Should Superhero Franchises have a Definite Ending
Superheroes are incredibly popular right now. They are literally everywhere when it comes to merchandise, advertisements, television, and film. Every single superhero movie now a days that comes out is a part of a whole film universe, meaning there’s a whole group of movies with characters that exist in the same universe as those group of movies. The main three universes right now are the X-Men film universe, the DC Extended Universe, and the most popular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As more and more comic book movies come out, people are asking: Is there an end in sight to all this? Will there be a true definite ending for these film universes? Are these characters going to be in these movies forever?
That is a very complicated question because all movie genres and franchises come and go, but find some way to return. So the answer to that is yes and no.
Yes, because eventually these franchises are going to reach a point where they have to wrap up what’s going on in that universe.
No, because these movies are making so much money right now, but there will most definitely be a point in time where superhero movies will take a break.
Here’s the reason why there should be an ending to superhero franchises
1. The Actors
Movie actors are regular people who happen to appear in movies. The most popular actors in these movies are Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Chris Evan as Steve Rogers/Captain America, etc. Jackman, who is now 48, has been been playing the same character since 2000. Downey Jr, who started playing Iron Man in 2008, was already 43 at the time, and is now 51. These actors aren’t getting younger, and these roles are very demanding. When an actor signs on these roles, their contract always has them appearing in multiple movies. Eventually an actor will want to move on, and do different things.
Also a lot of these roles are very demanding when it comes to physicality. Actors like Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth have to keep in top physical shape whenever they are filming these movies. The actors also become more expensive the more movies they do. Actors who are tenured, demand a raise every time they sign a new contract. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood for being Iron Man. While Iron Man is definitely the most popular hero in the MCU, it seem like he gets paid more and more money each movie he appears in. The same actors simply cannot be in these roles forever, as much as fans want them to be.
If these movies keep going on and on, with no end in sight, people will be asking: What’s the point? In 2016 alone, there have been six comic book movies released, which are Deadpool, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, and Doctor Strange. All of those are part of a cinematic universe. In 2017 there are going to be seven more, all part of a franchise. While most of these movies have been successful, how long can they be though?
If they keep releasing these movies with no endgame in sight, then people will eventually start to lose interest. How many sequels of Iron Man and Batman can Hollywood make before people get tired of them? That’s the question studios need to be thinking about when it comes to thinking about the future of their franchise. These movies have been criticized at times for following a similar formula, and that all of them are just the same. If there’s 10 superhero movies coming in one year, and they don’t offer something exciting or different then audiences won’t be interested. In order to stir things up, and keep people interested, there has to be some sort of ending in sight.
3. Endings are successful
All of the great film franchises when they first began have had a beginning, middle, and end. The original Star Wars trilogy had three movies, Lord of the Rings had three movies, and Harry Potter had 8 movies all based on a singular book in the series. While all of those franchises have now come back in some way, when they had their original run, they had an endgame in sight. (SPOILER ALERT) Star Wars’ endgame was to defeat the empire. Lord of the Rings’ endgame was to destroy the ring, and defeat Sauron and his plan for domination of Middle-Earth. Harry Potter’s endgame was to defeat Voldemort, and the Dark Army. All of those franchises eventually reached the ending they established. People were invested in these iconic characters, and wanted them to eventually achieve their goals. These endings not only made for great movies, but they also earned a lot of money.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 made the most money worldwide out of the all the movies in the Harry Potter series. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King also made the most worldwide out of that series, and won 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Why did these movies make so much? It’s because people knew these were the last movies to be released, so they become must see events. There’s also the fact that they become the most heavily advertised, and they generated a lot of hype. There’s also the fact that with the final movie, there’s the uncertainty of ever seeing these movies again in a theater. The DCEU is still young, and the X-Men films are in a very uncertain spot at the moment. This leaves the well-oiled machine known as the MCU. Right now, their endgame is to fight the all mighty powerful Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, and Avengers 4 in 2019.
