So it turns out a certain gathering of filmmakers doesn’t really enjoy Marvel Studios movies too much. We’re on the third week of outrage since no less a deity than Martin Scorsese dared say the most popular movies in the world right now are “not cinema.” Since then he’s doubled, tripled down on his comments (while offering some olive branches of praise to those who make them). Meanwhile, several of his colleagues — Francis Ford Coppola, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, and Britain’s Ken Loach — have been inspired to issue simiilar takedowns.
And yet disliking Marvel — or at least comic book movies — isn’t new. Dumping on the genre goes back … well, really to only the past handful of years, when it became clear that it was becoming the only game in an increasingly homogenized town, and that young viewers were developing an ever-narrow definition of what constitutes cinema that they’d like to see.
Some of these legendary filmmakers’ comments have been dismissive, others bitter. Some have simply wanted to watch the world burn, but others have issued warning calls, begging studios and audiences to demand diversity in their motion pictures. Let’s rank this anti-Marvel rhetoric in terms of how impactful the quotes have been.
1. Martin Scorsese
The man that started the current wave of Marvel backlash, followed by the backlash against said backlash, was actually being almost diplomatic, if you look past what reads like a cold diss. For one thing, he’s put in the effort. “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese infamously said. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
In later interviews, he hasn’t backed down. “We shouldn’t be invaded by it,” he 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.”
All of this may seem like an assault, but Scorsese isn’t saying Marvel should shutter their film department. He’s simply railing against their imperial nature — how comic book movies are taking over all the screens at the nation’s multiplexes, which not too long ago used to also show dramas and comedies and epics, even indies and foreign fare. Now Hollywood doesn’t bankroll the kinds of movies Scorsese and his like make; he had to go to Netflix to get funding for his latest, The Irishman. He’s begging Hollywood and audiences to not forget that variety is the spice of life.
2. Jodie Foster
The beloved two-time Oscar-winning actress and director was riding the anti-Marvel train before most. Back in 2017, the Scorsese Taxi Driver star was using the same language he and others are deploying today.
“Going to the movies has become like a theme park,” Foster told Radio Times. But she went farther than calling their proliferation an “invasion.” “Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking — you get the best return right now but you wreck the earth.”
She worried about their long-term effects. “It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world,” said, adding, “I don’t want to make $200 million movies about superheroes.”
3. Pedro Almodóvar
No matter what you think about Marvel movies, the comments by Spain’s most famed filmmaker — whose latest, the excellent Pain & Gain, stars his old cohort Antonio Banderas — are at least kind of funny. Talking to Vulture earlier this year, he was just annoyed they aren’t sexy enough — or at all.
“There are many, many movies about superheroes. And sexuality doesn’t exist for superheroes. They are neutered. There is an unidentified gender, the adventure is what’s important,” Almodóvar said. “You can find, among independent movies, more of this sexuality. The human being has such sexuality! I get the feeling that in Europe, in Spain, that I have much more freedom than if I worked here.”
Almodóvar was also asked if he’d ever direct a comic book movie. The answer was predictable, although he’s always turned down Hollywood offers. “No, no! I don’t think so. It’s too big for me! I like to see what I’m doing, to direct movies the same day,” he said. “You have to wait too long to see the results [with big movies]. I like being able to impose my opinion as a director. I’ve made 21 movies. I’m used to doing it the way I like, not fitting with the Hollywood system.”
4. Ken Loach
Chances are most Marvel-heads have never heard about the acclaimed British filmmaker before his anti-Marvel recent comments — made in the wake of Scorsese-gate — went viral. But those who know he’s spent over half a century making political dramas almost exclusively about the working class getting screwed over by the powers-that-be — including the new Sorry We Missed You, about the horrors of the gig economy — wouldn’t be surprised he isn’t amused by films about, say, a billionaire who uses his riches to fight aliens and stuff.
But Loach had a more specific axe to grind: He views comic book movies — and presumably most blockbusters — as product churned out by a faceless, greedy corporation who’ve figured out who to get the most money out of consumers.
“They’re made as commodities like hamburgers. And it’s not about communicating, and it’s not about sharing our imagination. It’s about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation,” Loach said. “They’re a market exercise and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said, ‘When money is discussed, art is impossible.’”
5. David Cronenberg
Canada’s most notorious horror-maker is probably retired, having tired of battling studios and money-men for films that, over the years, have ventured farther and farther away from the genre that made him a name. So he has zero f*cks to give now. But he gave zero f*cks seven years ago when he tore into comic book movies — and this was in the early days of the MCU, when some superhero films were still made by no less a singular artiste as Christopher Nolan.
