The Future of Superhero Movies

Well, it’s official.  According to A.O. Scott, one of the main film critics of the New York Times, superheroes are SO OVER.  Well.  I guess there won’t be anymore superhero movies, then. Okay, so we all know that’s not going … Continued

Superheroes, dead?!Well, it’s official.  According to A.O. Scott, one of the main film critics of the New York Times, superheroes are SO OVER.  Well.  I guess there won’t be anymore superhero movies, then.

Okay, so we all know that’s not going to happen.  But I kind of have to agree with Scott on some level.  The Dark Knight may have been so good that it ended a certain type of superhero movie thread.  This is the thread that Scott describes in his article: the one where the superhero runs after the villain for the first two-thirds of the movie, then they finally have a showdown in which the villain and superhero are revealed to be “not so different,” and then the superhero kicks the villain’s ass.  I agree with Scott that the ass-kicking part is the least interesting part of this kind of film.

So where does this leave superhero movies?  Are they so over?  If not, what kind of superhero film will replace the Dark Knight model?  If so, what will take their place?  My ideas are below the fold…

Drama <3s Aquaman

PATH #1: The Dark Knight doesn’t kill the superhero genre. The genre survives, although it doesn’t flourish.

In this possible future, movie producers don’t say to themselves, “Well, that was the pinnacle of superhero films.  We’re done.  Let’s find something else to do.”  Instead, they say to themselves, “HOLY SHIT THE DARK KNIGHT MADE A BAZILLION DOLLARS ME WANTZ!”

Needless to say, this is a likely future.

But, if A.O. Scott is right, these knock-offs will probably not match TDK or they will seem like pale parodies.  Even the third Christopher Nolan Batman will have a hard time overcoming its predecessor.

But, if superhero movies of this kind continue, here’s what we can probably expect:

  • Sequels of already popular hero films: Iron Man 2, Batman 3, Hellboy 3, Spiderman 4, etc.
  • Digging deeper into the superhero barrel: Aquaman (ideally starring the dude from Entourage), Captain America (kill me now), Wonder Woman (hopefully), The Flash, The Atom, The Green Lantern (his weakness is yellow?!), maybe a Justice League movie, maybe a Teen Titans movie
  • More people making up their own superheroes that aren’t from comics but that fit the same archetypes

Most of these movies will suck, and those that don’t will still probably fail to beat The Dark Knight or Spiderman 2 at the box office or on the critics lists.  Superhero films will die a slow death.

When I look at an inkblot, I see terror

PATH #2: Superhero movies survive, but in a different form.

Like Jean Grey turning into Phoenix, in this potential future, superhero movies will survive, but they will be quite different than those that came before.  No longer will we see the usual plot of:


Instead, we’ll see:

  • More superhero deconstructions.  We already had some in the form of The Incredibles and Hancock, but The Incredibles was more like an Ayn Randian Objectivist tract and Hancock turned into a real superhero movie before the deconstruction could take hold.  Expect to see: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen (which is already coming out), other Hancock-like attempts at deconstructing the superhero myth.
  • Superheroes interacting with the Real World.  Rather than just having Batman do his thing in Gotham, these superhero movies will show the sociopolitical effects of having superheroes gallivanting around the globe.  Watchmen again is an example of a comic that shows how superheroes can affect the course of history, as are Red Son, The Ultimates, The Authority, and Kingdom Come (to the best of my knowledge, as I haven’t read most of these, myself).  I will be disappointed if Iron Man 2 doesn’t go this route.
  • Less “superhero-y” superheroes.  The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is an example; they’re heroes and super but they don’t fit the normal description of superheroes.  Hellboy is another; it’s sort of a pulp/horror/fantasy/superhero genre.  Likewise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is a superhero operating in a horror/fantasy/high school/quirky genre.  And I almost guarantee there will be a movie of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which is more fantasy-ish.

I think Path #2 will depend largely on the success of Watchmen.  If the movie sucks, which will be sad but not unexpected, that’ll probably be the final nail in the coffin of the superhero deconstruction film.

The Depressingest Thing on Earth

PATH #3: Superhero movies die, but the superhero myth lives on.

That is to say, the idea of the superhero doesn’t need to die when movies titled “_____Man” die.  When America finally gets tired of the superhero, they’ll lose their costumes, but the idea will live on.  Here’s what could happen:

As for me, I see a mix of all three paths in our future.  Long story short, superheroes are not dead.  They’ll just change a bit.  And that’s okay.

9 Comments on “The Future of Superhero Movies”

  1. Gab #

    Well, according to IMDB, “Sony has made their payment to Marvel to renew the rights” to make “Spider-Man 4.” More official details here:

    I thought the first “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” movie was a nice fluff film, but if all superhero movies took on its style, the genre would “die again” because of that- too many fluff films that look the same would cancel each other out like protons and neutrons in the atom of box office sales. For some reason, action and kind of dark films don’t do that as easily as fluff ones. Plus, since fluff is generally not a box office draw, even *if* they’re good, they still won’t do as well if they’re all sugar and no salt.

