No-one can argue that in the last years we have seen the rise of the superhero movie. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe in particular has truly pushed the boundaries of the genre, producing one great film after the other and tying it all up very neatly with crossovers across instalments, making older fans proud and drawing in new ones by the millions (literally – last summer MCU had already yielded over $12 billion in the box office worldwide, and that was before Thor: Ragnarok hit the theatres, adding another $800 million to that figure).
The crowds love their superheroes and the proof is in the box office. Yet interestingly, last year’s greatest hits for both MCU and DC also had an ancient mythology spin: Thor: Ragnarok opened to enthusiastic reviews by critics and fans alike and slightly topped DC’s Wonder Woman, which had earlier last year unexpectedly redeemed DC’s previous half-baked attempts at producing a decent superhero movie (who does not remember the huge miss that was Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice), worthy of the characters they still hold the rights to. Both these films had one thing in common: they relied heavily on their characters’ origins in ancient mythology.
Are Superhero Movies with an Ancient Mythology Twist the Next Big Thing?
Thor: Ragnarok was a modern take on an ancient Norse myth, that of Ragnarök – which even gave the movie its name. The doom of Thor’s homeland, Asgard, is impending, as Ragnarök is a tale of the destruction of the old world – including his father, Odin, both metaphorically as Thor learns the true story of how his father and Hela conquered the world, and literally. Thor must fight a fire demon, Surtur (Surtr in Norse mythology), the goddess of death, Hela (Hel) and his brother Loki (let alone his pal Hulk!) to save Asgard. Thor, one of the most beloved characters in the MCU, who has inspired games like SEGA’s God of Thunder and online slots like Hippodrome online’s Thunderstruck and countless merch items, ranging from the usual to the unexpected. In fact, you can now get his hammer on the official Marvel shop! Thor made the strongest comeback possible for MCU, just before a new year full of movies is creeping around the corner.
As for Wonder Woman, the movie also relied heavily on Diana’s ancient Greek past as we watch her grow up among other Amazons in Themyscira, only to stumble upon US pilot Captain Steven Trevor and defeat the Nazis and the ancient Greek God of War, Ares, all in the same movie. With an original budget of just $149 million and a worldwide box office of more than $820 million, Wonder Woman was widely praised and loved. She also appeared as a playable character in both the 2013 Warner Bros game Injustice: Gods Among Us video game and its sequel, Injustice 2. A lot of the movie’s comic relief played into the trope “ancient hero struggles to understand human habits in brave new world” that both Thor and – to a certain extent – “frozen for 70 years” Captain America already used in their launching movies. So could this mythology twist be the secret weapon behind the latest superhero blockbuster hits?
The Fall of the Ancient Mythology Movie Genre
Unfortunately for mythology fans, it does not seem so. Ancient mythology movies have not fared that well lately since 300 offered a truly fresh perspective on big screen adaptation – and it was tellingly based on a graphic novel, so we have Frank Miller to thank for most of the mesmerizing visuals. By contrast, its slightly underwhelming but enjoyable sequel in 2014 did not quite live up to the original. Just in 2016 Guy Ritchie tried to tap into British mythology by taking on King Arthur in his own unique “lad” way, but left audiences, critics – and our own writers – divided.
Before Ritchie, 2010 film Clash of the Titans which works around the Ancient Greek myth of Perseus managed to get a quite disappointing 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes despite its star-studded cast (all hail Liam Neeson as Zeus!) and its 2012 sequel, Wrath of the Titans, did not manage to wow us either. This is probably why 2018 does not yet see any great ancient mythology movies lined up. The only valiant effort is set to hit not the big screen, but Netflix, as the streaming titan partnered up with BBC to produce a series based on the war between Ancient Greeks and Trojans that is chronicled in Homer’s Iliad. Troy: Fall of a City is rumored to be epic and will hopefully provide crowds with a much-needed shot of ancient mythology cinematography – but that’s about it.
2018: The Age of Superheroes
Superheroes on the other hand are in for a wild ride in 2018, as several instalments are set for release, including the hugely anticipated Avengers: Infinity War that will hopefully finally tie in all loose ends and bring literally every hero on the MCU together in the battle against Thanos – from Captain America to Dr Strange to the one and only Starlord (who?). Before that, Black Panther will be released in February, with – finally! – a POC as the central superhero and a 90% African or African-American cast, one of the most eagerly awaited superhero movies of 2018 along with Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool 2.
Along with Deadpool, Aquaman, Venom, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, will all get to see their individual (or in the latter case, duo) movies out this year while the X-Men are set to have their latest instalment, Dark Phoenix, out on November 2nd. The movie will probably revolve around Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey and it will certainly be interesting to see how the post-Logan X-Men universe looks like… Then 2019 will see the return of Spiderman, Wonder Woman and several other fan favorites.
Perhaps the most definitive proof that the future belongs to superheroes is that Marvel allegedly has movies planned in the MCU that take its schedule well into 2020. Yet as no one would have thought this genre resurrection possible before Iron Man, perhaps we have not seen the last of ancient mythology movies just yet. Hang in there!