The Anti-Superhero Movie
By Julien Rodger
A recent Variety article asked “Can Mediocre Movies Save Theatres?” noting the success of films like Ticket to Paradise, A Man Called Otto and 80 for Brady which are comfortable, low expectation watches, whereas acclaimed Oscars films like the Fabelmans and the Banshees of Inshirin have had minimal traction.
I disagree with the premise in that being mediocre quality ever helps a film’s success, taking the same movies and adding better jokes would likely make them even more popular. What the writer may be responding to though, is these characters are living normal, “mediocre” lives. That’s not to say you can’t like them, but Otto is just a regular, grumpy guy. For going to the Super Bowl and meeting Tom Brady to be an adventure, the 80 for Brady ladies need to have lived a life that is normal and lacking in such adventures in comparison. The Ticket to Paradise couple while financially successful, are just a divorced couple who had a daughter that got engaged on vacation, not too unusual an event. This normalcy makes their journeys easier to relate to and allow you to tell smaller scale stories that can still feel like an event and adventure compared to the rest of their lives. Now because these people are living average lives on paper, it increases the value of having an A list actor play them and this is where you get your Tom Hanks, George Clooney and Julia Roberts to play them. Quentin Tarantino recently said he doesn’t think Marvel actors are movie stars because the IP they’re playing are, this is the exact opposite where the lower key role allows us to appreciate the actor’s charisma making them interesting more.
Along with the superhero boom this generation, other top franchises like Jurassic Park and Star Wars have figurative superhero characters. There’s a reason why larger than life spectacular adventures would be appealing on the big screen, but any time an art form zigs too much in one direction, it opens the door for zagging to feel fresh. Such as how after hair metal in the 80s, bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam doing the exact opposite became appealing to people. For movies like A Man Called Otto there’s value in being about someone who’s the complete opposite of a being with unlimited powers born on another planet.
Two of the biggest changes this generation in the film business is the decline of mid-level successes and the lack of actors becoming A list draws. While there’s a variety of reasons for this like the increase in streaming and the difficulty of making funny comedies when everyone is offended, the biggest reason may be the popularity of these larger than life heroes compared to the smaller relatable ones. If the needle starts to turn the other way, it could be the best thing that could happen to these mid level genres like comedy, and going by Tarantino’s theory, moving away from superheroes would also create a bigger opportunity for actors to prove themselves as stars. With that said, the success of movies like A Man Called Otto and Ticket to Paradise is still moderate compared to the franchise films that dominated last year, 2022 was one of the most stratified years on record with Top Gun and Avatar being 2 of the biggest films of all time and no film in between Sonic 2’s 190.8 million million and Thor: Love and Thunder’s 343.3 million at the box office. So while some seeds may be planted for a return of mid budget star films, the franchise IP era seems far from ready to roll over.