Superheroes: Have We Had Our Fill?

It’s been a while, but I recently wrote a new article for Geekscape, discussing the over-saturation of superhero movies at the cinema. Check it out below.

Not too long ago, director Matthew Vaughn made an interesting statement regarding the state of superhero movies in Hollywood . He said:

“[Superhero movies have] been mined to death and in some cases the quality control is not what it’s supposed to be. People are just going to get bored of it.” He went on to add, “the genre is going to be dead for a while because the audience has just been pummeled too much.”

At first glance, there’s a lot of truth to what Mr. Vaughn is saying. I don’t think there’s a single person out there (geek, nerd, or dweeb) who can deny that Hollywood seems to be churning out superhero movies at an alarming rate. It’s also surprising to see such a statement come from a man whose last movie (Kick-Ass) and next movie (X-Men: First Class) are clearly superhero flicks. Not to mention, we’re standing in the wake of a Comic Con that seemed to prove that superheroes are bigger and badder than ever.

Over the next few years, Marvel’s storming the market with a certified blitzkrieg of comic book fodder. First, Thor…then, Captain America…all of it eventually building to the biggest nerdgasm of all, the Avengers. All the while DC Comics is backing its own thoroughbred pony, the Green Lantern. Throw in the Green Hornet, a revamped Fantastic Four, Wonder Woman, Ant-Man, a Justice League movie, the next Nolan Batman outing and you’ve got yourself a veritable superhero orgy. Really, folks, how can the superhero stream be going away when it hasn’t even begun to stop flowing?

Regarding Mr. Vaughn’s initial statement, I think it’s important to look at a larger, more overarching question: why do audiences even go to see superhero movies in the first place?

It certainly isn’t because of familiarity of characters. At one time this might have been the case—way back when the original Superman and Batman movies were hitting it big—but as time moves on (and Hollywood churns through character after character, franchise after franchise) this definitely doesn’t hold any weight.

Take for instance the upcoming lineup of superhero flicks destined to hit theaters over the next few years. Thor? Captain America? Green Lantern? While these characters may be fawned upon by the geek hordes, they’re definitely not the “big names” that your average Joe Schmo can recognize. The success of the Iron Man films further reinforces this point. Three years ago nobody outside of our collective nerd niche even knew who Tony Stark was. Now, he’s a household name. Call me crazy, but I guarantee that it wasn’t the character of Iron Man that got people’s butts in theater seats.

So, what’s my overall point? Frankly it’s this: when people stroll into the cinema on a hot summer afternoon, popcorn and large soda in hand, they just want to be entertained by spectacle. And, if they can get that visceral fix from a superhero movie, so be it. Audiences are going for the blockbuster, not the man in tights.

If you look back at other significant “event movies” over the past twenty to thirty years, you’ll begin to realize that the tropes and structure are completely identical to that of the superhero flicks that are currently saturating the market. Really, when you think about it, what is the difference between Spider-Man and Star Wars? Sure, the semantics may be different, but the reason people are going to the theater—the reason they’re forking over the cash for their tickets remain the same. The cool special effects, the likable characters, the hero’s journey—those things haven’t changed one iota. After all, weren’t Rambo, Rocky, John McClane, and even the Terminator really just superheroes without capes?

I guess it comes down to this basic question…have we really had our superhero fill? Are American audiences going to start voting against capes and cowls with our wallets? In my opinion, the answer is a simple “no.” Sorry, I just don’t buy it, Mr. Vaughn. Well, at least not when viewing things from a broader perspective. Even before the influx of comic book flicks in recent years, we were watching superhero movies. They just happened to be disguised as something else.

Eventually, I do believe there will a come a time when Hollywood simply runs out of properties to milk—when the proverbial four-colored well dries up. But, that just leaves room for a new type of superhero to take center stage. Frankly, a genre can’t die as long as it’s constantly being reinvented. And, let’s face it, if there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s a good comeback story.