Avengers: Endgame was a global phenomenon on a scale that’s barely been seen before. It just must be the peak of comic book movies in terms of scale and success, but does that mean that superhero movies will go out of style?
It’s no secret that comic book movies have had a stranglehold on the box office. Out of the top 10 highest grossing movies ever worldwide, 5 of them are comic book films. Endgame just might dethrone Avatar to take the number one spot demonstrating that Marvel Studios pretty much rules the film landscape. It seems like every couple of months there’s an article coming out talking about the possibility of superhero fatigue. What is superhero fatigue? It’s more or less the possibility that comic book films won’t be popular anymore, and that they’ll go the way of something like the Western, a genre that once ruled cinemas.
The latest superhero flop is Dark Phoenix, a film that failed to reach $100 million domestic, and is the lowest grossing entry of the franchise. Many factors can be attributed to the film’s failures, but it’s probably the most underperforming comic book film since Justice League (a movie that still made over $600 million). Even with those two examples, comic book films are usually performing exceptionally well. Dark Phoenix ended the Fox X-Men franchise with a whimper but the franchise has seen massive success before with Deadpool, Logan and Days of Future Past. For every Justice League, DC has an Aquaman and Wonder Woman in their corner to show they can compete with Marvel.
Exploring Different Genres
The next two major comic book film releases are Spider-Man: Far From Home and Joker. While those two films couldn’t be any more different, they both offer unique twists on the genre. Far from Home will continue to have that coming of age tone from Homecoming while also putting the main hero in Europe, while the Joker will reportedly be a dark mature story of a man who slowly loses his mind.
A Marvel Studios film will always have that recognizable feeling, but each of their entries will always try to do something different with its genre or characters. Each of their solo franchises tackles a different genre, while their team up films are fun spectacles that push the boundaries of what’s possible for films like this.
DC does the same thing with their films, but they aren’t afraid to get experimental. Say what you want about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s a film that takes some crazy risks with pre-established characters. Even before the DCEU, a film like Watchmen coming out in 2009 is still mind-blowing because it essentially was a comic book film that criticized the genre right before it reached its peak. Something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy can be considered risky because it essentially put Batman and his world in an ultra-realistic setting. The upcoming Joker shows that Warner Bros./DC will continue to explore new directions like they always have.
The Fox X-Men franchise never played it safe with their films, with some failing, while others have prevailed. Their biggest gamble was probably Deadpool, a film about a crass talking anti-hero mercenary who constantly breaks the fourth wall. Ryan Reynolds and the filmmakers fought tirelessly over whether or not the film should cater to a more general audience rather than staying true to the mature source material. After a very positive reaction to leaked test footage, Fox let the filmmakers do what they want with Deadpool on a lower budget, and it is now the highest grossing film in the whole Fox franchise.
Sony definitely goes for it with their Spider-Man franchise. The Amazing Spider-Man films were meant to kickstart a cinematic universe similar to the MCU, but with Spider-Man characters. While Marvel Studios can use Spider-Man due to a partnership, Sony still makes their own comic book films because they still have the rights to those characters. Venom was a film that focused on the iconic anti-hero and it made over $800 million worldwide. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was loved by fans and critics because of the film’s multiverse angle along with a unique animation style that made it look like an actual moving comic book. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film over the usual Disney affair. Due to both film’s successes, Sony is moving forward with their comic book film franchise that will include sequels to Venom and Spider-Verse, along with films focusing on characters like Morbius, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, Kraven the Hunter, etc.
Will there be a time in the future where comic book films aren’t as popular as they are now? Sure, trends always change with time and nothing lasts forever, but it will never reach a point of obscurity. However, if studios don’t take risks with the properties they have a hold of then audiences will reach a point of fatigue.
Westerns and Musicals used to be some of the most successful movies out there, but it seems like they just aren’t flexible as the comic book film genre. With this genre, filmmakers are given freedom to pretty much do whatever they want with it. Comic book characters are constantly getting retooled to fit a creator’s vision and that definitely shows in their film adaptations.
Adapting comic books into film or even television is pretty much the same as adapting literary work. With book adaptations, a lot can be changed in order to tell the story in a visual medium like film, but as long as it gets to the heart of the story and characters, changes can be forgiven. The same can be said about comic book films but for the most part, a specific storyline never gets adapted in to film. What filmmakers usually do is they focus on capturing what people like about certain comic characters and pick and choose the story elements they like from years worth of source material to hopefully create something that excites and satisfies audiences of casual and hardcore fans. There are even cases where films or shows do their own original thing with pre-established characters to fantastic results.