The Superheroes Are Coming! …Yay?

Thor. Captain America. Green Lantern. Iron Man. The Avengers. Spider-Man. Superman. Batman.

Lots of superhero movies coming out, folks.  Like…more coming out in the next year or so than I could have ever imagined, even a few years ago. Certainly more than I ever could of dreamed of when I was a kid.

I was thinking about this influx of superhero movies, and, maybe, I admit, I was thinking about them a little too much, but I found some parallels with superhero movies and superheroes in general and wanted to see what you thought. 

No matter what universe you are in, superheroes are around to save the day. From the pages of comics to the movie studios' bottom lines, they help improve a dire situation.  However…what happens if we rely on superheroes too much?

The influx of superhero movies is really great, sure, if you are comic book fan and have longed to see your favorite heroes "come to life" on the big screen.  Sometimes we are very pleased with the results (Iron Man, the first two Spider-Man movies) and other times, we are sickened (Punisher: War Zone, Catwoman).  When I hear people getting really excited about all of the movies coming out, I sometimes feel like Lex Luthor, frustrated that so many people are relying on superheroes to make them happy, almost sneering that we should not look to these films to save the movie industry, that we should be able to have a successful movie industry on our own, without the help of these sometimes caped crusaders, who have arrived to fill movie theaters, squeezing out the voices of "normal" movies.

I am, of course, being a little dramatic, but I can't help but think about the Powers books, with Deena and Pilgrim having to clean up the mess that powered heroes were leaving behind, and wonder, in a way, what the long term implications of these powered movies will be. Just as Lex holds Superman in disdain, solving problems that humanity can solve on its own, I find myself suspicious of these films, and worry that the sheer number of superhero movies coming out will irritate moviegoers, especially, oddly, if they are successful, because then we'll just keep seeing more and more "heroes" popping up, each with a similar mission: to create enduring movie franchises that will fill the studio coffers.


On a slightly more existential note, I think it's interesting to watch these movies coming out at this time, when things feel so out of control, when the world really does feel a bit like a disaster movie (I watched Battle L.A. and the destruction was easily on par with what was going on in Japan).  Given the economy and the succession of natural disasters, it's almost as if humanity is losing its ability to cope with the modern era, that, as a society, we could use some help. I used to joke that when the economy was good, club music would get more popular, because people had money to burn going to clubs and party down. Conversely, when the economy is struggling, one might see the resurgence of bands and more indie/rock music come back, new voices telling stories, as opposed to oppressive beats tripping you out.  Maybe the same is true in movies? We know that in the Depression, the only real escape was going to the nickelodeons, which provided a bit of fantasy at an affordable cost.  Superhero movies, with their special effects, amazing sound and 3D visuals, offer a similar kind of escape for a modern generation, albeit one would find it hard to argue that a 3D movie is affordable.


So, just as the naysayers in comic books might sneer at masked vigilantes saving the say (often at the expense of the taxpayer, given the amount of destruction that seems to be part of almost every "rescue"), perhaps I find myself quietly fearing the rise of the superhero movie, with its focus on pleasing a demographic that I have long since outgrown, comes at the expense of the opportunity to see more thoughtful, less obviously commercial films.  Yes, the financial success of The King's Speech, which was a good film (though I would argue, not necessarily a great film) gives me some kind of hope, but when you compare it to the juggernaut of superhero films coming our way, it may be a long time before studios consider making another in that vein.  


I don't mean to sound all lame and give you the impression that I am not interested to see how filmmakers bring our heroes to audiences, both in theaters and, with Wonder Woman, into our living rooms.  Just like the citizens of Metropolis and Gotham City, I think we do need heroes on our lives. I just wonder what the cost might be (if any), in terms of audiences taking the time to explore different kinds of stories. I wonder, too, if, after awhile, audiences will get bored with yet another Marvel superhero smashing his or her way into our brains, if the marketing onslaught for these DC characters, with the lunchboxes, the posters, the shoes, the hoodies, the cereal boxes, the Band-Aids…if it will cause a backlash as well.  


If studios think that a superhero movie will guarantee a certain return, I can promise you that we'll see a drop in quality, we'll see uninspired stories, resulting in uninspired audiences.  I honestly think it was kind of nice to have to wait a couple of years before the next superhero film–it meant that it was special, like The Dark Knight.  There was a certain expectation of quality that we had…I just hope, a few years from now, that superhero films won't be so every day that expectations are low, and that people assume that the films just aren't that good.


