James Gunn Defends Comic Book Movies After a Few Awards Jabs

February 23, 2015

James Gunn

Director James Gunn has quickly become an idol behind the camera after bringing Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen for Marvel Studios. It was a refreshing sci-fi adventure that defied the expectations of everyone, and it was one of my own favorite movies of 2014. However, there's always those who are perpetually against blockbuster films like that, whether it's The Avengers or Star Wars or The Dark Knight or any big budget movie that rakes in the dough. And after a couple jokes and remarks from this past weekend's awards shows, Gunn took to Facebook to talk about genre elitism from the "serious" filmmakers.

First of all, here's a little context, since it seems this was inspired by two specific instances of superhero movie bashing at the this past weekend. First of all, during the opening musical number, Jack Black had a solo which included these lyrics:

“This industry’s in flux; it’s run by mucky-mucks, pitching tents for tentpoles and chasing Chinese bucks.
Opening with lots of zeroes, all we get is superheroes.
Superman, Spider Man, Batman,
Jedi man, sequel man, prequel man.
Formulaic scripts and after 50 Shade of Grey, they’ll all have leather whips.”

In addition, Nightcrawler director Dan Gilory made this remark at the Independent Spirit Awards when he accepted the award fr Best First Feature:

“Independent film, the foundation and everybody here today, I think are holdouts against a tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry. We have survived and we have thrived and I think that’s true spirit.”

Neither of those are necessarily scathing or even rude, but they do have a tinge of a snobbish attitude. And it sounds like Gunn was specifically asked about these two remarks in general as he wrote a Facebook post addressing them before speaking to the larger issue:

I didn’t really find the Jack Black superhero jokes offensive, did you guys? It was, like, a joke. I’m not sure if you guys noticed, but the writing on the Oscars didn’t seem to be all that well thought out.

As far as Dan Gilroy saying that attendees of the Independent Spirit Awards have survived against a “tsunami of superhero films” – well it seems a bit weird coming from a guy whose wife has acted in two Thor films – really, that seems like you’ve drowned horribly in that tsunami. But I know I just kind of make up stuff as I go along on these awards shows, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever the case, the truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite. I’ve already won more awards than I ever expected for Guardians. What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films.

I’ve made B-movies, independent films, children’s movies, horror films, and gigantic spectacles. I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do not find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film.

If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we’re dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a “serious” filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.

We couldn't have said it any better ourselves. There seems to be this line drawn in the sand as to what kind of movie you have to make in order for it to be significant or meaningful. But movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, The Avengers and more all move some people just as much as a film like Boyhood, Whiplash or Birdman. More importantly, to completely disregard an entire genre of films simply because they're not "serious" is just disrespectful. Obviously we can speak to the quality of those films as cinema, but to say that they're worth less and not as important as these awards contenders is just silly. And let's not forget that there were plenty of people in attendance there, several nominees included, in addition to Gilroy's wife Rene Russo, who star in these movies

There are just as many bad movies seeking awards attention, whether it's from studios or in the indie world on the film festival circuit, as there are blockbuster movies that feel like they're churned out of a marketing machine. But any movie has the potential to have substance, great characters, a compelling story and quality filmmaking. If The Academy started recognizing comedies and blockbuster films that stand just as tall as traditional awards contenders then they might not be facing such low ratings for the Academy Awards telecast this year. At the end of the day, it's all subjective, but James Gunn is right in this case. Thoughts?

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Gunn hit it right on the nose. I am an avid cinema fan. I can easily describe filmmaking as the love of my life. When people hear that about me or see my massive DVD/Blu Ray collection, they assume that I must only like the "great and meaningful" films. They will see It's a Wonderful Life, Shawshank Redemption, Schindler's List, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple. Then they become discouraged when they see The Fast and The Furious, Monster Squad, Twister, Drop Dead Fred, and many others in my collection. They do not understand that loving film does not mean turning your nose on what you deem as "lesser" films. It is about loving the craft. Loving the process. Loving the magic that transports you from a couch to Middle Earth, another galaxy, the past, the future. And if you watch The Avengers and think that Joss Whedon does not LOVE the Hulk then you are truly out of your mind.