All of these movies have been leading to this event, which is to feature every hero from the MCU’s roster. There’s no doubt these two movies are going to be enormous successes, because not only has everything been leading to this event, but there’s also an uncertainty of which hero makes it out of this event. No one knows what’s going to happen after these movies, but if Marvel is smart they’ll think of an ending that’ll satisfy the fans who’ve followed all of these movies.
Here are the reasons why superhero franchises won’t truly have a definite ending
This is definitely the golden age of superheroes, and they have been very successful. The MCU has made over 14 movies since 2008, and all of them have made their fair share. All of their movies combined have grossed $10 Billion worldwide. The DCEU with only three movies has grossed over $2 Billion worldwide. The X-Men franchise has 9 movies under their belt, and have made over $4 Billion worldwide. With these numbers it’s clear that there’s an audience for these movies. Three superhero movies are currently in the top ten highest grossing movies worldwide. If something continues to make money, why stop? If it isn’t making any money, then there will be less movies coming out.
2. Endless Possibilities
There are endless amounts of characters and stories to choose from that they almost can’t run out of ideas. While Hollywood has made plenty of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man movies, there have been a lot of movies based on obscure characters getting made that most people didn’t think would. Deadpool, a wise-cracking mercenary whose stories are very adult-oriented finally had a movie based on him released in 2016. It became one of the biggest hits of the year, and it was praised for being a breath of fresh air. The Guardians of the Galaxy was something not a lot of people were familiar with. In the comics they were a group of people or aliens who fight bad guys across the galaxy.
When Guardians of the Galaxy was released in the summer of 2014, people loved it. Who knew a movie that had a talking tree and gun-wielding raccoon would be a hit? Even making an Iron Man movie was considered a risk, because at the time he was B-List character. When that movie came out, it made Robert Downey Jr. a superstar. There’s almost an infinite amount of characters to choose from in the comics. One day Iron Man won’t appear in Marvel movies, but there’ll be new and fresh superheroes to take his place. Superhero stories are considered to be the modern Greek mythology, and there’s a lot of things that can be done with these characters. Like great literature, they can be used to reflect the current times. Or they can have a meaningful message, while being escapism at the same time.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a movie that criticizes global surveillance. Its sequel Captain America: Civil War begs the question, if superheroes ever existed, should they be regulated by the government? The whole Dark Knight Trilogy talks about how a person can make a difference, and be an inspiration to an entire city, while also exploring the themes of terrorism, fear, paranoia, redemption, etc. Superheroes are larger than life figures, but they all face human conflict that audiences can relate to. If they keep being relatable, then audiences will keep watching.
Right now nobody knows what’s going to happen after 2019 for the MCU. After their fourth Avengers movie, it is most likely a lot of their characters are going to get killed off or they’ll retire the characters. Hugh Jackman won’t be playing Wolverine anymore after Logan comes out in 2017. The X-Men movies are in a tough place because while Deadpool was successful, their timeline is very messy, and no one knows what the next X-Men film is going to look like. DC in 2017 has Justice League, and the sequel to that in 2019.
These franchises will most likely keep reinventing themselves to fix the issues of not knowing what to do next. Again there are endless characters to choose from to headline these movies, and if studios keep putting new and fresh characters then they could keep making these movies. One of the reasons why new characters are introduced is to see how successful they are, and if they are profitable enough to be put in the forefront of an Avengers-type movie. For example Ant-Man lead by Paul Rudd was a moderate success. He then appeared in Captain America: Civil War where people praised the moments he was in the movie. So there’s going to be a sequel to Ant-Man in 2018, which is most likely going to be a bigger success than the first movie. Ant-Man will then likely appear or even headline in future MCU films. A lot of heroes will also be recast. There will probably down the line be a new actor playing Captain America. These iconic superheroes will be like James Bond, where they’ll be playing the same character for years, and then get another actor to replace them. It’s happened with Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man.
Eventually all of the superheroes currently will be recast or replaced with new ones. Recast and replacement are the two biggest method these franchises are going to use to reinvent themselves, and keep being interesting to audiences. Comic books reinvent themselves all the time, so in theory these films can also do that.
