Thursday, January 4, 2018

“Superhero Fatigue”

By Jerry Chandler

2014, 2015, and especially 2016 and 2017 were filled with superheroes on the big screen and the small screen. This has been the case for farther back than 2014, but the last four to five years have been seemingly extremely superhero heavy. Every major movie studio was launching a film with an eye towards starting a franchise, and channels like CW were transforming into Superhero Central. Even streaming services were getting in on the act with exclusive superhero shows in both live action and animated forms. In fandom, the age-old war between the Marvel Zombies and the loyal DC Comics fans had renewed itself and moved to a larger battlefield as Hollywood itself was at times seemingly trying to transform itself into Marvel and DC.

The tipping point was coming fast. The big failure moment was just around the corner. The collapse of the superhero film genre was about to happen with the very next bloated, over the top, four-color abomination the studios were readying to unleash on the superhero fatigued audiences of America.

Well, at least that’s how the world worked according to some of the various social critics, movie critics, and jaded fanboys of the world. They certainly made sure you knew this is how the world was right before the launch of every major superhero film- especially the Marvel ones -over the last few years. They were especially loud about their predictions before films with characters that “no one wanted to see or cared about” like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.

These people were and are, of course, full of and spewing extraordinarily large quantities of bovine manure.

Let’s get something out of the way right here and right now. There is no such thing as superhero fatigue. It doesn’t exist now, it never has existed, and it never will exist. If I had one wish for the larger pop culture landscape in 2018 and beyond, it would be seeing ridiculous terms like “Superhero Fatigue” and others die their very deserving deaths and fall out of the public discourse.

By and large, superhero fatigue as a term seems to be thrown around by three groups of people. There may actually be more groups that you can name, but I’m sort of combining various groups into three larger groups based on similarities between groups. There are of course the trolls. They might not actually believe it themselves, but it’s a great way for them to get a reaction even if it seems to have been working less well for them recently. After all, the facts (such as the ones I’ll be getting to shortly) on the matter do tend to shut them down or make them look so stupid that no one cares about their comments before long. Then there are the genre fans who were never that big into superhero films to begin with. In a way, they actually share something in common with the members of the third group. This third group would be the social critics. They look down on the superhero film because its success at the box office means more of the same to come, and this means that the films they see as more meaningful and worthy of audiences are getting overlooked or even not made at all in order to make room on the studio slates for men and woman in spandex tights.

But what about the people who count? What about the people paying their hard earned money at their local theaters to see the latest superhero filled cinematic extravaganza? Well, they too seem to think those other people are full of and spewing extraordinarily large quantities of bovine manure. One way we can tell this is by looking at the box office. Specifically, we’re going to look at the final 2017 box office numbers; the most recent year of many we’ve heard of the growing superhero fatigue.

In 2017, six of the top ten box office earning movies of the year were superhero films. Also, off topic, let me point out how unbelievable it was to see the top domestic box office winner of 2017 was a film that was only in theaters for the last sixteen days of 2017.

For as much as we’ve been told that superhero fatigue is coming, it’s not shown any significant signs of being alive and well. As a matter of fact, something happened that should show, as I noted earlier, that it doesn’t exist now, it never has existed, and it never will exist. Thor: Ragnarok did better than either of the earlier two films featuring the character. While I might argue that the first film was still a better film, a number of movie goers decided that Thor: Ragnarok was a more enjoyable time at the movies. As a result, they made the third film in the franchise the strongest box office earner of the franchise.

That should tell the “Superhero Fatigue” crowd something about why they’re wrong. Why are they wrong, and, more importantly, how are they wrong? I’m going to switch genres a minute to explain.

My father was a huge fan of Hill Street Blues. It was a cop show that won critical praise and got itself a huge fan following. That made it a bit like one of his earlier favorites that I grew up with him watching, Barney Miller. It was like a later favorite, NYPD Blue. As a matter of fact, you can draw a line going back through decades of police shows- whether they be dramas, comedies, or pseudo-documentary styled -that he and others have made television favorites and classics. There are always cop shows on TV somewhere up and down the dial.  