Maxx on Feb 23, 2015


well said and true... It's about the experience.

ari smulders on Feb 23, 2015


well said. There's times a viewer wants to have their intelligence engaged if not challenged. There's times a viewer just wants to see s*** blow up as the 'impossible becomes possible'. Both are great viewing experiences, just very different.

VAharleywitch on Feb 24, 2015


F**KING THIS. Bravo. Whatev's. Let the snobs be snobs. We'll get the best of both worlds and they'll be... well frankly, missing out on some of the best (if not THE best) entertainment in cinema.

avconsumer2 on Feb 24, 2015


Superhero films can be serious or Oscar worthy eg The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Superman 1 or X-Men 2. Just not for a mediocre and at best a fun ride that is Guardians of the Galaxy or anything else by Marvel Studios.

Zack Snyder on Feb 23, 2015


lol, you don't sound biased at all. and you seriously listed anything other than TDK? your list got more and more laughable as it went along.

ColtNoir on Feb 24, 2015


X-Men 2 was Oscar worthy with its heavy themes of prejudice and its brilliant yet not heavy handed allegory for homosexuality.

Zack Snyder on Feb 24, 2015


Give it about 15-20yrs before, fantasy, superhero, comedies, and other films that aren't usually up for Best Picture to be in contention, and eventually start winning. When that new generation grows up and moves into those Academy positions it will be different, and hopefully those new voters are the ones who know what storytelling and good movies are all about, regardless of the genre.

Ann Parker on Feb 23, 2015


Good for you Gunn, I hate your Guardians, just didn't enjoy it, and I tried, but it looked like Mickey Mouse had written the script...

dawko on Feb 23, 2015


you hated it? hhahha...ok. i can see not loving it but hating it? get a grip dude

SalsaBandit on Feb 23, 2015


You get a grip. Heaven forbid someone hate your precious Guardians.

txJM on Feb 24, 2015


Hating it - you know, when you wanna pull out your eyes and cut your ears cause the torment is unbearable?

dawko on Feb 24, 2015


"At the end of the day, it's all subjective..." Any person who seriously wants to be a student of art should be well versed in Sir Joshua Reynolds, and should know this is an absolutely ludicrous statement. I'm surprised that Iñárritu's statements weren't included, especially since his hatred of hero movies is probably what won him the Oscar. Gunn, mediocre he may be, seems to be the only sane one in this conversation.

Wraith38 on Feb 23, 2015


Then prove that it's not. Anyone who thinks art isn't subjective is a moron and should probably educate themselves on basic human anatomy and the near infinite levels of variation between every two human beings. Mediocre? sir are a moron

SalsaBandit on Feb 23, 2015


If one can state that there are near infinite levels of variation between two human beings than you must also be able to properly deduce the amount of similarities. One thing that is lost with artists today is a proper study of human anatomy. Firstly, if you cannot distinguish between the objectively pleasing and the matter of taste, if you confuse those, then you first need to educate yourself on the difference between the two. Is it mere fluke that the names Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Twain, and Hitchcock are recognizable and ubiquitous today? Artists used to properly study and seek to understand how the mind and body functioned, in order to please and manipulate human emotion. The fact that Shakespeare is still adapted, Beethoven is played nightly, Twain still studied, and Hitchcock being adapted, screened, and studied proves that things can be objectively pleasing, in a transcending manner. Remember, time is the ultimate judge, and though life was incredibly different for those artists, our humanity, our anatomy ties us all together. If one is genuinely interested in learning, again, study Sir Joshua Reynolds. One can study the Masters and learn not just about art, but anatomy and psychology, learn the truths about human existence.

