Are superhero movies Cinema?


Martin Scorsese has been quoted saying “superhero films are like theme park rides."

Now more than ever (some) filmmakers and film lovers alike seem to hold a distaste for the types of box office hits that are gracing our movie theaters. Whether it be Marvel, Fast and Furious, Star Wars, a Lifetime movie, or any action/horror/drama/adventure movie of a similar vein, people are disregarding these “types of movies” as not being a part of this exclusive club they have labelled as Cinema with a capital C.

While this opinion is interesting to delve into, the question remains, what is Cinema? And can any film really be excluded from being classified as so?



First, let’s hear the argument as to why films like The Avengers and Fast and Furious are not considered “Cinema."

When Scorsese describes these movies as theme park rides, he is not dismissing them as films, but merely explaining that opposed to more emotional and story-centered films like Raging Bull, Citizen Kane, or Vertigo that have well thought out plots, superhero/action movies are all about the thrill. There’s nothing wrong with thrill, but it is a very different experience to sit down for roughly two hours and be thrilled and wowed by super powers and car chases rather than sit down and feel a true human connection to characters and a story.

Additionally, when looking at the credits of most films of this sort, you will often find that they are made by committee rather than one person. Opposed to a more human and emotional film which is usually written by one to three people who are deeply connected to and passionate about the story they are telling, often times less-personal films are written in a writers room with a group of people racking their brains to figure out what will evoke the most ooos, ahhhs, and money from an audience. I think the most valid aspect of the argument that these movies don’t qualify as “Cinema” is...

Filmmaking should be about making art and telling stories, not about selling tickets.

We all know that money can be a substantial corruptor, and when it is the sole motivator of something that is supposed to be coming from the heart, that is not right. It is fair to say if merchandise for a movie is more of a focus than the film itself, money has overshadowed art.



While to some extent I agree with all of the above, I personally think the exclusion of any movie from being considered “Cinema” is just as inherently wrong as money winning over art. Although these popcorn-eating flicks may be somewhat flawed in their monetary motives, there is something to be said about the fact that all movies are made by people and thus are in some way connected to human experience and human emotion.

You can’t deny the fact that the Star Wars movies have connected to millions of people on such a level that they identify with the films as a part of their identity. You can’t deny the fact that Fast and Furious 7 won the People’s Choice Award for Best Movie because of the themes of loyalty and family that transcend the screen and resonate with viewers. Speaking for myself, I have seen Lifetime movies that have made me weep, I have watched some horror films that evoked true empathy for the characters in the story, and as someone with no proclivity towards superhero movies whatsoever, I enjoyed Black Widow so much that I have seen it in theaters twice! Sure, these movies are big money makers and I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoy them more than films by Alfred Hitchcock, Greta Gerwig, Wes Anderson, or David Lynch, they are still damn good movies that connected with me and in some way reminded me what it means to be human. And isn’t that what Cinema is? Isn’t that the purpose of films?

To remind us what it means to be human.


All in all, “what is Cinema” is in the eye of the beholder. It is in the eye of the audience and the eye of the filmmaker. It is in YOUR eye. A film that I find terrible may be a film that someone else connects deeply with. Or a film that I deem the best movie to ever exist, someone else may find terrible. Film is a subjective medium and no one opinion is the end all be all. Cinema reminds us what it means to be human. Cinema makes us laugh. Cinema makes us cry. Cinema makes us jump and scream. Cinema makes us feel. Cinema is beautiful. Cinema is whatever you want it to be. Cinema is infinite. And with the infinite capacity that Cinema holds for you, it is there for you to take and make something magical. Make your cinema and...

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  • Mau Luz

    C’mon Hannah! Black Widow was awful!!

  • Erik Carlson

    Great article! Yeah, for me, I agree about what you said that Scorsese’s view of/definition of cinema is an expressive, artistic and personal way to tell a story guided by a singular vision, whereas the Marvel movies and other movies like it are guided more so by committee (some of the films are slightly more personal but they still fit within that overall business structure).

    In terms of mainstream movies, while I’m heavily on the artistic side of things, I get how film is considered both an art form and a business and there needs to be an equal balance between the two. There’s more artistic freedom in the independent side of things and there have been numerous times when an independent filmmaker has brought their vision into the mainstream and changed the game. At the same time, I know studios and companies need to keep making money in order to stay afloat and if a filmmaker wants to be able to tell bigger story and make filmmaking a full time career, they have to have financial success behind them.

    Will every independent film fit the business mold and appeal to a wide audience though? Of course not, but they don’t have to. Either way, that independent filmmaker has gotten to make the film that they wanted to make and been able to express themselves.

    I think the major issue right now though, and what brings Scorsese’s view on cinema back into play is that studios and corporations are only focusing on financial results now and not making quality products, so they’re going for the totally safe option of making what was popular before (hence the formula franchises, the sequels, remakes, and reboots), and because of that, along with the increase in streaming, that’s making it harder for independent filmmakers who want to pursue filmmaking as a career to progress in said career and still keep their artistic vision, because a lot of indie films are being sent to streaming instead of theaters, where its easy for their film to get lost in a wave of what’s designated as content.

    I don’t think Scorsese is just saying, “I don’t think personally think this is cinema” or “It doesn’t fit my definition of cinema”, I think he’s also saying “cinema as an artistic, expressive, and personal medium is under threat of being pushed out, and there is and should be room for it going forward in the future.”

    Why not have both artistic expressive films and popcorn escapist entertainment? Why not have both realistic topical films and genre adventures that capture the imagination?

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