Is Marvel’s strategy a bad thing for superhero films?
The other day I came across an article whose argument was basically that the Avengers have ruined the Hollywood concept of a superhero movie. Essentially, the fact that all of the lead up movies to the Avengers were all connected-yet-separate and then there’s this big movie that tied them all together which became a huge thing. And now it’s happening everywhere. DC is doing it by bringing in Batman, Wonder Woman, and who knows who else in the second Man of Steel movie, Sony is doing it with Spider-man with two more sequels in the works and they just announced that their two spin off movies are about Venom and the Sinister Six. Even Fox is getting on board with The Wolverine teasing Days of Future Past which connects the First Class franchise to the first trilogy and have already announced Age of Apocalypse in 2016, not to mention the fact that they’re also supposedly tying the Fantastic Four into that universe somehow. The question is basically asking if the days of the stand-alone superhero movie are gone and these movies are becoming more like comic books, only a part of a much bigger whole that will only end when the money stops. Not only that, but it’s becoming the only model, and that’s a bad thing. Personally, I think it’s a good thing and for more reasons than just getting more superhero movies, which I’m all for too.
I think at first glance, this boom of superhero movies inspired by the Avengers means that the market is becoming more homogeneous with a slew of carbon copies coming out one after another. But this just isn’t true. I think the perfect example is what’s generally being referred to as Marvel’s “Phase 2”: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Besides the fact that they don’t like using numbers anymore, let’s take a little bit of a closer look at some of these titles. Iron Man 3 is probably the closest to what most people think of as a traditional superhero movie, it takes place on Earth, there’s a single hero and his allies fighting against a single villain and his minions with plenty of action and some sci-fi elements to explain the super powers. Thor: The Dark World is much more like a Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie full of sword (and hammer) fighting, elves, spaceships, portals, armor, and of course action. It’s too early to tell for certain, but Captain America seems like it has a large amount of political intrigue between the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, and how they want to handle the “enemy”. And while it’s really way too early to tell, but based on what I do know about it, Guardians of the Galaxy will be heavily weighted towards sci-fi with aliens, spaceships, and it might not even take place on Earth at all. And there’s quite possibly a large comedy influence coming from James Gunn, especially when Marvel is lighthearted at the best of times, and it’s got a talking Raccoon in it for goodness sake.
Even within a single franchise, there are all sorts of subgenres represented within the overall superhero genre. And what honestly does excite me is the fact that the two spinoff titles Sony has announced are Venom and the Sinister Six. Even though these properties are probably only in the scripting stage, I think the fact that these are based around villainous characters is a big deal. There have been quite a few anti-heroes based on comic book superheroes, but there has never been a movie centered around a comic book villain before, and what I hope to see is that it is actually based around the villain’s perspective and not just a spinoff movie called “The Sinister Six” which is really just “Spider-man vs. the Sinister Six”. What I’m saying is that the Avengers isn’t creating carbon copies of the comic book movie, what it’s really doing is blowing the doors wide open on what is actually viable when it comes to a comic book property.
What I haven’t really talked about yet is the concept of the tie-in. The fact that all of these movies are connected to each other within the same company. Each movie has tidbits and teasers, easter eggs and post-credits scenes. Some people feel like they’re not even watching a movie anymore but instead they’re watching a trailer for the next movie. The way I look at it is that it’s more like a modern version of classic serials only better. If you’re a fan of the movie, these connective moments are exciting to see, especially if you know what the reference is. And if you’re not a fan of it, it’s not essential to the movie at all. There’s a reason why these are usually a post-credit scene. If you looking for it, you know exactly where it is, and if you’re not looking for it, you’re in the theater lobby already and don’t even care. Yes, there may come a point where it does become so blatant that it’s intrusive to the movie, but I think if that happens then the movie isn’t going to be that good in the first place and the extra marketing is just another drop in the bucket. It’s not like you’re left with a cliffhanger like Empire Strikes Back. Oh, is that a bad example?
I did also get into a brief back and forth on Twitter when the point was brought up that we are hitting an oversaturation point of superhero movies when there’s 2-3 coming out a year. While at the time I didn’t correct the fact that by my count there were 25 superhero and comic book movies released in 2013. If you narrow that down to theatrical wide-release superhero movies, it drops down to 5, and all of them, even Kick-Ass 2, were financially successful with a combined total of almost 3 billion dollars worldwide. There is something to be said that all of these 5 movies have a connection to either an earlier movie, or a movie in the works, even though Man of Steel technically didn’t have anything to tease yet. This year there were over twice that number of wide-release, family friendly animated movies, and they only netted a combined total of less than 4 billion, bringing in diminishing returns. Even though there were quite a few of the animated movies that were critically panned, if you look at just the top 5 animated movies, they brought in a similar amount to the 5 superhero movies released this year.
