The age of the B-list superhero is upon us.
This weekend, DC Entertainment's "Aquaman" hit the coveted $1 billion mark in global box-office receipts after less than a month — with Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Black Panther" already topping that watermark in 2018. Taken together, those 2 films underscore how the next wave of superhero movies are being steadily reshaped by lesser-known heroes who are resonating with audiences, in the process becoming vanguards of the genre's future.
For studios, the next phase of superhuman protagonists are less reliant on team-ups like "Justice League" and "The Avengers," but herald an age where a roster of previously obscure characters – which include the upcoming "Captain Marvel" and "Shazam!" – are heading up franchises of their own.
In the cases of Wakanda's warrior-king and the Atlantean ruler, the strategy appears to be paying big dividends for their parent studios. However, it can turn risky if moviegoers more accustomed to flashier names like Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman don't turn out to see the B-listers.
"Aquaman" is a harbinger of a trend that's encouraging for Hollywood: pluck a relatively less-renowned character from obscurity and give them their own movie. Even without the benefit of Batman or the Man of Steel, "Aquaman" has pulled in nearly $300 million domestically, and been a certifiable blockbuster overseas, to the tune of $700 million.
It sets the stage for DC's "Shazam!" in April, which is based on the comic character of a young boy who can transform himself into a god-like figure. The film is getting positive buzz from audiences.
With more and more films being produced that consist of relatively unknown characters, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore told CNBC that the "lesser-known superhero" approach better enables studios to create "fresh cinematic experiences."
Obscure heroes "can provide the most interesting and fresh cinematic experiences and they don't carry the burden of having to live up to the mystique and mythology of their better-known brethren," he added.