After Steven Spielberg boldly predicted the demise of the superhero blockbuster, we took a look at why the veteran director isn’t wrong.
One of the founding grandfathers of the Hollywood blockbuster, Steven Spielberg, recently spoke out about the future of superhero movies, predicting that the genre will “go the way of the Western” and die out, at least in the way that we now know it. We’re all familiar with the term “too much of a good thing” and it seems the cinema-going public are not as crazy about superhero films as they were, say, five years ago. While this recent obsession with the genre is not anything new – superhero films have been around for quite some time – it’s the quantity of these films currently being made that could signal its demise.
For an industry that is now completely dictated by numbers (at least on the Hollywood side of things) where budgets are weighed against box office takings and opening weekends against lifetime gross figures, it’s only money that matters. And increasingly the superhero numbers don’t look good.
Take the recently-released Ant-Man for example, which on a $130 million budget, took away only $57.2 million in its opening weekend in North America, making it Marvel’s second-lowest opening to date. Or the perpetually struggling Fantastic Four series, which somehow never manages to make it in the film world. The series’ latest reboot did a measly $26.2 million on its opening weekend – a fraction of its $120 million budget – making it one of the lowest openings for a big-budget superhero movie of all time. While both films have now earned back their production costs, their sluggish performance is a slap in the face for studios, proving that not all superhero movies are the bankable prospect they once were.
Image from Fantastic Four.
Of course it’s not to say that all superhero films are struggling; Avengers: Age of Ultron was a massive commercial success that studios are eagerly trying to repeat, with the movie grossing $1.402 billion to date. However the genre is being over-saturated, and for superhero movies to keep making an impact, studios are forced to pull out bigger and bolder ideas each time around, and this model is simply not sustainable.
As Steven Spielberg recently told Associated Press: “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 […] 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.”
With new series including Suicide Squad and Deadpool yet to release, it doesn’t feel like as though an end to the superhero era is in sight, however audiences today are too savvy to keep falling for the same old tricks. Even Chris Evans AKA Captain America weighed in on the debate, suggesting to Collider that directors need to broaden their approach to how this subject matter is handled if audiences are to avoid becoming “exhausted.” So, with that in mind, here are five reasons why superhero movies (at least, as we know them), will soon come to an end.
Image from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
1. The Original Content Will Run Dry
Superhero movies aren’t anything new, yet the speed and quantity at which they’re been arriving in recent years is unheard of. While some classics of the genre might have received a makeover every once in a while (with Batman no stranger to a remake), the sheer pace of films being remade – sometimes planned the minute they’ve left one director’s hands – is mind-boggling. Sure it was bold for Marvel to begin a brand-new Spider-Man series only ten years after the first, but announcing a new Batman generation just one year after the last of the highly lauded Dark Knight films came to cinemas? That is surely moving on too quick.
The problem here is that there are only so many cult superhero comics out there, and the best ones are being milked by studios for all they’re worth, which in turn is watering down the already limited source material available. While studios could go and write a brand new superhero movie with original characters and plot lines, the truth is they don’t. After all, the success of superhero films comes largely from their rich history as comic books, and studios are more interested in cultivating the already successful ones that have a loyal following. After all, Hollywood filmmaking has become more about guaranteed returns than risk taking, and what says failsafe more than a series that already has legions of fans?
So while rights to the next best stories are being bought up by the dozen, the top of the top are being remade by the dozen, and after a while they all start to feel the same. There’s only a limited pool of these great comic properties with an established following out there, and that supply is starting to run out.
Image from The Amazing Spider-Man.
2. Audiences Won’t Settle for the Same Old Thing
While studios might not think it, audiences are smarter than they think. When Sony chose to reboot Spider-Man with a new director and new cast, this time focusing on Peter Parker developing his abilities in high school, the studio probably thought it was a no-brainer. Sam Raimi’s original trilogy was a huge success, grossing just over $354 million total in opening weekend box offices for all three films. The people wanted more Spider-Man right? Well, apparently not just yet.
The Amazing Spider-Man was set to be a visually darker take on the superhero, and while Andrew Garfield in the lead role kicked off a load of hype and garnered a fairly good critical reception, the film didn’t really live up. Whether it was too soon to revive the series – with a mere five years between the end of Raimi’s trilogy and the first of Marc Webb’s – or the shot-for-shot similarities were enough to deter potential viewers, The Amazing Spider-Man under-performed. Delivering only $154 million in domestic opening weekend gross for the first two films, the franchise was then cut short prematurely.
