I love going to the movie theater. Everything about it enthralls me. The simplicity of the popcorn, the harmony of the moviegoers and the hours of escape provided by a projector and a dark room are just a few of the reasons. Most importantly, however, I enjoy the individual power that my money has. Each ticket is akin to a vote and those little stubs represent the value of the art on the silver screen. This is precisely why I will never spend my own money to see a movie like “Superman” or “The Avengers”. It is my belief that the majority of superhero films pollute society and propagate violence while undermining the creative process usually intrinsic with filmmaking.
Movie studios may argue that they are merely providing the people with what they want. Four of the top ten grossing movies of all-time fall under the category of “superhero” and these films account for a significant percentage of ticket sales almost every year. However, just because these films are commercially successful doesn’t mean that society yearns for the cookie cutter mentality that studios seem to have. I believe much of the reason that people gravitate towards these films is the way they are introduced to the public. Most individuals judge what films they chose to see based on the trailers. In most cases, the trailers that draw out emotion seem to appeal to us the most. The cheapest emotion is excitement; it can be easily created through action sequences, explosions, and sex appeal. People flood to theaters for this entertainment because they know reliably that even if the film lacks uniqueness, it’s guaranteed to deliver this excitement. It seems to me action films are the most marketable and thus the most successful at the box office. Drama, suspense, and romance, however, are more delicate forms of cinema that require a full viewing to convey meaning, and so trailers don’t lend themselves to such disciplines. Rather, these film genres require strong dialogue and thoughtful cinematography.
It’s not just the trailers that contribute to the superhero phenomenon and lack of creative films; it’s the Hollywood pipeline as well. When I say “Hollywood pipeline” I am making reference to the floor to ceiling economics that surround a film. We are bombarded daily with advertising, superhero memorabilia, and costumes. Children grow up wanting to be superhero or batman, creating a very profitable industry for studios. It is unlikely that studios will change their ways unless a more profitable form of filmmaking arises. With this being said, I feel there are still modifications that can be made to the superhero genre to improve the quality of cinema.
Firstly, studios can choose directors in a much more deliberate way. In my opinion “Batman: The Dark Knight” is, the best superhero movie of all time. This is not because it had the biggest budget, or the most famous actors, but rather because it was directed with intent by filmmaker Christopher Nolan who successfully created a powerful dynamic between the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) and Batman (played by Christian Bale). Secondly, studios can expand the range of the superhero genre. When society envisions their “superhero’s” comic characters come to mind, yet in actuality superheroes don’t always wear capes. Much of the reason people enjoy the superhero genre is due to the basic story arch that is innate in such films. The protagonists always overcome obstacles and triumphs over the Antagonist. I believe the public is ready to view this plotline in a deeper and more varied way.
One movie I believe perfectly represents the vast possibilities of an expanded “superhero” genre is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” This film has all the makings of a great superhero flick, with less of the flare. The film centers on a budding relationship between The Driver (Ryan Gosling) and newfound love Irene (Carey Mulligan). Refn’s cinematography is flawless as each shot exudes meaning, while Ryan Gosling’s performance is impeccable as he expresses emotions using less than 1,000 words. The film contains action, love, and suspense and is a thoroughly thrilling 100 minutes of cinema. Additionally, the director uses violence in a very intentional way. Rather than a cheap vehicle for excitement, Refn uses bloodshed to signify shifts in character and mentality. In one scene, The Driver is shown mercilessly bashing in the head of a Hetman as Irene watches. It is at this precise moment when The Driver loses his innocence in the eyes of Irene, and she sees of what he is truly capable. The violence may be brutal, and at times tough to watch, but it is far from trivial. Most importantly, however, the film follows the basic superhero model, as the protagonist (Gosling), defeats the “bad guys” and puts himself in harms way yearning to protect his love Irene, played by Carey Mulligan. During the final minutes of the film, A Real Hero by College feat. Electric Youth is played. The lyrics, “A real human being, and a real hero” are repeated a myriad of times and typify the films general meaning. Not all superheroes have great powers, not all stories are simple, and not all superhero flicks must be carbon copies.
This film represents the best of filmmaking and what the future could hold if studios make intelligent and thoughtful decisions, centered around quality filmmakers, meaningful screenwriting, and mindful casting. If all films are created in this manner the studios will realize they can make just as much money by creating a superior product. Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed 2.8 times its production cost while Drive, with a smaller budget and far less advertising, grossed over five times its initial production cost. If studios chose to change their ways, they will reap economic benefits while providing the public with a more premium blend of films.