In a recent interview promoting season 4 of Black Mirror, an anthology series in which she’s directed an episode, Jodie Foster claims superhero movies are ruining film. She says, “going to the movies has become like a theme park,” continuing her criticism with, “Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking — you get the best return right now but you wreck the earth. It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world.” Is she right?
I’m not what you’d call a hardcore fan of the superhero subgenre. I’ve never been too excited about any superhero offering, but I’d have to disagree. I hear this sort of pessimistic, over-dramatic view of the current state of filmmaking fairly often, and it’s yet to feel warranted or anything other than an overreaction . Hollywood, talking about the studio heads and people with actual power, have always sought to get the best return in the least amount of time. They have always repeated or even ripped off things that worked in order to guarantee success. In the fifties, maybe that meant monster movies. Maybe that meant westerns, a genre that was recycled to no end for decades until it’s become close to extinct. In fact, Robin Wood, a famed critic and historian, before he died wrote an excellent piece about how superhero films have taken over where westerns left off in the imagination of boys and young men. So has anything really changed? Like westerns, you have your generic, carbon copy films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and you have your inspired, innovative productions like this year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. But the specific merits of any superhero movie are irrelevant, because at its height, at its most influential, superhero movies can only represent so much. It may seem like all Hollywood does these days is superhero films and sequels, but is that actually the case? There have been 6 superhero films by my count-maybe I’ve missed one, but my point’s the same-out of the 600 movies America makes every year on average. Add to that foreign films, and you can begin to understand how silly it is to think 6 films can somehow ruin a 100 year art form that produces over 1,000 works a year. If you don’t like superheroes, don’t watch them. Problem solved. If you want to see artistic and challenging works, they’re out there. I haven’t seen Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson) yet, but that’s out there. If you’re like me, sometimes you’ll want to see a thoughtful, challenging film, but sometimes you’ll just want to see things blow up. Both types of films are the reasons I love movies, and that type of diversity is what makes Hollywood filmmaking the best in my estimation.