That ornery Steven Spielberg is at it again, rilin’ up folks who like big movies. A couple of years after predicting that Hollywood was headed towards an “implosion” due to the ballooning budgets of your standard blockbuster, Spielberg now has some thoughts on the biggest genre around: the superhero movie. Speaking with the Associated Press, the filmmaker reiterated his feeling that a significant shift at the studio level will take place as a direct result of the current blockbuster culture, and he also had a prediction to make with regards to superhero films:
“I still feel that way. We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.”
Some folks today are taking these comments rather harshly, saying Spielberg is throwing shade at the superhero movie genre, but he’s absolutely right. Not only is this not a studio model that can be sustained forever (Avengers 3 must be bigger/more expensive than Avengers 2, which must be bigger/more expensive than Avengers 1, etc.), but history proves that audiences will eventually tire of one specific genre if it’s the only thing Hollywood is feeding them.
Spielberg isn’t saying the superhero genre will be over and done with in the next few years—the Western lasted for decades and provided us with some of the best films in history—but he is saying the ride’s gotta stop somewhere, and it will. Given that Spielberg invented the summer blockbuster and has a fair amount of experience with the genre for over 40 years, I’m inclined to take the guy pretty seriously.
Sure Ant-Man didn’t perform as well as Marvel Studios’ other fare (it’s their second lowest-grossing film ever) and the underrated Avengers: Age of Ultron was forgotten within two weeks after its release, but fans are still high on the genre and what Marvel has planned for the next five years. The real test for the superhero genre, I think, will come in 2016.
In 2016, audiences will be treated to seven superhero movies as opposed to 2015’s three. There are two from Marvel Studios (Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange), with which audiences are very familiar to by now, two from Warner Bros. (Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad) that will clarify and set forth that studio’s own inter-connected universe plan, and three from Fox (Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit) that will expand yet another superhero universe. The first film opens in February and the last one opens in November, so for the first time in the post-Marvel era audiences will be exposed to tentpole superhero films nearly year-round.
The question is, will audiences be tired of the genre by November or is there enough variety (Deadpool is an R-rated antihero story, X-Men: Apocalypse is a colorful 80s-set disaster movie, and Doctor Strange is a psychedelic twist on the genre) to keep folks engaged? We may see some course correction based on which of these films audiences respond to most, and I’m incredibly curious to see what the overall feeling of the genre is by this time next year, but for now the superhero genre remains the priority for nearly ever major studio in town. But as history and Spielberg tells us, this thing isn’t gonna last forever, and as Universal Pictures’ record-breaking banner year proves, it is possible for studios to succeed without superheroes.