Are There Too Many Superhero Movies Coming Out in 2016?
The past few decades have seen an explosion in the production of films centred on superheroes, with 2016 alone featuring a dozen such films that range from the highly anticipated (Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) to the low-budget (X-Men: Apocalypse) and the self-produced (Deadpool). Hollywood’s superhero takeover has become so pervasive that some critics have argued it serves as a barrier to entry for other genres and types of films, while others suggest that the ubiquity of “spandex” in cinemas has become stagnant and formulaic.
At the same time, some box-office experts argue that it is the consistent success of superhero films that has led to such an abundance of them. Movie studios, they say, are simply betting on the surest money-maker: comic-book adaptations. This strategy has indeed proven fruitful, with 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 both passing the one billion dollar gross mark at the box office. The relative predictability of superhero movies in comparison to their “riskier” cousins – such as horror, science fiction and art-house films – is no doubt a primary factor behind why 2016 is the year of the hero.
Others argue that the popularity of superhero films is due in part to their appeal to a broad range of viewers. Many of these movies focus on family dynamics and ordinary people coming together to fight for good. Character arcs, moral dilemmas, villains and relationships – these components have universal appeal. Moreover, these elements have been present in the pantheon of great superhero stories for more than 70 years, which may explain why the genre is still relevant in the public eye.
Nonetheless, the vast number of superhero movies being released this year speaks to larger industry trends and audience tastes. If a number of such movies fail commercially, questions may arise as to why so many were released at one time. The industry, while in the business of turning a profit, is also in the business of entertaining and therefore must ensure that old stories are continually innovated in order to keep audiences engaged.
The Changes to the Genre
Though some have lamented the homogenisation of superhero stories, many of these films have made attempts to offer something new. This year’s crop of superhero movies, for instance, includes a slew of new interpretations and storylines. Deadpool, for instance, entertained viewers with its irreverent humour, while the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse promises to introduce the X-Men mythology through the eyes of a different generation. Moreover, other movies – such as the comic-book adaptation of The Magnificent Seven – illustrate how the genre can be adapted in innovative ways. Finally, other projects such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice take the concept of a “disaster movie” and turn it into a critically-acclaimed superhero battle.
These changes, though, are due in part to the rise of new technologies that enable filmmakers to create larger, more expansive and more spectacular worlds. CGI and 3D film techniques have, for example, allowed movies and television like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and HBO’s Heroes to flourish.
It is also noteworthy that the increase in superhero projects is a part of an industry-wide trend that has seen more emphasis put on franchise films. With the success of series like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, many studios have increasingly sought to corner the marketplace by expanding on and re-imagining old properties.
What Does This Mean For Other Genres?
Nevertheless, the rise of franchise films – particularly those based on superhero comics – has disrupted the cinematic ecosystem and has, in some cases, distorted it beyond recognition. The success of these projects, it could be argued, has taken precedence over many smaller, independent or non-superhero projects, resulting in fewer opportunities for those in other genres. This has been noticeably evident in the Academy Awards, where there was a marked absence of diversity and originality in the recently released lineup of Best Picture nominees.
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that superhero films are the sole cause of this problem. The concentration of studio spending on tent-pole franchises, for example, is also due to the overabundance of technology-driven films, such as 4D experiences, immersive attractions and virtual-reality experiences.
At the same time, the independent and art-house film scene has grown considerably, with many self-financed projects either produced or supported by organisations like Kickstarter. Moreover, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have strengthened the presence of non-superhero movies. Similarly, the proliferation of media outlets and platforms, such as YouTube and Vimeo, has given filmmakers avenues in which to share their projects with a potential global audience.
The Impact on Audiences
From an audience perspective, the sheer volume of superhero movies can be overwhelming, especially when coupled with the increasingly accustomed cross-pollination between franchises. This has led some viewers to argue that the superhero genre has become overplayed and oversaturated, with storylines often feeling like part 2, 3 or 4 in a never-ending series.
At the same time, however, many of these movies bring in a new audience to the cinema – some of which are unfamiliar with the comic book characters the movies are based upon. For example, the recent success of Marvel’s Black Panther showed how a non-superhero oriented film can add to the pantheon of superhero movies while also introducing a new audience to the genre.
Finally, the success of superhero films has also energised many other genres, resulting in productions such as the Cinderella remakes, the new Robin Hood film and the upcoming remake of Beauty and the Beast. These projects, inspired by both comic books and mythology, show how the superhero genre has inspired the rest of the industry.
A Changing Industry Landscape
Whatever the case may be, one undeniable fact about both the present and future of Hollywood is that the world of superhero films is here to stay. With more and more of these projects in production, studios must now decide how to pivot away from convention and distinguish their movies from the competition. This, coupled with the ever-shifting landscape of technology and the emergence of non-traditional sources of funding, suggests that big changes and debates will continue to arise as the superhero genre continues to push new boundaries.
Danger of Over-Exposure
The biggest problem that the film industry may face as a result of the superhero takeover is the potential for over-exposure. With Hollywood producing an ever-growing list of similarly-styled blockbuster franchises, some viewers may eventually become overwhelmed. This in turn could eventually lead to an overall decline in superhero movie attendance, as a result of audience fatigue.
In order to prevent this from occurring, studios must make sure that the superhero stories they produce stand out from the pack. This could be done through more thematically-varied sequels, bold reboots, and creative, daring standalone projects. By investing in projects that contain distinctive and innovative elements, studios can keep audiences interested and engaged in the genre, while also maintaining its inherent box office potential.
The Value of Superhero Movies
Ultimately, the real test of the success of superhero movies is whether they can connect with their audience and tell a story that resonates emotionally. After all, the genre’s longstanding imprint in popular culture is due in large part to its ability to tell stories of heroism and adventure, and to connect with viewers in a very human way. Whether the stories explore the relationships between family members, the strength of friends, or the hero’s inner journey to redemption, superhero movies can still be powerful and significant when dedicated to those ideas.
Labels such as “Blockbuster” or “Franchise” can be misleading, and at the heart of each good superhero story is a tale of men and women striving to uphold the values of courage and justice, while struggling against immense external (and sometimes internal) forces. A superhero movie can still be artistically-satisfying when done right, and this is something that studios must bear in mind in order to remain true to the genre. They must also remember that, while it may be easier to simply go down the route of recycling and remake, audiences deserve something a bit more spectacular.
Other Genres that Profit
As such, studios can use superhero movies as a platform to capitalise on other profitable genres that often benefit from titles in the superhero vein. Action, satire, horror, and science-fiction have all been informed by superhero films, and these same projects have allowed developers to produce projects from virtually any cinematic basis. Furthermore, the engagement of fans in other genres has been without precedent, as evidenced by the overwhelming success of shows like Game of Thrones. As such, the influence of superhero movies need not be seen as strictly problematic.
At the end of the day, these lessons must be taken seriously by studios, in order for both the superhero genre and the larger film industry to survive the plethora of releases in 2016. Ultimately, the success or failure of this season’s crop of superhero movies will serve as a barometer for how long this trend must continue in order to remain commercially viable.