Spider-Man: No Way Home isn’t just the biggest hit movie that we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic; it’s actually one of the biggest hit movies that we have seen, period. No Way Home has made well over a billion dollars at the global box office and it’s one of the top movies all time, both domestically and globally. It’s great news for Marvel and Sony, but it might be bad news for Warner Bros. and DC. The upcoming Flash movie will be expected to follow in these footsteps, which is something it may not be able to do.
On paper, The Flash and Spider-Man: No Way Home have a lot in common. They’re both superhero movies that use the multiverse concept to bring decades of movie franchises together. Since one of those movies was a huge hit, it’s easy to assume that the other will be, but that’s where we start to have some problems.
Spider-Man: No Way Home's Success Is Reinforcing The Wrong Lesson
Hollywood is always looking for shortcuts. Studios arte putting hundreds of millions of dollars on the line and they want to find a way to hedge their bets. This is why whenever we see any movie hit it big, we tend to see a lot of movies follow with something very similar. Lionsgate scores a big win with a Hunger Games movie? Get ready to watch movie adaptations of Divergent, The Maze Runner and whatever else a studio can buy the rights to (does anybody even remember The 5th Wave?), because clearly what the people want are YA dystopian movies. Except those other movies were not nearly as successful as The Hunger Games. This was because the formula for success was not that simple.
That’s basically what happened when Sony Animation released Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Superhero movies were already huge business, and superhero movies that brought multiple heroes together were even bigger. Spider-Man movies are always popular, so combine all these elements, and you get a Spider-Man multiverse movie that was a critical and commercial success and even ended up with an Oscar.
Clearly what this means is that people love multiverse movies, and thus we get Spider-Man: No Way Home, bringing together three generations of Spider-Man actors, and The Flash, which is going to bring back Michael Keaton’s Batman, as well as Ben Affleck's Batman what's expected to be his final appearance (though Ezra Miller is teasing this may not be the case).
The problem is that the multiverse element isn’t really the reason that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a great movie. Miles Morales’ hero’s journey was inspiring. The movie’s art style was fresh and unique. Its creativity was not in the multiverse, it was in all the pieces that built the multiverse.
However, the massive success of Spider-Man: No Way Home that eclipses Into the Spider-Verse's box office is only more evidence that if you only look from that perspective, the multiverse is the key to giant piles of money. It worked twice, so clearly it can work a third time.
The Flash Movie Probably Isn't Going To Be A No Way Home-Level Hit
However, simply because The Flash will delve into the multiverse doesn’t mean it will be a great movie, or even a successful one. It needs to have more than that.
Movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home succeed not only because they get people to go to the theater, but because they get them to come back, The multiverse and the rumors of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield appearing certainly would have brought some people into the theater, but if the movie had been bad overall, it’s unlikely moviegoers would have gone back again and again.
Spider-Man: No Way Home was building off not only the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, but two previous Spider-Man films that people loved. The Flash doesn’t have that. Excluding his cameos in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the character has only had a starring role in one film. In Justice League, he was a member if an ensemble cast, and the last time the Scarlet Speedster was on the big screen was five years ago for the theatrical cut.
And let’s be blunt. While people clearly loved Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the DC film universe has struggled compared to its Marvel counterpart. Many movies have still been successful, but most of the recent ones have only paid lip service to the larger universe. No movie since Justice League has asked the audience to care about the larger universe, so it’s unclear how many people are truly invested in it.
The Flash runs the risk of being considered a flop even if it is technically successful. If it isn't a massive box office success like Spider-Man: No Way Home or a critical darling like Into the Spider-Verse, it could be seen as a failure.
The Flash Can Be A Great Movie, Even If It's Not A Great Multiverse Movie
None of this is to say that The Flash won’t be good in its own right or that it won’t be an awesome story that does cool things with the multiverse concept, it’s just that these two things can be mutually exclusive. But whatever The Flash's fate is, it will likely lead to studios learning the wrong lesson.
If The Flash is another big hit, the multiverse will get the credit. It won’t go to the director or the writers or even the stars, it will go to the plot elements. It will also reinforce the whole idea that what people want is multiverses, so we’ll just get more of them. The Flash may end up being great, but that will likely pave the way for some terrible multiverse movies to arrive.
If The Flash doesn’t succeed, the question will become why don’t audiences love multiverses anymore? There will be mass confusion over the fact that two multiverse movies were successful and a third was not. Warner Bros. has already seemingly made some pretty big decisions to change the direction of DC movies based on box office performance, so a lot is riding on The Flash’s success.
Even if the movie isn’t perfect, that doesn’t mean that the things that happen in it won’t be good ideas. The expectation is that The Flash will act as a sort of reboot for the DCEU, but if the movie that’s supposed to launch the reboot doesn’t work out, we could see all these ideas scrapped before they’re ever given a chance to breathe.
The expectations for The Flash need to be reasonable. Even if it’s a great movie, that doesn’t mean it will make a billion dollars. Even if it’s not a great movie, that doesn’t mean it will have nothing of value. We'll see how it all turns out come November 4.
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