Film News

Steven Spielbeg Is Simply the Latest in a Long Line to Weigh in on Superhero Movie Fatigue

A pause and a slight sigh followed by a well-rehearsed answer. That’s how I would describe the moment in-between when the question was asked to when the answer was delivered at the “Buyer’s “panel at this year’s ATX Festival in Austin, Texas.  Various development executives from HBO, Starz, NBC and Fox were on hand to share their experiences with developing and buying TV shows. The inevitable moment came when the moderator asked the panelists just why TV is being overrun by so many reboots, remakes, revivals and adaptations. However, she almost immediately apologized, adding that while she’s sure everyone has already asked them that kind question it’s still a question that begs to be asked.

That’s how it is when a topic has reached critical mass. You simply must ask everyone involved to offer their take on it, to the point that “so-and-so celebrity said this thing about the same old topic” headlines are almost omnipresent. The same is true right now on the film side of Hollywood where the questions of the moment revolve around the need for better gender and minority representation, the death of the mid-budget film, the over-reliance on CGI, the ever-looming importance of China and how quickly we’re supposedly approaching superhero movie fatigue, i.e., the argument that sooner, rather than later we’ll get sick of these things (I discussed the topic at length earlier this year). In the past 7-10 days, everyone from Steven Spielberg to Emma Thompson has weighed in on the superhero movie fatigue debate.

That Fantastic Four sequel is not happening unless Fox is truly and completely delusional

Not surprisingly, the people in Hollywood who actually make superhero movies are more likely to bang the drum of “as long as we continue to change things up and experiment with various sub-genres and anti-heroes we’ll be okay” whereas those outside of it see a long history of Hollywood bubbles that always burst eventually, even if they come back again.

Here are all the pertinent quotes, roughly organized from newest to oldest:

Steven Spielberg, from an Associated Press interview discussing his new movie Bridge of Spies

You caused a stir two years ago when you predicted Hollywood was headed toward an “implosion” because of the over-abundance of mega-budget movies. Do you still feel that way?

 I do. I still feel that way. We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.

Emma Thompson, chatting with Vulture while promoting A Walk in the Woods

I loved the original Superman with Chris Reeve because there was a real tongue-in-cheek-ness to it. After a while, you do get a tiny bit cynical about it. The fact that I know they’re going to win out in the end has now slightly interfered with my continuing to go to those movies. If I see yet another Spider-Man, I’m going to have to actually hang myself. I can’t do it anymore! They’re all marvelous, but how many times can you make this franchise, for crying out loud? […] I’m up for Wonder Woman, totally.

 Quentin Tarantino, from a long, varied interview with Vulture

What do you make of the recent glut of superhero movies?

I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid, and I’ve had my own Marvel Universe obsessions for years. So I don’t really have a problem with the whole superhero thing right now, except I wish I didn’t have to wait until my 50s for this to be the dominant genre. Back in the ’80s, when movies sucked — I saw more movies then than I’d ever seen in my life, and the Hollywood bottom-line product was the worst it had been since the ’50s — that would have been a great time.

Would you have made one?

No, I was still working at a video store! But I would have gone to see them. That was my time. I was in my 20s and would have been just like the guys at Comic-Con now who go see every DC and Marvel movie. But I’m in my 50s now, so I don’t see all of them.

Henry Cavill, talking to Judao while promoting Man from U.N.C.L.E.

If you don’t want to/can’t watch the video for any reason, here’s the part about superhero movie fatigue:

I think it’s anything which is prevalent and on top people are going to complain about. At the moment, the superhero genre is the most prevalent genre out there despite the fact that the spy genre is so strong this year. That’s just the nature of it. It’s one of those decade long genres, the superhero thing, which is going to keep on going and people will complain about it all the time, of course. The secondary genre each year will change, and this year it just so happened to be spy.

Kevin Feige, from a RollingStone cover story promoting Avengers: Age of Ultron

if you look through the decades of people who’ve been accused of [ruining movies], we’re in good company. Star Wars ruined Hollywood, Steven Spielberg ruined Hollywood — I’ll be in that company any day of the week. But the truth is, we don’t spend a lot of time looking at that stuff because we’re too busy trying to make the movies. I haven’t been involved in a project that’s been nominated for an Independent Spirit award, but I imagine those people put all their blood, sweat, and tears into it to try to get it done. That’s exactly what we do over here every single day.

