Are audiences experiencing “superhero fatigue”? At the outset it should be noted in passing that this sickness unto death, this alleged superhero fatigue, is a year old argument. That would make it a manageable medical condition, this superhero fatigue. The studios have not, so far as I know, called a halt to all the superhero movies presently in the pipeline. Quite the contrary, it would seem. In the next few years there will be another Iron Man film, another “Avengers film,” another “Thor,” “Wolverine” and even “Captain America.” And that’s just a handful of the Marvel-based characters getting another close-up. It would seem that reports about the death of superhero films are a bit exaggerated.
Second, even before this summer began, critics were diagnosing this alleged malady, finding symptoms of this superhero fatigue in every box office underperform. They even went so far as to diagnose superhero fatigue in films that were commercially successful – but not box office smashes. Their measure of the success of a superhero film, it would seem, was to be wildly successful or risk fall into – and here I cannot resist the reference — the negative zone. It is almost as if a certain type of critic, perhaps one that didn’t grow up on comic books, perhaps one who finds their mythology odious, is engaging what can only be properly construed as a form of wish fulfillment. Any excuse to hasten the genre’s demise.
Despite the glut of death-of-the-superhero-movie-genre stories online, by normally intelligent film writers mind you, the numbers, quite frankly, do not support their argument. “The Avengers” is the third highest domestic and globally earning film of all time.” The Amazing Spider-Man,” released in July, has made over $260 million domestically. And “The Bourne Legacy” – superhero-ish, to be sure — which underperformed in its release, broke $103.7 million in week five.
Rewind to one year ago, at the origin of the superhero fatigue. Yes, many superhero movies have underperformed in the past year or so — I’m looking at you, “Green Lanter”n — many more, however, did well. But there is always a tendency to go for the snarky post, especially when it involves Nick Cage playing Ghost Riser. There was – and I can think of no other way to say this – an almost villainous delight in the spectacular failure of Green Lantern. In some of the reviews one can almost hear the devilish laughter and the twisting of mustaches as the critics concocted this superhero fatigue meme out of naught else but thin air and their own personal distaste for the whole superhero genre. An entire multi-billion dollar act of escapist entertainment cannot be laid to rest on the shoulders of Ryan Reynolds.
It was a rough summer. With the usual distractions of electronic devices, 24/7 cable and the Olympics – real life superheroes this summer – there were plenty of reasons to stay home and not buy a ticket at the cineplex. This was also, more to our present timeline, not a good week for the movie industry. A recent week saw the lowest cumulative ticket sales in a decade. The top film – “The Possession” – took in less than ten million in its opening weekend. Further, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on soda over 16 ounces – if it becomes as influential around the country as his indoor smoking ban – could really eat into movie theater revenues. These three examples may be why the chorus of superhero naysayers appears to be growing rather than receding, becoming emboldened despite the genre’s solid numbers. It was a bad week for all films, not just those involving super-powers and cosmic adventures in spandex and elaborate origin backstory.
“The Dark Knight Rises,” though not as financially as successful as the previous Chris Nolan Batman films, was still a success. Not only that, but “Dark Knight Rises” had, no pun intended, an incredible uphill climb. “The Dark Knight Rises,” which had one of the most challenging opening weekends of any film ever, has a cumulative box office of over $437 million by September 9th, and is on track to pull in a half a billion dollars. That is not bad for an entertainment experience that involved, in its first few weeks, a serious police presence around the nation as well as, in some cases, intrusive bag searches.
It was indeed a cruel summer for movies. But the superhero genre, spawned from the comics of our youth, has faced tougher adversaries than the web, the fall TV schedule or even a soda ban by a super-villainous Mayor who essentially bought his office (cue the devilish laughter). The superhero film genre is just getting its second wind. And I can’t wait.