Wraith38 on Feb 24, 2015


So we should form no opinions until time has judged great art? Who has the authority to tell us modern art is good or bad? If it's too soon to rely on the gauntlet of centuries to produce lasting art, I must follow my gut reaction as to what is "good" or "bad". This of course includes universal aesthetic truisms, yet even those can falter under close scrutiny. Example: some men like large women while thin women are generally considered more attractive. If this isn't proof of subjectivity, I don't know what is. You visit a museum with a friend and see a modern sculpture. You like it, your friend doesn't. Is one of you wrong? Should you have to come back in 200 years to see if someone else is recreating the statue in their own image, thus proving its universal "good"-ness? You made an on-the-spot judgment call, as did your friend. Either someone is always wrong or art is subjective.

WintersEdge on Feb 24, 2015


What I said was that you can learn what makes seemingly subjective things pleasing by using universal objective standards. In your post, you mix taste and the objective standards, seeing no difference between the two. Take some time and study color. Do you think artists just randomly pitted colors against each other and used consensus as to what would be considered the complimentary color? No, they used science. Every professional sports emblem, every logo, every holiday has a particular color scheme. Guess what? They used objective standards, derived from science, to arrive at those color schemes. How long has mankind walked the earth? I'm assuming your answer will be a minimum of 6,000 years. The Masters study human nature, and discover what is now pleasing and has always been pleasing to mankind. Think about how you're judging things in a different field. Ever see Gordon Ramsay tear a cook to shreds? Is cooking purely subjective or are there objective standards? Tastes can differ, but if we want to understand what will be lasting we can look to history and learn what will forever be true. To simply use your gut or just your thoughts or just your emotions is insufficient. Humans are capable of so much more than relying on gut reactions. There is nothing entirely new in this world. Everything is built upon the stones that were there before. James Gunn refers to that. All films seen in theaters adhere to certain objective standards. Blockbusters tend only use just enough to get by, as they're made by committee more so than other films. That's why this debate exists. The blockbusters throw their weight behind the subjective portions, whilst the independent types throw their weight behind the craft portions. Very few films can strike an equal balance. American Sniper would be the one Oscar nominee that did.

Wraith38 on Feb 24, 2015


birdman director said super hero film are poison and cultural genocide

HG2012 on Feb 23, 2015


Good for him? I enjoyed both his film and GotG for very different reasons and both have a place in cinema.

Brian Sleider on Feb 23, 2015


If the birdman director doesn't understand that blue collar Joe needs to 'escape' for two ours with blockbuster movies , he is simply said:a intellectual dumbass. Because that's what it is:escapism. And the avengers and the Guardians are movies made with love and a huge amount of talent...

ari smulders on Feb 23, 2015


For one thing to succeed, the others do not have to fail. Art-focused films and Blockbusters occupy two separate parts of the same neighbourhood. Sure they both look like the same house but on the inside they're decorated to the tastes of the people that live there. Anyway.... I love films of all varieties and believe that the fondness you attach to a film relates to who you watch them with. I watch Art and foreign films on my own because in my house I'm the only one that enjoys them. I watch animated and Blockbuster films with my wife and daughters because we enjoy them all together. No-one ever has to be in a position where they have to like only one of those genres.

davidrabbich on Feb 23, 2015


Well said. And part of the 'discrepency', I think, is that the "tsunami" of blockbuster films (incl CBMs) are often best seen when you have a big screen & good sound - something that not everyone has at home (until summer 2014, I didn't; and even though I do, my opportunities for full enjoyment are occasional as I share a home w/ others who aren't as loving of SFX spectacles w/ lots of noise). Many of these "elite" or "independent" films are the type that can be just as enjoyed post-theater run at home, via Netflix/stream, Redbox, or on-Demand. I'm looking forward to Boyhood & Selma. But I don't need to see that on a Big Screen for $8-13+ to get full enjoyment. Birdman, I think might be right on the edge, given the long-shots that are placed throughout.

VAharleywitch on Feb 24, 2015


Gunn is pissed because he was a "zero" before GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, now every one wants to hop on his pud. He does not like the industry or the people involved in its decision making.

DAVIDPD on Feb 23, 2015


He wasn't a zero, Super and Slither were both very good movies & his directional debut Tromeo & Juliet was hilarious.

