Can Cinema Withstand The Current Glut Of Superhero Movies?

Will the cinematic arts break under the weight of four superhero movies in 2014?

Cinema is at a crossroads. Never before has the art of motion pictures been threatened in just this way. It’s an assault on our theaters - just ask any critic or pop culture pundit. Our movie houses are being inundated with one kind of overwhelming motion picture, one that threatens to swamp the entire culture beneath a tidal wave of spandex and action scenes. Yes, I am talking about the menace that is superhero movies.

Look at the numbers: in 2014 alone we will have between eight and ten hours of superhero content playing in our movie theaters. That’s almost as much as an entire season of Breaking Bad, for the love of god. It’s one half of the number of period pieces released in the first three months of this year!

The worst offender is, of course, Marvel Studios. They’re releasing an unwieldy two movies a year, four or so hours of superhero content EVERY SINGLE CALENDAR YEAR. There are 200 movies currently scheduled for release this year, and 2 is a fairly significant fraction of a percentage of those films. Two movies in 2014 is literally exactly as many as indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg is releasing this year (that he directed. He’s going to be starring in more than those two).

It’s too much.

As if Marvel’s glut of two films a year wasn’t bad enough, they’ve structured them in such a way that it helps if you’ve seen other films they’ve released. What do they think, that movie audiences have a scintilla of the smarts of TV audiences, who follow multiple episodic TV shows every single year? Think of the beleaguered critics, decent people like Manohla Dargis, who lamented in her Captain America: The Winter Soldier (so many words in that title! Come on, Marvel) review:

But, gee, it can be hard keeping track of all the men flying and fighting in the superhero cinematic universe.

Who can keep the three main franchises of the Marvel Cinematic Universe separate anymore? The guy who lives in the Middle Earth place and has a hammer, that’s Captain America, right? Or maybe he’s The Falcon. OH I GIVE UP ON THIS!

It’s enough to make you long for the days of 1957, when only about 61 notable Westerns were released in theaters. Of course if we’re lucky the superhero movie could go the way of the Western, which was the dominant genre of American filmmaking in the silent era before declining into B films in the 20s and 30s and then once again becoming the dominant genre for a few more decades. Hopefully we only have about forty or fifty years of dozens upon dozens of superhero films ahead of us before they burn out.

This year’s superhero crop is especially vexing, as some of them try to hide their superhero-ness. Look at the new Captain America - you would almost think it was a paranoid thriller/spy movie! And the new X-Men baffles us by being a post-apocalyptic time travel movie, like The Terminator! Forget about Guardians of the Galaxy, which cloaks its oppressive superheroness in space opera. Only The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has the common decency to be a straight-ahead superhero film. By making the superhero films not feel like superhero films, these studios are insidiously keeping us from feeling the overwhelming weight of these four motion pictures assaulting our theaters over the course of 52 weeks.

I believe we can stand tall and weather this upsetting deluge. Instead of seeing the four superhero movies released this year consider seeing the dozen or more crime/police films. Maybe see the five or six films that are about sports. Hopefully the four superhero films don’t crowd the 20+ comedies or the half dozen cartoons or the honestly too many to count book adaptations out of your local multiplex.

And when superhero movies do burn out, as they must, I know something else will come along to keep our snobby critical punditocracy afloat in a sea of snarky, obnoxious dismissal. I mean, just imagine how their heads would fucking explode if they had to deal with 60 plus Westerns a year.

Oops, I broke character there.