“I don’t think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape,” said the director of Scanners and the remake of The Fly:
“I just don’t think it’s elevated. Christopher Nolan’s best movie is Memento, and that is an interesting movie. I don’t think his Batman movies are half as interesting though they’re 20 million times the expense. What he is doing is some very interesting technical stuff, which, you know, he’s shooting IMAX and in 3D. That’s really tricky and difficult to do…The movies, to me, they’re mostly boring.”
He insisted comic book movies were “for kids,” saying, they genre is “adolescent in its core.” Even The Dark Knight Rises, which occasioned his comments, left him unconvinced. “I think people who are saying, you know, Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art,’ I don’t think they know what the f*ck they’re talking about.”
Cronenberg’s main beef, though, was with the system, which has become even more constricted since his comments in 2012. “Anybody who works in the studio system has got 20 studio people sitting on his head at every moment, and they have no respect,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how successful you’ve been. And obviously Nolan has been very successful. He’s got a lot of power, relatively speaking. But he doesn’t really have power.”
6. Francis Ford Coppola
Anyone who’s made The Godfather films, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now — to say nothing of the new, very good re-cut of 1984’s The Cotton Club — gets a pass for life. Or so you’d think. Coppola has been slammed for his recent comments, and not without good reason: He didn’t mince words.
“Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema,” Coppola said. “He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
For one thing, the guy deserves a break: He helped create the modern blockbuster, and the industry has spent the last 20-plus years ignoring him. He’s allowed to call the only game in town whatever he likes.
For another, like Scorsese, at heart he’s trying to get people to be more open-minded when it comes to big screen fare. “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right, because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration,” Coppola said. “I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
7. Ridley Scott
Yes, Ridley Scott has made his share of blockbusters. But none of them have been comic book movies. “Superhero movies are not my kind of thing — that’s why I’ve never really done one,” Scott said three years back. He elaborated:
“[I’ve been asked] several times, but I can’t believe in the thin, gossamer tight-rope of the non-reality of the situation of the superhero. I’ve done that kind of movie — Blade Runner really is a comic strip when you think about it, it’s a dark story told in an unreal world. You could almost put Batman or Superman in that world, that atmosphere, except I’d have a fucking good story, as opposed to no story!”
8. Roland Emmerich
The director Independence Day is basically responsible for the summer movie season that now lasts all year long. But you don’t see his name on an Iron Man or a Doctor Strange. And yet he’s still angry by how much he believes they’ve stolen from his work. Back when Independence Day: Resurgence came out, he went off:
“I felt that when I saw some of these Marvel movies or DC movies from Warners. I felt, ‘Oh my God that looks familiar to me’. Why is Superman bashing so many buildings?’ I was actually warned already by Steven Spielberg that this will happen. He said Independence Day will be the most imitated film of the next 20 years — and he was right. Smart man.
9. Fernando Meirelles
Some directors have simply been dismissive. The director of City of God was one who was asked to comment on Marvel in the wake of Scorsese’s takedown. And you know, they’re just not his bag.
“I can’t disagree with Scorsese because I don’t watch [Marvel movies],” he said “I watched a Spider-Man eight years ago, and that was it. I’m not interested.” He did allow that that “doesn’t’ mean it’s bad.” In fact, he’s not even sure what is Marvel and what’s another brand — although who can blame him? “I don’t know if it’s Marvel, but I watched Deadpool, the first one, and it was very good. Amazing action sequences. Then I tried to watch Deadpool 2 on a plane. I watched, like, half an hour and gave up.” Give him this: He liked Deadpool. Not everyone likes Deadpool.
10. Clint Eastwood
Are you shocked that the 89-year-old icon of Westerns — whose last movie was mostly him singing in a car in between having multiple threesomes — isn’t into Marvel? Mind you, he’s not hostile. Two years back, while doing press for Sully, the onetime Man With No Name was asked if he’d direct a Spider-Man or whatever, which is a silly question, but he answered it without tearing into a genre he’s possibly never watched.
“Not now, I don’t think,” Eastwood said. “I read comic books when I was a kid, I don’t read them now.” He added, “I prefer adult oriented stuff. I mean that in the PG-13 or R sense, but that’s as far as it goes.” Let the man be!
11. Mel Gibson
Is Mel Gibson still a thing? The deservedly disgraced actor-filmmaker — who was nominated for a Best Director Oscar only three years ago, and who, for the record, is still excellent in films like Dragged Across Concrete — had a comeback there for a while, which maybe has faded into the ether. Anyway, he has a lot of, shall we say, questionable opinions. That said, his take on comic book movies, made in 2016 while he promoted Hacksaw Ridge, is among his least offensive.
‘I’m not interested in the stuff,” he said before adding, “Do you know what the difference between real superheroes and comic-book superheroes is? Real superheroes didn’t wear spandex. So I don’t know. Spandex must cost a lot.”