Although they’ve been around for almost a century, superheroes never quite managed to be taken seriously anywhere outside their birthplace medium, comic books. Save for a few shiny exceptions, all film and television adaptations were handled with poor cinematic value and an often jarring and campy attitude, targeted mostly towards kids. It’s only in the early 2000s that superheroes started to break into mainstream Hollywood, with a handful of remarkable films that concerned children and adults alike.
Today in a post-Dark-Knight-Trilogy era, we can safely articulate that we live in the time of the superhero. The genre flourishes each and every year with excellent films, engaging TV series and stunning animations. Additionally, the outburst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – clearly the game-changer here – detonated the shared universe frenzy. Standalone superhero films are hopelessly outdated. Hell, nowadays you even get cinematic universes for franchises such as King Kong/Godzilla, Universal Monsters and the Hasbro movie adaptations. This is what audiences want. This is what studios kill for. This is the zeitgeist of modern Hollywood.
In this context it was urgent for Warner Bros to quickly step into this billion dollar game with their DC properties and their own version of a cinematic universe. After failing to persuade Christopher Nolan to further wade into Dark Knight’s antics and expand his mythos with a wide range of characters and storylines at his disposal, they went on fully entrusting the risky venture to extreme stylist Zack Snyder. Their first offering of a shared universe, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (Man of Steel was never intended as a universe kickstarter) was received with a phenomenal awkwardness. Critics hated it, fans were split apart and the studio didn’t know how to deal with it.
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For all that went wrong though, BvS features qualities that can prove it to be a future cult classic. These qualities can be traced in its reception and consumption, in its anatomy as a genre piece, in its political economy and how it affected major studio decisions, as well as in its cultural status. And what makes a cult film, you may ask. Well, here’s the ultimate definition taken from the cult film bible, Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik’s The Cult Film Reader:
A cult film is a film with an active and lively communal following. Highly committed and rebellious in its appreciation, its audience regularly finds itself at odds with the prevailing cultural mores, displaying a preference for strange topics and allegorical themes that rub against cultural sensitivities and resist dominant politics.
Cult films transgress common notions of good and bad taste, and they challenge genre conventions and coherent storytelling, often using intertextual references, gore, leaving loose ends or creating a sense of nostalgia. They frequently have troublesome production histories, colored by accidents, failures, legends and mysteries that involve their stars and directors, and in spite of often-limited accessibility, they have a continuous market value and a long-lasting public presence.
So, let’s break down an exciting modern Hollywood misstep and place it on the map of cult films where it rightfully belongs.