Headshot of Covington Doan by Paul Jun

Covington Doan

Popular art

There's no question that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a huge box office success. But there is an ongoing debate on whether the Marvel films are "cinema".

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest and most influential directors in film history. He has compared the Marvel films to theme parks—not cinema—because nothing is at risk.

"Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. 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."

Art (cinema included) involves change and it requires courage. Art seeks to change you and people are hard to change. Taking a risk means that it might not work. But when you experience art, you can't un-experience it. It sticks to you. It becomes a part of you.

Fans of the Marvel films want to connect with the stories, the character arcs, the hidden details, and the emotions. Most importantly, the fans want to carry those things with them into the rest of their lives.

In 2016, Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explored the Marvel Symphonic Universe by asking people on the street a simple question.

"Off the top of your head, could you sing the theme from Star Wars? How about James Bond? Or Harry Potter?"

Without hesitation, people start singing their favorite tunes from one of those movie franchises.

When asked if they could sing a theme from a Marvel movie, they frustratingly can't.

Ramos and Zhou don't think that Marvel music is bad. It is missing something.

"So what is missing from Marvel music? Risk. The kind of risk that creates an emotional connection with the audience so that they carry the music with them. People do not remember safe choices."

Today, the industry wants to make more theme parks, but the audience craves more art. People watch a movie with an expectation. They hope that the experience will change them. It could be a story or character that changes how they see the world or a song that they can't stop singing.