The superhero genre has become formulaic due to oversaturation, but there are many examples of successful long-term IPs that can correct the issue.
It seems that almost every major motion picture event these days is a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. They dominate the box office, and they have taken over pop culture in a way that we have never seen before. For those of us who have always loved our comic book superheroes, this is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we get more of what we love than we could have ever hoped for, but this can be a curse because sometimes too much of a good thing is detrimental.
It is true that some of these properties have been changed because of their newfound popularity, which can certainly be frustrating to a longtime fan who liked the way it used to be, but this is unavoidable. The more people who like something, the more homogenized that thing will become to appeal to the widest audience. However, there is a way that Marvel and DC can steer their considerable franchises into deeper waters of appeal, without sacrificing what makes them special in the first place.
The MCU Could Learn From Japan’s Studio Ghibli
There are many intellectual properties that have been mainstays in American pop culture, yet they have managed to maintain their niche appeal and spirit. There are several ways to do this. Studio Ghibli, a Japanese animation studio, has managed to maintain its mythic appeal despite a well-established house style. Studio Ghibli films vary in quality but feel like they were made with a labor of love, from Spirited Away to Porco Rosso. Of course, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki is largely responsible for the spirit of craftsmanship at Studio Ghibli, and his commitment to excellence in animation and storytelling cannot be overstated, but there is more to the success of the studio’s branding.
Studio Ghibli only spends so much every year producing merchandise specifically so the brand doesn’t become stale or ubiquitous. Fans never see a cheap Howl’s Moving Castle statue or a shoddy Totoro plushy because Studio Ghibli products are designed to be as magical and rare as the films themselves. This isn’t to say these products are hard to find but none of them feel like cheap money grabs. Marvel could take a lesson from this style of merchandising, but there is even more to unpack from a comparative standpoint to other Japanese based companies
The MCU Could Benefit From Nintendo’s Longterm Strategy
Nintendo is unquestionably one of the giants in the video game industry. However, they typically do not saturate the market with annual releases of their most popular franchises. Main entries in the Mario and Zelda franchises are few and far between. There are plenty of in-between titles featuring these characters but Nintendo has done an excellent job of making each main title feel like a special event. Not only are titles released far apart, but when they are released, there is an unparalleled level of quality implied. Each new title adds something new to the formula and builds on the spirit of the brand instead of becoming yet another entry following a formula that we have already seen.
If we were to apply these lessons of longevity to the superhero genre, or maybe just to the MCU, we would have fewer films but better films. There might be fewer merchandising opportunities but there would be an infinite mileage to the property in the long term instead of the current state of the brand. Sometimes less really is more. Marvel should really reconsider their approach to be more deliberate in order to reduce potential fan fatigue.