In recent times, media headlines have often depicted acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese as a staunch opponent of comic book culture within the film industry, as if he were leading a crusade against it.
However, a closer look at his statements reveals a more nuanced perspective on the evolving landscape of cinema. Scorsese’s concerns about the dominance of action-packed blockbusters, often dubbed “themepark films,” are rooted in his belief that cinema, as an art form, should offer a diverse range of experiences to audiences.
Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel films, which he once referred to as “themepark movies,” was not an attack on their existence but a commentary on their nature as mass entertainers. These films are designed to provide audiences with exhilarating, rollercoaster-like experiences, and they excel at doing just that. Scorsese acknowledges the value of these movies within the cinematic spectrum but also emphasizes that they do not necessarily require the same level of human psychological exploration or a filmmaker’s unique perspective to thrive.
The filmmaker’s concern lies in the potential marginalization of other cinematic forms. While blockbusters like “Jawan,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and “Fast X” are undeniably enjoyable, they belong to a category of cinema that prioritizes spectacle and escapism. On the contrary, Scorsese’s preferred realm of filmmaking depends heavily on storytellers who delve into intricate narratives and human complexities.
In a recent conversation with GQ, Scorsese expressed his apprehensions, saying, “It would be great to see not only blockbusters on a big screen but also what they consider now ‘indie films.’ I don’t like that title. I think they’re films for everyone, and I would love to see support from theaters, particularly, which would make it possible for people to want to come to a theater to see a film that isn’t necessarily a blockbuster that needs a giant screen.”
He further added, “I’m glad that it’s on a giant screen, but otherwise, the theaters will only become for films that are action films. That’s all I’m concerned about. We have to then fight back stronger. And it’s got to come from the grassroots level… Let’s see what you got. Go out there and do it. Go reinvent. Don’t complain about it. But it’s true because we’ve got to save cinema.”
Scorsese’s words are not a declaration of war against comic book adaptations but a call for diversity in cinematic experiences. He advocates for a cinema culture where both blockbusters and independent films coexist harmoniously, offering audiences a broad range of choices.
With the gradual decline of comic book films and the emergence of non-comic book blockbusters like “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” “Dune,” and “The Creator,” the cinema culture is witnessing a shift. More viewers are appreciating filmmakers and their unique voices, a phenomenon often overshadowed in the realm of comic book adaptations.
The film industry’s expanding scope has allowed audiences to be discerning in their choices, leading studios to tailor their films to meet audience expectations and boost box office collections. Scorsese envisions a cinematic culture where these divisions are transcended, where audiences embrace a diverse array of genres and styles as they once did in his own upbringing.
“It should be one cinematic culture, you know? But right now everything is being fragmented and broken up in a way. Not everybody liked musicals. Not everybody liked westerns. Not everybody liked gangster films or noirs. But at the time, we just went to the movies, and that’s what was playing.”Martin Scorcese, The Time Magazine
Films like “Taxi Driver,” “Oppenheimer” and “The Godfather” demand a different kind of engagement from the audience. They require viewers to sit quietly, free from the expectation of explosive action sequences, and instead, immerse themselves in the narrative and the filmmaker’s perspective. These films often have runtimes exceeding two and a half hours, which can challenge the patience and concentration of some cinema-goers. However, these stories hold significant value and deserve to be experienced on the big screen in all their cinematic glory.
Stepping out of one’s comfort zone and embracing new forms of storytelling is not just the responsibility of filmmakers; it’s a collective duty that extends to the audience as well. Filmmakers tend to create what sells, and if films like “Taxi Driver,” “Oppenheimer,” and “The Godfather” can find an audience in theaters, it may inspire studios to prioritize the vision of storytellers over formulaic productions.
Interestingly, franchises like Marvel and DC are showing signs of decline, while films such as “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Watchmen,” Zack Snyder’s Superman saga, and “V for Vendetta” continue to endure within the comic book culture. This resilience demonstrates that a filmmaker’s unique voice has the power to leave a lasting impact. What’s crucial, however, is garnering audience support where it matters most to the studios.
Consider “Blade Runner 2049,” a film that many consider one of the most essential of the century. Unfortunately, its underwhelming box office performance prevented it from receiving a sequel. Had the audience been more willing to engage with and understand the film’s intricate narrative, cinema would have undoubtedly benefited. The fate of cinema rests not only in the hands of filmmakers but also with the audience. Embracing diverse forms of storytelling, supporting visionary directors, and being open to cinematic experiences beyond the mainstream is essential for the evolution and preservation of this art form.
Scorsese’s desire to “save cinema” is not a rejection of comic book films but a plea for a more inclusive film culture. It’s a call to support filmmakers who explore diverse narratives and themes, ensuring that cinema remains a platform for all storytellers to thrive. It’s an invitation to embrace a shared cinematic culture that caters to every taste, much like the era when “we just went to the movies, and that’s what was playing.”