Matthew Vaughn: Superhero movie “mined to death”

You might have seen this interview with Matthew Vaughn a week or so back in the LA Times blog.

In it, the director of Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, which is currently filming, says the superhero movie as a genre has been, "been mined to death and in some cases the quality control is not what it's supposed to be… People are just going to get bored of it." He feels he got in just in time with First Class because, "I've always wanted to do a big-budget superhero film and I think we've kind of crossed the Rubicon with superhero films," and "I think [the opportunity to do one], it's only going to be there two or three more times," and finally, "the genre is going to be dead for a while because the audience has just been pummeled too much."

I've been thinking about it, and I think… wait for it… he's right.

We're not talking about comic book fans who have a seemingly endless appetite for superheroes, but rather a large audience of people who are historically attracted to trends and new shiny things.  It's not just the audience, but also the studios trying to chase the new trend, and honestly, I'm surprised it's lasted this long.  We've seen the superhero movie in various incarations over the last decade, starting with Bryan Singer's X-Men, moving through some terrible TV adaptations (Birds of Prey, Mutant X), some subpar b-list movie versions (Daredevil, Catwoman, Ghost Rider), and finally, some mega blockbusters and their sequels (Batman Begins, Spider-Man, Iron-Man).   But I think it cannot go on indefinitely.  As a comic reader, I get the urge to see something different, and as a moviegoer, I think eventually, people will want to move on.  It might not happen right away, but the Avengers movie is really the lynchpin.  Maybe Green Lantern too.  The giant blockbuster movie with its commensurate marketing machine will determine how long this goes on.  If the greater audience is disappointed in a big way by these flicks, that will be the first sign of demise.  Watchmen tolled the deathknell for huge movies made from non-recognizable properties already.

The fact that this has lasted as long as it has is a testament for both the quality of the underlying stories, as well as the passion of the peole involved in making these movies.  People do love superheroes, definitely. But eventually the big directors and stars are going to get sick of doing them, and the audience is going to follow suit as each movie gets more indistinguishable from the one before it. 

As far are non-superhero comic movies go, I think it's safe to say that they'll always be looked at in terms of Intellectual Property. I mean, no one says Hollywood will stop making movies based on novels just because The Lovely Bones tanked. Then again, it probably wouldn't hurt to have another 300 some time soon.

Also, just for fun, the article pointed out that Vaughn, who was originally slated to direct the third X-Men movie, rather than Brett Ratner, said, "As it happens, I could have made something a hundred times better than the film that was eventually made."

Bold, sir.  Probably true, but still, bold.


  1. He’s probably right. Hell, after Iron Man 2, I felt like the superhero genre was getting old n’ stale. Just so long as we can still squeeze out Avengers and Batman 3, I’ll be satisfied.

  2. It does feel like it’s getting old but I would be surprised to see the trend continue for a long while. I’m sure Disney still has big plans releasing everything they can after their acquisition of Marvel.

  3. Very nice article, and I agree. As with all things, this trend of superhero movies will probably fade away, only to resurge a few years later stronger than ever.

    I think it would be nice, however, if the genre didn’t disappear from the zeitgeist altogether. Shows like Smallville have proven that, when done right, superhero TV can be a lot of fun and remain financially lucrative. I think it’d be great to see a migration from film to TV for our super buddies, and with The Cape, No Ordinary Family and all the talk about Blue Beetle, it looks like that may be the way the wind is blowing.

    Also, I’ve never seen Birds of Prey, but always thought it looked kinda cool. Was it really that bad?

  4. This logic resonates for me. And yet, if it were the case, then wouldn’t reality shows have gone the way of the dinosaur by now? Instead, they continue to proliferate ad infinitum it seems. I would argue that the appeal of superhero films isn’t far removed from that of reality shows. People watch reality shows (arguably) because they offer us representations of our worst selves, while people are drawn to superhero films (and television shows) because they offer us representations of our aspirations to greatness.

  5. I think that comic superhero movies have become the cool new way to do an big budget action movie. For a long time action movies were the lone cop/private detective against some evil guy. Then it was human vs. aliens. Now is a guy in a rubber costume vs. a big evil villain. It will go for a while, then it will pass. With the recent success of The Expendables, and if The A-Team and The Losers do well on DVD; then the next big budget action movie trend will be a group of heroes against a huge almost unstoppable villain. Wait….like the Avengers??? 

  6. It may be "Kung Fu" derivative but I’d still like to see an "Iron Fist" movie.

  7. The studio behind Xmen: FirstClass should be nervous…your director has no faith in the film or genre.

    The big costumed superhero movie might be on its way out. The Studio should be really nervous for Avengers and Thor…they might feel that audience burnout at the box office. DC was smart to put Justice League back on the shelf for a while. 

  8. I see superhero films, maybe even comic book films in general, much like the Western genre of film. if you look in the 50-s to the late 70-s, possibly even the early 80’s, westerns were all over the place, even with guys like Wayne and others protray a number of different "cowboys" or "frontiersmen" (look at Chris Evans, who has been in a number of different superhero and comic book related movies). The Western has faded away though, but not completely. we get some fantastic westerns coming out every few years, and i wonder if we will see the same for superhero films.

