P.T. Anderson: Superhero movies get people to go to the theater


I’m a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. I think he gets incredible performances from his actors. PTA and Philip Seymour Hoffman were a winning combination every time that worked together. Man, I miss Hoffman. PTA just released Licorice Pizza, which he’s promoting with an interview in The New Yorker. There is a trend for actors and filmmakers who don’t actually make superhero films to weigh in on superhero films. We’ve heard from Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ethan Hawke and Jason Statham among others. PTA was asked about superhero films too and his answer was refreshing. PTA said that even though there are a lot of superhero films out there, there is room for everyone. He added that the film industry needs is to get folks back into theaters and superhero films do that.

On not being a franchise film maker: Boy, it warms my heart to be able to tell you that I feel happier than ever working in this business. I’ve got my own little corner of the sandbox and am working with people that I really admire, like at M-G-M. I’m incredibly happy right now. But that’s me. There’s no end to the kind of sky-is-falling questions that always surround films and, and what’s going to happen.

Obviously it’s gotten even more complicated with streaming and the sort of overabundance of superhero movies. Most of the stuff I don’t take too seriously. I mean, it seems that there is a bit of a preoccupation with superhero films. I like them. It seems to be something that’s popular these days to sort of wonder if they’ve ruined movies and all this kind of stuff. I just don’t feel that way. I mean, look, we’re all nervous about people getting back to the theatre, but you know what’s going to get them back in movie theater? “Spider-Man.” So let’s be happy about that.

[From The New Yorker via Just Jared]

It’s a great answer. PTA acknowledges that he’s lucky to be allowed to make the movies he wants but that he’s in a unique position. As much as we like to see studio heads as robber barons, and many probably are, they are managing huge overheads and are invested in keeping the industry running. Not to mention the poor small filmmakers who barely had enough to make their next film or were just getting started when the pandemic crushed them. It’s refreshing to hear PTA appreciate that.

It’s also nice to hear someone advocating for bread and circuses, honestly. I love superhero films. I know they aren’t high art, but I’m usually entertained by them and PTA is right, I am more inclined to go to a theater for an action film. Superhero films are among the few my whole family wants to see together so it becomes an event. I’m a reader so this is the best analogy I can make. I read the first 50 Shades of Grey book and hated it. I still do. I was railing against it to my girlfriend one day in a Scorsese/Scott type tirade about how its popularity spelled the destruction of literature. My girlfriend, who hadn’t read it, made the argument that it didn’t matter that it was terrible writing, tons of people loved it and got joy from it. She argued that I wasn’t allowed to disqualify someone’s enjoyment because of what I thought of the quality. And she was right. Any piece of art that brings a person pleasure is important. And if The Avengers gets people into theaters and 50 Shades gets people into bookstores so that other films and books can be there that’s great. We all win.

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14 Responses to “P.T. Anderson: Superhero movies get people to go to the theater”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    I am not the biggest fan of superhero movies (and for some reason I really don’t like the Spiderman movies, any of them, I don’t know why, because some superhero movies I do like more than others, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and Shang Chi being the big ones) but you can’t deny that they have mass appeal and get people in the theaters. I think part of that is just the nature of the movie. Like my husband wants to see the new Spiderman in the theaters because he wants the sound and the huge visuals and to feel the vibrations in his seat etc (lol.) you do lose something going from a theater to home with a movie like that (and we do have a huge movie screen in our basement and all that, but it still loses something.) But a movie like Spencer, for example, works just as well at home in my opinion, so I can wait the extra month or two to see that at home as opposed to making the effort and spending the $$ to see it in a theater.

    My issue with 50 shades – which I could not even finish, it was so bad, lol – was that if you want to read a romance/erotic novel with those themes, there are SO MANY better ones out there. But, in general I don’t consider myself a pop culture snob. You liked 50 Shades? good for you. I liked that it was an erotic novel that women didn’t feel they had to read in shame or private. Not my cup of tea, but you do you. You like graphic novels? Good for you. You loved a book that I hated? Whatever, different tastes.

    And to a certain extent I feel the same about the superhero/comic book movies – for the most part they aren’t my cup of tea, but if you like them, then good for you. I’m sure I like lots of things that other people would be like, “omg how can you stand that.”

    My concern with superhero movies is that I don’t want their success at the box office to crowd out other movies, where other movies have issues getting made because they don’t have the guaranteed box office returns that superhero movies have. But, I don’t think we’ve seen that happen so far, and I think if we have, streaming services are stepping up into that space. There is room for everything it feels like, and that’s a good thing.

    ETA holy long post this early in the AM, lol. Musings over my tea ha.

    • Sof says:

      I agree that streaming services are changing the scene. Another way to go is to follow the social media platforms of the studios or production companies that make the type of movies you like. That way you don’t miss a thing.

