By Alex Cherry
The year is 2017. Superhero movies are some of the largest money makers in film today. Of the six major live-action superhero films released this year, three of them are in the top five highest- grossing films of the year, with all six landing in the top 15.
The six live-action superhero films released this year are as follow: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League.
This year proved that superhero films are still some of the highest- profitable films in the business, while also providing some major implications for superhero films moving forward. Based on box office numbers, it looks like Marvel and DC are here to stay — as well as the heroes we’ve all come to know and love.
Financially, Wonder Woman takes the gold this year. Each movie’s total gross is listed below, with Justice League bringing up the end. The total gross numbers were retrieved from BoxOfficeMojo.
Wonder Woman ($412,563,408)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($389,813,101)
Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334,198,153)
Thor: Ragnarok ($278,522,771)
Justice League ($174,007,541)
*note that Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok are still in theaters
It was a tight race for critical success, save for Justice League falling far behind the others. I’m using Rotten Tomatoes as the basis for ranking, but feel free to explore other critical reviews. The ranking is as follows (with a three-way tie for 2nd!):
Wonder Woman (92%)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (92%)
Thor: Ragnarok (92%)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (82%)
Justice League (41%)
And finally, I’d like to give my personal ranking. I’ll make a note here that I’m an extremely biased Marvel fan. Here’s my personal ranking:
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Mangold’s Logan is an incredible end to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine saga. Dark and gritty with complex moral confrontations and weighty implications for the future of the X-Men universe, it manages to tug at the heart strings. Its heart lies in Laura, a young mutant who brings out the human side of Wolverine and reminds him what he’s always fought for. The action is nail-biting, the relationships between Logan and other characters are complex and bittersweet, and the film as a whole presents a realistically torn world. Logan is a triumph both as a superhero film and as a moving drama.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a worthy sequel to James Gunn’s 2015 hit. It delivers the same fun and humor, but falls short in bringing new content to the table. There are plenty of laughs, but it lacks the heart it strives for so desperately in its villain/hero relationships. In the end, the film carries much less weight than its predecessor, and it doesn’t do much to strengthen the hero relationships that are so key to its success. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits on the fun, colorful, music-filled action of the first movie, it doesn’t succeed in raising the stakes.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is a game changer for superhero films, introducing the first female-led superhero movie since Elektra in 2005. Diana is charmingly naive, headstrong to a fault, and compassionately human, while also maintaining the unmatchable bravery that makes her a hero. While the villains are lacking in depth and believable motivation, Diana more than makes up for it in her confrontation with the fact that the world is not as black and white as she was once taught. The film has heart, romance, action and a hero that I’m sure will continue to succeed at the box office for years to come.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the film in which someone finally gets Spider-Man right. It only took three franchises to do so! Homecoming is a success — full of heart, fun, a genuine coming-of-age arc pioneered by the film’s star, Tom Holland. The film manages to succeed in adding further stakes to the Marvel universe without getting bogged-down in world building, and the villain is a believable, worthy opponent with a well-matched story to Peter. While certainly not one of the greatest superhero films of all-time, Spider-Man: Homecoming manages to be worthy of Marvel’s foundation, and it certainly revives Peter Parker by shaking the cobwebs off a well-worn character.
Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok finally gives Thor his own unique style and feel. With offbeat humor and a stylized 80s feel which took notes from James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok gives Thor the levity he deserves to really shine. With a host of comedic sidekick characters such as Loki and Hulk, the film succeeds in humor and hilarious oddities, but ultimately fails to carry any sort of weight in character relationships, motivations, or its lacking villain. Overall, while delivering fun and few laughs, Thor: Ragnarok manages to provide nothing new and gives Thor little room to grow, despite the fact that this is his fifth film in the Marvel franchise.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League unites familiar heroes with heroes not yet seen on the big screen. While it attempts to live up to the spectacle of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, it manages to be an overall fun movie despite lacking plot cohesion and moral weight. Due in no small part to the production difficulties of the film, the characters lack believable complexity and the villain is laughably flat. It does have its fun moments, particularly with the hilarious character of the Flash, and some of the action is markedly spectacular, such as the first fight with the heroes in the underground tunnels. However, the film doesn’t come to any moral conclusions, nor does it manage to set much up for the future of the world in and of itself.
While some superhero films become huge successes and others flops, they all serve to provide implications into the future of the superhero movie. Some critics claim that the superhero movie is becoming “old hat” and that the genre is dying, but I’d like to argue that this year alone proves that superhero movies are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
While Logan and films like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are arguably very different in genre, this year’s box office and critical success of each film prove that there is no one perfect genre, but many.
If anything, the success of these superhero movies which manage to land on opposite ends of the spectrum shows that franchises shouldn’t be afraid to branch out in their content. Going forward, I hope to see more diversity in genre. In order to keep the superhero film successful and fresh, franchises mustn’t be afraid to take chances.
Women in Film
Perhaps the most obvious implication of superhero films this year is that female superhero films can be supremely successful — and Wonder Woman takes the cake. With both a female lead and a female director, the film manages to bring heart and passion that is fresh, new and long-awaited. I hope that this film proves that female heroes can do everything the boys can, and that we need more of them in our superhero films in the years to come.
This year’s films prove that the superhero origin story is still very much alive and a necessary part of the storytelling process. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman provide origin stories for characters that, while seen briefly in previous films, deserve their time to shine, and films even need it for the success of their characters in the future.
Justice League didn’t succeed as predicted, and I believe it’s due in no small part to the fact that these characters were not developed. I hope that DC learns a lesson from Justice League’s relative failure, and that superhero franchises continue to create unique origin stories that bring importance to the characters in their own right.
That’s it for this year! 2018 brings with it a host of exciting titles, such as Marvel’s Black Panther, Avengers Infinity War, and DC’s Aquaman. Here’s to 2018, and here’s to years of successful superhero movies to come.