And if superhero movies get so played out that audiences feel like those type of movies are kind of lame and overdone…what will they think about comic books?  We'll be right back to where we started, where people just assume that comic are just for kids, because the movies are going to be trying to so hard to appeal to young boys and teens.  


And worse–what happens if comic book movies stop making the kinds of money that studios expect?  Studios will stop investing so much in them.  And how about those studios that also happen to own the comic book publishers? Is it too much of a stretch to think that they will be even more concerned about their financial performance?  


I know. I am painting a dire picture that is probably stemming from a long day, it's late, and maybe I am in just a bit of worrying mood. I am excited about the movies, but I am also worried that there are just too many superhero movies coming out and I am concerned that audiences are going to stop paying attention. I worry that if superhero movies fall out of fashion that it could adversely impact the already struggling comic book market. 


There a lot of us that are getting what we've always wished from all the movies coming out. It's an exciting time; we have superheroes coming to life, we have seen them save the day before in our books, and there is an entire industry hoping they will continue to save the day in the months and years to come on our screens. 


Let's just hope the price of admission is worth it.


Mike Romo is an actor who really does want to be in superhero films. Really. Email, Facebook, Twitter — he'll be there.


  1. “What’s wrong with a drama? A little pathos? Perhaps a nice romantic comedy? But no, all I see are superheroes. Superheroes everywhere!” – Lex Luthor

  2. The superhero genre is PERFECT for the summer tentpole franchise template that all studios have made a must have for every year. I’m sure it will ebb and flow with trends, but i think Superhero movies will be around as long as people like watching lots of SFX action and things that go boom!

  3. I like more superhero movies, not less.  In many cases, I think they are better told stories than the comics are.  They do things that the comic medium cannot, such as live action expansive battle scenes.  The action scenes in Spider-Man have never been duplicated in impact or quality on the comic page.

    The Batman action scenes, though, well…yah.  😉

  4. Like any film genre worth it’s weight, it’s time to really “test the water” and accept the fact that there will be good SH films made right alongside the bad ones.

    Its happened in westerns, musicals, comedy, etc. Now it’s the superhero film’s turn.

    Don’t worry about it, just watch.  

  5. superheroes have dominated hollywood since spider-man came out in 2002, and now nearly a decade later still are quite successful. the fact of the matter is that the last decade was pretty dire, and things don’t look like they are going to change any time soon, so audiences will still be hungry for this type of stuff. all the releases this year look promising, and out of all the SH movies we’ve seen since spider-man, the majority have been pretty good.

    and the success or failure of superhero movies has nothing to do with comic book sales. audiences like SH movies because they like movies.


  7. I think the only clunker coming this year is Green Lantern, I may be wrong but it looks cheesy and what I have seen so far looks rushed. Is it DC trying to hurry and cash in on the craze? DC please take your time. The Nolan Batman movies have been great but not rushed or forced on us. DC/WB we are going to go see Superman, so please take your time. As a huge Cap fan I am looking forward to seeing Thor the most of all this summer

  8. If (and it’s a speculative if) WB and Disney are expecting the comics to keep providing content for the cinema, and that’s their main interest then the medium is in trouble. If comics cannot sustain themsleves on their sales alone then the bg corporate masters are not going to be pleased when/if the comic-book movies drop off in attendance, and then where for the big two?
    Half a million of us may not be enough.

  9. The King’s Speech came from a British film industry which has little con
    cern for superheroes.  To say – “Yes, the financial success of The King’s Speech, which was a good film gives me some kind of hope, but when you compare it to the juggernaut of superhero films coming our way, it may be a long time before studios consider making another in that vein” –  suggests that studios are only after making money in a particular way.  Yes, the British film industry does not necessarily have the means to produce the likes of a Green Lantern, but why should they have the inclination?  The King’s Speech was a success overseas, not because it was a reaction against powers-n-tights movies, but because it was a good story on its own terms.  I agree it wasn’t the great, second-coming of a movie that people seem to think it was, but it was well crafted, superbly acted and worked on its own terms, which is all any movie should be.

    The influx of superhero movies hasn’t stopped quality films being made, in Hollywood or anywhere else – if that was the case, we wouldn’t have had Let The Right One In, District 9, Moon (and I’m just speaking from a genre perspective here). 

