Recently Ethan Hawke, star of Sinister, Predestination, and the forthcoming Stockholm (alongside Prometheus' Noomi Rapace) commented that in his opinion superhero movies are overrated. His comments follow in the wake of similar comments made by Contact and Silence of the Lambs star Jodie Foster earlier this year. These comments serve to vilify the superhero genre of movies amidst continued claims that the genre is oversaturating the movie market and that audiences are suffering from superhero movie exhaustion. Speaking with Film Stage in a recent interview, here is what Hawke had to say:
"Now we have the problem that they tell us Logan is a great movie. Well, it's a great superhero movie. it still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It's not Bresson. It's not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is. I went to see Logan because everyone was like, 'This is a great movie' and I was like, 'Really? No, this is a fine superhero movie.' There's a difference, but big business doesn't think there's a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they want to make money off of it."
Speaking to the UK publication Radio Times in January Foster's somewhat similar comments on the matter where:
"Going to the movies has become like a theme park. Studios making bad content to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking - you get the best return right now but you wreck the Earth. It's ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world."
Let's be blunt. Each year up to half-a-dozen superhero movies are released. These movies are usually sourced from Marvel Studios and Warner Bros., with the occasional superhero movie from 20th Century Fox's long-running X-Men series, or from studios who own the production rights to more subversive superhero properties such as Hellboy, Spawn, The Crow etc. Marvel Studios is renowned for having created an expansive shared universe that rivals Universals golden age of monster movies, while Warner Bros' big screen DC shared universe (the name of which continues to change) continues to struggle to find its foundation. Meanwhile, both Wonder Woman and Black Panther have been acclaimed for their social importance, while movies such as Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, and the aforementioned Black Panther have become some of the most commercially successful movies of all time.
When compared to other genres the truth about superhero movies becomes apparent. Throughout 2018 audiences will also be able to watch other genres of movies, the three most popular of which are drama, science fiction, and horror. Each of these, more mainstream genres throughout 2018 will see around a dozen releases each, a fact that not only nullifies claims that superhero movies are oversaturating the market but also claims that audiences are suffering from superhero fatigue too. However, the question remains; why are superhero movies getting so much grief?
The answer is actually relevantly simple. Although the genre has been with us for many decades now, in either a big or small capacity (1978's Superman: The Movie being but one example), it is only in recent years that Hollywood studios have realized the commercial potential these properties hold. Franchise movies such as Alien, Predator, Terminator, Godzilla etc. rely heavily on the support of each franchises fan base. Typically the bigger the fanbase for a property the bigger the investment from the studio in a movie adaptation of said property, which should they be commercially successful could generate millions, if not billions in profit. This is why, in recent years whenever a certain sub-genre of movie has proved successful audiences have been inundated with similar movies - remember the disaster movie marathon of films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, 2012, and The Day of Tomorrow.
Currently, the movie industry is caught up in the craze of the superhero. After Christopher Nolan's seminal The Dark Knight, of which Heath Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of the Joker, Hollywood studios and filmmakers alike have realized that superhero movies are not only commercially viable, but also as with any adaptation, if produced with enough reverence to the source material can prove to be a great, if not powerful cinematic experience; as recently proven by Wonder Woman and Black Panther.
The icing on the cake for naysayers such as Hawke and Foster is that the returns generated by these massively successful superhero movies, allow those studios to invest in more movies, with bigger investments across the board. This means that the indie movies that Hawke so vehemently supports and the more dramatic movies in which Foster prefers to feature can be more readily supported by such studios. Once the fat cat executives have had their cut that is.
It is true that once-upon-a-time superhero movies were produced with little thought, reverence or investment, as can be seen when comparing 1990's Captain America starring Matt Salinger (Revenge of the Nerds) to Chris Evans' first time in the role in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. It is also true that some, more recent superhero movies have been bloated with little substance (here's looking at you Justice League). But, in all honesty, it is disappointing that respected actors such as Hawke and Foster's opinions of the industry within which they work in and represent are so archaic. These actors and others sharing their views could stand to remember that all genres of movies are constantly in flux, and the viewing trends of audiences even more so. It wasn't that long ago that science fiction, horror, and drama movies were viewed in a similar, or even more negative light. Yet over time each of these genres, as with superhero movies have evolved past their earlier, less cinematic days, into the celebrated genres we (mostly) enjoy today.
Is it really too much to ask that we afford superhero movies the same leniency?