4. Even if it does end, it will come back
A lot of popular franchises that are dormant for a while, eventually come back. The original Star Wars movies were from 1977-1983. Then in 1999, the first movie in Star Wars prequels The Phantom Menace came out with two more movies in 2002, and 2005. Then in 2015, after a 10 year drought the seventh movie in the franchise The Force Awakens came out, and became one of the biggest movies ever. The Lord of the Rings movies were from 2001 to 2003 back to back, but lo and behold they came out with another prequel trilogy of movies. The Hobbit trilogy, which took place before the LOTR movies came out in 2012-2014. Harry Potter’s original movies came out from 2001 to 2011.
Now in 2016 there’s the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is set in the Potter universe but revolves around a new character in the 1920s. The MCU, like all great franchises will go dormant for awhile. Then when someone decides to bring it back, it’ll come back in a huge way. The same could be said about the X-Men and DC. It’s been shown with franchises like Star Wars, and Harry Potter, that when they are gone for a while, and then brought back after some time people will get hyped. When Superhero franchises like the MCU has its dormant period, people will also feel nostalgia for it. Nostalgia in entertainment is very powerful, as it makes people fondly remember the old movies. Why was The Force Awakens such a success? It was the first Star Wars movie in 10 years, and featured the return of the original characters from the old trilogy. So when Avengers 8 comes out, which is the first Avengers movie in 20 years with the return of Robert Downey Jr., it will most likely be a massive success because of all the excitement and nostalgia surrounding it.
Eventually this golden age of superhero entertainment will end. There will likely be a time when all of these franchises go dormant, and another thing gets popular. Since these movies have a big fanbase, when they are gone they will most certainly not be forgotten. Like Star Wars, these films will have some sort of comeback in the future when they aren’t as popular. So the answer to the question is that there will be some sort of event film that ends the story of a lot of the current characters in the franchise, but it will also be brought back to introduce a new era with new stories and new characters.
Box Office Mojo, “All Time Worldwide Box Office,” Box Office Mojo
Chitwood, Adam, “Upcoming Superhero Movie Release Dates: From 2016 to 2020,” Collider, 2016.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
God forbidthat we start making movies which explorer original stories and characters, rather than endlessly remake and reboot…
I’m personally fine with adaptations, which is what superhero movies are. Without adaptation, tons of classic movies based on books wouldn’t exist. There is a reboot/remake problem, but superheroes exist independently of it. Though I definitely would trade ‘Ant-Man’ film for something original, ha.
Re-adaptation, though? I’ll refrain judgement until the new Dune comes out and I watch the ‘Series of Unfortunate Events’ series.
Every so called “super hero movie” has made money at the box office, that’s because you keep showing up and paying for it. If they are making money, then there is absolutely no reason to change anything about these movies. It’s simple.
Keep in mind that most of these tiresome movies are made for the Chinese where this is all new and exciting but that wont last long and all it takes is one big failure and the studio is out of business. No movie is worth a $350 million cost.
This comment is a combination of misinformation, cynicism, racism, and a total lack of knowledge about markets and today’s entertainment industry.
Especially when it comes to superheroes, there is always a chance to make more content unrelated to the characters that we see on the big screen. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and The Flash are good examples of characters that can keep the superhero genre fresh and alive.
The characters I mentioned take on different problems than taking on some intergalactic threat. They’re just regular people that happen to have powers. I think that as long as they continue to refresh storylines, people will continue to watch.
I think it’s also important to note that channel entertainment helps people feel “safe” in the universe. They feel that there’s less risk to their view (for better or worse) based on what they see in the resurfacing of familiar content and channels that have histories. We feel comfortable and welcomed into those universes. I remember so many telling me how happy they were to “go back” to Middle Earth- the Hobbit movies were no match for the original LOTR series, but people missed that world. They needed to touch it again. These are our current myths, and we need them.
As Watchmen scribe Alan Moore said:
“It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”
Super hero movies are terrible because they are so formulaic.
Good guy, bad guy, bad guy hurts squeamish afraid normal citizen, throw is some woman to be an alleged love interest, go over the top with the cinematic effects and impossible situations and you have yourself a movie.
