Earlier this month, Steven Spielberg spoke about the future of the film industry, and what he sees as the inevitable fate of the superhero movie genre.
"There will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western,” Spielberg told the Associated Press. "Right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us."
Spielberg isn't the only one who thinks a burnout may be on the horizon, either.
The Wall Street Journal was asking if America was getting burned out on the genre four years ago. "It seems every time you turn around, there is another comic book adaptation hitting theaters," Jason Evans wrote. "And some moviegoers may be getting tired of it."
That was in 2011. Heading into 2016 - with eight superhero movies scheduled - the genre is showing no signs of slowing down.
The superhero genre is also dominating television screens, where DC Comics characters have shined the most. The upcoming fall season will see an unprecedented number of comic book inspired shows, both returning and premiering.
While the full slate of both cinematic and television offerings would seem to show that the genre is in full force, it may also give credence to Spielberg's comparison to the western. For a time, westerns were all over not just movie theaters, but television as well. The parallels between the genres are actually staggering.
Fans of the superhero genre can take comfort, however, in the fact that it took the western a long time to die out. "Gunsmoke" still holds the record as the longest running American prime time live action television series, running from 1955 to 1975.
"He might not be wrong," Snyder told Yahoo. "I think it puts more pressure on the filmmakers, to not just crank out superhero movies for the sake of it. Who knows what audiences will want in the future. To me it’s about the drama, the humanity of it. Those are like Shakespearean characters, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, they have inherent drama built into their makeup."
Zack Snyder might actually know comic book movies better than anyone. In addition to "Man of Steel" and the forthcoming "Batman v Superman," Snyder also directed "Watchmen" - based on the Alan Moore graphic novel - and "300" - based on the graphic novel by comic great Frank Miller. Snyder is also borrowing heavily from Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" for "Batman v Superman."
Spielberg is right. Nothing lasts forever, and eventually superhero movies will indeed "go the way of the western," but that really wouldn't be a bad thing. Westerns haven't gone away completely, and neither will superhero movies. Eventually "Arrow," "Flash," and "Gotham" will vanish from our television sets and fade into obscurity. Eight superhero films per year will turn into one every three or four years.
The plus side is that while superhero movies have been mostly good over the past decade, there have been a few mediocre ones and even a few terrible ones that have crept into the mix. The more movies that come out per year, the higher the chance of getting bad ones is. Eventually, when superhero movies do burn out, the ones we do get every so often will be amazing. Maybe even more amazing than we ever could have imagined a superhero movie could be. The "Unforgiven" of the superhero movie genre.
So take heart, true believers! While Steven Spielberg may not be wrong, for a while at least the future of the superhero movie genre is still looking pretty bright.
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