Superhero Fatigue: Fatal Condition or Imaginary Illness?

Amidst all the enormous buzz that comic book movies have generated over the past few years, many critics have begun to ask the question: How long will the massive popularity of superhero movies continue? By the end of 2016 alone, Marvel Studios will have released two movies based on their Marvel Comics properties (Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange) while Warner Bros. Pictures will have also released two movies based on properties from DC Comics (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad). 20th Century Fox will have released two Marvel Comics adaptations of their own as well (Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse), making for a grand total of six comic book movies; the most ever released in a single year.

Some believe that number is too high. With so many movies based on comic book characters coming out throughout the year, how will these movies continue to make the incredible business they usually do at the box office while having to simultaneously compete with one another? Comic book movies can and already have begun to cannibalize one another’s movie ticket sales because they are being released too closely together. This loss of money occurs because the majority of people who go to the movies only go a handful of times a year. For example: The frequent movie-goer will likely go to the theater to watch two well-received comic book movies that come out in the same month whereas a casual movie-goer will likely only make the trip to the theater to watch one of the two comic book movies (if they even go at all that month). The problem here is that the casual movie-goer represents the majority of people who goes to the movies; therefore, if two comic book movies come out within a short time frame, their box office numbers will cut into one another because most movie-goers watch much less than what is available for them to see at the theater.

Another factor to consider concerning superhero fatigue is that the majority of movie-goers do not care if a comic book movie is a Marvel Comics property or a DC Comics property – they care whether or not they had a good or bad time during their last trip to see a comic book movie at the theater. For example, if Batman v. Superman was well-received by critics (it was not), the next comic book movie to come out, Captain America: Civil War, would have made even more money at the box office than it already did because those same people who had a good time at the Batman v. Superman movie they recently went to will want to go see the newest Captain America movie when it is released as they see little difference between brands. A huge misconception among fans of both comic book companies is that Marvel Comics and DC Comics are at war with one another. In reality, the success of one actually greatly benefits the other. Marvel Studios wants Warner Bros. Pictures’ Suicide Squad to be a success when it is released in August because that means they will have an even greater chance of convincing casual movie-goers to check out their next feature in November, Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a former surgeon who explores the realm of magic. If casual movie-goers have a good time watching the debut team-up movie Suicide Squad featuring a group of villains working for the government to shorten their prison sentences by taking out the psychotic Joker, then those same movie-goers will be more inclined to check out the equally weird yet fascinating Doctor Strange – not just because it is a new Marvel Studios movie – but because it’s a new comic book movie.

Based on the gargantuan box office success of comic book movies from recent years, it does not appear that superhero fatigue will become a major issue unless the majority of the movie-going audience is disappointed numerous times in a row by movies from the superhero genre. After all, westerns used to be the most popular genre of movie in America until a large number of poorly-received westerns were consecutively released. Now, westerns hardly ever get made anymore, and, if they do get made, they usually are not very well-received. Although signs of superhero fatigue are evident when movies like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse underperform studio-estimated box office predictions ($1 billion seems to be the measuring stick for expensively-produced comic book movies nowadays) despite featuring iconic movie characters, movies like Deadpool (the highest grossing R-rated movie ever) and Captain America: Civil War (the highest grossing movie of the year so far) have shown us that the superhero genre still has plenty of steam left in the tank as long the movies released are of high quality.

Therefore, when it comes to the question of whether or not superhero fatigue exists, the answer is yes, but it is not a major issue at this point in time. Superhero fatigue will not develop into a widespread illness unless a large number (3-5) of poorly-received comic book movies are released consecutively. Even then, the superhero genre has already survived death multiple times before when movies such as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) and Batman & Robin (1997) were released, effectively killing any previous momentum they had built up for themselves. However, I am confident that even if the current era of superhero movies dies, the genre, much like the superheroes in actual comics, will return to glory once again someday.

While waiting for the newest superhero movie releases to hit theaters, here is a list of must-see comic book movies available on DVD (and a select number on Blu-Ray) right now to place on hold and check-out from the Mercer County Library System (MCLS)!

MCLS Online Catalog

Superman; X-Men; Batman
Superman (1978)

Superman II (1980)

Batman (1989)

Batman Returns (1992)

Blade (1998)

X-Men (2000)

Blade II (2002)

Spider-Man (2002)

X2: X-Men United (2003)

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Batman Begins (2005)

Iron Man (2008)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Wanted (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)
Watchmen; Avengers; Guardians
Watchmen (2009)

Kick-Ass (2010)

Thor (2011)

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Man of Steel (2013)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Big Hero 6; Kingsmen; Ant-man
Big Hero 6 (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Ant-Man (2015)

Deadpool (2016)

- James Anderson @ the Lawrence HQ Branch

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