Superhero films are now the biggest things in the world with Avengers: Endgame now the biggest earning film in history and the massive and consistent hits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
However, this is a very new development and also almost exclusively MCU-related. While Disney/Marvel have enjoyed box office blockbusters on the regular other studios like Fox, Universal and Warners (who own the DC Comics franchise) have been rather more hit and miss.
If superheroes were as popular as the Marvel box office would suggest, then how would something like Dark Phoenix – a film based on some of Marvel’s most popular characters, the freakin’ X-Men – land with such a thud?
Why did Captain America: Civil War get plaudits in 2016 when Batman vs Superman was getting nothing but complaints and mean-spirited Martha memes?
Here’s my guess: because Marvel are the only studio who keep remembering that superhero movies are meant to be fun.
Think about it: the non-Marvel hits in recent times have been the films which were just goddamn fun. Wonder Woman. Aquaman. The Amazing Spider-Man. Deadpool. Even Suicide Squad, some of the time. Films that weren’t afraid to go “well, this is a hoot!”
My theory is that it’s all because of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The first two Christopher Nolan Batman films were gritty and dark, putting objectively silly characters in the real world and somehow making it work artistically, critically and commercially.
Batman, Scarecrow, Joker, Ra’s al Ghul and Two-Face were impressively rendered as being plausibly real figures in a recognisable modern setting, and then everyone went “oh, that’s what we need to do, then.”
And it’s still possible to do gritty and make it work – Logan was a great way to round Wolverine’s very hit-and-miss cinematic arc – but too many times it leans into an exhausting slog, as with Man Of Steel or Dark Phoenix – or, god forbid, any of the Fantastic Four attempts. Or worse yet, Green Lantern.
And let’s honest, Joker seems like a dour couple of hours in the cinema.
So hey, studios: I know you have plans and licenses and so on, but would it kill you to make your films starring costumed magic-people doing s’plosions be a bit more… well, fun?
That said, Shazam! did kinda underperform, so maybe we’re already over fun. Guess we’ll find out.