The Knox Office: The Fall of the Superhero, The Spring of the Movie Star

Here’s a blog version of a column I presented on CBC Information Morning with Portia Clark on Friday. If you’d prefer to listen to it rather than read, go here. 

The Fall Guy launched the official summer blockbuster season last weekend with $28.5 million at the box office. This isn’t Marvel numbers — in fact it was considered something of a disappointment — but it’s notable as a star-driven vehicle  (it is based on an Intellectual Property, but a TV show from 40 years ago hardly counts) given a major wallop of marketing.

The full-court-press has included a lot of Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt promoting the film, which goes back to them presenting together at the Academy Awards in March.

Their bit was one of the funniest of the show — here they are arguing about the relative success of their competing movies, the Barbie/Oppenheimer phenomenon from last summer.

Prominent by its absence on the first weekend of May was an entry in cinemas from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Last May 5th we had The Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3in 2022 it was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and for years before Covid-19 there was regularly an MCU movie opening at the beginning of May, corresponding with Free Comic Book Day.

But things have changed.

Audiences seem to be less interested in super hero narratives. It happened to the western, maybe it’s happening to men and women in tights, a market saturation. It’s not going to stop Marvel or Sony or Warner Brothers, butMarvel Studios have indicated they’ll be more strategic now about their releases, spreading them out. Deadpool vs Wolverine will be the only MCU movie released this year, coming in July.

Of course, some of that has to do with the actors’ and writers’ strikes last year, which has postponed some releases to 2025. But, as an industry, Hollywood is in a period of transition.

Last year, Hollywood was also upended by the wild, unexpected success of two movies — Barbie and Oppenheimer. Whether Tinseltown  will learn the lessons of Barbie is still unclear. Will they choose to fill cinemas with a glut of movies about toys, or will they green light clever, subversive films that celebrate and cater to the women in the audience?

The thing I’ve noticed regularly over the past 12 months or so, as Marvel has stepped back and superhero narratives have stumbled — you might remember how poorly The Marvels, Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom and Madame Web did in cinemas — is this: The movie stars are resurgent.

Timothée Chalamet is the biggest young star in Hollywood right now thanks to the massive success of Wonka and the Dune movies. Dune is a great example of how Hollywood has turned to young talent to sell their pictures — Chalamet, Zendaya, Austin Butler, and Anya Taylor-Joy all shone in those pictures, and all the marketing materials put their names and faces up in lights to draw the Gen-Zed crowd.

Smartly, they postponed Dune: Part 2 from November to March to allow for the strike to resolve and the actors to help promote the movie. Hollywood is understanding how important they are in a way they haven’t in years.

That’s because Marvel, for all its success, wasn’t great in making stars of its heroes. They cast well — talented actors like Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, and Simu Liu, all did solid work and all now have healthy careers away from the MCU — but their names above the title of non-superhero fare don’t tend to make big box office. We see them more often in streaming fare or b-movies, or both. It’s not the fault of the actors, it’s that the IP was the star. People came for the brand.

These days, the brand of the movie star is back. Witness the surprise hit romcom this winter, Anyone But You, bringing in more than $200 million in cinemas. I wasn’t a fan of the movie, and I’ve had serious doubts about the star credentials of Glen Powell, but I can admit when I am wrong. People love this guy, and Sydney Sweeney is breaking big right now in movies like Immaculate.

At Cinemacon, the big industry conference in Las Vegas in April, National Association of Theatre Owners President Michael O’Leary said exhibitors want more lower-budgeted product, and more variety in the movies. 

“It is not enough to rely solely on blockbusters — we must have a strong and vibrant market for movies with smaller or medium-sized budgets,” he said.

And what sells those pictures with smaller budgets? Movie stars. They’re back and they’re more important than ever, and Hollywood is cluing in.

I appreciate the irony of waving this flag the weekend a sequel/prequel that doesn’t feature a single movie star, The Kingdom of The Planet of the Apes, did pretty well at the box office with $56.5M opening, a lot better than The Fall Guy.  But I still think this is a trend that’s changing the way movies are sold and green-lit, and it’ll be interesting to see how it rolls out in the months to come.

A best-case scenario is it will mean a better, more diverse selection of movies at the multiplex.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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