MM Top 5: Reasons why superhero films won’t survive


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By Rob Stoakes

Another day, another superhero film. X-Men Apocalypse has prompted many things that come around with a superhero film. Fans showing how little shame they have and dressing up in tight spandex to hang around at conventions to generate sweat, tons of fan-art of Quicksilver making out with Loki, and of course, movie critics insisting that superhero films are about to die any second, no seriously it’s about to happen.

Look, I get it. Variety is the spice of life, and you don’t want to be stuck with all of this nerd stuff. I totally understand. I’d personally hate it if there were a ton of films about fashion and human social interactions and other things I detest. You all want to go back to a time when Midnight Cowboy could be considered the biggest film release of the year so in denial you blindly insist that this whole superhero thing is just a passing phase that’s bound to end soon.

Well, you’re all right. One day, the superhero genre will die, and I know that it will because…

#5) It’s happened before…

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Photo by Warner Bros. Entertainment

It’s not a film people think as especially important until you dig into it, but you really can divide the history into film into the time before Tim Burton’s Batman and afterward.

There are not many films you can say that of. Dracula, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Iron Man are probably the only other ones. Without Batman, we don’t get the groundbreaking cartoon series a few years later that changed children’s cartoons forever and saved Mark Hamill’s career, we don’t get the seeds of nerd culture planted where they will later grow to control all, we certainly don’t get any X-Men, Blade, Spiderman 1-2-3 punch a decade later. Batman also showed movie studios that comic books were a viable source of blockbuster material.

And its third sequel Batman and Robin almost killed it.

Well, that’s not too fair. It’s not like the previous comic book films like Steel, Barbed Wire or The Phantom were any more enjoyable than getting bleach in the eyes, but at least they were being made. Then Joel Schumacher hit cinema with a bullet that stopped all superhero movies until Bryan Singer saved the genre, and he did it by pretending the first X-Men film was a cookie-cutter action movie exactly like everything else out at the time. Without Spiderman, it’s debatable as to whether or not comic book movies would have ever survived, and that was unimaginable to the world of the early 90’s.

#4) … and not just to comic book movies

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Photo by 20th Century Fox

Let me tell you a tale. Once upon a time, monsters ruled the earth. They tormented humans and on occasion fought one another. And the thing is that they came out of nowhere. Some monsters lived in past years, but only in small numbers. Now, though, you couldn’t turn around without being struck by monsters. They were everywhere.

Then Hollywood collapsed in on itself, and horror movies got dragged down with it.

Now, admittedly, the circumstances that destroyed the dominance of monster movies in the Golden Age of Hollywood weren’t entirely tied to the genre, but if you went back in time and asked a man or woman from the 30’s to describe the film industry, they’d scream at you for your demonic clothes and terrifying technology, but then they’d calm down and tell you something very similar to our cinematic landscape. Or maybe it would also sound like the dominance of Westerns. Or even British bawdy comedies. History doesn’t repeat itself, except for when it does over and over and over again.

#3) Marvel’s got no real competition

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Photo by 20th Century Fox

Recently Warner Bros asked for Geoff Johns to go from writing comic books to help them writing movies. That is how bad the Batman v Superman experiment is going. That’s like buying a car, then phoning Ford to ask them how to not hit lampposts. Sony, meanwhile, messed up the Amazing Spiderman films so badly and killed it so thoroughly that they had to give joint custody of their reboot to Marvel. Fox’s Fant4stic is in danger of going the same way, and how many times have the various actors teased quitting?

In the land of the blind, the king is the only one consistently making at least halfway decent movies. Marvel doesn’t have much to worry about from anyone else and they very much know that. Great for Marvel, but that’s absolutely awful for everyone else, including the audience. The same films with the same tone and the same pool of characters over and over again will bore audiences. If you don’t believe me, look at entry number 4 on this list. Marvel needs competition to stay innovative, because otherwise like a fat king they risk lounging on their throne and stagnating.

Not that they can be confident enough to lounge, because…

#2) The comic book industry itself is dying

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Picture by Marvel Comics.

If your name isn’t DC or Marvel, this is a really, REALLY bad time to be a comic book publisher. If you are DC or Marvel, things aren’t looking much better.

Plummeting sales and increased costs of comics themselves are strangling the industry, and it is clear to see. With the exception of Batman (because Batman transcends comic books and will probably still be around after the aliens destroy us all) all of the culturally relevant superheroes haven’t been at the forefront of comic book store shelves since about the eighties.

The last truly popular Iron Man comic was released in the year 19-never-happened, Hulk has always sold surprisingly badly, and the nicest thing we can say about the Justice League post New 52 is that they exist. The best sellers now are oddities that studio executives will for better or worse never dare to put on the big screen like Spider-Gwen or Batgirl.

Meanwhile, indie comics pop up and then die in the course of a week, unless they can get a big license to adapt like Adventure Time. No joke, my local comic book shop has more My Little Pony comics than it does Captain America, and most of its hardbacks are just books of already popular webcomics with stupid names like Octopus Pie and Cyanide with Happiness.

So yes, the comic book superhero boom is on a ticking clock. But the question is when will it die? I don’t know the answer, except “not before Rob Schneider is nominated for an Oscar,” for the simple reason that…

#1) We’ve been saying this for years

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Photo by 20th Century Fox

People have been saying that the death of comic book movies is imminent since about the time of Iron Man 2, and comic books don’t seem to have even taken a dent since then. So 2015 and 2016 haven’t been the best years in terms of quality so far, but profit has been ridiculous, and in terms of superhero exposure and love, they’ve never been stronger. TV shows like Daredevil and Supergirl and hype for the next phase of Marvel films and Spiderman have combined to kick the superhero genre into hyperdrive.

It’s inevitable that the comic book dominance of our time will burn through its oil faster than it can drill it out of the comic book ground, but for all of those bored by superheroes, then I’m sad to say that it’s not coming soon. Almost all action movie heroes already have the superpower of perfect aim and invulnerability anyway; comic books are just the new source material rather than novels. If I were to guess when the comic book movie bubble finally bursts, it will only be when Marvel’s lack of real contest finally means that it runs out of countries to conquer and it slowly burns itself out.

Or, I don’t know, when Dazzler gets her own movie.

And if you want to hear more from Rob, tune into the Battleship Potemkast, with the latest edition below.

2 thoughts on “MM Top 5: Reasons why superhero films won’t survive

  1. Great article, lots of good points.

  2. 5. The “death” of the comic book genre lasted what, one and a half year? Not to mention that back then perhaps one or two Comic book movies were in production in any given year, nowadays there are multiple ones. You would need multiple movies in a row failing to kill this genre.

    4. And yet there are still Monster movies made, Horror movies made, Western made….yeah, there will be a day when Comic book movies are no longer the biggest thing out there, but I doubt that they will vanish for good anytime soon.

    3. Thankfully Marvel is well aware that they shouldn’t keep doing the same thing and are not afraid to mix things up with new properties. Also, Deadpool.

    2. And it has no impact whatsoever on the movies anytime soon, because they can tap into decades of Comic book lore. Or think of new stories. It’s not like the majority of the audience reads comics anyway….

    1. Yep, they say it for years, and they have been wrong for years. That won’t keep anyone for congratulating himself once a new genre is the big thing in town, blissfully ignoring the comic book movie which will still make at least decent numbers….

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