Friday, 22 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #768: You Asked For It!

Got a question from my last post that I should answer, mostly because it feeds my need to pontificate with a level of pomposity unseen before in the memory of mortal man.
Hominey Grits asked... Do superhero movies pass in and out of vogue in a cyclical fashion?
That's a good question, and that question deserves a straightforward and complete answer.

I don't know.

Nobody knows.

If anyone tells you that they know, rest assured in the fact that they are a damned dirty liar.

You see, this is not like horror films, or thrillers, science fiction, or slapstick comedies that can come in and out of fashion on the big screen, and have many times over. The current superhero situation is fairly unprecedented.

Before breakthrough success of the X-Men film in 2000 the number of big budget comic book superhero movies were comparatively small, and consisted almost entirely of the Superman and Batman movie franchises. Beyond those two the bulk of superhero projects were either low grade "B Movies," serials, or small scale TV shows, the bulk of them animated and/or aimed at kids.

Before 2000, superhero films were considered a gamble at best because they required a lot of special effects, that meant lots of money, and, judging by the original 80s Superman/Batman franchises, doomed to degrade in both quality and performance. X-Men was a game changer, developments in digital FX meant that super-heroics were no longer the budget buster or technical impossibility they once were, and that if the film was well done, and possessed appeal beyond the source material's core audience, it could make some decent bank even if the original comic wasn't as integral to the zeitgeist as Superman and Batman.

The rest as they say is history. Seeing big money the studios started pumping out more movies, and in their desire to top each other they started spending more and more money. Soon the superhero films became the predominant 'blockbuster' genre, but then faced the danger of becoming repetitive, even boring due to FX fatigue. Toss enough of the impossible at people, and pretty soon even the impossible loses its ability to astonish. Profit margins shrink, or disappear completely, and audiences start losing interest.

Now is the potential "death of the superhero" just a cyclical phenomena?

Remember the western?

There was a time when the western genre dominated popular culture. People couldn't get enough tales of cowboys, Indians, and outlaws riding the range. Then, sometime in the early-mid 1970s the western more or less died with its boots on. Westerns still get made, occasionally, but usually only as curiosities, cross genre mash-ups, or cinematic homages to an era gone by.

Will that happen to the superhero?

I really can't say.

The genre has unexploited potential, it harkens back to our most ancient hunger for tales of fantastical adventure, and when I was a kid it was the gateway drug to reading. But if the superhero comics continue to wither, and the films suffer from the abuse the studios are putting them through it could easily end up riding into the sunset next to cowboy.

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