As soon as there are a bunch of them that are terrible, that’s when it will end. I don’t believe in the superhero-movie genre. With Guardians of the Galaxy, we wanted to do a big space movie; with Ant-Man, we wanted to do a heist movie; Winter Solider, we wanted to do a political thriller. I’m more entertained by all of those kind of movies when there’s superheroes in the middle of them, so that works out for me. But, I do believe and hope that that’s what we’ll continue to sustain, at least the ones we’re responsible for. The other ones we have nothing to do with – and we go see them when they come out on opening weekend.”

Joss Whedon, from the same RollingStone cover story

The Marvel paradigm is new and is being copied by a lot of people, because it worked. But they’re being blamed for something that happened long before comic books became the basis for a lot of these blockbusters. And that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a trend that might be damaging where all the studios are putting all the money on the end of one thing and the smaller movies are getting edged out. That is happening — but I believe that has been happening for a while now, and that’s not something that I’m thrilled about.”

But I come at this from exactly one place. Is it good? Is it worth it? Did we give the people what they need? Did I tell a story that meant something, [that’s] going to excite people and move them? That goes for the cheapest TV show I’ve ever worked on, too. And, you know, is it cynical that some studios are rolling out all these connected movies? When has Hollywood not been cynical? When was Hollywood run by a bunch of artists? Even United Artists wasn’t for a long time. As for whether the paradigm will sustain itself or whether or not people will get sick of superheroes, who knows? Sure, I could stand to make a movie where guys don’t have to be sewn into their outfits. That would be fun. But a lot of vitriol has come Kevin’s way and Marvel’s way. I think perhaps that is misguided.

Zack Snyder, from EW’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice cover story

If [this gеnrе] tаlks аbоut us аnd thе humаn соnditiоn, whiсh I think hоpеfully thеsе mоviеs dо in sоmе wаy, thеn I think thаt it dоеsn’t rеаlly hаvе аn еxpirаtiоn dаtе,” the filmmaker revealed. “But l dо bеliеvе thе sоrt оf mаss-mаrkеtеd соnsumеrist vеrsiоn соuld gеt thin if yоu’rе nоt саrеful. Wе’vе just gоt tо bе саrеful.

Matthew Vaughn, talking to the Empire podcast while promoting Kingsman: The Secret Service

I love superhero films. I’m a bit nervous that they’re going to die soon. They’re going to make too many of them. Hollywood’s track record is that if a lot of films are going to get made most of them aren’t going to be good. So, what kills genres off is when everyone goes, “Alright, we’re going to do westerns.” Thousands of westerns get made. Most of them start turning out to be bad, and there’s no more interest in westerns anymore. Pirate movies – they got killed, and then it took [Pirates of the] Caribbean to rescue them again. There was a moment pre-Sam Raimi Spider-Man where no one wanted to do any superhero films. I remember when the first X-Men was made everyone was laughing, going, “Really? The X-Men?” Things repeat themselves. History repeats itself. It seems to be every week there’s an announcement of a new superhero film about to be made, and they’re all very similar.

If you think about the superhero film, the formula and the characterization and what makes them work are quite similar. There are just different costumes and powers and stuff, but after a while people are going to get bored of it. I hope not because I love superhero films, but they’re going to have to keep evolving. Whether they will or not, I don’t know.

Plus, after what happened over one late February weekend at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards James Gunn took to his Facebook page to defend comic book movies in general.  First, Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy praised the Independent Spirit Awards crowd for holding out “against the tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry.”  Then, on the following night Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture.  It’s about a former comic book movie actor (Michael Keaton) suffering a mental breakdown while attempting to stage a Raymond Carver play on Broadway, but at various points the film practically shakes its finger at the audience for embracing mindless comic book drudgery instead of true art.  Here’s what Gunn said followed by what Birdman‘s director and writer had previously said about their distaste for superhero movies.

James Gunn, responding to those who were throwing superhero movies under the bus at awards shows

Whatever the case, the truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite. I’ve already won more awards than I ever expected for Guardians. What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films.

I’ve made B-movies, independent films, children’s movies, horror films, and gigantic spectacles. I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do no find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film.

If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we’re dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a “serious” filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.

Alejandra Inarritu, talking to Deadline about his inspiration for Birdman

I think there’s nothing wrong with being fixated on superheroes when you are 7 years old, but I think there’s a disease in not growing up […] I sometimes enjoy [superhero movies] because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of things, and they are honesty very right wing.  I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don’t respond to those characters. They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human […] It’s a false, misleading conception, the superhero. Then, the way they apply violence to it, it’s absolutely right wing. If you observe the mentality of most of those films, it’s really about people who are rich, who have power, who will do the good, who will kill the bad. Philosophically, I just don’t like them.

