Paul Thomas Anderson: Superhero Movies Haven’t Ruined Cinema

"You know what’s going to get [audiences] back in movie theaters? 'Spider-Man.' So let’s be happy about that," PTA said.
Paul Thomas Anderson arrives at the 90th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at The Beverly Hilton hotel on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

From Martin Scorsese to Ridley Scott, the great debate surrounding the artistic validity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DCEU is the gift that keeps on giving. Now, Paul Thomas Anderson has offered his take on superhero movies’ contributions to the art form, and he’s hardly as scathing as Scott (who called them “boring as shit”) or Scorsese (who compared Marvel movies to theme parks). In fact, the “Licorice Pizza” and “Phantom Thread” director is optimistic about what superhero movies can do for the industry.

The question came up, as it so often does, during the press cycle for Anderson’s latest film (which just scored four Golden Globe nominations, including one for Best Musical or Comedy). In an interview with The New Yorker, Anderson spoke about how he’s “happier than ever” to be able to carve his own niche in filmmaking, while acknowledging that superhero movies are the thing that will most likely bring audiences back into seats.

“Boy, it warms my heart to be able to tell you that I feel happier than ever working in this business. I’ve got my own little corner of the sandbox and am working with people that I really admire, like at MGM. I’m incredibly happy right now. But that’s me. There’s no end to the kind of sky-is-falling questions that always surround films and, and what’s going to happen,” the “There Will Be Blood” Oscar nominee said.

Then, he added, “Obviously it’s gotten even more complicated with streaming and the sort of overabundance of superhero movies. Most of the stuff I don’t take too seriously. I mean, it seems that there is a bit of a preoccupation with superhero films. I like them. It seems to be something that’s popular these days to sort of wonder if they’ve ruined movies and all this kind of stuff. I just don’t feel that way.”

Anderson noted that the pandemic is a sure contributor to the decline of box office, but noted that a certain Marvel entry opening on December 17 is reason for hope. “I mean, look, we’re all nervous about people getting back to the theater, but you know what’s going to get them back in movie theaters? ‘Spider-Man.’ So let’s be happy about that.”

Anderson also discussed how the dominance of streaming has allowed for a great proliferation of content — as well as added creative freedom thanks to seemingly limitless resources — but at the expense of curation.

“There’s a lot of money out there right now for people to make movies. When I started making films, there was a lot of money out there for a window of time, and it was home-video money. If you could make a movie for, let’s say, a million and a half, two million dollars, keep it under three, and you had a couple of genre elements, there was the home-video component to making a film that needed to be fed. Which is essentially the same as streaming — call it home video, VHS, whatever you want to call it. It’s something that gets into your house and gives you entertainment, right? So the playing field hasn’t changed that drastically, you know? There’s some money out there,” he said.

But, he added, “Now it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. Because there’s so much stuff. I am one of those people who spends an hour looking at the menu and then I’m exhausted.”

PTA’s “Licorice Pizza” is now in limited release before expanding nationwide on Christmas Day.

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