What isn’t really taken into account is the trickle down effect where riskier properties will end up getting made. Superhero is not a narrow genre, just like animation is not a narrow genre. Take Super compared to The Avengers compared to the Green Lantern compared to All Superheroes Must Die compared to Super Buddies. They are all technically superhero movies, and yet they are all vastly different from each other. We are still a long way from oversaturating the market and while I may grow tired of the ones that go too far down the straight and narrow, I’m excited to see what kind of outliers crop up in the next five years or so. Even just taking a look at what’s on tap for next year, there’s the franchise films Captain America 2, Spider-Man 2, X-Men 4b or whatever, and Guardians of the Galaxy. But there’s also the family skewed Lego Movie & Big Hero 6, the sci-fi arguably superhero Robocop, and who knows what direction the Michael Bay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will go. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.
Posted on December 13, 2013, in Blogs and tagged Avengers, Blog, editorial, film, fox, Marvel, movies, sony, spider-man, Superhero, x-men. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.
For the most part, I agree. They haven’t hit over saturation yet. That could change if the movies don’t stay good, especially since they all follow the same basic formula.
But for now … They’re still working.
It’s the variations on the formula I’m looking forward to. And especially the outliers which will pop up from time to time.
Really nice argument you make here. I do believe Marvel’s doing good things, and I honestly feel that the X-Men franchise has the best bet of somewhat replicating this success. However, I do remain a bit skeptical, if hopeful, that DC and Spider-Man will be able to juggle this feat nearly so well, especially with the second movies in both series already introducing SO MANY new characters all at once. But then again, even though Iron Man 2 failed when it attempted THAT EXACT THING, Marvel was able to turn things around and succeed from that point forward, so who knows?
It seems like it’s always about what’s most convenient to use as a marketing strategy. “Introducing connecting plotlines worked for the Avengers, so let’s use it too!” And yet, they ignore it when it’s inconvenient “too many villains didn’t work in Spider-Man 3, but it will work for us!” or “Movies led by a woman superhero never work!” But what are you going to do?
I do think at the very least 2013 gave me more hits than misses. Thor and Man of Steel were big plusses, and Iron Man, Kick-Ass, and Wolverine were ok.
I think that it really varies movie to movie, which is why I agree with your points. Some of them are good and others are weaker, but few are the same. It’s a really exciting time to have so many options on the superhero front. That said, I do think that a Venom movie is not going to work. But I’ll be curious to see if I’m wrong.
I honestly don’t know all that much about Venom as a character outside of what I vaguely remember from the 90’s cartoon, and what I saw in Spider-Man 3 and Adi Shankar’s Truth in Journalism short. But who knows. It would be a really great avenue for something more experimental, but unless they can do that on the cheap, I doubt they’ll go that route.
As long as they are different enough I think the shared universe idea is great. Spidey is going down the butt load of super villains route and I am sure they’ll bring in all the antiheroes involved in his stuff (Morbius and Venom). DC said they are releasing two medium budget hero films linked into the same universe as the Man of Steel stuff so that should be interesting, not all need $100M+ budget and it allows the spread of their universe to move quicker 😀
I hadn’t heard that the other two DC films were supposed to be medium budget films, are you talking about the Flash and… can’t think of the other one. I know I’d love to see more low budget superhero stuff enter the mix. Really curious for the Netflix shows.
No I don’t think its Flash, think its lesser known properties. Mentioned Suicide Squad, Team 7 and Deathstroke, could be very interesting 😀
Not everyone at The Nerds of Color thinks shared universes are a bad idea. Here’s Keith’s take on the issue: http://thenerdsofcolor.org/2013/12/13/the-case-for-shared-cinematic-universes/
I read that one too, but Jenn’s was the one that got the topic rolling for me.
Great discussion here, Bubba and I have to agree with you. While it does seem that in recent years there’s been an influx in this particular genre, it doesn’t seem any more bizarre, superfluous or unwanted than the amount of animated films that have been released, and I’m really glad to see you made that same point yourself. It’s exciting in this time right now, seeing so many new stories getting unveiled, while at the same time seeing “classics” getting tied back into their proper story arcs, or having stand-alone films of their own. The market has never had such a high demand for these, I don’t think. . .and I believe Hollywood seems to be answering the call. Maybe not always with the best responses, but at least there’s something always to look forward to. I do see the argument against all of these projects but ultimately I think it overlooks the excitement factor of seeing new stories being told just a tad.
If you check my big list of superhero movies sorted by date, there’s an obvious creep in the number of movies released each year, from 2-3 in the 80s, to 5-10 in the early 2000’s, and over 20 a year in the last several years.