SCORSESE Blames MARVEL Movies for Lack of 'Art' in Theaters

Martin Scorsese
Credit: Ron Adar /

The Irishman director Martin Scorsese continues to lament the lack of movies he considers "art" being released in theaters, which he sees as being left out in favor of Marvel Studios films - films  which the auteur filmmaker says he has "tried" but largely avoided. In a New York Times op/ed, Scorsese primarily criticizes what he calls "franchise films" as lacking "revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger." 

"Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament," Scorsese writes. "I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri."

"Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures," he continues, perhaps echoing statements from Disney chairman Bob Iger pointing out the cinematic parts that define Marvel Studios films. "What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes. They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption." 

"So, you might ask, what’s my problem?" continues the op/ed. "Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters."

Scorsese's criticism of the post-"studio system" model, in which smaller arthouse movies receive limited or no theatrical distribution, seems to be focused on the abundance and financial dominance of Marvel's "franchise films". In Scorsese's words, the films he considers "art" - including his own, such as upcoming Netflix release The Irishman - are no longer receiving long theatrical engagements in favor of limited release showings and streaming. 

Scorsese points to this lack of distribution as "brutal and inhospitable to art," saying "I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters."

Scorsese's film The Irishman is in select theaters now, and will premiere on Netflix November 27.

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