It’s no secret that the MCU has been falling rather than flying recently. Low box office takings and middling reviews have been the name of the game when it comes to their latest releases, and a recent Variety report picked apart the studio’s various troubles without beating around a single super-powered bush.
All of this might not be shocking to those who’ve been following the MCU since day one. For every new movie released and every Marvel series to weave itself into the tangled continuity web, audiences are finding themselves further and further away from…well, caring. But with Marvel standing as one of the biggest pushers of the superhero movie trend over the past two decades, what happens if they fall for good?
Honestly? Nothing. Saying that Marvel has a monopoly on superhero movies might not be completely untrue, but it certainly isn’t gospel. That would be like saying Jordan Peele is the sole savior of horror movies. Yes, he’s done the genre several favors, but he’s not the only quality horror master working right now.
When the MCU first began in earnest back with 2008’s Iron Man, they struck a match that would later light a big, multiverse-fueling fire. But alongside Marvel, superhero content was still being churned out. In fact, you can see success stories before the MCU was even a glimmer in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Prior to the first official installment of the MCU (long before the likes of Marvel’s Phase 5 and Phase 6), Marvel characters were getting their due, and they were getting it in spades. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy with Sony Pictures ended up being one of the most recognizable superhero series of all time, and the first is still regarded as one of the best ever made. Even some of the lesser-known Marvel characters, like Blade, were proving themselves to be huge box office draws as early as the ‘90s, and still remain cult hits today.
Even if you step outside the bright red doors of Marvel and venture into other comic book realms, you’ll find further proof that the genre has long been fulfilling. While DC may not be as highly regarded on the theatrical front, there are plenty of DC characters who’ve been keeping things afloat like Superman holding up a plane.
Speaking of the Man of Steel, Superman movies were hitting screens as early as 1978, with the original Christopher Reeve feature becoming the second-highest-grossing release of that year, not to mention the fact that it picked up three Academy Award nominations. So important is 1978’s Superman, in fact, that it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. What are the odds of Ant-Man 3 or The Marvels making that cut?
Similarly, Batman’s been kicking since 1943, and some of the best directors have stepped up to take on the Caped Crusader. Yes, some incarnations have been better than others (don’t think of batnipples, don’t think of batnipples), but we still talk about and re-watch even the worst movies in Batman’s tenure. In the grand scheme of cinematic legacy, is it better to be remembered and maligned than forgotten completely? I don’t know — ask Eternals in 30 years. If you remember it, that is.
But let’s step out of the realm of Marvel and DC to confirm the genre’s survival even further. Flash Gordon, released in 1980, was based on the King Features comic strip, and followed the adventures of quarterback Flash Gordon, who finds himself trapped on a foreign planet dictated by Ming the Merciless. The movie was a box office success upon release, and even stands as a classic decades later.
Okay, technically Flash isn’t a superhero, but it’s generally accepted as a superhero movie with space opera tendencies. Point being, if an obscure comic book character can have a one-and-done success story leading to a long-standing fan following, then there shouldn’t be any reason to believe that superhero movies will be threatened by Marvel’s possible disintegration.
We’ve seen the rise and fall of a genre before. Westerns were most popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which led to them being produced at an alarming rate. Not unlike the Marvel movies of today, most classic Westerns relied a great deal on star power and consistency. When audiences eventually developed ‘Western fatigue’, the genre dipped, but never died.
In fact, the only era in which the genre truly seemed to disappear was in the ‘80s, but it made a strong return in the ‘90s, thanks to movies like Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves, which gave fresh, modern takes on the classic tropes. Of course, it helps that Western cinema wasn’t as tightly knit as the MCU currently is, but it still goes to show that a taste for the most basic necessities of a Western — wide open spaces, good vs. evil, great hats — never truly goes away.
The same can easily be said for the superhero genre. Yes, Marvel might have been the dominant force in recent decades, and yes, perhaps they’re on a heavy decline, but that’s no reason to give up on superhero movies altogether. Even if the multiverse ceases to exist, it wouldn’t matter, because that was never really the singular draw. It’s never been about the MCU — it’s always been about the heroes.
To revisit Marvel’s history, check out our guide to the Marvel movies in order, and see what’s ahead with the upcoming Marvel movies. There’s also a breakdown of the best Marvel villains, as well as everything you need to know about Deadpool 3 and Captain America 4.
Don’t forget to check out our picks for the best movies of all time, and our feature: If The Marvels flops, can we blame it on the MCU shows?