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The Rise and Fall of the Superhero Genre


The superhero genre dominated the box office in Hollywood and saturated every corner of media for what feels like an eternity. But, it was not always this way. Throughout the history of Hollywood, different genres rise in popularity, flaunting extended periods of dominance and spawning dozens of movies each year until, like Rome, the inevitable fall from grace. The Westerns of the 40s, the action movies of the 80s, the romances of the 90s—enter the superheroes of the 2010s and 2020s.

Now, of course, the superhero genre by no means started abruptly in 2010 with Marvel’s Avengers. Hollywood making films based on popular comic characters like Batman and Superman long before the 21st century is not something new. Yet, the 2010s marked the beginning of ascendancy in the industry that not only changed the film landscape as a whole but marked a cultural shift whose level of influence is still immeasurable. Since 2010, not a single year went by without the release of a major studio superhero film, often releasing multiple times a year. Over a period from 2001 to 2023, more than 50 superhero films released into the mainstream landscape, with 32 from Disney alone, as well as over 20 from competitor company DC Comics, averaging almost three superhero films a year since 2001. This does not even include the countless TV spin-offs spawned from these films.

Ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe started back in 2008, Disney earned nearly 22 billion dollars from superhero films alone, while simultaneously making them internationally acclaimed and turning almost all of their characters into household names. The MCU hit its peak in 2019 during the release of the global phenomenon Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of almost two decades of Marvel, often hailed as one of the biggest movie releases of all time. But since then, many cannot help but pose an interesting question : Is the superhero genre beginning to die off?

The latest six Marvel films from 2020 to 2023 experienced massive dips in quality and reception but also, more importantly, in revenue and box office earnings. The previous six films from 2017 to 2019 averaged a gross of 1.5 billion dollars, while the most recent six films have fallen to an average of 773 million dollars, resulting in a net loss of 727 million dollars and a nearly 50% drop from the previous films, all in nearly half a decade according to Rotten Tomatoes. This is no coincidence; “superhero fatigue” seems to be plaguing the industry. Not only is Marvel losing money, but their golden boy reputation is being tarnished to a frightening degree. While the MCU from 2008 to 2019 maintained an impressive average Rotten Tomatoes score of 88-89%, the last six Marvel films have averaged a score of 74-75%, with almost half being rated as “rotten.” What is the reason for such a massive decline? Is it actually superhero fatigue or rather the repercussions of corporate made assembly line films and overexposure of content that has sent Disney into a slippery slope of self sabotage.

While the genre endured many “beatings” in recent years, superhero hits like The Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home shows the genre can still clearly make money, but that does not exactly help the superhero genre’s case. Both Spider-Man and Batman are cultural icons, characters so deeply rooted in our culture that they will, of course, forever remain popular. It is hard to imagine a world where such widespread characters will not attract audiences of every kind; in short, they are ticket sellers, and they always will be. Coincidentally Marvel, at its peak, achieved something unique by turning obscure heroes into ticket sellers, taking characters who only comic readers would have known and turning them into blockbuster heroes, but that time may be over. Audiences are becoming less and less willing to buy tickets for the newest sequel to a sequel to a prequel starring a side character just to see how the newest storyline ends. The time has come, and Marvel has killed its namesake. Audiences no longer see Marvel films solely because of that iconic six letter logo. Superheroes may be returning to their historic place as films for only the darkest of knights, and maybe that is it.

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About the Contributor
Caiden Beasley
Caiden Beasley, Entertainment Editor
Caiden Beasley, a senior at Sierra Vista High School, is in his third year of journalism. He has a strong passion for writing and analyzing the art of film. Currently, Caiden holds the position of section leader for entertainment at the SVHS newspaper. Hailing from Michigan, he also has a keen interest in history, politics, working out, and watching movies.

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