what if we got all these people in a movie together?” The movies preceding this (starting with Iron Man, obviously) were part of a planned, intentional groundwork that was always going to end here. Usually, the “Vs.” or “Meets” movies come in after a franchise has completely run out of ideas, but in a sense Marvel’s just now getting started.

Think about it: There have been five movies in this project so far (Iron Man 1 & 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America). The Avengers makes number six. So, at this point, The Avengers project has as many movies as the Star Wars saga. It’s a quarter of its way to being as big as the James Bond franchise. And, far from being on its last legs, it’s potentially just getting started.

So where am I going with this? Um… good question. Here’s the trailer for The Avengers while I figure that out:


Okay, here’s where I was going with that line of thought: What could The Avengers mean for the concept of a “franchise?” Usually franchises have been made up of either sequels, prequels, or spinoffs. But now we have this nebulous fourth way of doing it. More than a sequel or a spinoff, Marvel has created parallel storylines, with different main characters meeting and splitting as they deal with various threats and challenges. Certain episodes deal with the overarching storyline, but most of them deal with the various characters while only giving a sprinkling of the context surrounding them. You know what that sounds like?

Sometimes it’s easier to pretend that there are only five seasons.

Not Lost specifically, but a television show. It’s interesting (to me, at least) that while television has started to look more and more like movies, movies are starting to look more and more like television. If Marvel’s attempt succeeds, I wonder if other entertainment giants will take a similar approach. It might be cool to see some of these people attempt to create entire universes as opposed to single movies or repetitive series.

Maybe not these people, though.

Basically, The Avengers might make the crossover movie a palatable idea. And as soon as it becomes palatable, it becomes marketable. Don’t think that nobody’s thinking along the same lines I am. Just look how many movies copied Transformers. You think Hasbro wouldn’t want to think of itself as the next Marvel (side note to Hasbro: Probably not a realistic idea)? What about DC? Dreamworks? Pixar?

And yes, I realize that I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. But the movie business is getting sequel-heavy, and they’ll need something new soon to sustain our interest. Also, as movies like the past two Fast & Furious movies have shown us, it is possible to take a seemingly dead franchise and breath new life into it – in that case, they turned the series from a racing series to a heist series. If The Avengers works, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people try to follow in Marvel’s footsteps.

Nor would I be surprised if they totally botched the job.


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  1. I could see this happening.. but I think the main reason it is for the Avengers is because… that’s how comic books work. They do the whole crossover/universe type thing. It’s understandable they would want to do this in movies.

    It’s much easier to write/shoot/fund 1 movie with 5 stars than 5 movies with 1 star. Hollywood is always looking for the easy way out and I’m sure this concept is incredibly appealing.

    Will they do this in other movies? Maybe. At least for the Avengers, the story is kind of there already.. Hollywood does not like to be original, and it’s hard to say what’s easier/cheaper to write: a prequel/sequel or a crossover? That’s probably the real question.

  2. “Just look how many movies copied Transformers.” Yeah, like the Avengers –oh wait.
    Seriously, that was all I could think of from the trailer. A bunch of explosions, cool. Why do I care? I know, I’m being cynical 😛

    Also, crossover town: Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. I said it.

  3. Rumor has it that Warner Bros is shopping around Frank Miller’s Dark Knight returns movie to feature a weathered Bruce Wayne and Superman, and they are trying to get Christopher Nolan’s brother to direct and write the screen play. Expect it late 2014 or summer 2015, its still in development hell but can see the light.

  4. I hope not. They usually turn up bad (like AvPR). Avengers, I think, is sort of different because it already has an established comic and everything (like Justice League).

  5. Good read Paul! Seems like a risky business model though. Instead of getting X-men, followed by a bunch of origin stories afterward, they are doing the origins first with the payoff at the end. Sounds good so far. The problem is, if any of the origins bomb, then the team-up movie loses its marketability.

    In other words, instead of producing one movie, hoping it takes off so they can cash in on a sequel, you have to make 5 blockbusters that all hit the mark (Hawkeye pun) in order to generate buzz for the sequel. If any one of them fails, you can’t just write that character out, or the fanboys will puke all over it. So then you are faced with a reboot, which is expensive, and throws the timing way off.

  6. transformer was suppose to be a crossover with GI Joe actually. the head guy in GI Joe was suppose to be the chief of defense in transformers, aligning their universes; possibly for a future crossover movie. sadly the stars didnt align.

    anyone wondering the plot of the avengers movie, just watch “the ulimate avengers” (2006) animated movie. from everything i’ve seen and heard, they line up almost perfectly.

  7. Not that I’m defending the AvP films or the such but weren’t they a comic series way before the films came out? I agree that they were a p**s-poor attempt at revival of 2 franchises that had run their courses but also I remember being told of an AvPvT (…vs Terminators) comic before, and with the Preditors film that came out a year or 2 back (and as I have been told recently a new Terminator movie is in the works very soon) could that mean they may try for that collaboration in a few years? -.-

  8. Good article, Paul, and yeah… that’s something I’ve heard kicking around for a while now, other comic companies getting their “team” books out there…. the big issue is that, for the most part, other comics companies only have one or two characters per team that could carry their own movie.

    That said, many people said the same thing about Iron Man and Thor.

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