Rob on Feb 24, 2015


Cmon man, I used quotes. He has said as much in interviews I have read and heard.

DAVIDPD on Feb 24, 2015


Super and Slither were great, but they didn't make him rich....

TheOct8pus on Feb 24, 2015


Few and far between with great acting in superhero movies

Ty Webb on Feb 24, 2015


Guardians was bingo, I really loved it. I'm sure Birdman will be good too, but for all the praise, it's again, a movie about an actor having a hard time dealing with actor stuff, seems thesps love that shit, like acting is on par with being a surgeon or a job that is actually important.

Carpola on Feb 24, 2015


James Gunn calling other people "self-appointed elites"... That's rich!

txJM on Feb 24, 2015


Aw, snap!

TheOct8pus on Feb 24, 2015


Comic Book movies are the last vestige of original ideas available to Hollywood. The fact is Hollywood is stagnating and has been for years. Pioneers in the industry such as Nolan, Blomkamp, Gunn, and many fine others need to take more of a leading role in Hollywood.

Chris McDermid on Feb 24, 2015


I don't completely agree that comic books are the last vestige of original ideas. I think (for now) it's an untapped source of plotlines and characters for Hollywood writers and producers, but eventually, those will run their course and we'll be left with something else....who knows what that will be? Hollywood (and marketability) runs on trends. There will be some new trend after the comic book film trend....

TheOct8pus on Feb 24, 2015


Independent filmmakers are pretentious a-holes. Like if there were no "superhero movies" everyone would be watching their crap. I'm not a hater of independent films and they have their place but smells bad when someone starts dictating what movies others have to watch. It's basically "Superhero movies are preventing people from patting me on my back for my genius movie!"

4567654 on Feb 24, 2015


wow. Trying to stop myself from feeding the troll.... but. I really hate Beethoven. I also really like Guardians of the Galaxy. But I like some people who like Beethoven. I also like some people who hate Gotg. I don't like you. Because you're amazingly rude. To quote Bob Dylan - "I've heard you say many times that you're better than no one. And no one is better than you. If you really believe that and you know you got. Nothing to win and nothing to lose." Think about that and maybe you'll realise you were way out of line in your original post. I'll be more than happy to accept an apology for the insults.

blargh on Feb 24, 2015


"Just kill yourself if you can't handle life..." That seems a bit extreme if someone actually finds some enjoyment and relief from the comic book world. Beethoven can save kid from the streets but so could a comic about Spiderman. Different strokes for different folks. I teach fifth grade using spiderman comics all the way to Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. It's about life connections. Yours obviously has been filled with more engagement of what you and others would consider more enlightening forms of art and culture and that's awesome. If I knew you, I might invite you to share some of that with my class, but not all would connect with your passions; it's about their environment and culture. This site has all different movie cultures that will argue and complain, but also share their passions with one another. Always interesting to hear from you Bo.