But this is what always happens with these shows. You’d have a hit like NYPD Blue, and then every studio and every network executive would demand that their people get them their own version of a hit cop show to air and make that ad revenue off of. Some of the shows might actually be good. Some of the shows might be so bad they become punchlines for years after their spectacular failure ala Cop Rock. But, at some point, the critics would start talking about how there was a glut of cop shows and about how people were tiring of cop shows.

They were right about the first part, but wrong about the second. There would end up being a ton of cop shows and detective shows all over the channel guide. You did sort of end up with a glut. And out of all of those shows, some were really good, some were really bad, but most would end up as simply forgettable. When the huge wave of bad and forgettable attempts and a quick leap onto the popularity bandwagon of whatever show kicked it off died, the critics would declare that they were right and the people were tired of cop shows. Time to put them to bed and move on to the next genre.

But they were wrong. The shows that started the big explosions were still going. Some would even keep their popularity for some time after the boom that caused the glut collapsed. Because people weren’t tired of cop shows, they were tired of bad cop shows. They would also sometimes stop giving every new cop show a chance because so many cop shows coming out at that time were poorly executed shows and they were done giving their time to such shows.

They didn’t like bad shows, but the good shows they still followed. Proving the point even more, it would take no time at all after the last of the big cop shows faded from pop culture popularity for someone to create the next hot cop show and start the cycle over again.

We see it with every type of show and movie. Star Wars launched a thousand sci-fi and space opera concepts to cash in on the craze. Some were shows or movies that many had been wanting to make for some time, passion projects even, but couldn’t get a greenlight for until studio and network heads saw green in the wake of Star Wars. Out of all of these shows and movies, some were really good, some were really bad, but most would end up as simply forgettable. Some critics, yet again, pointed out how people didn’t want all this sci-fi stuff on the TV screens and in the theaters. But they were wrong. People just didn’t want the bad attempts at sci-fi.

Well, except people with weird tastes like me and my friends.

Superhero films and television shows are the same. Some of the people talking about the oncoming doom of the superhero genre on the big and small screens pointed to the most recent Fantastic Four as proof of the power of superhero fatigue. However, Fantastic Four wasn’t the proof of superhero fatigue. Fantastic Four was simply proof that people didn’t want to watch bad superhero films. The same year that Fantastic Four “proved” superhero fatigue by failing to crack the top fifty films of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron was in the top three.

All “Superhero Fatigue” is when used by many is a form of coded language. What it translates into is them actually saying, “I’m not a big fan of this genre.” The critics and members of fandom that keep throwing this term around need to stop doing it and be a bit more honest about it. I and others would have no problem with someone just saying that this is not their favorite genre and they wished that the studios were doing more of X, Y, and Z over superheroes. God knows there are a number of genres that don’t float my boat the way others do and I sometimes wished when channel surfing 500 channels and finding nothing of any great interest to me that less A, B, and C was being put on TV and more X, Y, and Z was. I know others have as well. It’s not like most of us would hold it against the social critics for just saying that. Hell, it might even make their reviews more readable.

There are a lot of things that I’d like to see come out of 2018. Some things are really big and would probably have a significant impact on the lives of many. As such, putting this forward as my first column of 2018 and saying that one of the things I most want to see out of 2018 is the death of such a silly and fake term may seem odd. It might be. But, really, let’s put this silliness to rest. The only fatigue audiences will have with any genre- whether it’s the superhero genre or anything else -is poorly made, bad movie fatigue. When a bad superhero movie bombs and the critics talking about “superhero fatigue” instead talk about how audience just aren’t interested in spending money to see bad superhero films or bad films in general; I’ll be right there with them saying the same thing. But don’t try to spin it as anything other than that, because it just makes you look foolish.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Subject Matter. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.

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