“With great power comes great responsibility.” This famous quote from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben applies to more than just its famous comic book hero Spider-Man. Regardless of the fact that this quote was first featured in its comics, it received greater reach and world-renown through the hero’s first feature film, “Spider-Man” (2002). The early 2000s were the stepping stone for following comic book films, snowballing the rapid rise of comic book film franchises and sensation. The first significant comic book films of the 21st century began with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. With these esteemed directors’ unique film styles, coupled with the use of a story based on famed and favored heroes of the masses, it was no surprise that they grossed over $2.5 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively.
Nevertheless, many have opined that the comic book franchises are not what they used to be. This has been attributed to the emergence of new streaming services and to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney+ launched in November 2019, months after Marvel’s biggest film in their franchise, “Avengers: Endgame” released, and right before the pandemic. Max, formally known as HBO Max, launched in May 2020 with catalogs of numerous DCEU [Detective Comics Extended Universe] films, and DC universe shows, both animated and live action. The pandemic halted film releases for months, bringing the era of streaming to its peak.
With the launch of Disney+, Marvel Studios announced the production of high-budget, streaming-exclusive series that included established Marvel characters from previous films as well as establishing new on-screen heroes through their own series, such as “Ms. Marvel,” “She-Hulk,” and “Echo.” This caused uproar from many people, fans or not, who were told that in order to understand new Marvel films, they had to watch different series in order to fully understand the current in-universe. This also discouraged many from starting or continuing to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) altogether, as there was now too much content. Many also complained that the VFX work done in recent Marvel series and movies, such as “Thor Love and Thunder” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania,” are done in poor quality despite their high budgets, although this can also be attributed to Marvel’s history of mistreating their VFX artists.
DC Studios has never been equal to Marvel Studios’ hype, because of their many inconsistencies regarding what is canon across their films and live action shows. After Christopher Nolan’s films, DC Studios attempted to garner similar traction by creating its own tie-in universe with big superhero titles such as “Justice League” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” However, fans hounded the studio for the release of different studio versions, such as “Zach Snyder’s Justice League,”annoyed with the franchise’s inconsistency and difficulty collaborating with filmmakers. The studio faced more criticism due to its lack of direction and poor dialogue and CGI in their most recent 2023 films like “Shazam! Fury of the Gods”, and “The Flash;” both films underperformed at the box office, with the Shazam! sequel grossing only $133 million against a $125 million budget and “The Flash” grossing $267 million against a $200 million budget.
In stark contrast, according to Box Office Mojo, 2023 is the first year in over 20 where the top three grossing movies are neither sequels nor comic book films; with Barbie ($1.43 billion), The Super Marios Bros. Movie ($1.36 billion), and Oppenheimer ($933 million) as its frontrunners, demonstrating the audience’s move to different cinema. Martin Scorsese’s new film “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Sofia Coppola’s new biopic “Priscilla” have received considerable attraction and widespread critical acclaim after performing well at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals. The venerated A24 studios have received several of the highest accolades and ratings in the past decade, with critically acclaimed films like “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” Internet virality has created huge turnouts, allowing low-budget films to have extraordinary grosses. A24’s “Talk to Me” raked in $10 million on its opening weekend against a budget of $4.5 million, and MGM’s “Bottoms”, according to Deadline, had an estimated $500k first weekend gross with its limited release across just 10 movie theaters.
This does not mean comic book films are entirely dead! The public holds high regard for comic book films that go against the grain of often repetitious cinematic universes, such as the animated “Spiderverse” films and DC’s standalone “The Batman,” starring Robert Pattinson. These comic book films differ from anything the MCU and DCEU offer with their fresh dialogue and creative film direction. DC studios are even having a makeover as, according to Forbes, Warner Bros. Discovery has assigned James Gunn and Peter Safran as the new CEOs of DC Studios, and the two plan to develop an entirely new cinematic universe with new actors and actresses to play its titular characters. While one cannot say whether comic book film franchises will ever regain their past buzz, perhaps the push for newer and better direction will put a new face to the genre.