    I pimped your podcast out to a friend, and, disappointed in the lack of discussion about Rachel, the only female with more than three lines, it led to us discussing a new line of superhero movies that involve FEMALE leads, ones that don’t suck so much ass like “Elektra” and “Catwoman” did. A really, really good WONDERWOMAN movie, to start, and maybe something like “Witchblade” to go darker and deeper. And then other movies with “superheros” like sorceresses or werewolves and vampires (and better stuff than the horrible adaptation of “Blood and Chocolate” or this terrible-looking “Twilight,” but good stuff like “Sabriel” or “The Last Vampire”). If nothing else, having more movies about women may give a new spin to the genre that would pique interests and/or draw a new audience into it. Being a feminist, I’d *like* to think female-empowered movies could take on their own category that would be a combination of all three; but I can see how that could just sort of go along with your conclusion and put movies starring women together with ones starring men. And I suppose working together would make it easier, eh?



  2. stokes OTI Staff #

    Lord, it WOULD be nice to have a good superhero movie with a female lead. But the track record is so bad. Wonderwoman is apparently in production for 2009… we can keep our fingers crossed.


  3. Gab #

    Oooh, no, I’m worried. Looking up the list of people involved in “Wonderwoman,” the only name I had heard was Joel Silver, and his track record is so bi-polar that I just have no idea what he’d do with/to this. Add to that how two of the writers have no other experience and the third helped to create the campy series (which would NEVER do for a film)and that the other producer did “Charlie’s Angels,” I’m afraid this is just going to do the exact OPPOSITE of what I think we all hope for: it’s going to kill any hopes for quality films featuring kick-ass women. It’s going to be campy and cheesy and poorly executed (because campy and cheesy CAN work sometimes) and not be taken seriously, and will just perpetuate the stereotype that women are better left as the person being rescued than the person doing the rescuing.

    My soul hurts again.


  4. B #

    You know what I want to know? When are we going to get another damn Podcast?


  5. lee OTI Staff #

    “Superheroes interacting with the Real World”: you left out one interesting example: “The Incredibles,” which is obviously far from a conventional superhero movie, but one that does deal with the real world and often mundance consequences of masked guys with superpowers doing battle with evil and wreaking havoc along the way. Though it obviously belongs more in the Pixar genre/realm than the likes of Daredevil and the Incredible Hulk.

    Which reminds me: the Pixar genre (yes, I would argue that it’s a genre unto itself, and no, it does not include other studio’s animated films like Madagascar) is probably worth its own round of Overthinking, especially in light of Wall-E.


  6. UnSub #

    To some extent, this shift away from ‘traditional’ comic book movies is already happening – “Sin City” and “300” came from the (mysoginistic, at the very least) pen of Frank Miller; “American Splendour” and “Ghost World” were indy titles; “Road to Perdition” was a comic series first (even if everyone involved seemed embarrassed to say so.

    “The Dark Knight” has shown you can do a serious, layered comic book movie and be successful. It won’t stop the “two chase scenes and a fight” school of superhero movie making, but it does open the door further (arguably “V for Vendetta” walked this road first; there may have been others I can’t think of right now) for more serious films.

    Of course, such things are up to the director. Would anyone else other than Christopher Nolan even tried to do something like “The Dark Knight”? I doubt it.

    On female superheroes: the only solid and extremely capable female superhero I’ve seen in a comic book movie was Elasti-Girl in “The Incredibles”. I can’t think of any other female superhero that appeared in a movie and wasn’t grossly inferior to the male(s).


  7. CppThis #

    I think we’ll see a mix of all three. The big-name franchises are starting to get tapped out so they’ll switch to lesser-known stuff or just go back to inventing action heroes like we did in the 80s. There have always been different takes on the superhero genre, but they’ve often flown under the radar (Mystery Men anyone?) and this will continue. And of course there will be a lot of standalone stuff like what Miller does, it sells well and usually doesn’t come with the baggage that more traditional superhero franchises do.

    We’ll also likely see a lot of medieval/scifi/fantasy/horror crossovers. Lord of the Rings was huge and Hobbit is currently in production, and they’re remaking Red Sonia and possibly Conan the Barbarian. Those terrible Matrix sequels and Star Wars prequels did a number on sci-fi, but the market’s there for someone with vision and original ideas.

    As for more female superheroes, I agree but they’ll only work if their gender is not an essential aspect of their character. Unfortunately this is unlikely as most everyone in Hollywood is either a horny guy or a batshit-crazy feminist; I suspect they’ll remain sex objects and one-dimensional womens-lib statements for the forseeable future.


  8. Marty #

    I heard Joss Whedon was working on Wonder Woman. That would be cool.


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