Ever since Sam Raimi’s “Spider Man” trilogy ended its theatrical run, making a combined total of $2.5 billion, superhero movies have dominated the summer box office. However, comic book films are not restricted to the hottest months of the year. Since the release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in April 2014, these films have proven they can rule theaters regardless of the season.
Conversely, even with the scheduled release of 23 superhero films over the next four years, the superhero genre may have finally found itself in peril.
With four major production studios – Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros., Fox and Sony – in the comic book movie business since 2009, the oversaturation of superhero movies is a topic that usually takes a backseat to casting choices and trailer discussions. Recently, however, the duration of comic book movie popularity has become a more prominent issue.
Several celebrities have spoken out about the survival rate of superhero movies, including Henry Cavill (“Man of Steel”) and Chris Evans (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), but one stands out by recently taking direct shots at the genre. Steven Spielberg, the director of classic films such as “Jaws,” the “Indiana Jones” franchise and “Jurassic Park,” stated in a Sept. 2, interview with The Associated Press that the superhero craze is bound to burn out.
“We were around when the Western died, and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western,” Spielberg said.
Whether or not Spielberg (or other directors who share similar views, like Zack Snyder and Dan Gilroy) is right, box office statistics showed that was not the strongest summer for superheroes.
2015’s summer movie season began with Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the sequel to Marvel’s 2012 moneymaking juggernaut: “The Avengers.” Being a part of Marvel’s most lucrative property, “Age of Ultron” was expected by many film analysts, including those at Boxoffice.com, to top the opening weekend record set by its predecessor ($207.4 million). This, however, was not the case. By the weekend’s close, Disney announced that the superhero team-up sequel “only” made $191.2 million, an “underperformance” in comparison to its expectations. The superhero film many expected to climb to the top of 2015’s blockbuster ladder couldn’t quite reach.
Disney and Marvel were not done yet, however. “Ant Man” was next on their lineup, serving as the closing film for Marvel’s Phase Two campaign. Bringing in a relatively unknown hero was risky business, but Marvel had proven in 2014 with “Guardians of the Galaxy” that their name carries sincere weight with their properties. With virtually no one having heard of the superhero team prior, “Guardians” went on to make a surprising $774.2 million, becoming the third highest-grossing film of 2014, as well as the highest-grossing superhero film of the year. However, where “Guardians” opened to a strong $94 million, “Ant Man” opened to a “lackluster” $58 million. This puts it at the second lowest opening for a Marvel film, just ahead of 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” ($55 million). Despite not reaching opening weekend estimates ($60 million), as well as currently being the third-lowest grossing film in the Marvel cinematic universe (just ahead of “The Incredible Hulk” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”), Disney stated it was “content” with the results of “Ant Man.”
Currently, the superhero genre is thriving. However, moviegoers and film professionals are suspecting that staleness may be setting in. Many “Age of Ultron” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes describe the film as “more of the same” (in regard to previous Marvel movies), while Screen Rant’s positive review for “Ant Man” describes the film as “a formulaic Marvel superhero origin tale.” In a world where new superhero movies and shared universes are being announced on a regular basis, mishandles such as Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider Man” series lend credence to the complaints that studios can only throw so much at fans before they get fed up.