    If a superhero film is bad, it should only be held as bad on its own terms.  Just because Catwoman was awful, that doesn’t mean Batman Begins was awful.  If public perception of Thor winds up to be negative, it won’t change consensus on The Dark Knight.  If general audiences get sick of superhero movies (because let’s face it, we won’t), alternative films like The King’s Speech will always continue to exist and be made.

    As for damage to a failing comic book industry – films cannot be made to shoulder the blame, in the same way that the comics can’t be held responsible for a bad film adaptation.  Different medium altogether, and we shouldn’t be asking for it to be any other way.  My view is that when people come out of The Dar Knight they’re thinking ‘Wow, isn’t Batman cool?’  They’re not thinking ‘Wow, aren’t Batman comics cool?’ 

    Those potential comic readers who rush out to buy an issue to see if the comics are indeed as cool as the film, are only going to turn away if they are not.   You stand on your own merit, and if you’re not doing enough to bring in or keep new readers/audiences/whatever, then that’s your failing.  That potential new reader will just wait for the next Batman movie, or just maybe, have a wider taste spectrum that he’ll go watch The King’s Speech instead, 😉

  10. @wordballoon – I definitely agree. The superhero genre is just a genre just like anything else. What about the influx of disaster movies around the turn of the millenia? What about movies based on video games? 

    They’re all so different that I find it hard to judge an entire genre based on the performance of individual movies. I think that it’s really a failure of the media and masses to lump and stereotype these things together rather than a failure of the companies. But, conversely, as your economic predictions examine, I suppose it’s the masses that controls the future of the Big Two’s ventures into moviemaking.

    Now I’ve got Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” stuck in my head… 

  11. As I believe Josh has said before, the movies have not positively impacted comic sales. I doubt they would negatively impact them I they were to fall out of public favor.

  12. I’ve heard this argument of an upcoming backlash time and time again, and I have to question it.

    Why can’t Superhero movies be simply a new genre to add to Crime movies, Westerns, RomComs, Action flicks, and so on? They are only new because unlike pretty much every other genre they weren’t that achievable without certain developments in film and computing etc.  

    Plus they’re all so very different. All being based on Marvel characters doesn’t change the fact that Thor, Iron Man and Captain America appear to be strikingly different movies, to the point where people have been concerned about how the tones can mesh together into a coherent universe for The Avengers. A Marvel movie could be cosmic, could be a war movie, a detective movie – it’s like saying people will get bored of Disney movies.

    Yes of course I believe Superhero movies will ebb and flow in popularity over time, like Westerns have, but I just don’t buy this idea I keep hearing that the public will hate superheroes by 2013. By the end of 2011, I will have seen 4 Superhero movies in the cinema. Most of the UK population will have watched around 300 episodes of “Eastenders” – will they be feeling “cockney burnout”? 

    I see no reason why Batman, Superman and Spider-Man shouldn’t have a new films every 3 years or so indefinitely, changing actors and rebooting when necessary. It’s literally no different to say, Bond.

    The only thing that worries me is origin stories being repeated over and over, Zack Snyder’s Superman needs to stay well away from retreading that ground.

    Yes a decline in quality is a concern, but I have the impression Marvel and DC know that the success of Iron Man and TDK were because they were GOOD FILMS. Joss Whedon is a damn risky prospect when they could get some hack like Letterier to direct The Avengers, but they’re going with Whedon because they know he’ll make a good film. Captain America looks good, X-Men First Class looks brilliant, even Thor looks better now than it did…only GL remains worrying.

    Phew, well that’s my tuppence anyway. Essentially Mike, I think we’re in for a golden age of great Superhero films and there’s really no need to be worrying right now. Enjoy!

  13. @boosebaster – Well said, sir.

  14. I don’t think Superhero movies need their own genre really as they usually work off of or fall into some other genre natually usually. Like most things 90% is usually bad and 10% is genuinely good.

  15. My biggest concern has been that people will eventually tire of the same formula. 

    Not-well-known character’s origin story + costume that doesn’t obscure face because we paid good money for actor + confrontation with villain who has some plot that isn’t all that impressive.

    The only characters that really don’t need origin stories now are Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, and that’s because they are in the public consciousness.  We’ve had Richard Donner’s Superman, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (probably my favorite origin story).  Good films, though their sequels are where things seem to get interesting (the change in directors for Superman II notwithstanding).

    I liked that Incredible Hulk jumped right in the story without worrying about the origin.  I would love the new Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Superman movies to hit the ground running.

    Could a lower budget film with an unknown character just jump into the action?  Or will we always need that formula to comfort the unfamiliar audience?

