Iron Man 3 comes out today, making it the fourth movie featuring Iron Man in the past five years. And as a character, Iron Man seems to be winding down. I doubt his Marvel buddies Thor or Captain America have more than one or two more movies left in them. There are no current plans for another Hulk movie. All told, the whole Avengers team will probably start looking a little long in the tooth in just a few years. Over at DC Comics, Superman is getting a reboot this summer, so if that's a success we could have another franchise or Dark Knight-esque trilogy on our hands. But Superman hasn't fared well recently. Meaning, we ought to be in for a lull in the superhero onslaught, right? No. For good or bad, the superhero movie era shows no signs of ending.
The last time we had a summer which saw nothing caped or crusading come thundering into multiplexes was 1999. (Well, unless you count that season's Mystery Men, which you shouldn't.) So if this is a superhero "trend," it's a pretty long-lasting one. And it's not as if the '90s that preceded were without their superheroes. From 1989 to 1997, Batman movies came flying by every couple of years, while plenty of comic book-based duds like The Shadow and The Phantom tried to coast off their success. Really, we've been consuming a fairly regular diet of superhero movies since Christopher Reeve put on Superman's suit in 1978. The '80s were certainly quieter than the '90s, and the '00s louder still, but we have been dealing with the genre for about 35 years. So maybe there's nothing trendy about this! It could be that superhero movies are a constant, just with some contained ups and downs within the system.
Marvel is aware of the aging of the Avengers, and is thus developing a Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise, but will those lesser known characters (with names like Star-Lord and Drax the Destroyer) hold the same interest as the iconic Avengers team? I suspect the studio will have to do a lot of savvy marketing to make up for the lack of built-in familiarity and interest. (I know comic book fans will flame me for implying that interest in Guardians of the Galaxy is low, but in the broader world I don't think there's any denying that fact. Look at how Watchmen underperformed.) DC is trying to swoop in and fill the gap with its planned Justice League film, but it's likely they'll have only Henry Cavill's Superman as the lone familiar face in that film. It's doubtful that Christian Bale will put the Batman suit back on, and Ryan Reynolds's Green Lantern is a moot point, his standalone movie bombing as it did.
So yes, with no new surefire, for-definite Avengers-style construction plan in the works, it might seem like superhero flicks are going to take a break. And they might, but it will be brief. After all, there are still those pesky X-Men and the newly refurbished Spider-Man, proof that reboot turnaround time can be extremely short. And what will that interim look like, that somewhat less super world? Pretty familiar. The year 1999 gives us a clue. The big movie that summer? The Phantom Menace. Yes, Star Wars. (There was also The Matrix and The Sixth Sense. Read this Entertainment Weekly article about 1999, "The Year That Changed Movies." It's a fascinating document from the era.) And sure enough, what do we have coming down the pipeline, first arriving in 2015? Three more Disney-backed Star Wars films. What's old is new again. Just as it's always been.