Marvel has become a big player in the tentpole business, precisely rolling out carefully selected properties on its own schedule. This year, the studio released the dark, dramatic Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, a month ahead of the usual summer blockbuster season, and have reaped rich rewards of more than $730 million at the box office worldwide. This week, we'll all see if the more lighthearted Guardians of the Galaxy lives up to advance billing.
Still, horror fans have been left wondering when their needs will be addressed. Doctor Strange looks very promising, and became an even more interesting project when Scott Derrickson signed on to direct. Derrickson came on board before his latest supernatural drama, Deliver Us from Evil, underperformed at the box office. (So far, it's grossed about $38 million worldwide against a reported budget of $30 million.) Before that, though, Derrickson's Sinister, budgeted at just $3 million, made more than $77 million worldwide, and even his disappointing remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still took in more than $233 million worldwide. And his 2005 chiller The Exorcism of Emily Rose made more than $144 million at the global box office.
Doctor Strange offers plenty of rich story possibilities, as the titular character is taken under the wing of a sorcerer and trained to defend the world against evil. Joaquin Phoenix has reportedly been offered the lead role, which would be a daring casting choice if it works out. The movie appears to be heading toward release in the summer of 2016.
But that's the only horror-related Marvel property that is definitely on the horizon. Obviously, Marvel wants to build on its past successes, and announced at Comic-Con that Guardians of the Galaxy would be getting a sequel, also from writer-director James Gunn. The sequel is set for July 28, 2017. Beyond that, however, the company is not saying much of anything about its future plans other than to claim key release dates for 2017 through 2019.
Marvel Studios reclaimed rights to Ghost Rider and Blade last year, but both have hurdles to overcome before they can be considered again for the Marvel cinematic universe. It's been two years since Sony released Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which was a relatively low-budget ($57 million) effort that made $132 million worldwide. The three Blade films enjoyed modest success at the box office, the kind of returns that might be fine for the average independent studio yet fall far short of what Marvel expects--nay, demands--from its current line of superpowered movies. Both properties have been labeled, perhaps unfairly, with the tag of "underachievers" at the box office, and Marvel, quite frankly, doesn't need them at this point.
Beyond those well-known properties, Marvel Studios appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach. It wants to maintain a polished, high-budget appearance for the many properties it controls. Doctor Strange gives the company the opportunity to combine the supernatural with its already established brand of large-scale action filmmaking. If Doctor Strange scores a hit, we're sure the Marvel folks have follow-up plans in mind. Indeed, since Doctor Strange has teamed with various Marvel superheroes in the past, most notably in the Illuminati, a group of superheroes who work behind the scenes to maintain order, we wouldn't be surprised to see him team up with one or more of them in the future. That could include Namor, Hulk or even Iron Man.
Most likely, however, Marvel will push the envelope gently. (In other words, don't expect Marvel Zombies anytime soon.) We're not likely to see any straight horror titles from the studio for years, if ever. For now, horror fans with an interest in Marvel superheroes will need to be content with action-packed, mainstream-oriented thrillers -- which isn't such a terrible price to pay, all things considered.