The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ridley Scott and the grand tradition of big-name directors disparaging superhero movies

Director Ridley Scott, pictured at the Venice International Film Festival in September, finds traditional superhero movies to be “boring.” (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

Despite his prolific nature, you probably won’t see a traditional superhero movie among Ridley Scott’s creative output anytime soon. The filmmaker made his thoughts on the exceedingly popular genre of entertainment quite clear in a recent interview, referring to the movies as “f---ing boring as s---.”

The screenplays are the issue, Scott told Deadline, adding that if you think about it, he’s sort of made three superhero movies himself: “Alien, “Gladiator” and “Blade Runner,” none of which suffered from weak stories or lackluster writing. So what’s going on over there with Marvel and DC?

“Sorry,” the “House of Gucci” director continued. “I got off the rail, but I mean, c’mon. They’re mostly saved by special effects, and that’s becoming boring for everyone who works with special effects, if you’ve got the money.”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, and Scott is only the latest filmmaker to express his distaste for the caped-hero genre. His take in particular happens to be backed by his films having earned a total of 40 Oscar nominations, nine wins among them. If you don’t trust the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, maybe you defer to its British counterpart — that’s a total of 58 BAFTA nominations, also nine wins among them. If you don’t trust British film organizations, maybe you’ll take the word of their queen, as Scott was knighted years ago for his many contributions to cinema.

And if you don’t trust authority in general, maybe you’ll consider that “Alien” rules.

This isn’t to suggest other acclaimed directors haven’t chosen to dip their toes into the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe: Kenneth Branagh directed “Thor” after several well-received Shakespearean adaptations, and Taika Waititi helmed one of its sequels, “Thor: Ragnarok,” after his cult favorite “What We Do in the Shadows” and a beloved follow-up, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” hit theaters the same year she won a pair of Oscars for best directing and best picture with “Nomadland.”

But a notable number of respected filmmakers have expressed opinions akin to Scott’s, with varying levels of passion. The most prominent of them all would be Martin Scorsese, whose written reproof of the MCU in 2019 sent — and continues to send — certain fans of the movies into an indignant tizzy.

“Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures,” he said. “What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”

Basically, they’re boring in concept. Scorsese allows that this could be a matter of taste: “I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself,” he stated. The issue is how the “financial dominance” of superhero films might negatively impact the development and very existence of their smaller peers.

Martin Scorsese is right: The real villain isn’t Marvel movies. It’s the broken system.

Some are less giving toward the MCU and unafraid to acknowledge as much. Francis Ford Coppola told journalists assembled at the Lumière film festival shortly after Scorsese first commented on Marvel that “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.”

“I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again,” he said. “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

The heated opinions date back further. While promoting 2014′s “Birdman” — a dark comedy that in part takes aim at the industry’s obsession with superheroes, and even stars former Batman Michael Keaton himself — Alejandro González Iñárritu said he would be “terrible” at directing a superhero movie.

“I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn,” he noted. “The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. … I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don’t respond to those characters.”

He went on: “They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions … that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human.”

On a promotional tour for 2012′s “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg was asked whether he would ever direct a superhero movie. He touched on “The Dark Knight Rises,” which came out that same year, the rare person to also extend his criticism of the genre to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

“I don’t think they are making them an elevated art form,” Cronenberg said of prominent directors taking on superhero movies. “I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape. 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.”

Though Scott seemed to express his opinion without any prompting, the question of whether an esteemed director would dare touch a superhero movie seems to have become a staple of promotional tours. The most unexpected of responses might have come a couple years ago from Bong Joon-ho, amid “Parasite’s” box-office success.

“I have a personal problem,” he said. “I respect the creativity that goes into superhero films, but in real life and in movies, I can’t stand people wearing tight-fitting clothes. I’ll never wear something like that, and just seeing someone in tight clothes is mentally difficult. I don’t know where to look, and I feel suffocated. Most superheroes wear tight suits, so I can never direct one.”

Read more:

‘Passing’ questions race and identity. Writer-director Rebecca Hall is still figuring out the answers.

Kenneth Branagh is known for blockbusters and Shakespeare adaptations. ‘Belfast’ hits closer to home.

Marvel Studios is famous for its secrecy. In a new two-volume set, the company finally opens up.

Loading...