Netflix, Counterprogramming and Comic Book Nirvana



It’s a great time to be a comic book nerd.

The last decade has seen comic book movies so dominate the box office that even minor characters have received star treatment.

Consider that the 1970s and ‘80s gave us only Superman and Batman films.

And true, the early 2000s gave us X-Men and Spider-Man movies.

But it was 2008 that heralded a sea change. The 1-2 punch of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (which earned Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar) and Iron Man.


Here’s the thing – prior to Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal, Iron Man was a B-list hero at best. But it was the wild success of that film that led to Disney buying Marvel Comics and embarking upon its ambitious “shared universe” which has produced more than 15 interconnected films so far.

Ask the 12-year-old me who basically started collecting comic books back in 1989 because of Tim Burton’s Batman if we’d ever see a live-action Doctor Strange movie, let alone an Ant-Man one, and I’d have told you that you were insane.

As noted in my last post, the problem now is that audiences have seen so many superhero movies that the studios are having to constantly innovate to keep them interested.

Hence, Disney’s writing Thor: Ragnarok as an ensemble comedy and Fox framing the upcoming X-Men spin-off The New Mutants as a horror film.

But this blog – first and foremost – is about marketing, not movies or comic books.

So it amused me today when I realized that Netflix will release its latest Marvel (ahem! Disney-owned) superhero show, The Punisher, on Nov. 17th.

Why is that significant?

Because that also happens to be the day Warner Brothers releases its long-awaited Justice League film.

It’s a crazy time we live in where a comic book fan can see a $200 million Thor/Hulk movie, a PG-13 Punisher TV series, and a $250 million Justice League film all drop within just two weeks of each other.

But there’s a nuance here too. Punisher vs. Justice League sets up a viewing battle among the Marvel vs. DC fans, but also their rival studios – Disney vs. Warner Brothers.

And Netflix may win this one.

Because as I write this, last week’s North American poor box office (lees than $60 million for the top 12 films combined) was largely blamed not on poor film offerings or Halloween, but on the release of Season 2 of Netflix’s acclaimed Stranger Things.

For comparison, this weekend’s number one film, Thor: Ragnarok, is expected to reach $115 million alone – nearly double the take of the top 12 movies released last weekend.

The point?

Hollywood has not only taken notice of “the Netflix effect” when its popular shows drop but is now actively blaming Netflix and people’s bingeing behavior for poor box office performance.

But back to marketing:

As its tremendous stock growth over the last few years has shown, Netflix has been doing a lot of things right.


Scheduling the release of its latest superhero show The Punisher specifically to draw viewers away from the competing Justice League movie is just another feather in Netflix’s cap – a display of strength and marketing savvy at its best.

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