loaded question: how much longer can the superhero paradigm dominate movies… and what’s next?

The teaser trailer for Thor: Love and Thunder landed today:

And my response was, well, somewhat mixed:

The current superhero cycle of cinema started with 2000’s X-Men, and it really kicked into high gear with 2008’s Iron Man. So we’ve had somewhere between 14 and 22 years of men (and a few women but not enough) in capes and/or spandex. Where does it end?

How much longer can the superhero paradigm dominate movies… and what’s next?

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Bluejay
Bluejay
movie lover
Mon, Apr 18, 2022 7:32pm

Superhero movies will dry up when audiences stop coming. Audiences will stop coming when they get bored of what superhero movies have to say. But as long as superhero stories — like stories in any genre — can keep finding fresh, new, interesting takes, they’ll flourish. (You said it yourself in your tweet: you might think superhero movies are over, but Taika Waititi has proven you can still do something fun and unexpected with them, and that’s enough to get your butt in a seat. 🙂 )

I also think that superhero films only feel “played out” when they keep going back to the well of telling mostly white/male-centered stories. The “death of superhero movies” has been bemoaned (or eagerly anticipated) for a long time now — but then something like Wonder Woman or Black Panther or Shang-Chi or Into the Spider-Verse comes out, and then everyone is like, gee, how interesting that brown/black/female people are revitalizing the genre! (Which will happen with Thor: Love and Thunder as well, I think. Valkyrie and Jane Foster are about to step up in a big way.)

There are SO MANY MORE Black/Brown/Asian/female/queer heroes whose filmic adventures have just barely gotten started or are waiting in the wings — from Sam Wilson as Cap, to Kate Bishop as Hawkeye, to America Chavez to Kamala Khan to Monica Rambeau to Jennifer Walters to Riri Williams to Wanda’s twin boys, and on and on (and I haven’t even touched the DC side of things). I’m not willing to say that superhero stories have played out until THEIR stories have played out, which, universe willing, won’t be for a long time to come.

last edited 1 month ago by Bluejay
Bluejay
Bluejay
movie lover
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Apr 22, 2022 8:56pm

I wonder, though. As I mentioned in my other reply to you, I think the dominance of superhero stories may be WHY we have space to tell more diverse stories. If superhero stories didn’t take up as much space in the culture, if the MCU didn’t require the constant production of new content and new characters to feed its larger narrative, would we be restricted to the constant recycling of Batman and Spider-Man movies, because they make the most money and are the easiest ones to greenlight?

(I mean, we’re constantly getting Batman and Spider-Man movies anyway. But at least they’re not the only ones.)

last edited 1 month ago by Bluejay
Danielm80D
Danielm80
movie lover
Mon, Apr 18, 2022 8:33pm

One of the smarter things that Marvel has done has been making films in lots of different subgenres. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an espionage thriller. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films—the first one in particular—were teen comedies. The new Dr. Strange film appears to be a campy horror movie. That hasn’t stopped them from becoming formulaic, but it’s kept the formula from becoming entirely predictable.

A few independent filmmakers have also directed superhero films. James Gunn alone has made a superhero black comedy and a superhero horror movie (along with multiple films for Marvel and DC). Independent filmmakers have no obligation to preserve a franchise, so if we’re lucky, that will lead to movies that take more risks and have more subversive messages, and if the films are surprising enough, they might remind us why some of us loved the genre so much in the first place.

I don’t think superhero movies will remain as pervasive as they are right now. Boredom will probably set in eventually, and some other genre will probably start to dominate the market when somebody makes a monster hit. But genres like romantic comedies and horror films have remained popular—with occasional lapses—for generations, so superhero movies may stick around for a while, too, as long as filmmakers manage to keep them interesting.