mooreworthy on Feb 24, 2015


I do not wish to dispute the idea that there are ways to distinguish cultural appreciation on a spectrum of the refined to the simple, or between closer to the intellect or closer to the gut. However, allow me to make a few remarks on what you've said: 1. I don't quite understand why you take issue with the term 'elitist' or 'snob'? What else are you arguing for other than that there's people who are not part of the herd who are superior in taste and intellect? I'd say you can wear the term proudly and continue your tirade or you object to it, but don't get to bash on the herd for not being as refined as you. You can't do both. (Well, physically you obviously can, because you did). 2. Why must we use a definition of art that removes so much from it? Just because something is a business project doesn't mean it can't be art. A lot of the greatest paintings were commissioned. I take it your actual point is that because they are, they tend to mold the art in a negative way to ensure profit. But most people find that unappealing. Also, if you redefine say The Avengers as not-art and a business project instead, you are leaving out a lot of the equation. The craftsmen behind it do make creative decisions and the audience does experience an appreciation or connection to it. So why insist on removing it from art? (Insecurity and ignorance?) 3. I don't like the word 'base' to be honest. It would either require of me to think things like sex are an unworthy venture because it is part of something closer to nature and further away from my, very much appreciated, civilization. Or it would require me to dislike it until I've mastered a form of refined sex. I don't necessarily want to choose between the two. When I listen to Rachmaninoff, I am more intellectually stimulated than when I listen to Tchaikovsky. The latter is probably more akin to stiffening the sinews at the blasts of war than intellectual stimulation. It is a spectacle of sound (and fury). My appreciation of it is perhaps more base, but you know what, we are at least part base. And I'm not inclined to think it an unworthy side. 4. The term escapism should not be taken that literally, I think. Sure, you escape from your own life for a while. But when you take a break from studying, you also escape from studying. You always escape or break from something. If they truly need to escape from life in general, then perhaps these people are depressed (which could be for various reasons). I think an implicit point might be "that crap is about as good as drugs", I don't agree. I think even a dumbed down superhero-movie can be inspiring to be a better person, which drugs rarely do. 5. I believe films can appeal to both sides (to probably never to everyone). I'd be willing to argue that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for instance are stimulating in both a childish and intellectual way. I've yet to find a decent criteria to "measure" a film's depth. Nothing seems easier to me than marking a film as shallow. Perhaps my best measurement is trying to figure out how much ideas you can find in it that are amply supported within "the text" (as opposed to being projected onto it). I think it's fair to say of a lot of commercial films that they are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." However, I've also been confronted with a lot of "art films" that are devoid of sound and fury, signifying not one ounce more. At least the former had some sound and fury, however base.

Snev De la Fontaine on Feb 25, 2015


Oh, I meant I did not wish to dispute that because I think we agree that there is a difference. So I moved on to how we value the two. I've tried to argue that there is more value and human creativity to be found in the base-side than I think you give it credit. Though let that not give you the impression that I don't agree there is a problem with how the balance is tipped. 1. You did come across as looking down on certain kinds of films. Especially since you said people shouldn't try to put both on equal footing. Which I don't think is entirely unfair, as there can be some value in the unrefined. As well as that not everything that looks shallow, is shallow just because it's loud. 2. I think I misconstrued my point, maybe. I do think most of the greatest paintings, commissioned or otherwise, will have been in line with the soul (be it heart, intellect, gut,...) of the artist. But I also think James Gunn made something he wanted to. Or at least, I did get that impression while watching Guardians of the Galaxy. It was one of the only marvel-films to paint outside the more established boxes of the rest. Now, I wouldn't dream of labeling Guardians of the Galaxy as a convention-breaking film, but I do believe you are a bit too cynical if you believe the only way films like this were made was in a paint-by-the-profits manner. paint-by-the-profits boundaries of creative expression, sure, but even within these boundaries there is some room to create and some filmmakers do. Let me also clarify my earlier comment: I don't mean that people find big business-films unappealing. I think people find it unappealing if they get the impression that's all it is. People have spoken about the death of art for ages, so I don't tend to take that seriously. I myself find modern cinema to have lost something, but I don't even trust my own taste in this as I know it's more prone to appreciation when things have sunk in. 4. I do know what is meant with escapism, but I don't think it's as serious as it might sound. Perhaps I'm naive in this, but I don't think there is this huge idiotic mass (though there certainly are groups of them) that needs to be entertained by flashing some generic stories in front of their eyes. But I'll take your point about drugs. There are ways in which films like Transformers is having a worse impact on society than some drugs. 5. I did not mean to compare with art films generally. By no means. I just mean there are also art films that I think are equally sinful in their lack of meaning or value despite their seemingly meaningful appearance. And personally, I don't mind a bit of over-intellectualizing ego-stroking.

Snev De la Fontaine on Feb 25, 2015


If your movie has a marketing campaign to sell billions of toys , or has a character in it that will be included in a happy meal , then it is not art , and is a sure indicator that you have probably sold out , especially if all your films fit both these criteria.

Kimberly on Apr 4, 2015

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