The Demise of Superheroes

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the imminent demise of the superhero movie genre.

You should care and I’ll tell you why in a bit.

As a superhero fan for most of my 60 plus years, this saddens me greatly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy that I got to see all my comic book heroes come to life on big screens. But all good things must end.

It’s been a great run. While DC has always struggled to find its zone in live-action films, they still have offered some shining gems like the Dark Knight, Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, and Aquaman.

Marvel, despite some duds, has been brilliant in offering an entire “universe” to “marvel” in. Hey, how many movie producers can you name that have given us dozens of epic movies and shows that you can watch in order like one continuously unfolding saga?

But even the amazing Marvel machine must eventually run out of gas.

Yes, Avengers: Endgame made nearly a billion dollars, and the more recent Spider-Man: No Way Home has come close to that, but these franchises have run their course. Most of its great heroes have been retired, killed, or have just become too familiar, too tiresome, telling their same origin stories over and over like some senile old grandparent. The James Bond franchise took great pains not to oversaturate their market and even they became tiresome, no longer exciting even young viewers.

Whether through desperation or sincere woke consciousness or both, Marvel’s current Phase 4 is overtly all about gender. Phase 4 represents the intentional female takeover of the genre, with female versions of pretty much every character, major and secondary, taking the reigns. Clearly a wokeness agenda is not to blame for killing the genre, but just because the genre is struggling to remain fresh and interesting doesn’t mean we should sacrifice it on the altar of a woke agenda (see here).

Comics have long demonstrated strong threads of social awareness, responsiveness, and leadership. As early as the 1970’s comics took on a lot of difficult social issues like drug abuse, sexuality, racism, and yes even gender inequality. But if the writers only care about the characters as vehicles to promote a social agenda, the stories suffer and fans see through that. That is how the proudly agenda-driven CW network has ruined most of the great DC heroes that they have been entrusted with.

And frankly female heroes are not going to revitalize the industry. It’s not that men don’t enjoy watching female heroes, particularly if wearing tight spandex, but they are not interested in a contrived She-Hulk. Fans can suspend reality enough to accept superpowers, but not enough to accept tiny Natalie Portman as the new Thor. Even Black Widow was a huge box office disaster.

The doubling down of gender in Phase 4 is only going to drive male fans farther away and it will not induce one new female to become a fan. Women who are not fans will pressure and fight to demand that there be more female superheroes, but they still won’t watch their movies let alone pay for them. Wokeness will only accelerate the demise of the industry.

You may ask, I’m not a superhero fan so why should I care?

You should care because not so long ago everyone was predicting the death of the movie industry. Soon, they said, all movie theatres would become extinct. That has not yet happened and superheroes have been a huge part of defying those predictions. Action/Adventure movies represent nearly 50% of movie revenue and the superhero genre represents the lion’s share of that revenue and excitement in general.

It has arguably been superheroes that have saved theatres and have kept it possible for you to still see Downton Abbey and all those Oscar winners on the big screen. If the superhero genre dies, movie theatres and much of the big-budget industry will likely soon follow.

I for one, will lament a world without blockbuster superheroes. And if you care about a vibrant big screen film industry, for yourself or for your kids to marvel at, you should not take any joy in their passing.

In the greater scheme of things, this should be a cautionary tale that coopting creative or other advocacy domains to serve wokeness or any other particular social cause, acts like a destructive parasite that only destroys its host and creates backlash against the cause being promoted.

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