Dr. RocketscienceD
Dr. Rocketscience
moviegoer
Tue, Apr 19, 2022 3:19pm

Between 1918 and 1968 there were 40 films (plus two radio shows and a TV show) featuring Tarzan, stories all featuring the same character. In roughly the same timeframe, something like three thousand Westerns were made, many – perhaps most – following a familiar formula. In the 50 years since, both genres have becoming significantly less popular, but have not entirely vanished.
I’d say comic book superhero movies can look forward to another couple decades of massive popularity, but will continue to be made for the rest of the century, at least, with the most cerebral “deconstruction” era starting in the 2050s.

Lowell Rapaport
Lowell Rapaport
moviegoer
Tue, Apr 19, 2022 10:25pm

superheroes, whether they are called that or not, are one of the oldest storytelling genres.ignoring myths about gods, some of the oldest surviving stories, epic of gilgamesh, beowulf, and the iliad, are about superheroes or superpowered mortals. even the bible gets in on the act and gives us samson and supervillains like goliath.

superhero stories may ebb and flow, but they’re not going anywhere.

Bluejay
Bluejay
movie lover
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Apr 22, 2022 8:50pm

I think that the driving force behind this dominance is largely Marvel’s decision to have their movies serve a larger story in a shared universe (and the subsequent copycatting of the DC films). Once the decision was made that these would be, not one-off films or even self-contained trilogies, but a whole ecosystem of movies feeding into a larger narrative, then the constant production of movies to support that narrative sort of justifies itself, regardless of the quality or financial success of individual films. You have to make the movie, because it carries the story from this point to that point. Without the bigger picture, I’m not sure that there would have been as much motivation to make, say, Captain Marvel or the Ant-Man films or The Eternals as self-contained films on their own terms* (and I say this as a fan of those films, Captain Marvel in particular), or even to take a chance on the wild tonal shift of Thor: Ragnarok after the lackluster reception of Thor 2. The first Doctor Strange film wasn’t, I think, wildly popular on its own, and might not have justified the making of a sequel; but of course the new Doctor Strange film makes perfect sense as a gateway to, not just a universe now, but a multiverse (and thus more film possibilities).

*And honestly, I think that’s a good outcome of having the MCU necessitate lots of stories about lots of characters (including on Disney Plus)—because we’re getting an ever-increasing diversity of them, as opposed to being stuck with ONLY Batman and Spider-Man and X-Men films, which was pretty much what we had before Iron Man hit theaters.

Basically, Marvel is sitting on a mountain of source material, now grist for the self-perpetuating machine of the MCU. What would change to make them less dominant? I suppose if Disney sold off Marvel. Or if Kevin Feige stopped being the head of the studio for whatever reason, with the films losing a sense of direction, and audience interest dropping as a result.

Bluejay
Bluejay
movie lover
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Apr 23, 2022 11:08pm

Perhaps they are our secular saviors… and perhaps we will find them less appealing after we exit our crisis era.

I guess they’ll be around for the foreseeable future, then. 😄

But also, I’m not sure that “savior” is really the appeal. It’s the savior-type heroes who are hardest to translate to the screen, and the storylines that resonate aren’t always the save-us-from-doomsday ones. The most popular characters tend to be messed-up antiheroes or confused teenagers, dialed-up versions of regular people just figuring their shit out on a more dramatic, CGI-enhanced canvas. Not too long ago, in an earlier era of “War on Terror” crisis, the biggest films in the world were the LOTR trilogy and the Harry Potter movies — about ordinary-but-brave hobbits and kids going through their growing pains, relying on their friendships to face down evil. Maybe the appeal isn’t that they’ll save us, but that if they can save themselves, then we can do the same.

Bluejay
Bluejay
movie lover
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Apr 25, 2022 10:49pm

Fair point!

This actually feeds into something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and maybe someday I’ll put it into cohesive, comprehensive terms… but basically, we don’t have enough media that tells interesting, compelling stories about people just getting a society to function well. We’re raised and overdosed on all sorts of stories about Special Individuals—from fairy tales to 80s action heroes to James Bond to superhero franchises—which I think is partly why it’s easier for us to engage in hero worship IRL and pin all our hopes on our political/cultural idols rather than truly recognizing that we ALL bear responsibility for fixing this world, together.