The superhero movie formula is simple. Hero appears to be riding high, hero is temporarily humbled by supervillain, hero regains the advantage and saves the day. Now, the real world has delivered a twist: The coronavirus pandemic makes these costumed heroes seem powerless. Covid-19 has forced studios to postpone the release of some of their most lucrative movies and halt production on future installments of these ongoing series. Yet the threat the virus poses to superheroes isn’t limited to the immediate toll on the box office. When theaters reopen, will the fantasy that a few spandexed do-gooders can save us from disaster seem like a salve, or a sick joke? [Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic] This is a key question for Hollywood — or at least for its current business model — and it explains the industry’s reluctance to delay its spate of planned superhero movies even as China’s movie theaters went dark and it became clear the rest of the world would follow. Given how profitable the superhero genre has proved to be, and the extent to which the profits from these movies underwrite the production of other, smaller movies, companies such as Disney were understandably reluctant to

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