COLUMN: Why 2016 Could Be the Best Year Ever for Superhero Movies

COLUMN: Why 2016 Could Be the Best Year Ever for Superhero Movies (ABC News)

It was the year 2000 and "X-Men," a movie about a bunch of mutants trying to save the world from one of their own, hit theaters. This film, directed by Bryan Singer, whom most people then knew from his hit "The Usual Suspects," would eventually gross more than $150 million worldwide. It starred Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and a little known Aussie actor named Hugh Jackman.

What audiences and filmmakers didn't know then was the impact that "X-Men" would have on the future of filmmaking. It helped to introduce the Marvel world to the big screen and comic ensembles to the masses. (Yes, we also acknowledge "Blade" came out in 1998.) "X-Men" wasn't part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know and love today and was produced by 20th Century Fox, but it really helped to open the door, nonetheless.

Now, more than 15 years later, we stand on the precipice of potentially one of the greatest movie rivalries and it's set to take shape in 2016: the battle between D.C. Comics and Marvel. The critics will say D.C. hasn't established its universe yet in the way Marvel has, but at least there are two universes to begin with. If you really think about it, we've never seen this before.

Not to mention that in addition to the slate of movies about to come out, there are great TV franchises that have supplemented the MCU, for instance, with "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Daredevil," while D.C. has series like "Arrow" and "Supergirl" that have fans and critics alike in a happy frenzy. Fans of superhero movies have never had the equivalent of a Yankees-Red Sox or a Lakers-Celtics rivalry. In the end, the real winner in a scenario like this is the fan, with an absolute feast for your imagination right at your fingertips.

In the meantime, let's get back to "X-Men" and the influence that movie had. After its success, two years later, we met Tobey Maguire as he took on the role of Spider-Man and interest only grew from there.

Before these blockbuster hits, movies based on the Marvel Comics world usually included the direct-to-video "The Punisher" from 1989 (not Thomas Jane) and a 1990 version of "Captain America" starring Matt Salinger, not Chris Evans, as Steve Rogers.

After the successes of the early 2000's, everything changed. It was now Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Halle Berry and Anna Paquin -- all bankable stars -- that would be headlining these roles.

Fast forward to 2008. "Iron Man" hits theaters and the second wave of Marvel movies -- owned, produced and creatively directed by Marvel Studios -- is about to take over the world. It's not only the role Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play, but everything began to be tied together with post-credit scenes that lead into the next movie and characters bouncing in and out of each other's worlds with the culmination being 2012's "Avengers."

By the time Iron Man teamed up with the Hulk, Cap and the gang to save the world, Marvel had a bona fide dynasty on their hands and they knew it.

The Old Guard

D.C. Comics' path to 2016 is a much different one. D.C. is the brand behind the Golden Age of comics dating back to the 1930's with iconic characters like Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern and, of course, Superman.

In 1978, Christopher Reeve took over the Man of Steel's identity on the big screen and there are still fans who consider him the true son of Krypton, as it's proven hard to fill the icon's shoes.

Reeve created a Superman that lasted through the 1980's and beyond. Also in the late 1980's, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton took over a "Batman" franchise and made it their own in a fantastic way. Despite the fall off when Keaton eventually gave up the cape and cowl, D.C. Comics had two back-to-back runs with their most iconic characters.

Then came 2005 and with it, "Batman Begins." A modern movie and hero ahead of its time and so revolutionary; the only drawback was it lived in a silo. There was no D.C. Universe, mainly because this kind of huge exploration into the cinematic world hadn't been tried yet and hadn't been proven to be successful.

So, the Christopher Nolan franchise continued on as planned with 2008's "The Dark Knight," quite possibly one of most well-received comic-based movies ever dreamed up. That run all ended in 2012 with "The Dark Knight Rises."

But the very next year, fans everywhere were introduced to a new Superman, Henry Cavill, in "Man of Steel."

That's when D.C. went all in. That's when things got interesting. D.C. Comics and Warner Bros. cast an actor you've probably never heard of named Ben Affleck as the latest Batman, then released its very own slate of movies expected to come out through 2020. "Wonder Woman," "The Flash" and "Justice League (D.C.'s version of the Avengers)" were all announced last year. Then the new Superman movie to follow "Man of Steel" began to take shape. It would be a "Batman v Superman" movie, which would also feature Wonder Woman and a slew of others.

The D.C. Universe continued to get even darker with "Suicide Squad," which absolutely, positively stole the show at this summer's San Diego Comic Con after debuting the movie's first trailer. D.C. hasn't quite caught up to Marvel or even gotten close, but it's a good start, and we can expect plenty more to come.

The Year of the Nerd

With both core universes in pretty strong position, D.C. and Marvel are primed to have an epic 2016 that might mark the beginning of the high-point of this whole superhero era. In fact, there are as many as six such movies set to be released next year, most with a ton of buzz surrounding them.

In February, Ryan Reynolds will bring back Deadpool, then we have "Dawn of Justice" the next month and "Captain America: Civil War" in May.

The trailer for the third installment in the Cap franchise just debuted last month and as expected, the Avengers are split down the center. They should reunite, but not without a few anticipated casualties, by way of storytelling or off-screen choices. These stories and these actors can't go on forever, they change, people take on other projects, so enjoy this cast and this year while it lasts.

Around the time of "Civil War," Bryan Singer brings us "X-Men: Apocalypse," another superhero film that reportedly will be the last "X-Men" title for Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence. In the summer, "Suicide Squad" will be revealed, spearheaded by the gritty genius that is David Ayer. The big names continue in November as Benedict Cumberbatch joins the MCU as Doctor Strange.

Next year won't be the end though; 2017 sports films like "Guardians 2," "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Justice League, Part 1," while 2018 boasts "Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1," among others. But 2016 absolutely is the year it will all take shape and the year fans will start to take sides on who they care more about -- D.C. or Marvel.

But isn't that what all this is about? Being able to argue with your friends who is better, Batman or Iron Man, Thor or the Flash. That's why this is so much fun.

Again, there's no way to know if future films like "Wonder Woman" or "Doctor Strange" will be any good or if Affleck will be able to live up to what Bale and Keaton did previously, or even if all the movies promised to us will get made. But what we have is a discussion and for the first time as it pertains to movies, comic nerds are leading discussions and debates that the mainstream now cares about. That may or may not be what the purists want, but it's here and it starts in 2016.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the author alone.

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