Is the superhero film dead?

One issue is that the studios are simply running out of beloved characters. It’s true that several actors have played Spider-Man over the last two decades, but Iron Man and Captain America are so closely associated with Downey and Evans, the actors who made the parts their own, that it wouldn’t work to recast them now. So who are we left with? Marvel Studios is reaching the bottom of the barrel with The Marvels and Thunderbolts, while Sony is planning films around such Spider-Man B-listers as Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web. Maybe Marvel and DC comics weren’t the infinite resource they once promised to be, after all.

Still, we shouldn’t get carried away. Last year, there were four superhero films in the worldwide box-office top 10 – five if you include Minions: The Rise of Gru. Spider-Man: No Way Home was the highest grossing film of 2021. And I, for one, am looking forward to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in June. Beyond that, James Gunn, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, has been given the job of relaunching DC’s superheroes with new actors and a new approach. The genre could still make a triumphant comeback, as the characters in its stories so often do. But will it ever again engender the excitement that those first Marvel films did? That really would be a superhuman feat. Believe it or not,  the term “superhero fatigue” was already being bandied around back in 2011. In 2023, cinemagoers everywhere know how it feels.

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