Editorial: Is Superhero Fatigue Setting In?

By March 5, 2015

Yesterday, Variety picked up a story that attributed an idea about superhero films to Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara. He was asked about whether or not audiences are going to be getting tired of superhero movies just as his company is betting big on the characters of DC Comics, and Mr. Tsujihara dismissed the basic idea, telling the assembled audience at a telecom conference that the movies WB will make are “edgier” than the films of Marvel Studios.

Still, the idea is an interesting one: are audiences getting tired of superhero movies?

When the Superman franchise fizzled out, Batman picked things up barely two years later.

When the Superman franchise fizzled out, Batman picked things up barely two years later.

Normally, market saturation can lead to audiences getting tired of similar products too fast. Whether we’re talking about different crazes for disaster films or biblical epics in previous generations, they have all fizzled out eventually, but comic book films may be an entirely different animal altogether. If we gauge the superhero genre as every major studio effort starting with 1978’s Superman: The Movie up to the present slate of films like the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, then it seems like superhero cinema seems to always rebound from obscurity after a couple of years of fizzling out. When the Superman franchise started with the aforementioned 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve, it fizzled out just nine years later, only to be picked up again immediately in 1989 with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman.

That film also saw a mild superhero craze pop up through the 1990’s, and films like Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe RocketeerThe Crow, and even parodies like The Meteor Man and Blankman even showed how embedded superheroes were in the culture of the 1990’s. By 1997, Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin seemed to be yet another nail in the coffin for superhero cinema, along with movies like SteelSpawn, and Star Kid. But then, once again, kickstarting the current superhero film era we now enjoy, Bryan Singer’s X-Men hit big at the box office.

It was that film that has basically put us on the path of the billion dollar-grossing superhero film, with the likes of The Dark KnightThe Avengers, and Iron Man 3 all earning record dollars at the movie theater. So, what’s to stop a superhero fizzle from happening once again? One primary thing: the studios are smarter.

We’re now living in an age of geek culture dominance, and studios have realized that they can’t merely put out a movie that shows someone wearing a cape and expect success. They know that they have to appeal to a solid road map, and more often than not, comic book stories of merit help to provide exactly that. In an age of remakes and reboots, the comic book medium has provided studios with enough fuel to make good and original films for decades to come, and they realize that it’s comic book publishers and creators that can help galvanize their future. If you disagree, just ask Disney why the spent $4 billion to acquire Marvel Entertainment.

Kevin Tsujihara is essentially correct, but it will take more than simply resting on audience expectation to prove him right in the long-run. It will prove to be competent execution that will help the likes of Warner Bros. and Disney continue to succeed in the creation of superhero movies, because if they slip up, it’ll be the vocal fans that will be the very first to tell them about it, and show it to them by voting with the only real ballot you have in the realm of entertainment: your dollar.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.