Whether you consider the beginning of a new decade to be a year ending in a zero or a one, it doesn’t really feel like the 2020s have truly begun quite yet. The COVID-19 pandemic will always be seen as the defining moment of this era politically, socially, and economically, but pop culture and the entertainment world also define decades in their own distinct way; beyond everyone obsessing over Tiger King for a few weeks, it’s largely been at a standstill ever since the record-breaking and franchise-ending extravaganza that was 2019 came to an end and the pandemic was declared shortly after.
The continued and hastening rise of streaming will undoubtedly be a major part of the cultural story of the 2020s. Several new services recently making their debuts and Warner Bros. having all their 2021 movies premiering on HBO Max at the same time they hit theatres mean the entertainment industry will never be the same.
But then there’s the question of the content itself. In 2001 both the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies hit the scene and plunged Hollywood into a fantasy-dominated decade. In 2012 The Avengers came out, which made comic book movies even more popular than they already were and ushered in a decade of superhero mania. So what will be pop culture’s dominant genre for the 2020s?
The culminating event that was Avengers: Endgame has come and gone, and its success looks unlikely to be replicated anytime soon. However, Disney, Sony, and Warner Bros. are just ramping up their superhero content for the next few years. Both Marvel Studios and the DC Extended Universe look to be releasing about four movies a year in the near future.
And that’s just on the big screen; Disney+ and HBO Max are allowing the interconnectivity of Marvel and DC’s respective universes to transcend mediums with plenty of original streaming series on the docket for Marvel and an increasing number of movies and shows planned on the DC side as well.
Major studios seem to be hedging their bets on the belief that audiences are invested in the “cinematic universes” that have come from the comic book genre and will continue to be for quite some time. It’s likely they’ll see continued success for a while, though one has to wonder if the sheer volume of these upcoming projects will end up oversaturating the market and eventually turn audiences cold.
This genre has seen quite a few peaks in popularity over the years and has certainly made its mark on pop culture. But it hasn’t quite defined an era in a while in the way that fantasy and superheroics have. It looks like sci-fi might have a window to grab the spotlight in the 2020s though. For starters, we’ve got a Dune remake coming later this year that could potentially start a new movie franchise. The Avatar sequel is set for 2022, with four subsequent movies planned to be released two years apart.
Disney is giving that coveted holiday season tentpole date in the years between those movies to new Star Wars films. That franchise made a big comeback in 2015 and has lost some of its goodwill with audiences since then, but the choice to focus on its streaming prospects over theatrical films for the next few years looks to be a good one since The Mandalorian has been such a success for Disney+.
There are notably less of these movies on the docket than the aforementioned superhero ones, but their relative rarity might end up making audiences see them as more of “event” movies than the increasingly-common comic book ones and lead them to anticipate these sci-fi spectacle more highly. (And if this genre does start to rise in popularity again, comic book movie makers will probably just pivot to focusing more on futuristic and space-based properties which means there could be some overlap between the two for a while.)
If we’re talking about genre crossover, there’s a lot to be said about potential for sci-fi and adventure coming together (again, Star Wars). But there are also plenty of opportunities for adventure stories that don’t involve space travel, supernatural beings or special powers. The two Jumanji reboot movies proved it can be done, even in the current blockbuster landscape (okay, there were a few examples of special powers, but it was based in the context of a video game).
Dwayne Johnson is looking to continue his success as an adventure flick lead in Disney’s upcoming movie Jungle Cruise alongside Emily Blunt. And speaking of movies based on Disney theme park rides, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is getting a reboot with Margot Robbie in the leading role. But what might be the movie to put this genre back on the map is the upcoming Indiana Jones instalment, bringing Harrison Ford back to play the title role for the fifth time.
The trouble with straight-up adventure movies in the current landscape is that they’re not as flashy (and they don’t tend to sell as many toys) as their CGI-filled sci-fi and comic book counterparts. But if a story is good enough (and is marketing well enough) they can be huge crowd-pleasers and potentially stand-outs amongst oversaturated tropes and genres.
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