Superhero Fatigue: The End of a Genre?


Photo / Eli Portillo

The superhero genre seems to be losing its tight grip on the film industry.

The age of superheroes may be coming to an end. While this is not yet certain, looking at the box office of Marvel and DC’s most recent films they have undeniably underperformed in comparison to past outings. Beyond the profit margins, critics have also been increasingly unhappy with the movies, and audiences have been mixed. If current trends continue the future of the superhero genre may be bleak.

Marvel studios in particular, Seems to have become a slave to continuity, much like the comics the films are based on. When there are multiple movies and shows coming out every year, all of which are expected to come together as one experience, things become complicated to follow and those who cannot keep up will simply get off the ride. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe began as a more accessible version of the Marvel Comics brand, it is quickly becoming as messy and convoluted as the source material. The post-credit scenes that people used to find so exciting have become groan-inducing, as it becomes increasingly obvious they exist solely to advertise the next film or to tie the film into the larger canon.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Marvel’s golden age as a cultural juggernaut ended after Infinity War and Endgame. Barring runaway hits starring popular characters like 2021’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, the box office numbers and audience enthusiasm haven’t been the same after Endgame. While unfortunate for Marvel, this decline makes perfect sense. Endgame was treated as the end of an era, and it truly was, killing off or otherwise sidelining many of the main characters and making many viewers question who these movies are even about anymore. Endgame was the payoff to years of stories, and whether or not you were a fan personally you cannot deny that fact. The modern MCU feels directionless by comparison, with any attempts at continuity feeling far more unnatural than they did prior.

While the universe is still far from dead, the decline in enthusiasm is fairly obvious. These movies are not massive events anymore. In the eyes to many they’ve become something more akin to an extended episode of a TV show, one that requires a 10$+ movie theater ticket to view. That’s without mentioning their actual episodic TV shows, exclusive to Disney+, which so far have seemed to start out strong but lose a lot of steam by the finale. Marvel just isn’t holding audience attention as well anymore, and is increasingly having to rely on diehard fans instead of the mass market appeal it once had.

Though Marvel does seem to be losing steam it isn’t all over for super heroes just yet. 2022’s The Batman was seen as a breath of fresh air, and there’s a decent amount of anticipation behind its upcoming 2025 sequel. DC’s film division has shifted creative control to popular director James Gunn, which has the potential to breathe new life into an unpopular brand. 

Things aren’t exactly over yet for Marvel either. Black Panther Wakanda Forever was well received enough, audiences still seem to be very invested in Spider-Man as a character, and there’s definitely anticipation for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. There’s still potential to revive audience interest in the brand.

Although Super Hero fatigue may be real, the industry has several avenues open to avoid collapse. Do not think that this means you are obligated to support products you have no interest in to save the superheroes. Ultimately whether the genre lives or dies is up to the studios, whose future depends on their ability to turn things around and produce higher quality content.