Of course the public will pay to see it. They have been so dumbed down and beaten over the head they can’t help but pay their $18/pop to see it.
Not all are so mindless… Doctor Strange, though far from revolutionary, was still objectively good. Cap 2 was pretty great. Lots of people just want fun at the movies. The general public isn’t dumb for liking something that isn’t high art. An analog might be food: am I stupid for liking spagetti and eating it regularly? Should I be eating ‘foodie food’ instead? No, it’s just something I like.
I dunno’, maybe I have lower standards than you, but most superhero movies are fine to me. Definitely formulaic, but that doesn’t have to be a negative. Hero’s Journey? Bond movies? Coming-of-age stories? Heck, even ‘sad dog books’ have a formula. That doesn’t make ‘Old Yeller’ bad.
They’re “popcorn movies”, and I see no problem in indulging in harmless fun. I’ definitely go see higher quality movies, but not exclusively. Should I be vilified for doing so? Am I ‘dumbed down’?
(@Philomena) I’m realizing that I sounded really belligerent, which was not my intention. Apologies. I agree with you on mot fronts, but I feel like the onslaught of bad movies recently has caused an overcorrection, and I often find myself feeling vilified for not being pretentious enough, I guess. You probably weren’t doing that, I just projected it on you.
Any thoughts on good/original popcorn movies? I heard Kingsmen was in that vein, but I’ve yet to see it.
I agree with what you’re saying here, m-cubed. To complain about the formulaic aspect of superhero movies is to ignore the fact that *most* movies and books of a particular genre follow a specific formula. Going at least as far back as the old radio mysteries/westerns/suspense dramas, presenting media stories in any form follows a familiar progression. How well they succeed depends on what is done with that formula.
As the article’s author pointed out, a lot of the success with the superheroes has to do with nostalgia. One of my earliest memories is of the original Superman TV show with George Reeve. Then I spent my teen years watching the campy, 1960s Batman series. I read both Marvel and DC comics while growing up, so all of these characters in their new iterations bring back memories of childhood. I don’t see these franchises going away completely for that very reason. The first series of superhero movies originally appealed to my own generation, but now the generations who are growing up with DCEU/MCU movies will have their own feelings of nostalgia when another reboot comes along, especially if there’s a decent span of dormancy in between.
Not so much the storyline but the special effects that forever tantalize in these movies.
It’s when the superhero franchises run out of compelling writers.
Its a very good article !! With all these sequels lined up ..its really necessary to think , do we really need them or not ! Thank you….
Any predictions about the end of the Superhero blockbuster era are premature.
Maybe. They still make Westerns yet we don’t think the era is still ongoing. They only stopped making them once the writing was on the wall. The superhero equivalent of “Blazing Saddles” will be a sign it’s over.
These Super Hero’s Comics have 100’s of issues each.
Their’s no limit to the source material.
Comics have been around since the early 1900’s.
All these upcoming releases, yet I still cannot find my Dick Grayson solo movie, ha.
Superhero movies have definitely become a genre, the best analog of which I’d say is the western genre. It will definitely die out, but I don’t foresee any ‘revival’ being very successful. That’s probably because products like Star Wars and Harry Potter are unique and expandable because of world-building (and other factors), while Marvel movies don’t really have any reason to create more. There’s no sense of ‘more to be seen’ for superheroes, while works like ‘The Clone Wars’ and ‘Fantastic Beats’ demonstrate that their respective properties have almost infinite possibilities (yet TFA was so trite…*sigh*. Good movie, but TCW has given me way higher expectations for Star Wars).
I do see the counterargument that superhero movies embody multiple genres, but I the only movies that have really strayed from the ‘norm’ are Deadpool and Zack Snyder’s works, only one of which was well-recieved. Maaaaaaybe Cap 2. Maybe. People always say ‘Ant Man is a heist movie’ and ‘Guardians is a space opera,’ but they never FELT that different from other Marvel movies. I hope other superheroes get the Deadpool treatment—not the R rating, but the radical tone change. That’s what will save the genre. Logan looks like it will do really well on this front (but so did Suicide Squad, so we’ll have to wait and see).
