For years, I’ve ignored the common gripe that there are too many superhero movies. Did I feel the same way? Yeah, pretty much. I’ve enjoyed all of the X-Men movies and felt that Batman vs. Superman got way harsher criticism than it deserved, but for the most part I’m just not a big superhero fan. Still, I wasn’t going to fault anyone for enjoying the kinds of movies they liked, and, hey, it was just a phase, right? That was the biggest factor keeping my mouth shut—this, too, shall pass. While dipstick pundits are claiming that our love of superhero movies is Piece of Evidence Number 6.022140857×1023 that Millennials are all terrible people and destroying the world, I just looked back on similar trends throughout the 20th century. Westerns dominated Hollywood for years. A generation of children grew up wanting to be Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger, and adults flocked to the cinema to see who John Wayne was going to shoot next. The 80s was the age of horror. Eventually, the bottom dropped out—the market got saturated, people got overwhelmed, something new came along, and the mega-trends quietly retired to simply being another genre at the box office.
Something different seems to be happening now, though.
Whereas other trends thrived at the box office, dipped in numbers, then ultimately waned, there’s no sign that the superhero trend has even begun to slow down. As of this writing, Wonder Woman has raked in $800 million worldwide; the latest incarnation of Spider Man (Homecoming) is catching up with $725 million, while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 beat them both with $862.6 million. And for all the hate it took, Batman vs. Superman beat all of them with $872.7 mil. None of this is taking into account streaming or DVD/Blu-Ray sales, or money generated by any of the Marvel properties on Netflix. All of which indicates that audiences are still very invested in superhero movies and that, from a purely financial perspective, there’s no reason to stop making them. Marvel, at least, doesn’t seem to have any such plans. They’ve got their Cinematic Universe planned through at least 2021, and per an article published in Bloomberg Business Week, they have enough storylines to keep making movies through at least 2028.
And now I’m getting a little concerned. Because, from a creative standpoint, what will this do to other genres in the long run? As studios dump more and more money into superhero films, will we see some of those profits going to smaller projects or big films in other genres? Or will it simply become a self-feeding machine as studios use superhero dollars to finance more superhero films? Will there still be a place for writers and directors who don’t want to work in the genre, or will they be pushed even further to the periphery of the industry? Will superhero films kill Hollywood as we know it, turning it into one, homogenous producer of a single genre, with filmmakers of other stripes all gravitating towards indy studios?
So, the question now is—will it ever end? Or have we finally created an unkillable genre?