Superhero Films Are Not Taking Over

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They’re coming to take over our cinemas. A slow moving tide, like a horde of the undead lurching towards us with greedy eyes. They’re still too far off right now, but in 2016 we won’t know what hit us: superhero movie after superhero movie, each with silly costumes and nerdy storylines. They’ll make us pay to watch too, and when we leave the movie theatre, we’ll be zombies.

In our fast moving internet world the accusation that there are too many superhero movies is not a new one. As far back as 2013 Cracked felt confident enough to declare superheroes were a ‘bubble’ that would burst in the same way the New Hollywood era did back in the 80s. Today’s movie landscape is different though, and the rise (and predicted fall) of superhero flicks has been much exaggerated.

It’s certainly true that superheroes currently enjoy a bigger chunk of television time than they’ve ever done before. The top two shows for the CW channel in America are The Flash and Arrow, both comic book adaptations. Meanwhile, Marvel have multiple shows on multiple platforms with a scary amount still in the pipeline. Add to this the goofy Gotham and the upcoming Supergirl and the superhero show might soon be giving the police procedural a run for its money.

Supergirl

Over in the film industry, things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. Or, at least, the claim that a glut of superhero movies are on the way that will quickly leave us bored of the entire genre is well off the mark. See, if you visit movie news websites, or even just have a casual interest in cinema, you’d be forgiven for thinking all that’s coming out for the next squillion years is superhero films.

“They’re doing Batman again!”, “They’re doing Spider-Man again!”, “They’re doing a million X-Men movies!”. Stock up on canned food, lock yourself in your house and try to wait the whole thing out! They’re doing superheroes forever!

Only, they’re not. Hundreds of movies get wide releases every year. Even in the big budget action movie space there’s still plenty to choose from. If superheroes aren’t your thing why not see Jurassic World? What about Mad Max, Furious7, The Man from UNCLE or Insurgent? Next year, when we’re set to see seven superhero movie outings, we’ll also see adaptations of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed as well as a new Star Trek movie and a new Bourne instalment.

So how come we’re all creeped out by the idea of seven superhero films in one year? A cursory glance at Wikipedia lists no less than 18 horror and 15 sci-fi movies hitting multiplexes in 2015. There are no op-eds or think pieces decrying a glut of these genres. And why should there be?

Some of you are probably thinking: “So how come all I hear about is these god damn comic book movies then?” and you’d be asking a good question. Fortunately there’s a pretty easy answer: the internet, and great marketing.

X-Men Apocalupse
Image source: screencrush.com

We’re living in the social media age. Everyone has a camera. If a politician says something racist in public, it’s on Facebook. If there’s a protest in Hong Kong or Cairo Twitter makes sure people in America and Europe know about it. The world is connected like never before. When something goes viral, everyone sees it.

What’s this got to do with superhero movies? Well, by accident of history superhero movies seem perfectly designed to create a constant stream of rumours, news and buzz from before pre-production all the way to the movie’s release and beyond. Online film critic Bob Chipman lays this out perfectly here, but the long and short of it is that superhero flicks can generate more news and clicks than a regular action movie ever could.

That doesn’t mean regular action films aren’t still popular too. The recent Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is making big bucks right now. In fact, it’s actually beating out Fantastic Four by a country mile. If you compared the two you’d almost certainly find that the superhero one has had much more online coverage than the Tom Cruise one, even though more people opted to go see Cruise.

So Tom Cruise wins even though the coverage and speculation for Mission Impossible wasn’t nearly as great as for the superhero film. It doesn’t matter. For some reason people like reading about comic book movies. It doesn’t mean they’re taking over.

Admittedly the film studios have become masters of drip feeding us regular splashes about their comic book fare. A new costume, a new cast member, who the next bad guy will be; it’s not just happening with comic book stuff either. The likes of Star Wars and the Hunger Games series are increasingly using the same tactics.

Force Awakens

There’s still a big conversation to be had about originality in Hollywood of course. So far this year, eight of the ten biggest movies have been either sequels or offshoots of some other media. The thing is, that was true a decade ago too. Hollywood’s originality problem was not born with the age of the superhero and will probably still be there long after.

Yes, superhero flicks are being shovelled money by Hollywood like never before, and their budgets are higher than they used to be. But so is every other film’s. The mid-budget movie seems to have become extinct, with movie studios gambling bigger and bigger budgets on a smaller and smaller crop of mega-movies.

That’s not the superheroes’ fault though, and they’re not taking over the world. It just looks like they are from where you’re standing.

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