Birdman’s co-screenwriter Alexander Dinelaris, from the same Deadline interview

Those [superhero] movies are so black and white. Whatever side of it you are on, Gaza is grey. Abortion is grey, and so is the death penalty. You can have a side and think that side is right, but the problem is when, whatever side you take, you’re either right or wrong. These movies tend to be myopic in their view of, this is right, this is wrong, the hero does this and the bad guys…it all comes down the manufacturing line and you know what is going to happen.



  1. Honestly, this discussion is pretty pointless. Will the genre fade at one point? You bet you will. Because every genre does. That doesn’t mean that Superhero movies will vanish, it just means that there won’t be 10 in a year (which, if you really think about it, is not even that much…we get more horror movies, action movies, romance movies and independent movies every year). Will if fade tomorrow? Nope…at least not until after Infinity War II. After that, we will see.
    A few years ago the studios realized that Harry Potter movies might make a lot of money. They were right. And as a result, studios have started to look for successful children books to adapt. Some worked out, others didn’t, but the studios are still doing it. The newest on the list is Artemis Fowl. But nobody really notices because currently, the audience is mainly interested in Superhero movie.
    And to be honest, Hollywood SHOULD embrace this. Because if there is one thing which is American through and through, it’s superhero comics. They are as American as apple pie. So what is wrong to indulge in your own culture a little bit?

    I also think that Feige is right. Combining the genres has worked out really well so far. I am not into horror movies, but I really, really want to see a Dr. Strange horror movie.

    1. Superhero movie fatigue is certainly a real thing, but at the same time it is also just something which is easy for everyone to talk about and makes for nice headlines/clickbait. It has come up so often that you and I have talked it out in my comments section multiple times now. It can be a fun conversation to have, but after this latest Spielberg quote I just felt, “He’s right, but we’ve all already talked about this.” That’s why rather than react to Spielberg I chose to simply run a list of “what famous people have said about this.”

      1. My favourite words are still the ones from James Gunn…you know, the one in which he said that you can find passion for film in all genres. I think he is right. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what genre is currently en vogue as long as there are people who are passionate about what they try to create.

  2. I think the main problems are those you addressed earlier on in the post. To me, superhero movies are just a symptom of that. Something else I’m sick of, though, is Tarantino’s assumption we all agree with his view on how bad movies were in the 1980s. True, many movies sucked back then, but they also made a whole lot more. There were many great ones too, and some that couldn’t have been made before or since that decade. He’s a very lucky man, and extremely unique in the fact he still receives support for making the movies he wants to without being forced into directing superhero movies etc.. Part of the reason he’s in such a privileged position is due to the pop-culture loving attitude that flourished in the 80s, not to mention the fact Hollywood were able to take risks on filmmakers like him in the 90s because they were so rich off the previous ten years worth of movies. He’s entitled to his opinion, but it comes off as arrogant and ignorant considering he regards himself as such an aficionado of the medium. And the worst decade since the 50s… when Hitchcock was arguably in his prime and films like Rebel Without a Cause, 12 Angry Men, Touch of Evil etc. were being released? Please, what a dumb statement. Even if he’s strictly talking about the “bottom-line product”, does that mean B-movies? Him and Rodriguez have practically made their entire careers off the back of them.

    1. I agree. Tarantino is just wrong. The 80s were great. I’d rather watch a “bad” Arnold Schwarzenneger movie in the 80s (eg “Commando” which is awesome) than one in 2015.

  3. I apologize because I want to pull from another story you wrote on.. I would rather watch a mega budget super hero film then watch any big budget reboot that Spielberg may have planned. I know these are rumors, but how can we possibly be talking about over saturation of superhero movies when with he exception of superman, spiderman, and batman we have seen more and more movies based on comics that have had little or no representation on the small or big screen. Also, until the quality as a whole leaves something to desire why even bother talking about it. Nolan’s batman trilogy brought us not one of the best superhero movies, but one of the best movies ever made!

    I hope they continue to make movies based on comic books. The further they dig brings a wealth of stories that we haven’t seen translated into television or movies, and they have really only begun to scratch the surface. We live in a time where it’s completely socially acceptable to be a geek, and I think a large part of that is that these movies are being made by people who love the source material and who are gifted in the craft of film making. The majority of these films have serious quality to them, and I do not think they are going away any time soon. I suppose I have a bias because I enjoy comic books, but I would admittedly be made to look a fool in front of someone who actually considered them self a connoisseur of comics.

    Never expected to have Steven Spielberg annoy me twice in one week.

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