Superheroes supercharging the box office: why???

Loki Thor 2So, my intention today, which had all been nicely written in my head, was to write an insightful, witty and topical post on whether the current plethora of superhero related movies and TV shows – heading well into 2016 and beyond – will oversaturate our interest in such things. Are we not already getting to the point of ‘meh, just another superhero with amazing powers due to a fluke accident/hereditary godliness/scientific experiment gone wrong’? But, the always entertaining Chris Philpott over at Stuff beat me to it – so if you fancy reading pretty much what I was going to say (well, kinda – his is much better researched than mine would have been) then you can find it here.

But, this still got me thinking – thinking that was developed further during my second viewing of Thor 2: The Dark World (yes, I saw it twice. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I am obsessed with Tom Hiddleston). My thinking was along these lines – why ARE superhero flicks and shows doing so well? Clearly the studios are backing more investment because they can see a guaranteed return. As I have discussed many a time before here, Hollywood studios aren’t, these days anyway, known for risk taking. They are putting money behind new things like the Marvel/Netflix deal for four new superhero shows because they see an audience for it. And who can blame them when Iron Man 3 ruled the box office this year, Thor 2 had a fantastic opening weekend and the TV show Agents of Shield (spin off from The Avengers) is rating pretty solidly?

I have a few theories for why the superhero genre is doing so well. I know some people have posited that people like superheroes these days because the world is a crazy place and they like the idea of people who can rise above the hum drum craziness and take control. I am not so sold on that idea. I think it has more commercial justifications.

Let’s talk about Marvel for a minute. They have created a massive mega-movie franchise – Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers – and are now into ‘Phase 2’ with a probable Phase 3 to come. They have a huge marketing machine behind them and they also know how to keep the fan boys (and girls) happy. They are savvy to what people want and how to please them – and also how to make people think they want what they are providing. They are a little like really smart comic book movie drug dealers. They have made their comic book adaptations the Class A drug that everyone wants a bit of. And they have been smart enough to realise that movies is where the big bucks are, but TV is enjoying a golden age – so they want a piece of that too. And in their latest deal with Netflix they have also twigged that terrestrial TV may be a thing of the past – and streaming TV could be the way forward. So, kudos really to the suits behind Marvel who are pulling all the right strings right now.

And of course, success breeds success to some extent. The fact that Marvel are rolling in it now means they can employ the best of the best. The best actors (Anthony Hopkins! Robert Redford! Robert Downey Junior!), the best directors (Kenneth Branagh! Joss Whedon! Shane Black!), the best writers (Joss Whedon! Joss Whedon! Joss Whedon!). And, they are listening to their fan base here too. They aren’t just choosing the best talent – they are choosing the talent who best fit within the Marvel brand – the fast paced, character driven yet very witty brand of entertainment that they are now adept at churning out. And their choices continue to keep the fan boys/girls happy – I for one am very interested to see what Drew Goddard (scribe and director of the brilliant Cabin in the Woods) brings to the new Netflix Daredevil series. And the good news? They guys aren’t just attracted because of the big bucks – they would be off making Transformers 15 if that were the case. They are attracted (I hope) because not only is it a really well paid gig but it is a gig that will, if recent efforts are anything to go by, produce a high quality and successful film.

And obviously they aren’t scrimping in the technical department either. One does have to wonder whether technical effects are part of the reason why superheroes are so big these days. In the 1960s you could say that Superman could leap a tall building in a single bound, but it was pretty hard to show him doing that. These days? I could probably whip up some decent CGI on my computer to show him doing just that – if I had the time, the skills and the software. And the big studios have the people and technology to do amazing things on screen. Some times I think it can detract a little from the overall story – just because you can show an entire city being destroyed doesn’t mean you should (Man of Steel? You know what you did…). So, in my view they need to tread carefully with this. But, I am admittedly someone who kind of tunes out during the action scenes until someone says or does something funny (which, in the Marvel universe, thankfully happens a lot).

So I do wonder whether, if they keep the talent coming, keep fleshing out interesting characters, keep responding to pressure from fans to do/not do something (there is a great example of this in Thor 2 which I can’t tell you without spoiling), then MAYBE they really can keep this gravy train running for quite some time. From my perspective I am ok with that, so long as there are still alternatives to cleanse the palate when we need something a little less super in our cinematic diet. For every Iron Man I want a The Way Way Back. For every Captain America I want a Crazy Stupid Love. Given the massive budget differential between those films I am sure Hollywood can handle that wee request, right?

As an aside, for those who haven’t caught this already – a pint sized Batkid saved the city of Gotham/San Francisco this week – all thanks to the Make A Wish foundation. Dare you to not be moved by this little superhero 😉

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