While there could be multiple underlying reasons for the reboot’s failure, the point is that Hollywood is able to make a great standalone superhero film, but in a larger context it all comes down to audiences. So while Hollywood might think “more is more” when it comes to superhero movies, audiences still want to be entertained, and a churned out rehash of the same rough storyline – albeit with new talent – just won’t cut it in today’s landscape.
Image from The Avengers.
3. Hollywood Can’t Keep Sustaining a “Bigger & Better” Model
Two years ago Spielberg predicted that Hollywood was headed for an implosion soon enough, where ballooning budgets have become so ridiculous that the industry won’t be able to sustain itself. As each blockbuster (or superhero movie) fights to outdo its predecessor, more money is put in, bigger effects are needed, and the necessity for overall impact grows. Each sequel must get bigger and better, which ultimately gets harder and harder to do, often leading studios to get around the problem by rebooting a series with new talent and a new image. But look how that turned out for Spider-Man…
The resultant problem with this formula is that at a certain point, the films themselves become a monopoly on the market. When more money is being funneled into a few big superhero flicks, it leaves less for the smaller budget features, which in some cases then don’t even get made. This situation is further exacerbated when the two biggest players in the comic book universe – Marvel and DC – go head-to-head with major releases, and end up blowing all other “smaller” stories out of the water.
No wonder this method can’t sustain itself. At this rate the two juggernauts will end up obliterating each other and soon we’ll be down to Hollywood ground zero, just as Spielberg is predicting.
Image from Ant-Man.
4. Technology Will Push a New Genre Into the Limelight
It’s no secret that a large part of the superhero genre’s current reign is down to today’s advanced visual technology. Back when computer-generated imagery was only used for minor enhancements, most film sets were constructed physically, with both budgets and physical limitations dictating which stories were told, and how. Enter 2015, where CGI has far surpassed anything we can build physically and now allows us to make fantasy worlds appear realer than ever before. It’s no surprise then that technology is dictating the current trends in the film industry.
Speaking on the matter, Chris “Captain America” Evans once again weighed in, stating: “I certainly think that [movie studios] are always going to be looking for other films to match their technological accomplishments.” The question is, will those movies remain superhero-based, or will another genre step up to fill its place?
Ttechnology is advancing at a rapid pace, and soon enough, the effects that make Iron Man or Thor so believable and realistic in our eyes will seem small fry for programmers who want to remain challenged in their work. That means scenarios and storylines will have to change in order to keep pushing what’s possible with the technology and keep exciting both movie audiences and the people who make them. While this could still entail superhero stories, when the emphasis within CGI moves on to new challenges, the genre of movies used to show off the results will also likely change.
Image from Deadpool.
5. Trend Cycles Will Dictate a Natural Change in Films
While it might seem an obvious point, this is perhaps the most valid in the end. Whether the subject is fashion, music or cinema, trends change, and nothing is free from their ever-evolving cycle.
Trends in cinema can be viewed either by looking at cinematic movements through the years, which are dictated by the progress of technology and the business side of the industry – as per the invention of “talkies”, the rise of the auteur director, the new generation of “video store” directors etc. Equally they can be observed as specific sub-genre fads, often relating to wider changes in society – war films in times of war, science fiction movies corresponding to rising new technologies, pop cultural trends leading to a “vampire craze” etc.
Perhaps that’s why studios are doing their best to cash in on superhero movies right now, as they know the opportunity won’t last forever. With the rise in home-streaming services and Paramount’s move to launch movies on demand just two weeks after theatrical releases, the landscape is certainly changing and box office openings could soon be a thing of the past if studios radically change their distribution methods. As such, they want to get their high-impact superhero properties into profit-making movie theaters while they can.
Exactly how much time they have left, however, is uncertain. Needless to say the superhero sub-genre has been done to death, and when both industry heavyweights and those involved in the making of these films are making predictions as to their demise, we know we’re on the downward slope.
While increasingly lesser-known comic book properties are being pulled from the depths in a bid to give audiences something fresh (Deadpool I’m looking at you), studios are starting to realize that you can’t just pump out Spider-Man version 10.0 and wait for the money to roll in. It’s fairly safe to say that there will be something else on the horizon soon enough, and while the genre does stand a chance of continuing on, it will not be in its current form. That said, one thing’s for certain, it certainly isn’t going to go out without a fight.