In 2008, Marvel Studios released Iron Man. It was the first attempt by the upstart company to try and stake a claim for some of that sweet, sweet box office cash that previously had been dominated by Sony and Fox using Marvel’s characters and the occasional Batman film. Iron Man was a landmark success, nobody expected it to be the big deal it was but the little film that could sparked a movement that has now seen the absolute domination of the summer blockbuster seen, superhero films have gotten so big that no one even bothers releasing more typical action films any more. This year’s biggest hits have been Deadpool, Batman V Superman and Captain America: Civil War, with X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange set to continue the trend.
With that in mind, the question needs to be asked; are audiences getting sick of superheroes? Nope. Oh…You were expecting a detailed response? Fine. Audiences aren’t getting sick of superheroes, currently Captain America: Civil War is sitting on $970 million in box office sales and after this weekend it’s expected to join a very exclusive club of Avengers, Avengers 2, Iron Man 3 and the Dark Knight, that’s right of the 24 highest grossing films, Captain America: Civil War looks very likely to push its way in and bring the superhero films up to 5 of the biggest money makers. From what we can see super-movies are doing just fine.
So why then, if I google “superhero fatigue” do I get a fuck ton of articles insisting that people aren’t interested in superheroes anymore? Well, two reasons; 1.) There has always been a subsection of film critics and hipsters who insist that comics are a “low form” of art. These people hate superhero movies because they’re the sort of assholes who think that if a book has illustrations it’s “for children”, these are also the same people who read The Communist Manifesto and wax poetical about calls for revolution, ignoring the fact that as the MacBook carrying, iPhone caressing rich kids that they are would be the first against the firing wall in the event of a proletariat uprising. 2.) Some people were going off numbers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in this case wasn’t smart; see Fantastic Four lost a lot of money last year. The thing is that movie was objectively bad, nobody liked it, I myself sent an email to 20th Century Fox demanding a refund for myself and my friend who came to see it. You should never base predictions on the results of a genuinely bad piece of cinema.
Fantastic Four wasn’t the only indicator though, Batman V Superman underperformed at the box office. Now let me be clear, I liked BvS and $870 million dollars isn’t exactly pocket change but Warner Bros. expected it to top a billion, the fact that it didn’t was taken as confirmation by some that superheroes were getting worn out. Luckily Deadpool and Civil War stepped in to save the day, posting the best box office performance for an R-rated film ever and a billion dollar revenue, respectively. The minor player in the “superhero fatigue” argument was critic reviews; Batman V Superman copped an absolute sledging by a large number of major critics and X-Men: Apocalypse is taking a pretty nasty beating too. The newly released X-Men is expected to pull in big money but right now Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are both putting the film at 51% approval, to give you a comparison Rotten Tomatoes has Civil War at 90% approval and Metacritic has it at 75%.
Critic reviews aren’t hugely indicative of performance; despite being at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes and 44% on Metacritic, Batman V Superman still made big fucking money. Financial indicators have X-Men pegged to pull in strong cash numbers too, especially in the USA because it’s launching over the Memorial Day weekend which means 4 days straight of weekend revenue. That said the critic reviews aren’t looking too great and given how much impact they had on Batman V Superman, one has to wonder if X-Men might fall victim to the same set up. Personally, I’d love that to happen because it gets me one step closer to an Avengers v X-Men movie and I really want to see that.
So is the public getting sick of superheroes? All signs point to no. They’re still the biggest earners and in some cases (Civil War) breaking records. There’s a definite market available and really at this point no one’s stepping up to challenge it, there’s actually a really important reason why; superhero films are the only meta-genre that can encompass every major action genre at the same time. Guardians of the Galaxy was a sci-fi movie, The Winter Soldier was a spy-thriller, Thor is fantasy and so on, the old action movies died out because the genre got stale, when Clint Eastwood refused to give up his station as a leading action star in the 60’s he transitioned from Cowboy-Westerns to cop movies. When the 1980’s steroid infused, explosion fests died out Ahhhhnold and Rockehh moved on to shitty comedies (Seriously Arnold was bad in “Jingle All The Way”, but I dare you to watch Sylvester Stallone in “Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot”). Even those godawful car movies wore out their welcome and now they just make new ones that make fun of the fact that they’re still making them. Superheroes aren’t going anywhere because they’ve never gone anywhere, they’ve been part of popular culture since the 1930’s, so it’s time for the latte-sippers and second year film students to realise that no one likes your shitty arthouse movies and that people would rather watch giant green monsters bitchslap puny gods.