Do superhero movies have a shelf life?

Posted on: 7th October 2015 Film superhero
So how long are superhero movies going to last?

There has been a huge debate recently through the media as to how long the life expectancy of blockbuster comic book superhero movies is. They’ve dominated the box offices for the last 7-8 years and show no immediate signs of dying down.

Since the Dark Knight trilogy and Iron Man sparked off the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC, comic book films have become a huge part of modern day pop culture and have universal appeal, gaining huge numbers of fans who had never read the source material on which the films are largely based. Superhero comic book films have now proved to be a pillar of mainstream interest.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when well respected and Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg claimed that the superhero/comic book movie genre would go “the way of the Western”.

“We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.”

Spielberg is correct, Western movies did die out, with only a scattering of successes in recent years with Django Unchained & the remake of 3:10 to Yuma.

But could it really happen anytime in the near future when there is so much interest and money involved in the genre?

Zack Snyder, the director of Watchmen, Man of Steel and next years Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, who has made no secret for his love of comic books, also weighed in on the subject in reaction to Spielberg’s comments, in part agreeing with him, but he also didn’t miss the chance to critique the genre, particularly the Marvel films.

“He might not be wrong. I think it puts more pressure on us, the filmmakers, to not just crank out superhero movies for the sake of it.”

“I feel like Batman and Superman are transcendent of superhero movies in a way, because they’re Batman and Superman”

“They’re not just, like, the flavour of the week Ant-Man — not to be mean, but whatever it is. What is the next Blank-Man?”


He elaborated on the superhero genre issue and said that he doesn’t feel Batman or Superman fall into that category.

“I don’t think it is about proving that wrong but for me I believe Batman & Superman are transcendent of genre, they are more American mythology.

They are their own pop culture. They are not a genre, with Batman and Superman, you can walk down the street or down in Times Square and see a host of people with Superman t-shirts on or Batman t-shirts on, it is just what is in our culture.” 

The fact that he embraces Spielberg’s comments as a challenge to him to make his films great is encouraging for us fans as we would love to see the Dark Knight Returns story done justice in Batman vs Superman next year.

Snyder isn’t the only person to have a negative opinion about Marvel’s cinematic universe. Artist and graphic novel illustrator Brendan McCarthy, who recently storyboarded and co-wrote Mad Max: Fury Road, said how he has been unimpressed with the recent efforts of Marvel.

McCarthy believes that the commercial success of the genre has led to lazy storytelling.

“I have certainly got superhero film fatigue; I almost fell asleep through The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

There is a blandness to many of these adaptations now. Many people have said to me when a film is genuinely thrilling, like Fury Road, you realise you’ve been putting up with lacklustre storytelling.”

Despite there being some negativity as to how long the genre will last, between Marvel and DC Comics, there are currently 27 adaptations on the release calendar through 2020, and with DC only really getting started, there still seems to be plenty of life left in them yet.

However, this doesn’t mean that comic book movies altogether will become a spent force. The comic book industry is now so diverse that is has influences in multiple media industries. The Walking Dead continues to set ratings figure records year on year with each series in the United States, with a spin off series having just finished and a second installment of that due next year.

The Sin City films have earned a cult following, with themes of the mafia, crime, film noir, sex and drugs.

Whilst the superhero genre might die out at some point in the future, and then be reborn X amount of years down the line, the comic book industry as a whole will continue to have a huge influence.

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