Thirty-six. This is the number of rumoured superhero films set to hit theaters before 2020. This number is not my estimate, or a guess made by industry prognosticators; this number comes from a list of films with projected release dates and titles. Between Sony, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers, and Fox, the bids are high for box office hopefuls. Eight of these films are set to release in 2016, with another potential 10 set to release in 2017.
They say pride comes before a fall, but maybe superheroes really are impervious to attack? Understandably, it makes sense to line up so many potential blockbusters after Marvel took home the second-highest grossing opening of all time with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Garnering $191.3 million in one weekend is the kind of thing that studios seek to replicate. It seems consumers have not quite yet reached their tipping point on sequels, prequels, and superhero dynasties.
“[If] you went to the movies in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you went to a western,” Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, screenwriters of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, told IGN. “So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie.” But like the westerns of the past, superhero films must come to an end.
“We were around when the western died,” said Steven Spielberg in an interview with the Associated Press, “and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving.”
Coincidentally, Spielberg’s comment on westerns making a comeback comes at an appropriate time. With such an incredible downpour of heroes and heroines in the forecast, it’s hard to believe that there is any room for any other genre in theaters. However, the western is indeed rearing its head and slinging its guns once more. After its eventual replacement by sci-fi, the western mostly died out with the exception of an attempted treaty, Cowboys & Aliens.
In the next year, a slew of westerns are to be released, most notably Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, Alejandro Iñárritu (Birdman)’s The Revenant, as well as Bone Tomahawk, Echoes of War, and The Timber. The difference between the modern western and those classics of the past is the inclusion of a dark twist. Instead of a handsome, law-abiding cowboy, we see much darker protagonists, as well as themes of self-preservation for selfish purposes. The classic hero has been replaced by the anti-hero.
If the similarities between the era of westerns and the reign-supreme of superhero films extends to this current trend in the western film trajectory, then it becomes much easier to stomach 36 superhero films. The current happy-go-lucky, explosions-for-breakfast, empty-headed romance formula that is seemingly baked into Marvel movies these days is not sustainable. The future is bright if superhero films of the future turn dark, following in the footsteps of Watchmen, or at least Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. For now, rest assured: Suicide Squad, coming up next summer, seems to be a step down that very path.