Steven Spielberg Predicts Superhero Movies Will Go the Way of the Western

Steven Spielberg says the days of superhero movies are numbered

Director Steven Spielberg has been making the rounds in the news recently for several big items on his plate: He has the Cold War film Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks debuting at the New York Film Festival later this month, as well as a burgeoning deal with Universal to take over distribution/financing of DreamWorks film projects after their deal with Disney is over, not to mention potential reboots of Back to the Future and Jaws! Yet the director doesn’t need a mechanical shark to make waves, as a quote he gave The Associated Press, in which he gave a grave prognostication on the future of the superhero genre, has proved a major talking point.

“We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western,” said Spielberg. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.”

Of course, Spielberg is one of the only filmmakers of the old guard left that can still get a major non-tentpole drama like his new film financed given the new “tiny movie or blockbuster” business paradigm, so he’s certainly speaking from a place of privilege. Whether or not the superhero movie -or the $200 million budgeted blockbuster altogether- goes the way of the dodo depends on a lot of factors, including over-saturation, public fatigue and the hypothetical emergence of a new genre to take its place.

Marvel Studios is currently at a pace to churn out several movies a year until at least 2019, while Warner Bros. builds up their DC Extended Universe and Sony ever-so-quietly toils away at launching a cinematic universe based on the Valiant heroes. That’s not even taking into consideration 20th Century Fox, who continues to make a mint off their mutant X-Men properties despite failing to do justice to Marvel’s flagship hero team Fantastic Four.

Many might point to the latter Josh Trank failure as an example of the turning tide Spielberg is talking about, while others might point out that it failed so spectacularly because it was simply a bad movie. Studios love to point to a traditional Western like The Alamo or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford bombing as proof that the genre is dead, but it only takes a Quentin Tarantino to make a Django Unchained and prove that there’s still vitality in six-shooters and spurs if packaged properly. 

As it is, the Marvel movies seem to have the Pixar edge of keeping pace with the zeitgeist, and Spielberg himself launched his own big-budget comic book property with The Adventures of Tintin back in 2011, which despite a lackluster performance in the U.S. performed spectacularly in Europe. Let’s hope there will still be a place for both high-flying superhero flicks and serious, grounded dramas in the years ahead.

(Photo credit: WENN)