In a surprising turn of events, the superhero movie genre, once considered an unstoppable force in Hollywood, faced a formidable foe in 2023: audience indifference. The past year witnessed the underperformance and outright flops of six superhero films, including two from the juggernaut, Marvel Studios. As social media platforms became battlegrounds for disgruntled fandoms, questions arose about the genre’s vitality and the need for a recalibration in storytelling.
The Marvels and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, both sequels to billion-dollar-grossing predecessors, failed to cross the $50 million mark in their opening weekends. The Marvels struggled to surpass $200 million worldwide, concluding its domestic run at $84.4 million, while Aquaman 2 faced an even bleaker outlook. The industry, accustomed to superhero successes, grappled with a wave of underwhelming performances, with DC’s The Flash and Marvel Studios’ Secret Invasion also stumbling during the summer.
This downturn prompts reflection on the state of the superhero genre, with some wondering if it stands at the edge of a seismic shift comparable to the late 1960s when changing audience preferences led to the decline of once-dominant film genres like musicals and Westerns. The question looms large: is superhero fatigue real, or is there a need for a more profound evolution in storytelling?
As 2024 approaches, it signals a departure from the norm as Marvel Studios releases only one movie, Deadpool 3, the first time since 2012. Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged the impact of diluting quality for quantity, citing the oversaturation of the market due to Disney+’s demand for both streaming series and films from Marvel. Warner Bros. faced a similar challenge, struggling to replicate Marvel’s formula of creating a cohesive universe that builds anticipation for each subsequent film.
While Deadpool 3 may offer a refreshing boost to the genre, serving as a sequel to a genuinely popular superhero movie and featuring the return of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, it’s not the sole contender in 2024. Sony Pictures plans to release three Spider-Man villain spinoffs, with Venom 3 scheduled for November 8, 2024. Warner Bros. presents a unique twist with Joker: Folie à Deux, a musical sequel to the Oscar-winning crime drama that grossed $1 billion.
The success of Deadpool 3 and Joker: Folie à Deux may hold the key to the genre’s future. Deadpool’s return after a hiatus, much like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse in 2023, could signal that certain characters resonate with audiences over time. Meanwhile, Joker 2 introduces a potentially new approach to comic book adaptations, with a musical angle and an exploration of uncharted territory for the iconic character.
As the genre faces a potential crossroads, questions linger about the ability of a new approach to comic book IP, such as Joker: Folie à Deux, to captivate audiences and achieve box office success. If successful, it could demonstrate the untapped potential of taking risks within the genre. The prevailing sentiment suggests that a reset in 2025, whether through a full-on reboot like Superman: Legacy or the introduction of new IPs like Thunderbolts and Fantastic Four, may be necessary for the genre to thrive.
The superhero movie landscape is undoubtedly changing, and the lessons learned in 2023 may shape the industry’s future. A careful balance between quality and quantity, coupled with innovative storytelling, appears to be the key to reinvigorating audience interest. As the gap between superhero releases widens in 2024, the industry watches with bated breath to see if bold moves and fresh narratives will save the genre from the spectre of superhero fatigue and usher in a new era of cinematic heroics.