Can you really have too much of a good thing?
Marvel has been dominating theaters for the past few years. And their acclaim is not undeserved. They're the highest-grossing franchise for a reason. They work with brilliant actors, directors, and designers. And say what you will about Age of Ultron and Ant-Man (I already have, here and here), even when Marvel is at their worst, their films are still better than some others' best.
Even their most vocal critics will agree: Marvel is on a winning streak.
They've got a film lineup planned through 2019. Three televison series. Enough merchandise to fill an entire comic convention. By all measurable qualifications, they're doing all right. But can they make it last?
Will audience fatigue mean the end of the superhero genre?
It's an old axiom of writing teachers: there are no new stories. And sure, when you distill any hero movie, you get basically the same story. Hero faces an antagonist. Hero defeats antagonist. It's very rare to see a hero lose at the end of a film.
It's a little predictable. But you could apply the same formula to almost any film you've seen. Precious. Remember the Titans. The Princess Bride. If we've essentially been watching the same story over and over again, there's got to be something else that is keeping audiences from getting bored.
What do I mean by variety?
Of course, there are other movies in the world. And right now, there's space for them. The Hobbit, Maleficent, Divergent, How to Train Your Dragon 2. In some ways, all those films were competing with Marvel last year. And while they didn't see the same absurd level of success, they definitely didn't tank. There's definitely a limit to the number of films people are going to see in a year, but Marvel doesn't seem to be pushing against that limit. If anything, they're raising the bar, encouraging other films to be more competitive.
That includes films within the franchise, too.
Sometimes it's something as simple as a palette cleanser. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise success- but it really shouldn't have been. In 2014 Marvel studios released Captain America: Winter Soldier. Columbia released Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Fox released X-Men: Days of Future Past. In comparison to those other superhero films, Guardians was a breath of fresh air. It wasn't a sequel. It featured a band of misfits and antiheroes who in a lot of ways had no business saving the day. It was weird and funny and felt aesthetically different from the other comics adaptations that year.
So, what does Marvel need to do to keep up their winning streak?
IMO, they need to focus on quality over quantity.
They need to refocus their plan. Right now, the emphasis has been on dominating the field. And it's worked because in a lot of ways, other studios can't compete with them. They're connecting every movie and tv series, almost blackmailing audiences into seeing everything they release. Because if you haven't seen Ant-Man, you won't have all the information you need when you go see Civil War, which you'll need to see for Thor 3 to make any sense (as the picture above demonstrates, it's reached the point where it's weird when there's *not* crossover). They've got all the power of Disney behind them, and riding the success of Iron Man has been a simple and effective strategy.
However, DC isn't sitting this one out.
They've been lagging behind, but their showing at SDCC this year proves that DC is determined to be a real competitor in the coming years. Based on the plans that DC and Marvel have, there will be over 40 films based on comic books in the next six years (via). As the genre becomes more saturated, will the superhero bubble finally pop?
Not if studios are smart.
This is where variety comes in. The thing about genres is that they're actually pretty vague. Legally Blonde, Harold & Maude, and The Princess Bride are all romantic comedies, but you probably wouldn't put them on the same list. (Legally Blonde was riding the 'girl power' movement of the 90s, Harold & Maude is a dark comedy for hippies, and The Princess Bride is as much about the adventure genre as it is a rom-com).
The same is true of superhero movies- or it should be.
Sure, Marvel *can* keep producing Iron Man movies, but they really need to keep innovating if they want to stay on top. Their plans for Black Panter and Captain Marvel films suggest they're already aware of this. But it's not as simple as showcasing the talents of an actor that isn't a white man named Chris. Just like Spider-Man is often also a coming-of-age story and Winter Soldier was a political conspiracy thriller, Marvel is going to need to explore other genres and aesthetics. Otherwise, they'll just end up competing with themselves every year.
For now it's a waiting game.
Marvel is delaying production of the Black Panther movie so that they can include Spider-Man in their schedule. With DC making a concerted effort to compete, will Marvel be producing enough variety in time? Or do you think audiences will get bored first?