Since 2008, when “The Dark Knight” received universal acclaim and “Iron Man” launched the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, superhero films have taken the world by storm. In recent years, movies about caped crusaders have dominated the box office and almost become synonymous with the “blockbuster” title. As the numbers continue to rise with no signs of slowing, we ask: are superheroes saturating Hollywood or are they simply a market response to the ever-changing dynamics of the modern industry?
The unstoppable hype machine of Marvel Studios is currently in full effect, prepping audiences for the upcoming releases of certified mega-blockbuster “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the new hero on the block, “Ant-Man”. In August of this year, 20th Century Fox’s reboot of “Fantastic Four” (already confirmed for a 2017 sequel) will hit cinemas, to be followed by “Deadpool” in February of next year. Add in future screen adaptations of DC Comics material, which have appeared slow out of the gate compared to Stan Lee’s dominant red banner, and you’re looking at nine superhero movies in 2016! And don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a quick “flash in the pan” – Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, has confirmed that they have fourteen years of spandex-clad adventures in the development pipeline.
So what is causing the relentless rise of the superhero genre? Simply put: money talks. The international appeal of these movies is a considerable contributing factor, with 59% of “The Avengers” $1.5 billion worldwide gross coming from outside of the USA. Foreign markets such as China (second largest globally, growing 34% in 2014) and Latin America (up 46% since 2010) are looking for easily translatable spectacles, featuring impressive action set-pieces and recognisable characters, making superhero movies perfect for export. This international, mass-market appeal has led to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” becoming the second highest grossing franchise in the world, averaging over $700 million per film.
This enormous cash cow is regularly erupting with so much dollar-green milk that it’s impossible for the executives of Hollywood Farms to ignore (especially if you also consider potential merchandising revenue). Studios have always needed big-money “tent-pole” movies to fund their smaller and riskier projects, so reliable box-office figures make superhero films much more attractive to industry moneymen; particularly as the financial performance of traditional, expensive blockbusters is increasingly unpredictable in the modern marketplace.
While there are a lot of superhero movies on the way, the genre is attempting to diversify itself in order to stay fresh and prevent stagnation. 2014’s runaway hit, “Guardians Of The Galaxy”, was adapted from a less popular Marvel series and fans are already excited for an R-Rated “Deadpool” movie next year; additionally “Suicide Squad” will introduce a plethora of DC Comics fan-favourites to the big screen in 2016.
Realistically, superhero movies are the new moneymaking staples in Hollywood and, frankly, it could be worse! These solid “popcorn” movies appeal to an ever-widening audience, with spectacular visuals and fun characters, despite their semi-interchangeable plots and unescapable similarities. As we’ve seen from this year’s Oscars, there is still an enormous amount of tremendous cinema out there to be enjoyed if you’re more of a “Birdman” than an “Iron Man”.
Written by James Excell