What If Superhero Movies Fail?

Superhero movies have been on an incredible run. Ever since X-Men premiered in 2000 and Spider-Man two years later, superhero movies have been box office gold. Perhaps even more incredible is the fact that most of them have been well received by critics and fans (Daredevil and Elektra being the standout duds).

Over this time, back issue comic book values—and especially the characters and titles that have been featured in these blockbuster movies—have skyrocketed. In 2001, an 8.0 Spider-Man #1 sold for $7,475 on Heritage. In May, 2013 an 8.0 Spider-Man #1 went for $22,705. Back in 2001, a nice X-Men #1 in the 6.0 grade sold for $1,955. This February a 6.0 settled at $3,346. As I wrote about here, Avengers #1 saw a big bump after the movie released. This price action has led many industry vets to conclude we’re in a comic book bubble!

Now we’ve just come to assume that every movie is going to be successful and movie success will translate to higher comic book values. Speculation about a character or title receiving the movie treatment sends prices soaring. Just look what happened to Iron Man #55 values after Thanos appeared in The Avengers’ credits!

But what if it all comes undone? Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, says it’s a possibility. During the opening panel of the American Film Market finance conference on November 8, he said “There’s an oversaturation of big superhero movies and they are becoming just more of the same. I think this summer is going to be bad for big studios whose movies pile on top of each other. The audience is going to get sick of it.” Kavanaugh suggests that the financial consequences of a big movie failing would be so severe that it would ripple through the industry.

Such a scenario is not impossible to see. In fact, it brings back memories of the ‘90s industry implosion. There were many reasons for the industry collapse of the 90s but a big part was the ever increasing supply of books and the insane speculation around overhyped, high-print run titles. The collapse lead to financial ruin for Marvel and for thousands of comic book shops in North America. What’s that saying about history not repeating but rhyming?

The question for us collectors is: what would happen to comic values in Kavanaugh’s scenario? What if Avengers #2 ends up being a box office bomb and Disney/Marvel puts superhero movies on the backburner? To what extent are comic values tied to the popularity of superhero movies? How many new collectors have entered the hobby due to the popularity of the movies? Would prices fall to pre-movie values (easily a 30-50% drop in value for most titles)?

Food for thought!

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R.J. Steinhoff
RJ Steinhoff is a lifelong comic book fan and when he’s not working for a living he runs the comictrend.com website.
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5 Comments

  1. R.J. – Yes, my opinion, take it for what it is worth, is that if super hero movies begin to fail, prices could fall up to 50% to pre-move values. So what to do? Invest more of our extra dollars in the stock market? Actually, stocks are more risky and volatile, driven by factors like fear, double-dip worries, Europe uncertainty, lack of political leadership, policy makers out of bullets, forced selling and the destabilizing effect of computer trades. So, you really need to invest time here to know where to invest. Actually anywhere we invest our money, it is risky, right. So are comic books a better investment?

    Solid blue chip comic books held their ground during the ‘90s industry implosion. (Am I remembering that right?) Keys have always been strong. Comics have been one of the lessor volatile investments if you understand the comic market and invest wisely. Many speculators have not understood the Market and invested in the kind of Modern Comics which some comic books stores will buy up at 10 cents each and sell on special days for 25 cents each. Certain Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age comics are good investments and others not. If you don’t understand and love the hobby, you can make a lot of stupid purchases.

    Yet, many of the speculators who have entered the hobby due to the popularity of the movies, may just as likely jump ship if the movie popularity declined. So what’s a mother to do? If you are going to invest, you are going to take risks. There is no sure thing. Don’t always follow the heard and use your own smarts even if others think you are being stupid. (I am not saying don’t listen and consider, just not to base your decision on what others think of your opinion.) That may get you ahead of the curve if you know what you are doing.

    Here’s what I think. (Again, take it for what it is worth.) Marvel Disney and Josh Whedon know what they are doing and they are very serious about Marvel Movies. Already, Thor – Dark World has made nearly a half billion worldwide after two weekends. On the heels of the Avengers move, Iron Man 3 brought in over 1 Billion worldwide. I anticipate and hope for similar results in the future. Marvel Disney has raised the bar and this may inspire the other studies to do the same, hopefully, for example, with the new Fantastic Four movie coming out in 2015. I have seen Star Wars comics going up in price since Disney announced the new movies beginning in 2015. Disney is very committed on this and is planning one movie a year for years to come. I think that any Star Wars Comics, even the ‘90s Dark Horse, believe it or not, will eventually be bringing in some decent profit for investors who can’t afford the Blue Chip Comics. Pick up Luke Cage 1 and Marvel Premier 15 (first Iron Fist) from your local comic books shop if they are asleep at the wheel. These prices are sky rocketing. Watch for a Marvel Disney Inhuman’s movie coming out as speculated. Buy important issues before the movie is announced (i.e.l FF 45).

    Investing in comics is fun. If you truly love the hobby and appreciate the great stories and art in your collection, you can have a precious investment that you can treasure through the years and as well, use to help pay the bills.

  2. I think they will keep remaking them until they really start having major losses in money, lets all remember Hulk, Hulk Mulligan…sorry I mean The Incredible Hulk and then them finally hitting gold with Hulk in the Avengers, which will probably lead to yet another Hulk movie. They are going to bleed this stone dry before they ever start to slow down.

  3. Anyone who is semi conscious knows that it’s not a question of “if”, but rather “when”. Hollywood has gone through it’s phases… and the days of TV show remakes, rom-com’s and character based horrors are out of favour these days (although, I’m sure they’ll be back as trends tend to be cyclinical or generational) and so too will super hero movies follow. I don’t think it will be a sudden crash but more a gradual fade out. Hey, it can’t last forever… right?

    However, I do think that superhero movies do have more legs, for the following reasons:
    • Marvel has orchestrated their big plan well and have managed to replicate on screen what they’ve done in comics
    • A loyal comic book fan base means an established audience
    • The waning audience attention span (less story, more stuff that blows up)
    • Top notch FX
    • Growing interest from A list talent

    As for the back issue market… books that rise based on movies is concerning. On one hand, it all makes sense. After all, what are movies if not a big commercial. So, there’s no surprise that comics would get a boost from their film counterparts. But, on the other hand… are these books rising too fast, too high? If GOTG was not a popular comic before, then why should it be now? No matter how good the movie is, it’s doesn’t make the comic any better. Hype creates momentum so people will continue to party while they can and it’s this kind of tragedy that is can be called “Shakespearean”… knowing the eventual outcome and yet we go on.

    Still, all this pales in comparison to the real issue… but who cares? It’s spec boom 2.0 so let’s party!

  4. Isn’t there also that Marvel/Disney will start looking dry and cliche with their formula. Critics were already pointing it out in the recent movie. At least DC/WB is trying to differ their superhero movies and make them ask big questions rather than just to chew your popcorn at.

  5. those of us old enough remember all haley mills family friendly adventure,comedy,musical films which dominated in america over a decade. yes of course its cyclical, but comic book investment is a very very complex sophisticated field.

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