  16. Re: Will audiences get bored of superhero movies?

    Yes. In the same way audiences get bored of an over-saturation of any other genre. It ebbs and flows.

    I’m with Siuntres. Just watch and enjoy.

  17. And may I ask Mike. Are you concerned/interested in this more than the average movie goer because you are an actor by trade? Do you feel the industry is in flux in part due to the many superhero movies coming out?

  18. hey guys!

    good points, all.  I am not really worried about this stuff, like–I’m not sitting up at night thinking about it or anything.  These thoughts just came to mind because this is the first time that we’ve been in this position, to have such an large number of movies come out, so quickly, that cover the same genre.  

    To @jnewcomb’s point–we have already seen the number of adult drama movies that are coming out of the studios drop substantially in favor of animated films and other movies aimed at a younger demographic, movies that bring with them all kinds of cross marketing capabilities, including the aforementioned lunchboxes, videogames, phone games (that also gather valuable personal data), direct to video spinoffs…it just provides the studio the chance to create money making enterprises, which is what they are in business to do in the first place. Can begrudge them that.

    But I find myself thinking about the movies of the 70s, where films just seemed grittier and more interesting on an emotional level.  Yes, one would argue that’s the new role of the indie film scene, but we have seen so many independent houses close down (including the ones that the studios used to support) that I just think it’s going to be harder for those films to find an audience.

    One might say, “Well, audiences want what they want, so give it to them,” but that’s not how art works. Art should not be about pleasing people–and that’s the hardest part about commercial film and television, where there is a tension between making money and creating thoughtful entertainment. It’s a good debate and aspects of that debate are evidenced with our discussion today.

    I push back, a bit, on just sitting down and enjoying things, on being told not to worry, that all will be well.  I find it hard to trust that things will end up okay when there’s a profit motive behind it. My biggest worry, really? is that they make a ton until they stop making money, and they stop making any of these films at all because they are labelled money-losers. But time will tell.

    And yes, superhero movies have been around for awhile, but there has never been a time when we have seen such high profile, expensive movies following each other one after the other, over and over again over a period of 12-18 months.  This is definitely uncharted territory.

    So..yah. I am worried but I am not freaked out worried. I am concerned that there will be a glut of these films, squeezing out good, thoughtful movies in the process but that’s how things work.

    and I am certainly not trying to be negative, by the way–I am just trying to pose questions that we can all discuss together. Just because I have these concerns doesn’t mean that other people have them. I think a lot of my articles tend to be pretty positive…

    anyway, sorry for the long reply! thanks for reading..

  19. Stills of Green Lantern continue to worry.

    That is mad goofy looking Ryan Reynolds.

  20. i find most of the movies to be pretty terrible. The Thor movie is dreadfully predictable looking and cap looks awful. As for the green lantern well, how bad can it look? I just dont see how it’ll work without coming off really cartoony, trailer and stills are less than inspiring. That said, I guess I’m the sucker cause i’ll at least go and see some of them! 

  21. Honestly, the only case I know of where people saw the movie and then read the graphic novel was “Watchmen.”  Otherwise, it’s like pulling teeth to get people over a certain age to read a comic for the first time.  However, once people are finally sick and tired of superheroes…well, you won’t see as many superhero movies and probably less comic books will get optioned.  Maybe a couple of the second and third-teir publishers will go out of business, but overall the market will look pretty similar (which is pretty dismal, frankly). 

  22. interesting how so many are calling it that Green Lantern will be the stinker. I see that movie as having pretty wide Sci Fi/action appeal. Captain America looks like an easy sell. I actually see Thor as having the most potential to flop. I just don’t see the average person getting hyped up about cosmic vikings…a bit too D&D for mainstream tastes i think.

  23. getting back to a state where comics are regarded as just for kids? we still have that in britain. I get the worst looks when i walk out my local comic shop. i thought having awesome comic films would help but it really hasn’t.

  24. I agree it’s starting to get a little deep. I mean Thor for example is cool and all but I never thought I’d see a major movie with so many high caliber actors in it. I’m thinking it’s got at least 3 Academy Award winners. I guess what bugs me is that none of this has really helped the comic market. I know Paramount, WB, and I guess Disney are rolling in cash, but what about the industry itself? Oh yeah, and Green Lantern looks so lame. I wish it didn’t and hope it surprises me.

  25. @mikeromo  Nice thought provoking article, Mike.