The recent rise of superheroes, remakes and sequels in the last 20 years is undeniable. Most people are either in two camps about this: you’re either welcoming the growing universe and changing styles of these films; or you see them as a blight on the film landscape, to be eradicated as soon as possible.
I will admit that I belong in the second camp. To me, the sooner there isn’t tentpole film after tentpole film about these vapid characters, the better. Although perhaps that is overly grumpy and cynical of me.
To understand the recent saturation of superheroes and remakes, we need take a scientific method, and look back at previous trends in cinema.
For example, during the wartimes, from about 1935-1950, most big films either addressed war-directly, often being inspirational about “our troops”, or served as escapism, often in the form of a musical. This was obviously in response to demands of the time.
After the war, we see a lot more animated films and, with growing technology in special-effects, we see the campy sci-fi and adventure films of the 1950s. With more budget after the war, film companies started making big-budget epics, like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra. It was these spectacles with dominated the screens of America and the UK for decades – in a way, they were the superhero/young-adult films of the olden-days.
We see much more franchise work in the 1980s, the first big one being Star Wars of course, which paved the way for every young-adult, fantasy or superhero franchise – ergo Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games.
Although this trend seemed to over-saturate audiences in recent years, after films in the Divergence series and Maze Runner series not capturing audiences in the way studio executives had wanted. This led studios to focus even more heavily on superhero franchises – which first truly began back in 2000 with the original X-Men.
I should clarify that I do not hate all these trends, or all the products of these trends; I love many campy 50s sci-fi films, many Greek epics, I love Harry Potter, and I even like a few superhero films. However there simply is an oversaturation at the moment.
“What will be the next big trend in blockbuster cinema?”
A question which film industry experts tirelessly puzzle themselves over, as the answer is literally worth a billion dollars. But for now, with endless Marvel and DC films lined up, there is no escaping the fact we are deep in the middle of this trend.
Without wanting to come across as over cynical; is this modern saturation of franchises simply a reaction to audience demand – as economics 101, supply and demand, would suggest. Are people just not interested in more? Are people too busy? Maybe they just want escapism, rather than some intellectual, emotional stimulation.
It would take a much more staunch cynic than I am to think of the public as so shallow; they want escapism, yes, just as they always have, but my point is that the escapism of recent decades has simply become more bland, more samey, and less thoughtful.
2016 has been a prime example of this; two DC films, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, grasping at hollow intellectual straws; Greek Epic Ben-Hur flying under the radar; and do I need to list off the many summer blockbuster flops? Alice Through the Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Warcraft, and Independence Day: Resurgence.
But perhaps I am simply being overly nostalgic, looking back at the “golden age” through rose-tinted glasses – ignoring the bad bits, only focusing on the good. There has always been bad films, that will always be the case, and great films are being made every year.
The truth is I decided to write this article (as opposed to one on the new Birth of a Nation film) because I knew this would likely be more popular than my usual – even if it is worse written and swings back-and-forth without point, much like the films I am complaining about.
What can I say? Other than “damn, I’ve succumb to the very trend I try so hard to disassociate myself from”
Superhero movies, when will it end?
Not for the foreseeable future.