The looming prospect of “superhero fatigue” has been hovering off the coast of Hollywood at least since the last time Tom Hardy starred in a blockbuster comic-crusader movie. That commercial fear has yet to materialize, yet last weekend may have brought studio suits some comfort.
Hardy, of course, played the Batman villain Bane to great acclaim in 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” At that point, even such superhero-cinema directors as Matthew Vaughn had already said audiences were growing weary at caped adaptations.
Box-office receipts, as we know, haven’t borne that out.
Since 2012, for example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered 15 movies that have each grossed more than a half-billion dollars worldwide – and six of those have grossed more than a billion dollars. Add films such as Warner Bros./DC’s “Wonder Woman” ($822 million worldwide), as well as the “Deadpool” franchise ($1.52 billion total) and “Logan” ($619 million) for Fox, and big-screen superheroes are doing just fine, thank you, long after their exaggerated death notices.
What has helped buoy the box office in recent years is the growing diversity of the title superheroes, and next spring’s “Captain Marvel” will be a fresh test of increased marquee representation.
Yet what will Hollywood do if cracks begin to appear in the commercial ceiling – some day after the fourth “Avengers” team-up has concluded a Marvel Studios phase? (Chris Evans has already wrapped his Cap role with a social media bow.) Surely at some point, superhero movies – like the comic-book industry they spring from – will need to dramatically adapt. But which way to go?
If Sony’s new hit “Venom” is any indication, perhaps that pivot will involve asking: Whose story takes the center spotlight? It’s often said the difference between a good and great superhero movie sits with its villains.
Once we’re fatigued by superheroes as our stars, then, will comic-book villains and antiheroes represent the freshest title stories to tell?
Deadpool’s roots as villain and antihero – successfully adapted as cinematic crime-fighter – appear to have already pointed one way forward.
Now, Sony has scored with another popular Marvel villain/vigilante born in the Reagan/Bush years.
Despite the critical drubbing, Ruben Fleischer’s “Venom” soared above projections over the weekend, grossing $80 million domestically – and $205 million worldwide in its debut.
That audience embrace is reflected, too, in the film’s CinemaScore of B-plus.
How encouraging must it be at Hollywood studios packing comic-book franchises that even such a far-from-great movie – if slotted into a typically soft time such as October – can score big?
A half-century ago, amid the turbulence of the Vietnam era, the Hollywood antihero enjoyed a popular ’60s pinnacle with classic films such as Stuart Rosenberg’s “Cool Hand Luke” (starring an impossibly charismatic Paul Newman) and Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” (starring the heat between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway), all riding the rise of Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy that made Clint Eastwood a global star. (Of course, they would set the stage for a wealth of ’70s antiheroes and vigilantes, to boot.)
Could Hardy, as a symbiote-hosting journalist in “Venom,” be signaling to the Spandexed pretty boys that gritty life outside the law is the way to go?
If so, Todd Phillips’ quirky Joker project, starring Joaquin Phoenix, could end up being less off the beaten trail than some anticipate.
Sony has the opening-weekend receipts from “Venom” to justify building out its Spider-Man universe.
Now the larger question could prove to be: Will Hollywood soon embrace star comic-book vigilantes the way Hardy embraces a mouthy parasite?