Among the hottest talking points in the film industry today are the longevity of superhero films and the influx of blockbuster tentpoles that are flooding cinemas in recent years. Every studio seems to be developing a long-term shared universe model for their various properties (for example: Paramount planning out Transformers films until 2025), due in large part to the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios' The Avengers.
While the new traditions of annual releases and interconnected storytelling are exciting aspects for fans, not everyone in Hollywood is chomping at the bit to be inundated by fantastical tales of comic books and a galaxy far, far away. Famed director Steven Spielberg has made some controversial comments on the matter - claiming that the film industry is on the verge of imploding and that superhero movies will eventually go the way of the Western. Now, he's taken the time to clarify his statements.
“To clarify, I didn’t predict the implosion of the film industry at all, I simply predicted that a number of blockbusters in one summer—those big sort of tentpole superhero movies—there was going to come a time where two or three or four of them in a row didn’t work. That’s really all I said. I didn’t say the film industry was ever going to end because of it. I was simply saying that I felt that that particular genre doesn’t have the legs or longevity of the Western, which was around since the beginning of film and only started to wither and shrivel in the sixties.”
Since "superhero" is a broad term that can encompass the comical thrills of Guardians of the Galaxy or the gritty crime drama of The Dark Knight, Spielberg does come off a bit shortsighted when he says that the superhero genre doesn't have the legs of the Western. Its ability to blend multiple filmmaking styles with different kinds of stories is a valuable trait that has kept it at the top of the box office charts since the turn of the century. It's true that one day comic book films may be knocked off the top perch by something else (the movie biz is one of trends), but it's hard to envision a scenario in the next handful of years where that happens.
Spielberg has a stronger point when he mentions how "two or three or four" tentpoles in a row won't work. Particularly in the summer months, each week there's a new "event" film that's competing for a wide audience, and not everybody has the time to check them all out. This year's summer box office was very top heavy and featured a number of underpeformers despite high numbers overall. It helps the studios if they space out their larger projects instead of cramming everything into a three-month window, and it's no surprise that recently months like April, March, and even February have become homes for massively successful films.
The Oscar-winner also added that he was simply commenting on the changing state of the industry and how there's a wider spectrum of films finding audiences these days:
“I was also trying to make the point that there was room for every kind of movie today because there seems to be an audience for everything. Even five years ago there wasn’t an audience for everything. But now, these little movies are just squeezing in and finding a berth next to these huge Queen Mary type movies and they’re able to find an audience, enough of an audience to encourage the distributor and the film companies to finance more of them. These are not just films like Bridge of Spies, it’s independent movies as well."
Thanks to on-demand services and instant streaming like Netflix, it's becoming increasingly easier for films of any scale to attract a large viewership. Some may argue that it's a better alternative to limited theatrical releases. As technology continues to evolve and blockbusters become more and more frequent, it will be interesting to see if VOD becomes the go-to option for these smaller films (including Oscar contenders). For now though, there seems to be enough space in theaters for everything.
Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies opens in U.S. theaters on October 16th, 2015.