    • Ana170 says:

      There are, at most, 10 superhero movies a year. That means the other 200 or so, aren’t. Half of those 10 are Marvel, which is it’s own studio. (Yes, I know it’s now owned by Disney but it started out independent and it, as far as anyone can tell, routinely brings in enough money that it doesn’t have to financially crowd out any other films.) It’s like complaining that Pixar is stopping other movies from getting made. The truth is that the film industry had been struggling long before superhero movies for a wide variety of reasons, like television and streaming, expensive tickets, theater shootings, etc. Superhero movies are just a scapegoat.

  2. D says:

    People assume he’s a jerk, and maybe he is, but sometimes he says things that seem very reasoned. John Krasinski once told a story about him scolding John because John said something negative about another filmmaker’s new movie that didn’t end up doing well. PTA told him that he should never revel in another filmmaker’s bad situation because you never know when it will be you and that all filmmakers should support each other even if you don’t like them or their films. I thought that was pretty amazing because directors are super competitive with each other normally.

  3. Esmerelda says:

    I think Marvel movies are pretty much spent as a cultural force, they were new and exciting 10/15 years ago, but now they’re just another thing that’s out there, they have their own audience, it’s a genre like westerns, one likes it or doesn’t, and some individual movies within the genre are better that others within the same genre.
    But I don’t think simply saying “I don’t particularly like this book/movie/genre” can be taken as wanting to disqualify other people’s enjoyment of it… I don’t like or follow football and I’m pretty sure football fans live happily without my approval 😉

  4. Sam the Pink says:

    I think the climate now just favors films that are escapist. Look at the world around us – its dark, depressing, chaotic, etc. I don’t know anybody right now who wants to go to the movies to see something that reminds them of the world outside. We want escapist, fantastical things, and the superhero genre, especially Marvel, cater to that. I think that’s just the way of things right now. Anderson sounds like he understands that and knows he is lucky, so good on him (also, he bagged Maya Rudolph, so he’s got that going for him too).

  5. Valentina says:

    I’m not a hypocrite, I like to watch superhero movies once in awhile, but I wish other stories had enough space to do well at the box office too besides reboots and marvel.

    • Ann says:

      That’s how I feel. I’m fine with these movies being so popular and ubiquitous and filling the theaters, but it is frustrating that other genres can’t flourish the way they used to. I don’t go to the theater myself unless it’s something I am dying to see right away, or something that really needs to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. That’s why I saw West Side Story right away (and it was amazing!). Before that, it was “1917,” a war movie.

      I’m all for escapism. I know people who loved the Fifty Shades series, and that’s great. I tried reading the first one and I couldn’t get past what I considered poor writing, but then, I’m kind of a writer. Not everyone is. So if it gets them reading, that’s a good thing.

  6. Sof says:

    I laugh when people say that superhero movies are killing the industry, haven’t they seen all the silly movies that came in the 80s? Valley Girl (which I love), for instance, didn’t do any harm.
    Artsy movies are fine but there is a time and place for them. Melancholia was great but there’s no way I’ll rewatch it over and over.

  7. Case says:

    I think people need to understand and accept that right now, superhero movies will likely be the *only* type of film getting great box office numbers. We’re still in a raging pandemic. The virus is still in its acute phase. Dramas and period pieces that typically draw an older crowd aren’t doing well simply because the older crowd isn’t willing to risk illness just to go see a movie they can rent at home a few weeks later. Superhero films are different, though — they appeal to a wider range of people, have younger fans who are less risk-adverse, and often need to be seen right away as to not be spoiled. I’m not comfortable going to the movies right now, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do. And I have to tell you, I am dying inside not seeing Spiderman this weekend, lol.

    I rented The Last Duel last night. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time and I was stunned by how clever it was. I really can’t stop thinking about it. But of course it did poorly at the box office — it’s a very mature film with a limited audience.

  8. phlyfiremama says:

    Escapism, pure and simple. I don’t WANT to see them, I just do because more or less everything turns out ok in the end. There is enough other horrible stuff happening on real life that I simply don’t WANT to see any during my escape time.

  9. Ameerah says:

    Hecate your friend made some fabulous points! And yes it is refreshing to hear a director take into account what brings theater goers to actual theaters. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but superhero films are what’s making it possible for theaters to survive right now. And that shouldn’t be discounted.

  10. AmB says:

    Hollywood has always followed the $$$. There have been a bleep-ton of bad genre movies made over the past century to cash in on vogues – bad private eyes, 60s rom-coms, westerns, musicals (ugh, musicals!) … just because they’re old doesn’t make them good.

    This too shall pass.

  11. Jamie says:

    As a person who just got home seeing the latest Spiderman, it was one of the most exciting times I have ever seen in a movie theater. Just the atmosphere and the crowd seeing things for the very first time all together made it great. I know the Marvel movies are not for everyone but I enjoyed this movie better than any of the last 5 movies that won an oscar for best movie.