Are Marvel Movies Ruining Cinema?


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Responding to Scorsese’s Take on Marvel Movies

Martin Scorsese once said that Marvel movies are not cinema. A lot of people disagreed with him.  But as Marvel’s quality has gone down and their output has gone up, I argue that he has a point.

Martin Scorsese is a very famous and veteran director in Hollywood (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street). In 2019 he wrote an op-ed stating that Marvel movies are ruining cinema. He says that Marvel movies are “Sequels in name, but remakes in spirit” and that the nature of these films, and franchises in general, are “market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.”

Scorcese went on to say that they don’t offer anything new, they produce no risk, and the audience usually has a vague idea on what is going to happen. Whereas in different filmmakers’ work (Wes Anderson, Spike Lee), he doesn’t expect what is going to happen. That is the mark of true cinema. Now that franchise films exist, people are going to see them rather than higher quality independent films; this leads to fewer independent films than ever.

I agree with him, to an extent, though I think that saying Marvel isn’t cinema is a little much. I think cinema can be anything. It can be Marvel, it can be Star Wars, etc. It’s a way to tell a story, no matter how stupid it is. 

However, claiming that Marvel movies are ruining other movies is a great point. I can see how filmmakers aren’t going to want to take any risks anymore, because all the consumer is going to care about is seeing an action packed Marvel movie. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel movies are entertaining, and they are good to a certain level. But they are all the same. Same story, same characters, etc. We aren’t getting anything original anymore. 

Let’s look at the recent Marvel movies. Thor: Love and Thunder was seen as mediocre among fans. It got 6.2/10 on IMDb, 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 57% on Metacritic. But, the movie made 760 million dollars world wide. So what does this show? 

As long as Marvel remains relevant, they can produce anything and they will get money out of it. I don’t see Marvel’s relevance going away anytime soon, especially after Spiderman: No Way Home. No Way Home was a widely acclaimed movie that garnered over 1.9 billion dollars at the box office. And I think it is just a boring typical Marvel movie. It follows the same structure as every other marvel movie, but this time they added nostalgia bait. 

But that’s why Marvel movies are as successful as they are, because the whole universe interconnects. Marvel characters move from one movie to another: the ultimate way to gather a lot of fans to watch a movie. If your favorite Marvel character is in a movie that is focused on another Marvel character, you might want to see that movie… therefore, you just got a massive audience.

Scorcese’s claim seems to be true: there is an overall decline in the business of widespread original filmmaking. The number of original non-franchise movies having wide releases has been declining since 2008, while the number of franchise films have seen growth. And since 2018, we have seen fewer original-film box office hits. In 2023, so far the top 9 box office hits have been franchise movies or movies based on popular games (these could still be considered franchise films). 

Scorsese is right to criticize the pure business of Marvel movies: they are “market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.”  They stick to a structure that works because they know they are going to get billions from it. The MCU has made over 29 billion dollars worldwide in the box office. 

I do get that every studio wants to make money, but they are sacrificing original artistic visions for their business-sided look on what makes money. Marvel movies are ruining other movies. We can see that the film industry is leaning more towards franchise movies.  This is dangerous for original movies with original ideas. Marvel could counteract this poison to original filmmaking by making original films. Change the structure. Give us something new. 

I loved what the MCU did with Logan and was hoping that they would keep that going. The movie was very successful (over $600 million in box office), and loved by viewers. So what allowed this film to be different from the typical Marvel narrative? Possibly, what contributed to the creative freedom of Logan was the fact Disney didn’t own The X-Men series at the time. It was actually owned by Fox, until it was acquired in 2019. This might give us a look into what actually might be preventing these changes. But, if Disney ends up restructuring their movies in the future, we could see better films to come out of it.