Are Marvel Movies Cinema?

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Marty wrote an editorial in the New York Times clarifying his remarks. I've bolded some of the most significant portions since it's a little long:

When I was in England in early October, I gave an interview to Empire magazine. I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.

Some people seem to have seized on the last part of my answer as insulting, or as evidence of hatred for Marvel on my part. If anyone is intent on characterizing my words in that light, there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way.

Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.

And that was the key for us: it was an art form. There was some debate about that at the time, so we stood up for cinema as an equal to literature or music or dance. And we came to understand that the art could be found in many different places and in just as many forms — in “The Steel Helmet” by Sam Fuller and “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman, in “It’s Always Fair Weather” by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly and “Scorpio Rising” by Kenneth Anger, in “Vivre Sa Vie” by Jean-Luc Godard and “The Killers” by Don Siegel.

Or in the films of Alfred Hitchcock — I suppose you could say that Hitchcock was his own franchise. Or that he was our franchise. Every new Hitchcock picture was an event. To be in a packed house in one of the old theaters watching “Rear Window” was an extraordinary experience: It was an event created by the chemistry between the audience and the picture itself, and it was electrifying.

And in a way, certain Hitchcock films were also like theme parks. I’m thinking of “Strangers on a Train,” in which the climax takes place on a merry-go-round at a real amusement park, and “Psycho,” which I saw at a midnight show on its opening day, an experience I will never forget. People went to be surprised and thrilled, and they weren’t disappointed.

Sixty or 70 years later, we’re still watching those pictures and marveling at them. But is it the thrills and the shocks that we keep going back to? I don’t think so. The set pieces in “North by Northwest” are stunning, but they would be nothing more than a succession of dynamic and elegant compositions and cuts without the painful emotions at the center of the story or the absolute lostness of Cary Grant’s character.

The climax of “Strangers on a Train” is a feat, but it’s the interplay between the two principal characters and Robert Walker’s profoundly unsettling performance that resonate now.

Some say that Hitchcock’s pictures had a sameness to them, and perhaps that’s true — Hitchcock himself wondered about it. But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again. Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

Another way of putting it would be that they are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not. When I watch a movie by any of those filmmakers, I know I’m going to see something absolutely new and be taken to unexpected and maybe even unnameable areas of experience. My sense of what is possible in telling stories with moving images and sounds is going to be expanded.

So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.

That includes me, and I’m speaking as someone who just completed a picture for Netflix. It, and it alone, allowed us to make “The Irishman” the way we needed to, and for that I’ll always be thankful. We have a theatrical window, which is great. Would I like the picture to play on more big screens for longer periods of time? Of course I would. But no matter whom you make your movie with, the fact is that the screens in most multiplexes are crowded with franchise pictures.

And if you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand and giving the people what they want, I’m going to disagree. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.

But, you might argue, can’t they just go home and watch anything else they want on Netflix or iTunes or Hulu? Sure — anywhere but on the big screen, where the filmmaker intended her or his picture to be seen.

In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But the most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption. Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.

I’m certainly not implying that movies should be a subsidized art form, or that they ever were. When the Hollywood studio system was still alive and well, the tension between the artists and the people who ran the business was constant and intense, but it was a productive tension that gave us some of the greatest films ever made — in the words of Bob Dylan, the best of them were “heroic and visionary.”

Today, that tension is gone, and there are some in the business with absolute indifference to the very question of art and an attitude toward the history of cinema that is both dismissive and proprietary — a lethal combination. The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.

For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.
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Marty echoes the same sentiment as I. The prevalent theme is sequel after sequel. Style over substance. However, I do enjoy some marvel films.
I also know better then to put them on the same pedistal as, say The Godfather.
Although some have moved me, over the years.
I might have to think a little more on this actually.....



Marvel is like a McDonald's PlayPlace. It's not the park, but the kids love it.



Marty to me though is talking about issues that refer to blockbusters and relating them solely to franchises which I think muddies the water rather, I mean golden age Hollywood was obviously very much targeting films at specific audiences and really new Hollywood was more of a blip before the rise of the modern blockbuster again.

If you set that aside and just look at franchises relative to single films honestly I'm not sure I agree with him. I would argue that films intended as one off blockbusters(even if some became franchises) tend to be more formulaic sticking to a standard heroes journey. I mean look at Starwars, the original film is very much that yet when it became a franchise the established characters and potential for a sequel I think allowed for a story with deeper dramatic stakes.

You look at the Russo's Marvel films as well and I think the same is true, because their working within a larger franchise they don't need to spend as long in the setup nore to they need to tie up lose ends(until the last anyway) which I think results in films were there is dramatic tension.

I really do not feel that him having to look around a bit for The Irishman is a good advert for cinemas problems. I mean I'v not seen the film but a $160 million crime epic bringing back De Niro, Palcino and Pesci, that to me is actually pretty dam targeted film making, I can see the marketing division at Amazon banking on people who loved the films those guys were in the past and indeed that Marty made in the past coming back for more.



