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Box Office Breakdown

With the cinematic run of Batman V Superman wrapping up, now seems like a good as time to discuss something I've been wanting to write about for a while, whether this whole trend of gigantically budgeted comic book movies is going to last, or if the public is going to get sick of it, and the bubble is going to burst. I’m just going to present the evidence and opinions of both sides of the argument, so it’s up to you to decide your opinion. Alright, let’s begin:

It Will Burst:

Image property of Disney 2016
Image property of Disney 2016

There's Just Too Much

Let's begin with a simple one: there's just too many of these films coming out every year, and at some point audiences might just tire of this genre completely. Coming up, we have Deadpool, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, and that's just in 2016.

As I've said before, nothing will kill a trend faster than oversaturation, and that might be exactly what will happen for superhero movies. Audiences may grow bored of the archetypes, the tired formula, or seeing a really big thing smash into a slightly smaller thing for the third act.

But, it isn't just the mainstream movie-goers that may grow weary of the never-ending stream of comic book movies, it might even be comic book fans themselves. A couple of years ago if a new superhero movie was announced, the internet would be set alight with excitement. Today, though, these announcements are greeted with indifference, or in some cases, like the news of a new Venom film, hostility. If both mainstream audiences and hardcore comic fans just get sick of the overload of superhero movies, it may cause the entire genre to fall under.

Other genres may overtake it

Usually, when a film trend dies off, it's because another type of movie has stepped up to take its place. It might offer something fresher, more interesting, or just generally more appealing to audiences, and it seems that comic book movies may be on the way to being replaced.

Looking at the domestic box office numbers of 2012, we can see 3 superhero movies in the top 10, with 2 filling the top 3 spots. 3 years later, in 2015, that number has dropped to 1, and it sits at number 3. This is just an example, it doesn't reflect how superhero movies will perform in the future, but it's hard to deny that other genres seem to have overtaken these movies in popularity and box office power.

Sequels to nostalgic franchises, like Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, and Spectre seem to be the way of the future, and it's possible they may just push comic book movies out of the top tier box office spot they currently hold. The film market is ever changing, people grow bored of things very quickly, and it may just be that superhero movies are replaced by other types of films.


Tentpoles are starting to disappoint

Every year we get a couple of definitive superhero tentpoles, the money-makers that are going to prove to the public that superhero films can still perform extremely well. Yet, in the last couple of years, these pillars having been starting to crumble.

Many films, such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man have shown domestic grosses quite substantially lower than the previous entries in their respective franchises, and certainly much lower than studio expectations.

What's worse, is that the budgets for these types of films just keep getting higher (Amazing Spider-Man 2 was estimated to cost more than 300m) and when the grosses aren't following that upward trend, well you've got a problem on your hands. The genre simply cannot sustain itself if the very films it relies on are declining.

Entertainment Weekly, 2016
Entertainment Weekly, 2016

Too Weird = May Turn off Audiences

While many look at the weirdness of films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool as proof that the superhero genre won't get stale, it's possible it may work the other way. Mainstream audiences may find movies like this (Inhumans or Infinity War for example) to strange, and be unable to connect with the weird characters and setting.

This may seem like an unlikely concept, but the reason films like Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy worked is because the audience had a human character to relate to, a Star Lord or a Jane Foster, amidst all the cosmic space alien gods. As these movies get more and more strange and outlandish, audiences may find it harder to enjoy them. Infinity War may just be too much to swallow for some people, as a giant alien warlord fighting gods to find magical gems to destroy the entire universe isn't exactly a relatable concept.

There is some precedent for this, as many genres have fallen victim to this trap. The western genre was wiped from existence because of the weirdness of films like Wild Wild West, movies that just threw too much at the audience and excepted them to catch up. It's just a possibility, but maybe making superhero movies more and more strange may be the very thing that kills the genre.


Too Convoluted for Audiences to Follow

For me, this is the most likely reason that the superhero movie bubble will burst. Well, it isn't the superhero genre in itself, it's the fact that almost all of the major franchises rely on the shared cinematic universe model.

With up to 4 of these operating at the same time (MCU, DCU, Fox Marvel Universe and Sony's Spiderman-Lite Franchise) it's going to become too hard for audiences to keep up, and they may just grow tired of even seeing the movies in theaters at all.

Each separate universe is going to have its own increasingly complicated backstory and characters, and while people don't have a problem with focusing their attention on a singular franchise (it's worked for the MCU so far), once 3 more are introduced into the mix, they just aren't going to bother to keep up, and may just give up on caring about any of them.