Hmmmm… I wonder what dashing young ex-Robin might be able to do a really cinematic/artistic/philosophical take on familial and romantic relationships, with focus on paternal pressures and mentorship…. But kind of earnestly? Like, not ‘edgy’. I WONDER WHO.
(Dear Warner Brothers Pictures, familiar with Dick Grayson, my fav boi? You will be….).
These movies are junk food, forgettable flicks, with the unique purpose of setting the stage for the sequels.
While this may be the case for many, it’s not the case for all. Every now and then, we get a superhero film with substance and purpose. One that dares to dive deeper — a deconstruction of the tropes and black & white morality in search of something true and authentic, the “superhero” as the vessel. Films like THE DARK KNIGHT. TV shows like LUKE CAGE.
Hollywood got greedy when they seen how the first X-Men movie did. What they didn’t realize was that there were fans like myself waiting on a movie like that since 5th grade lol. So when it came out the comic fans from my childhood automatically went to go see it. They try and make the movies for children but they only understand the fast paced scenes and fighting. They truly don’t understand the adult content in the movie or some of the scientific dialogue. Even if you go back to the comic books some of the material is not for kids under 11.
Yes I still read them and it bothers me when the writer or directors change the story line to their liking thinking it will be more marketable to the masses. They introduce characters in the wrong manner or change how that character was introduced in the comics. They need to stick to comics story line.
They’ll end because Jesus will come back.
In my opinion, we should not look superhero films as 1 genre. Winter Soldier is a spy thriller, Dark Knight is a action-crime drama, Man of Steel is an alien film.
Very good read!
If Hollywood would quit rebooting and remaking movies and get some original ideas, the world would be a better place!
Truth is the superhero genre is a lot more diverse than westerns. Even then the argument is invalid, as westerns are seeing a resurgence now. There are so many superheroes that have not seen screen time yet. Marvel has proven that they can bank on even the most unknown superheroes (Guardians of the Galaxy). So, I don’t see superhero movies coming to an end.
I think it is a fair argument to make that super hero movies will never die. Even as the stories and characters as we know them eventually close, 10 years down the road some aspiring producer will remake them and we’ll find ourselves in just another never ending wave of the super hero world.
The need for superheroes will never die even a superhero does. They have been around thousands of years in one form or another and are just as popular with people young and old now as they were to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. There is a demonstrable need for superheroes that would take more time to explain than I care to put into this comment box so I’ll leave it for you all to see for yourselves (or not) by looking around the world. A superhero does not need to be immortal. However, if one is not immortal, he needs a successor. Fans depend on it. Given the sociological and psychological need we as humans have for them, leaving the fan with a lead into the next generation of heroes is at least the responsible thing to do. 😉
Great article !
I personally wouldn’t mind an ending to super hero movies. I’m starting to get a little sick of them. When they’re done well they can be really good, but lately they just… haven’t been.
Like the article said, eventually people will tire of the endless comic book movies. Six or seven comic book movies a year is too many, but when each one is a bigger blockbuster than the next (regardless of quality), they have no incentive to stop, but eventually people will stop caring.
It is worth noting, there’s never a shortage of comic book heroes. Sure, there are some less familiar heroes out there, but it’s not so much the hero that attracts an audience as the actor playing the hero (even if it completely changes the nature of the character like Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique). As long as there are A-list actors willing to be a superhero, people will watch.
This makes me think of the practically back-to-back Spider-man franchises from the 2000s/early 2010s. I mean, Spider-man 3 WAS pretty awful, and I don’t blame them for cutting the cord on the franchise at that point – but was a complete “reboot” only five years later *really* necessary? Personally, I’m thinking we could’ve just done without Spider-man for a few more years – especially since Spider-man has been reintroduced AGAIN as part of the Avengers … two whole years after The Amazing Spider-man 2 and still not even 10 years after Spider-man 3.
There was several brilliant points argued in here that I can see being a possibility for the franchise film. Such things as, going dormant or recasting have been things that have crossed my mind when I thought about these franchises.
