LOS ANGELES — Walt Disney Co. has thrown down the gauntlet at Warner Bros. by scheduling the next installment of its Captain America film series to open the same day its competitor releases a combined Superman-Batman movie.
Disney’s Marvel unit said Monday a previously unidentified film scheduled for May 6, 2016, would be the third film in the series. The second picture, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” set a record for an April debut last weekend with ticket sales of $95 million in the U.S. and Canada.
Pitting superheroes against each other flies in the face of recent efforts by studios to spread out competing films and avoid cannibalizing ticket sales. Plans by Disney and Time Warner’s film division to come out with big pictures on the same day suggest competition for top dates remains fierce.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for two huge superhero films to open on the same date, but there is a lot of time between now and [May 6, 2016],” Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. in Burbank, Calif., said in an interview. “However, at this time, we are not considering a change of date for ‘Batman vs. Superman.’”
Disney, also based in Burbank, and Marvel didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In January, Warner Bros. pushed back the release of its planned “Batman vs. Superman,” a follow-up to “Man of Steel,” to May 6, 2016, from July 17, 2015, according to Rentrak Corp., an industry researcher. Marvel has had an untitled release on the schedule for that date since July.
“I don’t think the studios or the theaters would be happy to see this,” Alan Gould, an analyst at Evercore Partners in New York, said in an interview. “I would be surprised if they didn’t end up changing these dates.”
With its weekend debut, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the superhero sequel to the 2011 movie, beat the previous record for an April opening — the $86.2 million recorded by “Fast Five” in 2011.
“Captain America” also passed “The Lego Movie,” a Warner Bros. picture, to score the biggest opening weekend this year, and has already generated $303 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
The movie, which cost $170 million to make, should produce $248 million in receipts in its full theatrical run in the U.S. and Canada, according to BoxOffice.com.
The picture, starring Chris Evans in the title role, marked an early start to the summer film season, which traditionally begins the first weekend in May and accounts for more than 40 percent of annual box-office revenue.
“A lot of films are announced many years in advance now, and some of it is posturing,” said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 21st Century Fox Inc.’s film division.
Disney also has scheduled “Alice in Wonderland 2” for the U.S. Memorial Day weekend in late May 2016, when Fox is set to release a new “X-Men” film.