Also, with many of these franchises trying to attempt multiple film story arcs, an audience member coming into it blind may just be confused, and be turned off the entire franchises, or, worse case scenario, superhero movies on the whole. This may be the real dealbreaker, because the second people stop caring about following superhero cinematic universes, the whole genre becomes much more likely to fail.

It Won't Burst:

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Consistent Quality

Despite how it may seem if you go on the IMDB message boards, most of the superhero movies released in the last couple of years have been pretty good. Sure, you always get an Amazing Spider-Man 2, but these films have some of the most consistently positive reviews of any genre.

All of the MCU and X-Men films since 2010 have had Rotten Tomatoes scores over 65%, and (except for Fantastic Four) we're yet to get a truly terrible one from either franchise. The reason genres like the Western failed is because they had a large amount of truly terrible films (Wild Wild West, American Outlaws) that poisoned the well, turning everyone off the entire genre.

Superhero movies have maintained a consistent quality, and as long as they keep being well-received by critics and audiences, they may be able to keep going as long as they want. Something like Supernatural, for example, has maintained a consistent quality and has been going strong for 11 years. This may seem like a distant example, but it proves that people will keep coming back as long as the product remains fun and exciting, no matter how long it's been running. If superhero movies can achieve that, there's no real reason the bubble will burst.


Changing up of the formula (Deadpool, GOTG)

One of the main criticisms of comic book movies is the rigid narrative and thematic structure they seem to follow, the origin story, the love interest, the self-serious tone. If superhero movies had just kept using this model for every single film, it may be likely that the genre would collapse, but in the last couple of years we have seen movie studios mix up these movies to incredible results.

We got the serious political thriller of The Winter Soldier, the self-aware comedies of Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool and even the Shakespearean family drama of Thor. The fact that this is happening is incredibly important, because when superhero movies aren't tied down to a specific style, it's very unlikely the public is going to get sick of them.

This trend looks to be continued, with both Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse both trying to capture their own "genre feel" (emotional thriller and disaster movie, respectively). As long as studios keep what is qualified as a superhero movie broad (because that is essentially what they're doing here), the superhero genre may just be able to keep chugging along.


Studios have seen what works

One of the upsides of the huge amount of comic book movies coming out in recent years is that the studios making them have had a chance to test the waters on certain things, to find out what audiences like and what they hate.

For any other genre, this wouldn't really be important, there's a million different people making comedy films, it's not going to have any effect at all if one bombs. But, because almost all of the superhero movies are controlled by 3 major studios (Waner Bros, Fox, Disney) when one of these movies fail, they aren't going to make that same mistake again. Marvel aren't going to try and make another overly funny crowded ensemble piece, (Age of Ultron) because they now know that people don't enjoy that.

For Fox, they aren't going to attempt another film with an inexperienced director and a conflicting tone, because they know that people hate it. This also applies for what does work, the studios have found out that people gravitate towards funny and self-aware superhero movies, so they will continue to make them. Due to the way that the superhero genre is set up, studios can learn from both their mistakes and their successes, meaning that we are just going to get more of what we enjoy.

Fox, 2016
Fox, 2016

The brand name makes money

Although, as I pointed out in my "it will burst" section, there are have been some underperformance in the superhero genre as of late, there has also been a lot of wins. Since 2010, we've only had 3 actual box office bombs from this genre (Kickass 2, Fantastic Four and Dredd), films that didn't manage to double their budgets worldwide.

Just looking at the last couple of years, it's clear to see that simply being a superhero movie will draw audiences. Ant-Man, a film with a little know hero and no real big stars managed an impressive 500m worldwide, mostly due to the fact that it had the Marvel superhero seal of approval.

Even the high profile failures have grossed more than they normally would just by being a superhero film. If Fantastic Four had just been a terribly received sci-fi movie, there's no way it would have come anywhere near 150m worldwide, I doubt it even would have reached 100m, the superhero movie brand pushed it further. When simply being part of this genre can get people to your film, it really doesn't seem like audiences are going to go off it anytime soon.

Okay, there we go. I tried to present both points of view equally, but I'm sure I pissed someone off, so if you're angry just harass me on Twitter. Considering these arguments, it's hard to know what the outcome will be. Will superhero movies live on forever, or will the trend die off in just a couple of years? Looking at the huge slate of comic book movies being released, I think we'll know pretty soon if these movies are going to be staying around for much longer.

Do you think the superhero bubble will burst?, Do you agree with my arguments? Talk about it in the comments, and if you enjoyed this article follow this blog on Twitter (@boxofficebreak1) to see when we make a new post.


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