Whilst I do love most of the Marvel movies, I can see Scorsese's point. Big, not-so-deep, blockbuster movies should not overshadow deeper cinema. As a lover of films, I watch all kinds of movies, from all eras and countries and genres, and I take them for what they are. Superhero movies and Star Wars are fun movies with great characters and visuals, but of course it doesn't have the depth of, say an Ingmar Bergman movie or Requiem for a Dream, and you shouldn't expect them to. I prefer movies with more of a depth myself, but if you take them for what they are, these children-oriented scifi movies are really great too.

The important thing is for different kinds of movies to be able to coexist, neither should take all the attention from the other one.



...The important thing is for different kinds of movies to be able to coexist, neither should take all the attention from the other one.
Marvel movies/Disney franchises/Production line block busters...all do take away attention from more serious adult themed cinema. As Scorsese said, theater showings and studio financing are going to be limited when it comes to more serious film making. And with the Disney-Fox Empire controlling up to 40% of the U.S. movie market, more serious films that don't make a lot of money aren't going to be put on the fast track. So yeah Scorsese is right, and no there's not a damn thing he or any of us can do about it.

Hollywood Makes Way for the Disney-Fox Behemoth
The Chilling Implications of a Disney-Fox Merger



It's important to note just how narrow Scorsese's objection is: it can't really be said that the blockbusters are crowding out other stuff, because as he noted, he just got a ton of money from Netflix to make The Irishman the way he wanted, and the industry, for all its faults, is producing more niche stuff than ever before. It's never been easier to make something weird and daring that might potentially be seen by lots of people...

...but not in lots of theaters, necessarily. That's the thing. Scorsese's complaint is valid as far as it goes, it just doesn't work except as a complaint about niche or non-franchise films, on the big screen, specifically. Even then it's kind of an over-simplification (there's still plenty of screen space, just maybe not as much as before, and even then only in a relative sense). To whatever degree there's a crowding out effect, it's pretty much exclusively just for marginal stuff, on large theater screens specifically.



I have noticed it’s harder to see certain films on at the theatre then it was 10 years ago.
I can’t find The Irishman anywhere (prefer to see it on the big screen but what ever)
One of the biggest problem sI have noticed is how many films are released on a yearly basis. We’re currently at 744 for this year. Some are re releases, but by and large most are new releases.
That’s a huge increase from the 80’s where they first started to increase in amount made.
For example, 1980 has 115 releases. Give or take a few, the early 80’s seem to miss a few films. (Alligator is notably missing from that year, and Deadly Eyes and Chopping Mall were missing from their respective years but I digress) by 1989 is was up to 236. That number just continues to grow.
With the increase in amount of films, and the increase in ticket prices, people have become more hesitant to go unless it’s a big splashy film such as the Marvel films or Star Wars. And the streaming services, such as Netflix, have noticed. So they provide an alternative.

*all info above regarding amount of films made is based off of box office mojo



The Irishman is a special exception. Netflix didn't even want to release it in theaters, but Scorsese really wanted it and there's some controversy about how eligible a film should be for various awards if it doesn't have a reasonable theatrical release, so it's in a handful of theaters for that reason. It would otherwise be pretty easy to find, I expect, Marvel dominance or no.



The irishman was just one example. The overall point remains, the blockbusters will dominate the screens, while the more serious and personal films suffer. That’s what Scorsese seems to be lamenting. I get it, but as I said previously, I still enjoy marvel films. They have even moved me, on occasion. They are cinema to me.
After all, Star Wars was once thought of the same way.



It's important to note just how narrow Scorsese's objection is: it can't really be said that the blockbusters are crowding out other stuff, because as he noted, he just got a ton of money from Netflix to make The Irishman the way he wanted, and the industry, for all its faults, is producing more niche stuff than ever before. It's never been easier to make something weird and daring that might potentially be seen by lots of people...

...but not in lots of theaters, necessarily. That's the thing. Scorsese's complaint is valid as far as it goes, it just doesn't work except as a complaint about niche or non-franchise films, on the big screen, specifically. Even then it's kind of an over-simplification (there's still plenty of screen space, just maybe not as much as before, and even then only in a relative sense). To whatever degree there's a crowding out effect, it's pretty much exclusively just for marginal stuff, on large theater screens specifically.
You are definitely looking at more of a two tier environment for cinema today than in the past, there is arguably a more dependable network for distributing and funding arthouse today than there has been since the 60's but for the most part the films don't tend to push into mainstream culture much.

I do actually feel though that big entertainment blockbusters aren't the only or even the main issue here. I would say that a larger problem is that cinema aimed at the adult market in the mainstream has become less and less ambitious, shifting more and more towards Oscar bait.

Something like Taxi Driver getting the kind of attention that film did at the time would be pretty unlikely these days IMHO.



28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
I can't believe this is even a discussion. These people are just upset that these movies are dominating the box office and are all of "basic" quality. Scorsese wants something more from these movies and he's upset that movies he wants to make are not getting financed by studios, which is why he went to Netflix for The Irishman.

