Moviegoers aren't tiring of superheroes, Warner Bros. CEO says

Moviegoers aren't tiring of superheroes, Warner Bros. CEO says
Christian Bale as Batman in Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / Associated Press)

It doesn't take special powers to see why "superhero fatigue" is one of the movie business buzzwords of the year.

But Warner Bros. Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara says the glut of franchise films isn't a problem for his business.

Warner Bros.' 10 upcoming DC Comics movies will be sufficiently different from the pack to attract diverse audiences, he said at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The planned "Wonder Woman" film will appeal to different demographics than "Aquaman," he suggested.

"Each one of them is very different, and we're going to be able to use that diversity to really launch a multiyear strategy of superhero movies, of DC movies," he said.

Last year, Warner Bros. announced plans for 10 movies over five years based on DC Comics characters. Marvel Studios quickly followed, laying its bulky "Phase 3" film lineup. Then Sony said it had partnered with Marvel to reboot the flagging "Spider-Man" property.

Analysts have warned that moviegoers will grow weary of caped crusaders. Meanwhile, the Oscars honored "Birdman," a film that satirizes Hollywood's perceived obsession with comic book blockbusters, and Jack Black warned, singing in character during the awards ceremony, of the monotony of "Sequel Man" and "Prequel Man."

Tsujihara argued that the superhero movies from Warner Bros., which released Christopher Nolan's successful "Dark Knight" trilogy, "are steeped in realism and a little bit edgier than Marvel's movies."

He pointed to the studio's popular Batman-based TV series "Gotham" as an example of a property with some darkness and grit, whereas its CW show "The Flash" possesses a lighter tone.

"We have an opportunity to go after pools that are very different," Tsujihara said.

Warner Bros.' franchise strategy isn't limited to DC

The Time Warner Inc.-owned film and TV studio has another Lego movie in the works to follow up on last year's animated smash, as well as the J.K. Rowling-penned "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" series.

But Cowen and Co. analyst Doug Cruetz has warned major studios against relying too much on franchises, particularly in the action-hero genre. He said in a recent report that the increase in superhero movies will result in "a decline in per-film box office due to competition," noting a similar glut of animated movies in 2013.

"With 'Star Wars,' 'Avatar,' and 'Harry Potter' headlining a slew of other franchises that will be returning to theaters over the next few years, we think the lack of strategic diversity among the major studios could well lead to an increasing number of box office bombs as well as accelerating declines in domestic box office as audiences have a shrinking choice set," Creutz wrote.

This year's box office isn't likely to suffer. Domestic ticket sales are expected to increase 10% from last year's slump, according to analysts, likely driven by movies including "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and the seventh installment of "Star Wars."

Warner Bros. has two superhero movies set for 2016: "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" and the villain-centric "Suicide Squad."

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder