The gamesmanship involved in picking release dates a year or more out has been a tradition for some time now in Hollywood, but things seem to be escalating to an almost absurd level at this point, especially with Marvel Studios claiming two dates in 2014 for films that they aren’t even willing to name yet.
It’s one thing when Lionsgate announces a date for the sequel to “The Hunger Games” before the first one is in theaters. That’s a move that is designed to impart a certain degree of confidence in the first film that they’re shooting now. After all, if they’re already planning for when they’re going to release the second film, then things must be going incredibly well on the first film, right? There’s no way this is going to turn out to be another “Golden Compass” or “Eragon,” right?
With Marvel, though, they’ve gotten used to looking at the big game plan, and so they’re claiming some dates for films that are still in development, and I wonder if even they know which movies are going to end up there. Next summer, we’ve got “The Avengers” on May 4, and then in 2013, they’ve announced “Iron Man 3” for May 3, 2013 and “Thor 2” for July 26, 2013. We know that they’re developing films like “Dr. Strange” and “Ant-Man” and “Guardians Of The Galaxy” now, and it could be any of those that end up in theaters on May 30, 2014 or June 27, 2014. It could also be a “Captain America” sequel or another “Hulk” film or even an “Avengers” sequel. They’re developing a “SHIELD” spin-off movie as well, and post-“Avengers,” you can finally go make that movie.
They’re not alone in looking that far forward. “The Amazing Spider-Man” has set its sequel for May 2, 2014, and Pixar just staked out a claim for an untitled film for May 30, 2014. I honestly can’t remember any studios ever being this aggressive about dates that are three years away for films that may not even have finished screenplays at this point. I guess this is where we’ve gotten to with this sort of giant-budget tentpole filmmaking these days… dates are real estate, and they must be defended from the moment you decide what you’re planning. It’s a way of letting other studios know that they need to look elsewhere, that you expect to have that weekend to yourself. Counter-programming based on something as vague as a date with no title attached seems insane, but that’s what we’re looking at now, as I’m sure there are people taking meetings today to find out what they have that might play well opposite a superhero film three years in the future.
We’ll see if these chess moves pay off in a thousand days or so.