    Another way to look at this maybe through is that the superhero film is in a transition period, where a lot of the superheroes have had their origins told, and it’s now that next step, the continuing their story that there can be trouble in. have their been as many great sequels as their were opening acts? this maybe the next step, like origin films needed to be worked on before they got into their grove (iron man, batman begins) so too may the sequels.

  9. I love going to the movies and seeing some of my favorite characters in Technicolor, but I’m also ready for comics to be comics again and not elaborate pitches.


  10. Matthew Vaughn is sadly ignorant of film history, and genre history in particular.  Genre’s, once established, rise and fall in popularity, but are never "played out".  They simply wait for someone to come along and reinvigorate them.  The superhero genre is in it’s infancy – having only now really been established.  Even if you take the oldest genre there is – the Western, you see that it has returned time and time again with a new twist, a new take that captures the audience’s imagination (the Unforgiven, Deadwood, etc.)  Matthew Vaughn is a talented director who should stick to doing what he does best, and keep his opinions on other directors, films and history to himself.  He only ends up sounding like a jerk.

  11. Qpeeples is absolutely right.

  12. It’s simple. People want a good movie. No matter if it’s Shakespeare or Comic books. People will go see a good actioner if it’s done right. Each film is different. Daredevil, which didn’t do too bad actually considering it came out in Feb., had to face the suits. Check out the director’s cut. Totally different. Ghostrider suffered from bad FX and a bad script. Catwoman just fucking reeked from the beginning.  How Warner/DC let that cat out of the bag still boggles my mind. Watchmen was too inside baseball for most people. The average Wal-mart audiance doesn’t equate thinking with unknown superhero films. The genre is only as good as it’s parts. The Dark Knight had the right formula of viral marketing, a recognizable hero and and awesome script. It seems that reletivly unknown titles like Scott Pilgrim, Losers, etc… just don’t have the name recognition to bring them in. I’m curious to see how RED does. After the bomb that was Whiteout, we may be seeing the end of the graphic novel/trade genre die not so much the superhero one. 

  13. He’s wrong film makers need to make films that A dont suck and B aren’t targeted at a tiny niche that

    will never justify their budgets

  14. I think that most movie goers aren’t aware that they’re watching comic book movies. Stuff like Wanted, Losers, 300, 30 Days of Night….the average movie goer really just saw them as an Action (or horror for 30 days) movies and i think from that respect comic movies will still thrive. Its the mainstream capes and cowls that might be in danger for a little while…especially since so few of them are done well.

    We do the same thing with books. I wouldn’t recognize the series of novels that are the basis for True Blood if i saw them in a store. 

  15. I’ve thought this too for a while now. No film fad lasts forever, but that doesn’t mean they stop making that kind of film.

  16. I agreed with Vaughn’s sentiments even though I would love to see comic movies in development.  I think we’ll be at the "stick a fork in it" with the release of Nolan’s Batman 3, but at least this cycle of movies will go out with a (hopefully) bang!

  17. I was just thinking this about Romantic Comedies.  I mean, quite a few recent RomComs haven’t done all that well, and there have been a lot of them lately.  I think that the RomCom genre is just played out, and Hollywood will probably take a break from them.

    Wait, no.  I don’t think that, because it’s stupid.  Comic Book movies aren’t a "genre."  They’re a specific type of Action movie.  Action is a genre.  Comic Book Action is a sub-genre.  There will always be Action movies, and as the technology improves, a year’s slate of Action movies will include a certain number of movies made from comic book properties.  If Hollywood could make high quality original movies (as many people who are not me believe "Inception" to be), then maybe there would be fewer comic book action movies.  As it is, they can’t, so they won’t.  They’ll simply mine the properties that they have in different ways.  Disney didn’t buy Marvel just to let the comic book movie die, and if Disney doesn’t want it to happen, it’s not going to happen.  Their word is law.

    Also, of course Matthew Vaughn could have made a better movie than X3.  A cracked out squirrel with a Fischer-Price "My First Video Camera" could have made a better movie than X3.

  18. Remember when we got a new comic movie every year or so? Yeah, I kind of miss those days.   

    "A cracked out squirrel with a Fischer-Price "My First Video Camera" could have made a better movie than X3." 

    @Quinn – Err, isn’t that who made X3 in the first place?

  19. Vaughn is full of himself. A good movie is a good movie, regardless of source material. One could also say remakes of classics have been mined to death, as well as Josh pointed out, movies adapted from prose novels have been mined to death. A bad movie is a bad movie.

  20. Vaughn didn’t say it is impossible to make good superhero movies, just that they’ll stop being financially viable.

  21. This is an inane statement from an uninspired person. He might as well rephrase that statement as ‘stories have been mined to death’. Comics have the ability to tell any story as well, and in my opinion better, than any movie or novel. Even if you assume by comics he strictly intends the capes and tights set, he is still wrong. Superheroes have a fantastic ability to reflect any concept from love to lust to sacrifice to greed to action to sublety to comedy to drama. A well done super hero book reflects all of these aspects over the course of its life, I am looking at you Invincible and Ultimate Spiderman. Superheroes are really just us writ large, though be it gaudy or baroque. The most base are superficial similes for people and the truly lofty tell us deep societal truths that rival any Bronte book.

  22. Another vote disagreeing with Vaughn here, I don’t think superhero movies will be going away anytime soon. With Marvel Studios and the advent of the Marvel movie universe, I’m sure they’ll be trying to crank ’em out every summer for the next decade at least.