Though, I myself am not tired of comic movies, since we are in a golden or silver age, soon a resurgence may occur as seen in Comix like Watchmen or Sandman, or more recently The Wake and Ex Machina. Genres go through phases of quality or are accompanied by lesser genres, which you touch on with expertise and possibly only better comic films at another time.
A fantastic read! I’m so glad you explored both sides of the argument because honestly both are extremely valid and important to consider. I hadn’t even quite realized how many superhero films had been released in total this year – or how many are slated for 2017. Seeing the numbers there, it’s insane!
But there is a definite superhero fatigue happening – or at least writers are becoming lazier and hoping to cash in on the superhero fad before it goes the way of YA dystopian book-movie adaptations. I suppose we shall see what happens when Marvel hits the Infinity Wars – or what will come after Logan (and Deadpool 2) for the X-Men Universe. The DCEU is certainly young in comparison so its possibilities should be endless.
In any case, I’m just hoping we don’t get yet another SpiderMan/Batman/Wolverine/etc. reboot within the next 10 years.
I liked how you managed to show both sides of the coin in a systematic and objective pointwise manner. However, if you personally ask me, superhero movies have transcended the action-thriller genre and made something of a unique niche for themselves. As in, it has become a genre of it’s own and as long as the cash counters keep ringing with money, I find it hard to believe that any real final end is ever going to be meted out to any character. Fake deaths have become a standard rather than an aberration and MCU with the amount of diverse lesser known characters it has in it’s comics could easily keep churning out the same stuff for decades. Ultimately, what I realized, at least for me, is that I am no longer moved or wowed by any superhero film. (other than C. Nolan’s Batman) They just make for routine campy fun.
Long running fictional universes are possible. I know its TV, but look at Doctor Who. It’s original run was very long, and it came back full force with its revival in 2005. It also has a built in mechanism for change with the regeneration. If universes like the MCU welcome change then I think they will provide new and fresh stories. Super hero universes also have a great supply of younger generations in their comics. If Marvel ends the current movie run, whose to say they couldn’t come back with the Young Avengers? DC has Young Justice and Teen Titans. Plus all the other teamless teen heroes in both universes. If they make the changing of the guard so to say a regular aspect of their movies, it will be much easier to keep it going.
I liked your reference to the James Bond series. With those films the character of Bond seems to have an nonspecific mythology surrounding him. Everyone has a clear idea of who James Bond is but how that is shown and played out onscreen is different depending on the film/actor/story. I see the whole Marvel cinematic universe as very similar: there is a nonspecific mythology surrounding all of the superheroes. Again, everyone has some idea about how this universe works and what each character in them is like, but that idea is varied in interpretation. Consider how similar yet wildly different each interpretation of Spiderman has been.
This is true, we probably won’t ever see the end of the superhero movie trend. They would probably take a break rather than stop. The good news is both have multiple timelines and multiverses to explore when the actors want to retire. Personally I am excited about this but I do see all your points.
I personally hope that superhero movies continue to be successes in the future. The comics, particularly Marvel, have gotten much better with representation over the past couple years and I’m looking forward to seeing that reflected in other media, particularly film and tv shows.
It’s hard to even fathom an end to superhero franchises at this point. I can see a break happening, but never a full on stop.
Why end a good thing when there is still so much to do? Super hero movies are at the forefront of movie entertainment now, but they’ve had a place in the hearts of many since the first Superman comic debuted in 1938. These comics are still being released, which gives Marvel and DC an incredibly huge repetoire of content to create movies based off of. There’s nothing wrong with basing movies off of books, as many people enjoy watching their favorite novels come to life on screen, as seen with Harry Potter and LOTR. Infinity War is just one story arc of a grand scheme of storylines where there’s ample bad guys among even one superhero, people take over the roles of the heroic predecessors, and there is the emergence of the new 52. The possibilities are endless, even if we have to retire beloved actors for the role, as was seen with your mentioning of recasted heroes. Comic lovers will always be anticipating which of their favorite issues will be brought to life on the big screen. I, for one, would be interested in seeing evil Superman.
