James Gunn has become an essential player in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe – so much so that even an idiotic campaign by right-wing internet trolls couldn’t keep him away. But as we eagerly await Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (and his upcoming Suicide Squad sequel for DC), Gunn returns to his shlocky Troma roots this week with horror movie Brightburn, which he’s produced from a screenplay by brother Brian and cousin Mark. Its premise – ‘What if Superman had turned out to be psychopath?’ – is simple and effective, and it poses an interesting question: with a few low-budget exceptions, why has nobody tried to do a superhero horror film before?
The best superhero movies are the ones that look beyond CGI-infused punching and lean heavily into genre convention. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a gripping political thriller about the price of government control; Ant-Man is a fun and breezy heist movie, and Gunn’s own Guardians films are unabashedly weird space operas. But why limit ourselves? Here are five genres that we’d love to see someone mash some superheroes into.
Long before the superhero, it was the Western that dominated the box office – so why not combine the two? And before you say anything – no, Logan doesn’t count. I’m not talking about a postmodern, deconstructionist Western. I mean a proper, honest-to-goodness spaghetti Western like Sergio Leone used to make. Marvel already has their very own cowboy in the form of Kid Colt, and setting a film in the Old West, long before a lot of their established canon, would leave them free to do some really weird stuff. Especially if they choose to use the version of Kid Colt that looks like the horse monsters from Sorry to Bother You. Whatever they try, it can’t be as bad as that godawful Jonah Hex movie from 2010.
Many modern superhero movies are just as focused on the internal lives of their protagonists as their heroic exploits, and adding superpowers would be a fascinating twist on the typical formula of a romantic comedy. After all, there are lots of characters who have to balance their heroics and their love lives. How great would it be to see a smaller, more intimate Superman movie that focused on Clark Kent’s relationship with Lois Lane? And if you want to get away from antiquated gender roles, look at 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend – not a great movie, but somewhat ahead of its time in giving powers to the girl and not the guy.
Wait, wait, hear me out. Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero movies have long stopped being embarrassed of their source material – Avengers: Endgame involved a raccoon and a giant green scientist helping a fat Viking god work through his grief – so why not dial all that up to 11 and do a full-on musical? Imagine what someone like Baz Luhrmann could do with Marvel’s chequebook and the rights to a hero like Dazzler, with her music-themed power set? If nothing else, it’d be the perfect way to bring Hugh Jackman into the MCU now that he’s hung up the adamantium claws for good.
Jessica Jones is sadly coming to an end, but it proves that Marvel has the chops to tell a really gripping noir story. As this year’s Detective Pikachu proved to great effect, it’s a genre with easily recognisable tropes that can be slipped over just about any narrative or brand, and there’s a whole host of characters who could lead one – including Misty Knight, who deserved far more screen time in Marvel’s Netflix shows than she got. And let’s not forget Nicolas Cage’s show-stealing performance as a black-and-white version of Spider-Man in Into the Spider-Verse. We’d watch a dozen movies with him in them.
Technically Marvel already did this, given that Captain America: The First Avenger was set during the Second World War, but why limit ourselves to the 20th century? Neil Gaiman’s terrific 1602 series reimagined most of Marvel’s heroes as characters in Elizabethan England – Doctor Strange becomes an adviser to Elizabeth I, while the Fantastic Four are explorers in the vein of Walter Raleigh or Francis Drake. It’s wouldn’t be an Endgame-level tent-pole in the franchise, more a fun palate cleanser, but admit it – part of you wants to see Robert Downey Jr. strutting about in tights and a codpiece. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”, indeed.