Has the superhero movie bubble burst? That’s a question that is asked in film writing circles almost as often as hack journalists asking octogenarian directors what they think of Marvel movies for clicks.
In 2023 though, more so than at any time over the last decade, the question does seem at least plausible. The previously lucrative intellectual properties that Disney and Warner Brothers especially relied on to prop up their yearly box office takings were no longer sure things, not even if Batman is in them. At the time of writing, five out of the nine 2023 comic book movie adaptations have lost studios money.
Unwise pivots to creating exclusive content for in-house streaming services is certainly a factor, but if audiences really aren’t done with superheroes altogether then this is proof positive that any upcoming projects in the genre need to mix it up and offer something different, a new take on great power and great responsibility.
How do the 2023 superhero movies compare in terms of their craftsmanship, remixing of genre tropes, and critical and box office success? Which stand out from the pack and continue to justify people’s continuing love affair with superheroes? Conversely, which reinforce the argument that it’s a genre in a nosedive? These are the 2023 superhero movies ranked.
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10. Shazam! Fury of the Gods
The one that fumbled all of its goodwill.
The first Shazam! was a genuine surprise, a bright and irreverent alternative to the portentous, self-seriousness of all the other DC movies of the time. Even putting aside star Zachary Levi’s recent social media controversies, this film lost most of its charm, appeal and relative uniqueness by piling on the extraneous genre movie guff.
Fury of the Gods re-teams us with foster kid Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi) and his adopted family who continue to use their wizard-bestowed superpowers to save Philadelphia from all manner of threats. But soon cracks in their team begin to show as the family ages, argues and gets assaulted by formidable Greek demigods.
The odd moment of cheeky, irreverent humour, like a magical quill that records absolutely everything you say so your threatening letter is read out by Helen Mirren’s villain like a distracted teenager, and some truly nightmarish takes on mythological creatures, can’t save David F Sandberg’s sequel from feeling too try-hard and seriously misjudged in tone and concept.
9. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
The one where Marvel overreached.
Marvel has arguably been on a slow downward turn ever since Endgame, but it became particularly apparent here that they were biting off more than they could chew and taking their audience’s continued engagement for granted.
In the third Ant-Man movie, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and his family are shrunk down to the Quantum Realm where Janet Van Dyne’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) past catches up with her, bringing them all into conflict with the tyrannical ruler of the microverse, Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors).
Taking the MCU’s most underestimated hero and having him face off against the universe’s next big bad (at the time – it’s now unlikely he will be hanging around due to real-world concerns) in a pulp sci-fi idea of a microscopic world isn’t a bad concept on the page. The biggest problem with Quantumania is that it can’t decide what sort of movie it wants to be. Is it an escapist sci-fi fantasy, an out-there sub-atomic apocalypse movie, or the most expensive sitcom you’ve ever seen? The cast, especially Rudd, Pfeiffer and Majors, are pretty strong, but they are stuck in a messy story that is only about half-successful both visually and thematically.
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