These heroes are not remotely the same.
As we see more and more superhero movies coming out, people are equating it to the western genre. They're saying that much like the westerns of the 50s and 60s, these are easily replicable movies that will have their bubble and fade.
But if you look closely, that is a false equivalency that cannot be further from the truth. Not only are these movies not alike, but their place within the studio system and Hollywood are vastly different.
Take a look at this video from Eyebrow Cinema and let's talk after the jump.
Sorry, the Superhero Genre Is Not Like the Western Genre
Let's start with a disclaimer up top—I love superhero movies. I think they're so much fun. I've seen every Marvel and DC offering, and you can frequently find me perusing Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles, where I spend what little money I have on "Saga" books.
I also love western movies. So when I write this, my goal is not to offend fans of either genre, but to educate people as to why this comparison is wrong. I know that somewhere in the annals of No Film School, I've probably made this argument myself.
But after watching this video and reading a little about the westerns of old, I think we have to retire this comparison and really take a hard look at how superhero films are changing Hollywood in a way westerns could never have imagined.
Variations of the "Superhero movies are just like Westerns" argument have been used for a long time. But what they fail to see are just how different of a market share these films take up and reach. While there are similarities, like the American myth, action set pieces, and heroes fighting for justice, the idea that these movies occupy the same space within Hollywood is patently false.
To begin, Hollywood never really relied on westerns the way they do heroes. Westerns were a subset of films made from the 30s into the 60s that were relatively cheap. While there was a glut of these films made at the time, westerns actually didn't take up much space in the Hollywood production line, because we were making so many movies.
In fact, since TV was not a factor until the late 60s, Hollywood was making far more movies than ever today. Also, the price of westerns didn't preclude them from making other things.
The next biggest point—westerns were popular, but they were not high money makers. In fact, over those 30 years, if you take the 300 highest-grossing movies, only 21 of them are westerns. That's a pretty slim number when you consider that from 2000-2020, five of the top-grossing films of the year were superhero movies, and if you take the 24 highest-grossing films of the 21st century, 11 were superhero movies.
We can dig deeper into these numbers. Only 7% of classical Hollywood movies (the 30s-60s) are westerns. Comparatively, from 2008-2020, 28% of all the highest-grossing movies of the last 13 years are in the superhero genre.
There's also the overall cost of these superhero films. Most are over $100 million to make, which means studios are making these tentpoles instead of making a plethora of smaller movies. They're forgoing other genres to make big bets and make more money. In an era where streaming and TV have taken a lot of people away from the box office, it makes variety in short supply.
The worry is that nothing else can find a foothold at the box office. Aside from heroes, we're seeing movies like Transformers, Fast and Furious, and Harry Potter make the most money. These aren't classified as superheroes, but you could argue they still fit into the same genre categories. In the video, they find that over the last 13 years, only 10 of the top 138 highest-grossing movies were genres other than large-scale action.
As I've written before, nowadays, Hollywood has a problem making movies for adults. When westerns were being made, we did not.
The worry with superhero movies is that they lean into this huge intellectual property vacuum we have where other films get silenced. Westerns just got to have fun and exist until they burnt out. Hollywood is betting the future on these hero movies. And if they're wrong about a few, it would be catastrophic. Jobs would be lost, studios may fold and combine, and we could be left with even fewer movies being produced every year.
What's your take on all of this stuff? Are we worrying too much? Let me know in the comments.