Most Americans Still Enjoy Superhero Movies, but More and More Say They’re Getting Tired of Them
MARVEL'S NEXT PHASE
This story is part of a nine-part series considering the business future of Disney's crown jewel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of the most lucrative properties in the history of entertainment, the MCU is suddenly threatened from multiple fronts: Several of its beloved heroes have been retired, the theatrical model is in peril and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated massive shifts in the media consumption habits of superhero fans. Marvel's future success is not necessarily guaranteed. In order to continue its dominance of global culture over the course of its next phase, the Disney-owned brand will have to adapt.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … another superhero movie.
Over the past 20 years, superhero films have become perhaps the most essential part of box-office earnings. The genre accounts for four of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time (five if you count the animated “Incredibles 2”) and has almost single-handedly kept the theatrical business afloat amid seismic changes to the way most Americans consume entertainment.
But new data from Morning Consult reveals that many consumers — even a sizable contingent of self-identified Marvel fans — are fatigued by the abundance of these films, which may prevent the Walt Disney Co. and other studios from bringing consumers back to theaters en masse following the pandemic.
Almost a Third of Marvel Fans Say They’re Getting Tired of Superhero Films
What the numbers say
- Twenty-three percent of U.S. adults said that while they like superhero films, they are getting a little tired of them, up 6 percentage points from a 2018 survey. Twenty-nine percent of Marvel fans also expressed fatigue with the genre. The 2018 survey did not poll Marvel fans specifically, but 21 percent of self-identified superhero movie fans that year said they were getting tired with the genre.
- The shares of Gen Xers and baby boomers who said the same each increased 8 points from the 2018 poll. Millennials and Gen Zers showed little change in opinion.
- The share of adults who said they don’t enjoy superhero movies and don’t see them in theaters ticked up slightly, from 23 percent in 2018 to 26 percent this year. The share who said they enjoy superhero movies and will continue to see them in theaters stayed flat at 41 percent since the last survey.
- At 59 percent, millennials were the generation most likely to say they enjoyed superhero movies and planned to continue seeing them in theaters.
- Baby boomers, unsurprisingly, were the generation least into the genre, as a majority (53 percent) said they don’t enjoy superhero movies — though 12 percent of that group said they still watch some on occasion.
The debate over whether or not superhero “film fatigue” exists dates back nearly a decade. Seemingly every time a major superhero movie underperforms at the box office (as Marvel’s latest, “Eternals,” arguably did), analysts and observers wonder if it will finally be the time Hollywood reins in its superhero output. So far, that hasn’t happened — and, if anything, it’s been the opposite, as studios double and triple down on superhero content as one of the few remaining genres that can still reliably fill theater seats.
That’s never been truer than in the pandemic era. Superhero films are what consumers are showing up to see, with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “Black Widow” claiming the top three spots at the domestic box office this year, according to Box Office Mojo, and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” setting a new record for advance ticket sales on Fandango. Disney continues to build up its Marvel slate, scheduling seven more films for release through 2023 with even more titles reportedly planned through 2028 (as well as a plethora of TV shows designed to continue the Marvel narrative on Disney+).
There is little sign Marvel will suddenly stop being a deeply lucrative property for Disney, but the studio has to consider if it’s at risk of overplaying its hand. A nontrivial number of moviegoers say they’re tired of these films, and that group is likely to continue getting bigger, especially now that the studio has pivoted to a largely unfamiliar set of characters. The Avengers aren’t coming back to save the day.
The survey was conducted Nov. 19-22, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, including 1,526 Marvel fans, with margins of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and plus or minus 3 points, respectively.