If you’ve ever been on film twitter, or the Youtube comment section of a film review/commentary channel, or talked to Martin Scorsese, you may have heard the idea that Marvel is a problem for Hollywood. The theory is based on the idea that Marvel boxes out smaller films, and smaller filmmakers, from receiving attention or making money at the box office. This, however, is not what has happened, nor is this currently happening.
A proponent of this theory would like you to believe that the reason many smaller films seem to flop at the box office or struggle to find an audience, is because Marvel movies make a shit ton of money and have a lot of fans. They would also have you believe that the sole reason we are seeing less original films, and more franchises, sequels, prequels, and any other form of IP-driven content, is all because of Marvel. And if those unoriginal franchise movies suck we can also blame that on Marvel because it all goes back to Marvel, right? Wrong.
I’m not here to fully defend Marvel, do I think they make some great and fun movies? Yes. Do I think they make some bad movies? Yes. Do I think they have influenced some other studios to try to copy their formula to varying degrees of success? Of course. But do I think Marvel is the biggest problem facing Hollywood? No, Marvel is just one solution to Hollywood’s real problem: Streaming.
Here’s what happened this past decade, just about every single movie and television show that has ever been made became available for you to watch in your house, on your couch, and in your underwear. With the press of just a few buttons you could watch anything you wanted and when that thing ended, you could just pick literally any other thing afterwards. Add to that the rise in quality of television shows this past decade with us now regularly seeing interesting, thoughtful, well-made stories being told in that format rather than only in film, and it became clear movie studios had a problem. You no longer had to make a plan, get dressed, get in your car, drive to a building and pay 12 to 18 dollars to sit in an audience full of strangers in the dark to watch something. So movie studios had to adapt and find a way to deal with these radical changes in how we consume our entertainment. And Marvel found a solution to this problem. What did they do? They eventized(not a real word but go with me) their movies. Essentially, they turned the release of one of their movies into an event. They made the release of one of their movies feel like an episode of a must see television show. Just like you had to watch the new Game of Thrones episode on Sunday nights so you could talk about it come Monday morning (with excitement during seasons 1-6 and disappointment during seasons 7-8), you had to not just see the new Marvel film to be caught up with the story and characters, but you had to see it opening weekend so come Monday morning you could be a part of the conversation.
Now, is it a bad thing that, with Kevin Feige at the helm, Marvel was wildly successful in this plan and created perhaps the most profitable film franchise of all time? For as much as I’m defending them I do actually think this is a question with a complicated answer. Marvel’s success, without a doubt, created many copycats who were not able to pull this formula off as smoothly as they did. If you look at some of the “summer blockbusters” from this past decade it can look like a graveyard of many potential connected universes, reboots, remakes, and sequels that were not nearly as critically or commercially successful as Marvel has been. One needs to only look so far as Marvel’s main competitor in the comic book movie space, the DCEU, and see the disarray that they found themselves in many times this decade post Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Furthermore, did this success create a, I’ll generously call it, strange new type of fan whose allegiances tend to lay not with a character, film, or star but instead with a billion dollar corporation? Yes. One of the strangest stories in the world of film in 2019 came with the public feud between Marvel/Disney and Sony and the uncertainty of whether Tom Holland’s Spiderman would remain a part of the MCU going forward. We had people of all ages, but especially many young people, on Twitter pledging their allegiance to one billion dollar corporation while shitting on another billion dollar corporation. I’ve never been more sure that Disney was going to take over the world, as I was when I saw hoards of 13-year-olds online supporting the Marvel brand the way they did. It was slightly terrifying. However, I still believe Marvel is completely in its right to try to continue their success to the best of their ability, and I don’t feel their success should make them a target or a scapegoat for the fact that certain people would rather stay in and binge a Netflix series, than actually go to the theater to see a smaller film.
Another thing critics of Marvel like to posit is that they played a major role in the death of the movie star. I believe that it is a fact that movie stars don’t exist like they used to. The movie industry is not like it once was when people would show up to a movie just to see Julia Roberts, or Harrison Ford, or Tom Cruise. Nowadays, people show up to see Captain America or Thor and not Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth. And it is a fact that many of the main MCU actor’s non-Marvel films do struggle at the box office. Some obviously do better than others, but we’ve seen time and time again that people show up to see the character, the franchise, or the universe rather than the actor.
I also believe Marvel is unfairly blamed on this issue as well though. What do I think the real biggest cause is for the death of the movie star? Social media. Think about it, when a kid, or anyone really, wants to see their favorite movie star they don’t have to wait until their next movie comes out, or they’re on a talk show, like they may have in the 80s and 90s. No, instead they can go to their Twitter and read what they have to say, go to their Instagram and look at what they’ve been up to, go to Youtube and watch hours of interviews, behind the scenes content, bloopers, etc. So that need to see them in their next big movie is not going to be as high or as urgent, because the barrier between celebrity and audience has been broken down so greatly by the internet and social media. We live in the age of celebrity but, ironically, that’s helped to really damage and change the idea of what a “Movie Star” is, but that’s another post for another day.
In closing, Is Marvel a perfect company? Of course not. Will their legacy on Hollywood ultimately be a complicated one? I believe so. But do I feel they are the sole force that’s ruining Hollywood? No. I would like to say, however, that I understand people’s frustrations. I, too, want people to go to the movies and see all the great films that come out in a given year, especially the smaller films and the films based on original ideas(and I, too, want to see more of these films made in the first place). I understand the frustration of seeing a Marvel movie rake in millions upon millions of dollars while your favorite movie of the year struggles, and how this can lead to wanting to blame Marvel. I also understand the frustration of seeing nothing but sequels and reboots in the coming attractions and feeling the urge to blame franchises, like Marvel, and Hollywood for running out of ideas but ultimately, I don’t think that’s fair either. Like I said before, practically everything that’s ever been made is available somewhere on the internet, so of course the people that make movies are going to be scrambling to come up with ideas that are able to get people out of their house and into a theater. Most of the times these ideas are going to be “what made money in the past? Let’s try that again,” because the reality is, it’s a business. I don’t believe everyone just ran out of original ideas, I just think it’s a lot harder to get those ideas made today. And you can blame the people in charge of making those decisions but, hey, they have to make a profit too so it’s hard to really blame them either. Remember, they are competing with EVERY SINGLE SHOW AND MOVIE EVER MADE, which are available on Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, and illegal streaming services/sites. As well as a never ending stream of content coming from podcasts, Youtube channels, and both cable and network TV. It is a weird time for film and the way we consume content is clearly shifting. However, if you’re like me and still believe that there is something special about going to a movie theater and having a shared experience with a crowd, then the best thing to do is continue to go out to the theater and support the artists that you love, not bitch about Marvel online.