Look up at the marquee. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a distinct lack of superhero movies.
For the past decade or so, superhero movies have been a dominant force in Hollywood. And yet, after years of proven success, this spring sees a surprising lack of them at movie theatres. The one exception is DC’s Joker, which is still a comic book movie, but not only does it not feature superpowered characters, it pushes the genre into dark and weird (and occasionally muddled) places in a way that makes it barely feel like what we’ve come to expect of the genre.
In fact, 2019 marks the first time in four years Hollywood hasn’t released what we’d call a traditional superhero movie over the spring season, a season that’s been a happy home to the genre for a while. Even if that wasn’t the case though, considering how big those movies are and continue to be, the drought comes as something of a surprise. But it’s a welcome one!
Look. We love superhero movies. Many people do. They’re a shining modern example of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking firing on all cylinders and pleasing audiences all over the world. But too much of anything is still too much. A break means other kinds of films can fill those screens usually stuffed with Marvel and DC.
In that downtime, Hollywood is providing a fairly stellar selection of odds and ends. Intriguing indie movies like Jojo Rabbit, lots of horror movies like Sophia Takal’s Black Christmas remake, and plenty of big-budget blockbusters, like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
But among all those films, no “superhero” movies. That could mean more people come to the movies, it could mean fewer people, we don’t know. But it opens a door and lets us take a step back from a genre that’s dominated our consciousness for so long and will continue to do so.
It used to be Hollywood only released blockbusters over the summer or the holidays. Then it spread into spring, autumn, late winter, etc. until now where you can barely go a week without a big movie opening at the box office. So to have even the tiniest respite from one genre feels somehow noteworthy, especially as movie studios gobble up movie studios, risks get smaller, and known properties like sequels, remakes and, yes, superhero movies, become the rule, not the exception.
As for this break in particular, it’s actually a very logical time for it.
Marvel just released probably the biggest superhero movie imaginable, Avengers: Endgame. Not only did that movie mark the end of a 20-plus movie “Infinity Saga” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a three-hour Smörgåsbord of everything people love (and loathe) about those movies, and became the highest-grossing movie ever. Everything about it was gigantic.
That was followed by Spider-Man: Far From Home, which marked the close of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and had wild revelations of its own.
There won’t be a new Marvel movie until May’s Black Widow, which marks a 10-month window between films.
The last time the Marvel Cinematic Universe was off for that long was from the July 2015 release of Ant-Man, up to the May 2016 release of Captain America: Civil War. What’s the connection there? In both instances, the time lapse marked a changing of the phases, from two to three then and now, three to four.
DC is also a universe in transition. Though Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn are still going strong with their own movies, many of the other superheroes are finding their footing again. The returns of Batman and Aquaman are years away.
Suicide Squad, which was a big hit, is getting a reboot thanks to writer-director James Gunn. It’s a lot of changes and that takes time. The gap between shared universe DC movies will end up being about 11 months, from Shazam in April to Birds of Prey in February.
Oddly though, even back in 2014 when DC put its flag down on release dates through 2020, none of those films were set to come out this spring.
It’s almost as if this season was always earmarked as a no-fly zone for superhero movies. However, once the calendar changes, the comic book movies start right back up again. As mentioned, Birds of Prey comes out in February, along with another comic book-inspired movie in the form of The King’s Man. Then there’s The New Mutants in April (maybe), and Black Widow in May.
But this spring? Just a single gritty, tangential movie with award aspirations. No capes, no powers, no super strength. It’s odd, but it’s nice to take a step back and look at where spring superhero movies have been, and where they are going. As a refresher, here’s the spring comic book releases from 2008-beyond:
2008: Punisher: War Zone (no superpowers, sure, but hey, a Marvel Comics adaptation is a Marvel Comics adaptation!)
2014: Big Hero 6
2016: Doctor Strange (Suicide Squad came out in August, and was still out heading into the spring season)
2017: Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League
2018: Venom, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Aquaman
2020: Venom 2, probably around October 2, The Eternals on November 6
2021: Thor: Love and Thunder on November 5
2022: Aquaman 2 on December 16
2023: TBD (Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here!)
Editor’s Note: All of the above are U.S. release dates, with Australia’s own releases likely taking place around or even before the U.S.
So enjoy your break while you can. It’ll be the last one for a while.