Before Star Wars, there was Flash Gordon. Commentators on media trends in the past may have said that Flash Gordon would continue to into infinity (and beyond?). Perhaps, the original Sci-Fi serial will have another iteration to add to it’s number, but nothing lasts forever. Trends, by their very nature, exist in a state of flux. I believe that we are currently at peak super-hero/space opera. I think that in ten years we will still be watching hero movies, but that the trend will be toward more independently minded, original, personal stories. Tastes change, audiences evolve, and (most) all of the good comic book stories are used up.
In the middle of the twentieth-century, westerns, or cowboy movies, were all the rage. Slowly, the thematic and stylistic innovations of French new wave started to seep into American cinema. James Dean’s popular “rebel” and the work of Hitchcock are two of the most well-known examples of this sea change. Media, when it works, is an insightful reflection of the audience. The sixties happened — tastes changed. People didn’t want to watch western fairy tales anymore. Easy Rider dominated the box office in 1969, grossing $60 million on a $400k budget.
In the wake of the social changes of the 60’s, the movie business did what any successful business must do, it adapted it’s product to meet consumer desires/demand. It made films targeted towards young people, instead of families. In the 70's, the studios were looking to independently minded young directors like Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius, David Lynch, and George Lucas to get the people back into the theaters and reinvigorate flagging box offices. Tastes changed, the public was tired of the independently minded, loner and rebel stories of the sixties. What did the new batch of cutting-edge directors do? They reinvented genre films. A trend that was remixed by the next generation of filmmakers, and so on, and so on. To say that the current trend in films indicates an indefinitely ongoing trend ignores the nature of trends.
After Marvel completes the Infinity Gauntlet story-line, there are no more classic comic book stories to tell for the first time on screen. D.C. basically let Zack “MurderBro” Snyder use core pieces — which he turned into shitty, shitty pieces — of every one of their great hero stories in one terrible film known as Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Until writers start creating some truly great, new universes on the page the audience will be stuck with rehashes of the same old stories on the screen. As MurderBro and his contemporary “filmmakers” prove time and time again, no one creating a $200 million dollar product can take any real risks. A hefty price tag is a surefire recipe to baked-in mediocrity. Smaller budget, subtler, character-driven stories are a way forward — I’m looking at you D.C. Vertigo, especially Sandman, Transmetropolitan, and Lobo.
If the upcoming Ghost in The Shell film is half as good as the teasers and the source material, look for the movie studios to start mining more anime for feature film ideas. Many of these stories are newer, fresher, even possibly completely new, to western audiences, and production capabilities are now at a point where making a live action Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Bleach, or Robotech may not be too expensive or produce something too artificial. Mining great anime is one way forward for a Hollywood system starved of authentic, original ideas.
While specific tastes may change, what is constant throughout history is mankind’s love of great stories. Stories of heroic quests, as Joseph Campbell might call them, transcend era and culture; Star Wars is one such story, so is Gilgamesh, so is Forrest Gump, so is Sense and Sensibility, and a million others. Some scholars might argue that the human race has been telling the same story, in different variations, for all of history. I say that people are always looking for a newer, better, more personally relevant, modern retelling of a familiar plot: Good vs. Evil.