Just accept that these movies are here, people enjoy them and they will be here a bit longer.
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Whilst I do love most of the Marvel movies, I can see Scorsese's point. Big, not-so-deep, blockbuster movies should not overshadow deeper cinema. As a lover of films, I watch all kinds of movies, from all eras and countries and genres, and I take them for what they are. Superhero movies and Star Wars are fun movies with great characters and visuals, but of course it doesn't have the depth of, say an Ingmar Bergman movie or Requiem for a Dream, and you shouldn't expect them to. I prefer movies with more of a depth myself, but if you take them for what they are, these children-oriented scifi movies are really great too.

The important thing is for different kinds of movies to be able to coexist, neither should take all the attention from the other one.
I think he said it best
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Ami-Scythe



I can't believe this is even a discussion. These people are just upset that these movies are dominating the box office and are all of "basic" quality. Scorsese wants something more from these movies and he's upset that movies he wants to make are not getting financed by studios, which is why he went to Netflix for The Irishman.

Just accept that these movies are here, people enjoy them and they will be here a bit longer.
This basically. It's what I've been saying since the beginning.



I can't believe this is even a discussion. These people are just upset that these movies are dominating the box office and are all of "basic" quality. Scorsese wants something more from these movies and he's upset that movies he wants to make are not getting financed by studios, which is why he went to Netflix for The Irishman.

Just accept that these movies are here, people enjoy them and they will be here a bit longer.
You can't believe there's a discussion about cinema on movieforums?



Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
Yes, Marvel movies are cinema.

But that's not the point. They're lazy entertainment for the masses with disgusting layers of bathos, dishonesty, and cash grab cookie cutter mentality. They're professionally made superproductions that make amateur cinema look fresh and exciting. You see, it's not like the color grading in Avengers: Endgame wasn't deliberate. It's just that the final product looks so unsavory, I'd rather take the cinematography of some best-worst movies ever made, in which the grading was random, or inexistent.

Needless to say, I haven't seen all Marvel films, but from those I've seen only the first Guardians, and Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse were anything more than a half star calamity.
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I think a lot of the harshest criticisms of these films is unduly influenced by the fact that they're popular. I think everything they do is seen through the prism of that popularity (like mainstream musicians, really) and that it leads to critiques that are wildly over-the-top given their actual quality, which is usually fine and occasionally even quite good. The fact that the "mentality" that led to them features so prominently in the critique is a pretty clear indicator of this.

That, and there's just a general, almost universal underrating of the artistry and power of communicating on a mass scale. But we've talked about that before.



Welcome to the human race...
It does sound like the concept of arguing for the artistry of communicating on a mass scale is also filtered through the prism of popularity (albeit in the opposite direction). Either way, I would think the issue is less with the efficiency of how these movies communicate than with what exactly they communicate (if anything) and how much that matters in the grand scheme of things.
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It does sound like the concept of arguing for the artistry of communicating on a mass scale is also filtered through the prism of popularity (albeit in the opposite direction).
Well, how does it sound like that?

To be clear, when I say this stuff is viewed through the prism of popularity, I'm not just saying non-specific people hate it because it's popular, though such people obviously exist. I'm saying particular people do, and I'm saying this is evident because they come at it from particular angles (like talking about the intent/motive, or the money involved) as opposed to others. So it's not some easily flippable thing, where someone can just say "well maybe YOU just like them BECAUSE they're popular!" I'm sure that's a thing, too, but I can't imagine what I've said to suggest this matters much to me. Anecdotally, I dislike a lot of really popular things.

Anyway, I'm in the fortunate position of being surrounded by people who have mostly self-selected, by the nature of this site, not to think much of Marvel blockbusters, so all I'm really trying to argue is that people here don't always see that mass communication is not antithetical to art (Warhol shudders), it's just a different type of it.

Either way, I would think the issue is less with the efficiency of how these movies communicate than with what exactly they communicate (if anything) and how much that matters in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe that should be the issue, but that doesn't seem to be what matters to the people criticizing them. The broad themes really don't vary much from most art house fare to most blockbuster fare. You're still dealing with sacrifice, loss, betrayal, whatever. The "how" is what the critics are most upset with, I think.



You could argue that the modern system of film distribution plays on peoples biases on these issues, the divide between mass entertainment and "art" has arguably never been more obvious than in cinema today, someone like Tarantino bridging the gap has become quite rare.

Although really I feel that part of the reason Marvel have had the long term success they have rather than the 15 mins/half dozen years of fame most expected is actually that they've bucked this trend a little. They've hired people like the Russo's, Gunn and Waititi to create films that whilst there still mass entertainment blockbusters do also draw on more than just the standard palate such films work from, you have drama that's more intense, self aware comedy that's often quite intelligent, etc. I does to me feel a bit like turning the clock back on blockbuster cinema to the latte 70's and 80's were films were processing New Hollywood for a mass market rather than the more standard formula that had been settled on by the 90's(with the odd interruption from the likes of Peter Jackson).