Why superhero movies can mix genres better than other movies

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Perhaps more than any other type of film, Superhero Movies tend to draw inspiration from and situate their stories in a wide variety of genres. The current prevalence of superhero movies and TV shows has created a new label. Just as musicals flourished in the 1930s and westerns reached their peak in the 1960s, the 2010s brought the advent of superhero stories to the big and small screen. Nowadays, superheroes are synonymous with high octane action and sci-fi, but they also often mix comedy, fantasy, romance, and even horror.

After that of Richard Donner Superman and the original by Tim Burton Batman proved how popular superhero movies can be, movies like Blade and X Men started exploring new tones and more unique stories. Renowned directors such as Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), Sam Raimi (the Spider Man trilogy), and Christopher Nolan (The black Knight trilogy) began to make their respective live-action adaptations of iconic superheroes much more grounded than anything that came before and leaned more on the horror and thriller styles. With more success than failures, the new genre of superheroes flourished with the rise of the MCU, which has become a playground for multiple creative minds to explore vastly different characters and stories.


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Beyond Marvel and DC, superhero movies such as Pixar’s family-centric film The Incredibles, the cult satirical hit of James Gunn Great, found images of Josh Trank the Chronicle, and the full-fledged horror of David Yarovesky Sharp burn took their costumed / overpowered characters in unique directions. While playing with tropes from different genres can lead to confusing stories, superhero movies can mix multiple genres at once and still be recognized as such. Here’s why it happens and why it’s so effective.

Superhero movies are character driven, not genre driven

Wolverine, Tony Stark and Batman in live-action

It’s no secret that the most important parts of superhero movies are the superheroes themselves. The success of a new adaptation usually depends on how well the main character is cast, which is why Hugh Jackman for Fox and Robert Downey Jr. in the MCU have come to define Wolverine and Iron Man as much as the comics do. themselves. As long as the characters are true to what viewers expect of them, the movies they appear in can approach any combination of genres with almost the same level of risk. Fans saw Tony Stark leave the fight against terrorists in the 2008s Iron Man to fight other superheroes in 2016 Captain America: Civil War then fight a time-traveling Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, but since Tony Stark has never ceased to be the charismatic asshole the public know and love, these drastic changes have never broken their suspension of disbelief.

On the flip side, iconic characters like Batman and Superman have been portrayed by many different actors over the years, and even though they’ve gone through both the more cheesy and the darker portrayals, they’re still recognized. like the same icons. No matter what genre their next appearance is in, every movie will always be a part of their legacy and not just another release in a specific genre. With previously little-known characters such as the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Suicide Squad, the general public has become attached to his personality and his personal journeys without having to understand exactly where they came from or if it was. precise adaptations. Instead, viewers know they’ll use their superhuman abilities to try (or fail) to save the day. Therefore, the genre and setting of each film becomes a secondary priority. Regardless of the main heroes, viewers tune in first and foremost for their larger-than-life adventures.

The raw material mixes genres

Spider-Man Noir, Howard the Duck and Joker Comics

Comics have played with different genres long before movies started adapting them. For example, Batman went from being a rock-solid vigilante in his 1939 debut, to a lightweight goofball during the Silver Age of the 50s and 60s, and then to a grizzled, tired, and brutal antihero in the years. 1986. The return of the dark knight – all before Tim Burton’s Batman introduced the Caped Crusader to the big screen. Most comic book-based superhero movies have a lot of varied stories to adapt, and when condensing decades of comic book history into a 2-hour movie, studios and directors have tendency to rely on a wide variety of tones and genres in order to achieve a complex end product. This is also why different actors can excel at their portrayals of the same character despite being completely different from each other, as they capture aspects of the character that the previous actors had not yet explored.

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In many cases, superheroes have mixed different genres since their inception. For example, Doctor Strange has always incorporated horror, while the concept of a huge team of superheroes like the Justice League flourishes when he balances the dark character of Batman with the myth-based lore of Wonder. Woman and the absurd comedy of Plastic Man. Of course, some heroes mix up genres in such a strange way that it becomes difficult to translate on screen. This is the case with Howard the Duck’s bizarre mix of cartoon comedy, satire, and superhero adventure that works great in the comics but resulted in total failure in his 1986 film. Some Stories superheroes have even taken inspiration from Hollywood, as in the case of Marvel’s so-called Dark Universe, which is clearly influenced by the dark movie kind of the 40s and 50s.

Different genres give superhero franchises more variety

The MCU's Captain America Trilogy

Now that superhero movies have crossed the boundaries of the trilogy and spread to entire shared universes, experimenting with different genres has helped them through a more multifaceted evolution while still retaining their essence. Each movie can benefit from the appeal of a specific genre without having to stick to it in future installments. Shared universes ensure that each film takes place in the same continuity, no matter how different it is from the others. Needless to say, the current Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most obvious example, as it can release trilogies that not only differ from each other, but can also be made up of very different slices.

Captain America’s MCU trilogy illustrates this perfectly. The character’s debut in Captain America: The First Avenger made sense as a period piece set in the 1940s (with sepia cinematography and archival footage in the universe), to evolve into a full-fledged political thriller in Captain America: The Winter Soldier then a full-scale superhero event in Captain America: Civil War. While the genres couldn’t be more different, this strain has helped Steve Rogers’ trilogy evolve to fit better into the bigger picture. Introducing a character like Groot in The first avenger would have destroyed any suspension of disbelief, but by the time Captain America meets the Talking Tree in Avengers: Infinity War, viewers have already witnessed Steve Rogers’ progression from timeless man and soldier to superhero.

The cons of multi-genre superhero movies

Suicide Squad 2016 and Fant4stic

The greatest danger of mixing genres in superhero movies arises when these genres don’t coexist. This often happens because of an intervention in the studio, which contradicts the director’s vision and results in a shapeless mix of conflicting tones that are not funny, serious, dark or light. Mixing different tones and genres just for fun not only betrays the source material, but also creates a movie that does not satisfy any target audience. The most famous examples are Fantastic, which transformed the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s most charismatic first family, into the darkest and most boring group of superheroes ever to appear on screen; 2016 Suicide Squad, which while entertaining, does not keep its own promise to put its main characters in real danger; and the theatrical cut of Justice League, who painted Zack Snyder’s ultra-dark take on the DCEU with a layer of inappropriate humor that removed all stakes from the story.

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But even without studio intervention, picking the wrong genres can hurt a film with enormous potential. This was the case with both X-Men: The Final Showdown and X-Men: Black Phoenix, who failed to capture Jean Grey’s terrifying transformation. Both films could have captured the catastrophic consequences of its failure by drawing on the best aspects of the horror and disaster genres. Another example is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which could have taken a grounded look at the world’s best superheroes, but was hesitant to go all the way and could not become either a gritty thriller or a full ensemble film.

Superhero Movies are more likely to mix genres smoothly, but they should still follow their character’s core appeal and audience expectations. Fortunately, the new releases have proven that the studios have gotten more proficient, with James Mangold Logan masterfully capturing the essence of westerns, James Gunn’s film The suicide squad tackling comedy, war, and action, and recent MCU titles such as sci-fi / spirit hard fantasy Loki and sitcom / romance / action / horror WandaVision pushing the boundaries of what the all-encompassing superhero genre can do.

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