Martin Scorsese stirred up an intense debate recently when he compered superhero movies to theme parks and excluded them from being classified as cinema, at least in his mind. The commentary felt a little close-minded, but knowing the kind of filmmaker Scorsese is, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from with that kind of criticism. But now he’s doubled down on that criticism, and his latest comments are a little more incendiary, somewhat out of touch, and maybe a bit misguided.
Martin Scorsese recently appeared at the closing night screening of The Irishman at the BFI London Film Festival (via The Hollywood Reporter), and during a press conference, the discussion again turned to his impression of superhero movies. He repeated his bit about theme parks and again reiterated his feelings of superhero movies not being cinema. But this time, it sounded a little more cranky. Scorsese said:
“It’s not cinema, it’s something else. We shouldn’t be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.”
Using “invaded” in this context makes it sound like superhero movies are taking over cinema as we know it. While that might seem like the case because of how popular the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are (and also the DC Extended Universe to some extent), the fact is there are plenty of movies released every single year in theaters that aren’t superhero movies. And if you need anymore evidence of that, just look at the Oscars where superhero movies certainly aren’t invading anything.
Scorsese also made similar comments at BAFTA’s annual David Lean lecture. The filmmaker said:
“Theaters have become amusement parks. That is all fine and good but don’t invade everything else in that sense. That is fine and good for those who enjoy that type of film and, by the way, knowing what goes into them now, I admire what they do. It’s not my kind of thing, it simply is not. It’s creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that.”
Scorsese’s concern maybe shouldn’t be with superhero movies at large but instead with studios who have abandoned the kind of mid-budget adult dramas that Martin Scorsese is best known for (even though the cost of making The Irishman is said to be around $160 million, which isn’t too far off from some superhero movies and other blockbusters). It’s studios who aren’t taking risks on movies that don’t come from established intellectual property or promise some sort of franchise.
If movie theaters are becoming like theme parks, it’s because audiences are turning up in theaters less and less for movies where the cost of a ticket and concessions is close to a theme park experience. Those audiences are going to see movies that they feel compelled to see on a big screen, and if studios are only giving those movies the prime spots in multiplexes across the country, not to mention marketing them enough, it’s the studios who are to blame and not the audiences or their love of superhero movies.
At the end of the day, the kind of people who aren’t as impressed or enthralled with superhero movies are probably already invested in other types of films that Scorsese wants to see championed. The problem is that not all general audiences are actively seeking out movies beyond those that are marketed endlessly on TV, billboards, radio, and more. Again, that’s a studio problem, not to mention an exhibitor problem. How can moviegoers see one of these “narrative films” if they’re not as widely available in theaters as big blockbusters? If studios aren’t advertising them to reach the masses and they’re screening on less than 1,000 screens across the US, can you blame general audiences for not seeing them?
Martin Scorsese doesn’t have to like superhero movies, and it’s fine if he thinks they don’t represent what should be considered cinema. But to disregard them in such a flippant manner seems shortsighted. What if general audiences disregarded every single movie Scorsese made about organized crime as being just another mafia movie without anything to say? The fact is that superhero movies may not be as intellectually stimulating or sophisticated as some of the movies that Martin Scorsese deems to be cinema, but they have touched and inspired millions, they deserve credit for pushing forth representation and inclusion, and they are undeniably entertaining. And for some people, that’s just what they need.
*Note: The front page image came across my desk in a private Facebook group, but the original artist could not be identified. If we are able to find out who created the image, we will credit them accordingly.*
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