Gluttons of the Galaxy: Why is the world still lapping up comic book movies?

The world's curious obsession with retro superheroes shows no sign of slowing down, presenting a bleak future for American cinema

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With Marvel Studios reportedly having mapped out films all the way to 2028 and Warner Bros currently developing 11 DC movies, comic books reign over cinema is set to last at least a quarter of a century.

If you'd have told me 10 years ago that live-action adaptations of cartoons no longer really shown on television and comic books that pre-date the target market for blockbusters would be virtually the only genre the major studios would be interested in putting into production, that critics and award ceremonies alike would be praising directors for skilfully penetrating the tortured psyche of a man who saves the world dressed as a bat, I would have had a hard time believing you.

After a slew of terrible superhero movies (Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra etc) in the mid-2000s, Christopher Nolan finally managing to add some emotional ballast to all the CGI action with the Dark Knight trilogy and hit an apotheosis for the genre seemed like it might force it to bow out though, but barely a year later plans were already in place to regenerate Batman yet again.

We've had solo superhero movies. Now, with the hugely successful X-Men, Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy (and eventually Justice League), we have team-up superhero movies. And who knows, sometime in the 2020s the DC and Marvel franchises might collide in a team-up vs team-up movie that would employ half of Hollywood and take roughly the GDP of Switzerland at the box office.

There was a palpable frustration over superheroes' dominance of cinema until recently, but now the mood seems to be one of cheerful acceptance.

Marvel Studios has no shortage of characters to bring to the big screen


In the age of poptimism, where any kind of criticism makes you a "hater", cinemagoers have decided to just roll with it, feeling more comfortable being complicit in cinema's decline than fighting it. It's similar to how we have ended up with films like Sharknado 2, where both creator and audience are in on the joke and derive satisfaction out of (falsely) believing there is someone out there who isn't.

The vastly transformed celebrity culture has given superhero movies a boost too. Hollywood stars are our Twitter friends now, they're no longer afraid to show vulnerability or awkwardness and have stepped out from behind the veil of otherness that used to enshroud celebrities. The whole narrative of Chris Pratt's transformation from sitcom actor to strapping leading actor has been one of 'local boy done good' for instance, the act of going to see Guardians being akin to cheering him on at his first big game and swelling with pride.

The increased disposability of cinema thanks to the intangibility of VOD and the growth of foreign markets has benefited the genre too, the characters being easy to engage with and broad enough that they'll translate to audiences around the world.

It's not there isn't a place for superheroes in cinema, I can appreciate the inherent glory of watching a gorgeously-rendered raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper blast a laser pistol as much as the next man, but with at least another decade of Spider-Girls and Shazams and Ant-Men and Human Torches ahead, their place at the centre of film culture presents a bleak future for directors who still see heroics in the earthly.