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The Superman Economy

If the most-recent iteration of the Superman franchise was considered a failure, why make another?
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The newest addition to the Superman canon, Man of Steel, is different than the previous kryptonite-concerning films in at least two ways: 1) It’s the first time a Brit has played the quintessential American legend, and 2) it features the hairiest Clark Kent to date. Aside from those details, the lore of Superman is something most of us know well. We know of his 1938 roots, identify with his immigrant status, and admire his strong jawline. So despite the awesomeness of DC Comics and the inarguable role of Kal-El in American culture, it’s hard not to ask: another Superman movie?

Man of Steel will be the 10th Superman film to date; the franchise began with 1948’s aptly titled Superman. There have been various television shows, and a few failed projects. (Nicolas Cage as Clark?) The most recent reboot, 2006’s Superman Returns,was supposed to be Warner Brother’s new superhero centerpiece, but it didn’t come close. Despite that film’s inability to deliver, Warner Brothers still sticks with Superman.

Why stay loyal to the alien from Krypton?

“Everyone is hoping this is the Superman to resurrect Superman,” box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian told theLos Angeles Times. “That this will reboot the franchise in a way the last one couldn’t.”

So why stay loyal to the alien from Krypton? Because Warner Brothers knows we loved him once before.

A paper produced in part by Harvard Business School states that because films come with high economic danger, a way to cope with that risk is to pursue franchises that have demonstrated their appeal in the past. They’re already more cost-efficient to develop and market: viewers are more enthusiastic about subjects they know, and they cause DVD and video game sales to increase. Although sequels may not do as well at the box office as their parent films, they tend to do much better, on a week-by-week basis, than non-sequels. In a 2012 paper, William Proctor says that rebooting franchises is a relatively recent phenomena in cinema, making the present the “Age of Reiteration.” Franchises allow subjects the “luxury of rebirth,” Proctor writes, and a chance to remain relevant without having to rely on “original untested sources.”

And it works.

Two competing summer franchises—Iron Man and Fast and Furious—have made millions with films later in their canons. Iron Man 2 came in at $623 million, and Fast Five was the most successful of the franchise with $624 million—that is, until the numbers come in for Fast and Furious Six. Although Superman Returns wasn’t seen by its producers as a popular success, it still made $391 million. That’s more than Batman Begins ($372 million worldwide), but its sequel, The Dark Knight, made $533 million in the U.S. alone. With Batman director Christopher Nolan as Man of Steel’s producer, maybe that’s the recipe the studio is banking on.

So will Man of Steel save Superman? Critics seem to be favorable so far, and it’s already made 170 million in promotional dollars. “I think people can forgive and people can forget,” Jonah Weiland, owner of comic book news website Comic Book Resources, told the Los Angeles Times. “This movie looks nothing like Superman Returns.”