Any genre allowed to stagnate will die, so superhero films have to innovate every year -- 2018 included. The innovations don't need to be dramatic. They don't have to be revolutionary. They just have to happen.
2018 brought us a ton of superb superhero movies. At a glance, it's clear a few heavy hitters have changed the arena. Black Panther. Avengers: Infinity War. Aquaman. These films have done incredibly well financially, and stand as films that immediately impacted the cinematic landscape. It's almost easy to forget that there were nine superhero films released this year, and all nine changed the landscape. You cannot dismiss Ant-Man and the Wasp, Incredibles 2, Teen Titans Go to the Movies, Deadpool 2, Venom, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and their palpable impact on superhero films.
2018 changed superhero movies forever.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: with the release of Avengers: Infinity War, we now know that it is possible for a superhero film to get ridiculous and over-the-top without losing its audience. If you have a good story, audiences will not care that you have wizards and green rage monsters fighting alongside Norse Gods and a sentient tree. So long as prior films have established these characters, audiences will accept it.
Because of this, we now understand that audiences can deal with over-the-top antics. However...
While Ant-Man and the Wasp was definitely not nearly as big a film as the MCU films preceding it, it did prove that audiences are willing to tap the breaks a little after a big crisis crossover in order to enjoy a smaller story. In comparison to the recent massive build up of the MCU, Ant-Man And The Wasp was a great little comedy break, and audiences loved it.
This was reinforced by both Deadpool 2 and Venom, which both feature a smaller, shorter story that audiences appeared to enjoy more than Ant-Man and the Wasp (more on that later).
8. Superhero Comedy Works If You Have a Good Plot
What do Deadpool 2 and Teen Titans Go to the Movies have in common? Humor.
While both are good movies that found a passionate audience, it's undeniable that the commonality between them is their humor. Sometimes, the humor is meta-humor. Other times, it's slapstick. Other times, gross-out humor.
But directors have crafted comedic superhero movies since the start of the genre. Why did Deadpool 2 or Teen Titans Go succeed, while films like Batman Forever or Fantastic Four fail? A plot. Conflict. Drama. Real stakes that suit the story it's trying to tell. As we learned with both prior categories, 2018 proved that audiences are willing to enjoy any and all types of stories, so long as there is a story to ground them.
7. Superhero Animation Can Sell
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is regarded as one of the greatest Batman films of all time. It also failed financially. Despite having an incredible plot and incredible fan reception, its initial box office didn't do so well. Since then, DC has resorted to making its animated features direct-to-video, which has proven successful. However, it's increasingly clear that there is an audience for animated superhero films, but 2018 proved how big that audience truly is.
While LEGO Batman proved audiences are interested in animated superhero films, that film didn't really launch animated superhero movies into the mainstream like Teen Titans Go to the Movies and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did. Each made a boatload of money, which should assure studios in the future that, yes, you can take risks in the future of animation.
6. The Chinese Market is HUGE
It is a truth in the film industry that China is a huge marketplace. Film doesn't do so well in America? The international box-office might elevate it up. This happened with Pacific Rim and Warcraft, which did poorly in the states but phenomenally in China.
Ignoring the juggernaut that is Avengers: Infinity War, two films that perhaps surprised people monitoring the box office were Venom and Aquaman, whose incredible success was, in part, due to the films' popularity in China. This tells us that films will be increasingly made to appeal to an international audience.
5. Sony was Right
Time to apologize to Sony. We laughed at them for years now, with them trying to launch Spider-Man into his own cinematic universe. We were so happy when the MCU took the reins of the Spider-Man franchise, and many of us cringed when we heard Sony was going ahead with their own pet projects in the vain attempt to spin a web of interconnected movies surrounding Spider-Man.
Thing was...Venom and Into the Spider-Verse were good. 2018 has proven that the future of superhero movies features a lot more of Sony's good ideas now that they no longer feel the need to chase the MCU formula, but, instead, create their own web alongside the MCU instead.
4. Audiences Can Wait for the Sequel
The Incredibles remains one of the best superhero films ever made, despite being an animated Pixar film from way back. Many fans of the original film have clamored for a sequel to be made, but Pixar has instead focused on making sequels to their other IPs, such as Cars or Monsters Inc. Some feared that a sequel to this superhero animated movie might have come a little too late.
The Incredibles 2, however, shattered those concerns with its box office. Despite years passing, the audience still received it with open arms. The lesson learned? The time between sequels is less important than making good movies people can love and enjoy for years to come.
3. Long-Term Continuity Works
It has been a long time since Ant-Man. Longer still since Captain America: The First Avenger. And the first Raimi Spider-Man film came out back in 2002. Yet in 2018, superhero movies featured plot-threads from old films (the Janet Van-Dyne mystery continued into Ant-Man and the Wasp), the return of seemingly forgotten characters (Red Skull's surprise return in Avengers: Infinity War) and references to films that seemed to have come from another era of cinema (Into the Spider-Verse contained quite a few Raimi-era references -- as well as references to the 1960s Spider-Man series).
Audiences, thanks to the internet and nostalgia, remember continuity from years past. 2018 has changed superhero movies forever by reminding everyone that people do, in fact, care about their old superhero memories from yesteryear.
2. Marvel isn't the Only Name in the Game
One-third of superhero films to come out in 2018 came from the MCU. The other two-thirds came from Fox, Sony, WB, and even another brand under the Disney conglomerate.
While most of the films to find success came from Marvel in some way, the fact remained that the MCU isn't the only company to find success in producing superhero films. With films like Hellboy and Spawn coming in the future, 2018 proved you don't have to be part of the bigger Marvel Universe to be a hit.
1. There is No One Way to Make a Superhero Film
If we learned anything in 2018, it is this: the Marvel formula is not the only way a superhero film can work. This year alone we saw a comedy about fatherhood (Deadpool 2), an epic swashbuckling fantasy (Aquaman), and a coming-of-age story seen through the lens of interdimensional travel (Into the Spider-Verse). We saw films embrace diversity and new ideas (Black Panther) and films that fall back on old formulas and cheese (Venom).
If we learned one thing about the future of superhero films from 2018, it is this: there is no one path to success. You can be silly. You can be fun. You can be serious. You can be mature. The genre of superheroes is not a singular entity but a medium that will continue to diverge and evolve as time goes on. So long as each film tells a different story, the genre will live on. 2018 showed that superhero movies have a long future ahead of them.