The term “superhero fatigue” has been used for a long time but recent diminished box office returns for these big-budget blockbusters have put it back in the conversation. Comic book movie fans are quick to shun the term but critics theorize that audiences are growing bored with shared universes and crossovers.
With underwhelming reception for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse opening to mixed reviews and low box office numbers, is the superhero fatigue finally setting in? It’s unlikely that with projects like the Avengers: Infinity War duology and Suicide Squad on the horizon that the bubble is going to be breached but what is the reason behind audiences’ fatigue and decreased box office?
My theory may surprise you.
In X-Men: Apocalypse the fate of the entire world was at stake. Again in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Gotham and Metropolis faced total annihilation. With Avengers: Age of Ultron the world was once again at risk. With The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the fate of Sony was at stake. The problem with saving the entire world is that it becomes harder for audiences to relate to the story.
We see countless people losing their lives but it becomes an afterthought as our favorite characters fight it out in their visual effects glory. Within X-Men: Apocalypse our main villain wanted to “destroy this world in order to build a better one” but that was his only motivation. It felt like once again the world will end but our heroes will save the day just in time. This doesn’t feel original or even relatable.
Deadpool was the magic recipe for comic book movies; it shocked at the box office and became beloved by fans but why was that? Was it because of the over-the-top violence or outrageous humor? Or was it that the story wasn’t about saving the world or the entire galaxy? Deadpool told the simple story of a boy who loved a girl. It allowed for a strong connection with audiences because the characters’ motivations were relatable.
On paper having the entire world destroyed is a massive, unthinkable threat. It’s something extreme that audiences have to assume that our heroes will come in and save the day because how often does the world actually end in these stories? Audiences’ go into these movies knowing that even with the threat of massive global destruction, it’s most likely ending the same way. When the stakes are different, when it’s about a boy being in love with a girl or two friends trying to reconnect with their past, these stories have different opportunities to tell a unique story. Audiences are craving uniqueness and something “original” from cinema. The movies have to feel different, surprising yet familiar. That is what can combat and help with this growing “superhero fatigue.”
Captain America: Civil War is another example of how it all comes down to story. Civil War was massive in scale. It featured a number of Avengers and the fight choreography that was breathtaking. But at the heart of this movie it was about a boy from Brooklyn desperate to help his best friend. We have all been in a situation when you just want to help the person you love. Civil War was about friendship first and foremost before saving the entire universe and that hit all of the right notes.
Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool also had the unique factor going in. These felt like brand new takes on the superhero genre, not just another large scale action flick. Before Deadpool was even in production it was blazing the trail in this genre. Civil War focused on emotion in the trailers and immediately divided fans between the two teams. These steps were all unique takes on a now “classic” genre.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that all movies should be scaled down in scope. Action is important within comic book movies. The effects have to be stunning but most importantly it always comes down to the story. Audiences are more likely to be connected with something they understand, as opposed to large scale world destruction. The story has to be something that audiences are interested in and feel connected too.
Sometimes saving the neighborhood is more impactful than the entire universe.