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Could a slowed Spider-Man be good for superheroes?

January 6, 2010 |  4:19 pm

Spider Both Hollywood and fans can't seem to get enough of those splashy superheroes. But when it comes to actually getting these movies made (and seen), sheer desire may not be enough.

Sony acknowledged Tuesday that creative differences with director Sam Raimi on "Spider-Man 4" (said differences involve whether to include antagonists with names like Vulture and Black Cat, in case you're interested) could result in the film's release date being pushed back from May 2011 to a slot as late as 2012. It's just the latest example of a comic-book adaptation that's getting off the ground slower than expected.

Marvel Studios last spring announced that it would delay a number of its own pictures by a year, moving "Thor" from 2010 to 2011 and "The Avengers" from 2011 to 2012. (Irony alert: One of the reasons the company moved "Avengers" is because it wanted to steer clear of "Spider Man 4," on which it gets a cut from Sony. Guess that's not a problem anymore.)

The net effect of these shifts? Movie theaters become a little more bereft of Marvel characters. Instead of the coming two summers bringing five movies based on the classic heroes and villains, it could very well yield only three. Toss in the maybe-they-will-maybe-they-won't talk on various X-Men spinoffs and sequels -- and, on the DC side, little movement on a new Superman film and delays on a Justice League one -- and you're looking at something resembling a dry spell. (Well, by superhero-overload standards, anyway.)

Whether it's creative or financial reasons driving these delays (companies want to space out both the costs and their windfalls of these blockbusters), the consequences are significant. For fans, protracted delays between franchise films can feel like a restaurant that brings out the hors d'oeuvres and then closes the kitchen. It now could be as many as five years between Spider-Man movies, a long wait for anyone who wants to wash out the taste of "Spider-Man 3."

Then again, a little bit of a rest may not be a bad thing. Taking time off can bring some creative benefits, which pretty much every franchise here could use. And contrary to studio fears that fans will forget a franchise if it's away for too long, recent evidence shows that fans actually come back with renewed interest after a wait (see under: Batman's success in 2005 after being gone for more than eight years).

For a while it looked like Hollywood studios were eager to rush forward as fast as they could with as many superhero projects as they could license. Turns out it may make more sense to go a little slower than a speeding bullet.

--Steven Zeitchik

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