The point about HP, LOTR, and SW is rendered invalid by your own point. The difference between HP and the superheroes is that before Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts, there were only seven books to work with. Meanwhile, the literature for superheroes is ample and still growing. The popularity for HP demanded that more be made. Even if there wasn’t content being produced since the 30s, popularity would demand that more be made, because people like what they know and though many people, myself included, may not particularly understand the hype, there is a whole army of superhero fanatics among us. DC and Marvel are “The Simpsons” of the movie world. Though some view it as tapped out, there is a reason it is still going and will continue for quite some time.
Another crucial component missing here is technology. The technological advancements being made are astounding, leaps and bounds. In the years of Superman’s first release, our beloved icon was strung up with fishing line while battled villains, styled in felt and Popsicle sticks. Now, universes come alive with SGI; actors are no longer needed to play the part; computers took their jobs. If we are considering possibilities, we have to consider that viewers aren’t just coming to be wowed by their favorite actors or thrilled by the reinvention of their favorite hero; they’re coming to witness the ever-expanding realm of the unreal, in whatever form it takes.
One major problem with the question of superhero franchises ending is the definition of “franchise”. Superman and Batman movies have been coming out in spurts for decades, one actor is retired and another puts on the costume and fills the same role. But unlike Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, comics don’t actually have an endpoint. They have hundreds of character each with their own personal history, villains, team ups and relationships. There isn’t a chosen one who defeats the big bad at the end of the last book and then everyone moves on with their respective lives. If anything Superhero films are most similar to Bond films or Doctor Who series, the only real limit on the story is the imagination of the writers.
However, my issue with the definition of franchise is in this relatively new concept of the “cinematic universe”. For example, every generation has “their” Batman, be it Adam West, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale or any other person their partial to (maybe Clooney does it for you, it’s subjective). But in those instances, the actor did a couple movies, that specific universe ended and than a new one began headed by someone else as though it was the first time ever attempted. But in this shared universe, the story never ends. With the example of Hugh Jackman retiring the claws in Logan this year, he’s leaving but”Wolverine” is not. With the introduction of X-23, a young movie viewer now may grow up with a completely different face on Wolverine but who is still technically part of the same continuity. Robert Downey Jr. can’t play Iron Man forever but it’s possible Riri Williams as Ironheart could be brought to the the big screen. I’m not speaking in the area of should, but it is theoretically possible for there to be an entirely different set of Avengers 15 years from now that are still part of the sprawling MCU. Nobody wants to see Paul Bettany painted purple as the Vision 20 years from now (and I’m including Paul Bettany in that), but if the movie universe was as constantly changing and complex as the comics have been over more than 70 years- I don’t see why the franchise couldn’t go on until audiences simply refuse to see another one.
Superhero franchises are naturally tough to determine whether they should have an end because they tend to follow the course set by the comic iterations. There’s always twists and turns in how the superhero is manifested in the comics, and any untimely death or “end” is inevitably overturned or retconned in some way. As long as these superhero (movie) franchises draw their roots from the comic industry, they will always follow the same business model of reworking and rebooting.
What I think will be an interesting trend to navigate as these movies continue is the transferable popularity. You already noted that they’ve made plenty of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man movies–the last one much to my own disappointment–but we’ve seen a slight shift to X-Men, Justice League and the Avengers. These films are continuing to be made, stretching to take up more room in the movie universe. It’ll be fun to watch and see if the universe expands to encompass the increasing number of reinventions/plotlines, or whether the industry will choose again to limit their focus on a few characters in particular.
Very interesting article.
I like superhero movies, but I think that the most successful franchises tend to be the ones that have a definite beginning and end, like this article says. So the current MCU, for example, now has a beginning and end for the “Infinity Saga,” starting with “Iron Man” and ending with “Avengers: Endgame” (with “Spiderman: Far From Home” arguably functioning as a denouement). I’m sure they’re going to start a new story arc (like the struggle for the Infinity Stones), but it’s really good that they have this book ended story as its own manageable unit. I hope Marvel continues this trend going forward, instead of adopting the Disney Star Wars model and just hope movies with the “Star Wars” name attached will make money even without planning.