A few years ago, it seemed pretty clear to me that the superhero movie bubble would burst. While superhero movies broke records at the box office, audiences would inevitably lose interest in them, and the genre would go the way of the western.
That hasn’t happened.
Instead, it seems that the opposite of what I predicted is coming true. Superhero movies are perhaps more in-demand now than they ever have been. Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” for example, has recently made over $2 billion in just under two weeks; it’s on track to become the highest grossing movie of all time, usurping James Cameron’s “Avatar,” (a mediocre movie beloved by no one and remembered only for its box office returns). These past two years alone have seen comic book movies, anchored by characters who are either obscure or ridiculous, become sizable hits. “Aquaman,” for example, is a movie about a guy whose powers involve talking to fish and grossed over $1 billion. (No, seriously, “Aquaman,” made that much money). There are more superhero movies coming out later this year and next (such as “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” in July, and “Wonder Woman 1984,” in June of next year) which seem similarly destined to break the bank.
On the one hand, as a fan of these movies, this has been an exciting development. The massive box office receipts guarantee more superhero movies to be made in the future, including both sequels to movies I already liked, and new and intriguing franchises.
On the other hand, as a moviegoer, this is a worrying development. Superhero movies, those produced by Marvel Studios in particular, have become a kind of cultural monolith. They’re practically guaranteed to succeed, as people line up in droves (myself, unfortunately, included in said droves) to see them, overlooking other releases. Disney and Warner Brothers, the producers of Marvel and DC movies, wield a staggering level of power over the global box office.
There aren’t any major signs that they’ll lose their grip on audience’s wallets, either. There have been some recent superhero flops (“Justice League,” was an embarrassment, but that was back in 2017), but not enough consecutive flops to suggest a genuine lack of interest in superhero movies.
It poses some major dilemmas for the future of cinema, which are already playing themselves out. Blockbusters which dare to be original or experimental become a major risk for studios to take. Some, such as “Blade Runner 2049,” (a personal favorite of mine), have already failed to connect with audiences despite critical acclaim. None of which is to even mention the continued decline of mid-budget movies, a phenomenon set to worsen. After their merger, Disney has decided to shut down one of 21st Century Fox’s production companies, “Fox 2000,” which specialized in mid-budget movies such as “Hidden Figures,” and, “The Devil Wears Prada.” The odds of Hollywood producing another classic like “Prada,” have dramatically decreased.
It is possible that superhero movies, and their reign over Hollywood, will eventually crumble. Maybe not this year, maybe not next; but at some point in the future, we will collectively grow tired of watching Oscar-nominated performers dressing up in spandex and punching CGI bad guys. Maybe that’ll happen and Hollywood will be forced to create new, original movies. Or, maybe it won’t, and this is just the beginning of the age of superheroes. I’m beginning to worry it’s the latter.
Henry Spiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JudgeyMcJudge1.