Superhero Movies: Why One Writer Is Dreading Them And You Should Too

Superhero movies are showing no signs of slowing down. Moviegoers continue to pay higher ticket prices while theaters sell less of them just for the privilege of watching a muscle-bound hero do battle with the forces of evil.

So popular is this formula that Comics Alliance recently came out with a stunning infographic just to keep up with it all.

That rundown is hinted at in the featured image above, but here’s a closer look.

If you’re a fan of comic books, then you might be elated by this information, but for Vox‘s Todd VanDerWerff, they are to be dreaded more than anything.

Todd believes that the ringleader of superhero movies, Marvel Studios, has “never made a great movie,” though it did come close with “both of the Avengers movies, as well as the second Captain America… but inevitably, the stories revert to the company’s ‘three big fights, laced with shallow character stories and snarky humor’ formula and devolve into an ending where a bunch of things created in a computer hit each other with other things created in a computer. And DC’s attempts to begin its own mega-franchise – beginning with the ham-fisted Man of Steel – simply come off as laughable.”

“No, what Marvel, especially, is very good at doing is churning out product and keeping it just enough above the quality line that we’ll go back for more,” VanDerWerff writes. “That list of films above might as well be a list of fast-food hamburgers we’ll be eating for the rest of the decade…. And yet we’ll be watching.”

While it’s pretty clear that VanDerWerff is right that “we’ll be watching” as a society, I’m checking out as an individual. Actually I checked out with Man of Steel after having enjoyed the first Avengers film thoroughly but desiring to see no more.

To me, Man of Steel was an example of everything wrong with superhero movies, from the taking-itself-too-seriously direction to the face-palming finale that looked about as real as something out of a 1950s monster movie, though admittedly shinier and more expensive.

The Avengers, on the other hand, was entertaining, but part of the appeal was in seeing all these heroes on screen together for the first time. There was an awe factor to it that just isn’t there for any of Marvel’s superhero movies going forward.

That’s because of the formula that VanDerWerff describes above: three fights, mild character development, snarky humor. The End.

(Oh, and let’s not forget the world-smashing finales that every superhero movie out there falls back on like a crutch. It’s similar to the earth-shattering comic book maxi-series that killed the industry’s creativity a long time ago, and then flogged it like the dead horse it is with each new round of storylines promising “the world will never be the same” for our beloved characters, only to fall comfortably back into status quo and senseless team-ups a few months later.)


I have no doubt that Avengers: Age of Ultron will be a huge success. But when you strip the thing down to its formula, it becomes clear that we’ve seen it all before.

That’s not to say superhero movies (or TV shows) can’t still be entertaining and present stories that are worth telling. The Netflix Daredevil series is a shining example. Those 13 episodes delivered more suspense, drama, characterization, and overall quality storytelling on a fraction of the budget than every 21st Century superhero film combined.

But even there, we’re left with the depressing question of “where do we go from here?”

I’d like to think a Daredevil season two could go to some interesting places, but that Defenders team-up on the horizon doesn’t leave me encouraged.

Do you think superhero movies are in danger of running their course financially as they have creatively? Sound off in the comments section below.