Scorsese Says: 'Marvel Films Are Not Cinema.' Is He Right?

Scorsese Says: 'Marvel Films Are Not Cinema.' Is He Right?

Recently, there was a comment by renowned director Martin Scorsese about Marvel movies. He doesn't think they fit into the "cinema" world. Could that be just an opinion from an old-school director or does have a valid point?

The spicy remark was made during a press conference related to the release of Scorsese's new film "The Irishman," covered by Hollywood Reporter. The director elaborated that Marvel Studios' movies were "theme park films" and did not belong in theaters:

It's not cinema, it’s something else. We shouldn’t be invaded by it.

It is well known that box offices have a special kind of love for Marvel Studios' films, because they are bringing a lot of income and are welcome in any theater around the world. At the same time, "The Irishman" is not going to be projected in major movie theaters, because of a particular agreement between cinemas and streaming platforms to withhold streaming for three months after the release on the big screen. Netflix didn't want to comply with that restriction, and maybe this was one of the reasons for Scorsese's harsh comment.

Despite his critique, he shared his admiration for the work that was behind those movies and praised the performance of the actors "under these circumstances."

However, his main point remained:

We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.

Do you think Scorsese was right about Marvel films?

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His original quote was:
“I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks.”

It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being,”

If I understand him correctly, he's saying that since he can't see emotional or psychological experiences then it doesn't belong in "his" world i.e. cinema. When asked to clarify if it's personal or generalization, his "invaded" response make clear it to me. He thinks other people would be better off watching his types of cinema.

Arrogance is as arrogance does.

To answer the question, the creator does not get to decide what the viewers think touches them or belongs in a medium.

Tony Clark's picture

I am old school when it comes to film, I'm not into video games and those Marvel movies feel like video games. The audience pays to see the movies they want to see, let them decide.

Consider his age when putting this in context.
There was a time when Comic books were considered low brow and not serious art.
Some people still feel that way.
Some context in this article.

Michael Holst's picture

Do I agree with him? Nope. Not even a little bit. He is not eh gatekeeper for what's allowed to be called "Cinema".

Do I still love his movies? Hell YES!

I can at least see the point he's trying to make because he's been so entrenched in his own style of movies. It would be like a commercial fashion photographer who regularly shoots for vogue saying that instagram focused shots aren't "Photography". They are just different types.

He's allowed to be wrong.

They are braindead films that apparently today's society can’t get enough. Braindead films have always existed but they were not the large grossing films they are today. I don't watch many movies because most Hollywood films are garbage, but there are a few directors that will consider watching and Scorsese is one of those.

As one who has watched every Marvel (and DC Comics and Star Wars) film with my (now 18-year-old) son, I can see what Scorsese means. I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe but come out from the cinema after watching one in a "sugar rush" — all empty calories that are burned off before I get home, leaving me with a feeling of a few, unmemorable hours well spent bonding with my son, but not leaving any lasting impression on me. Do not ask me about any subtle plot details a week later, I wouldn't be able to remember them.

My son, on the other hand, can tell me about all the details and gets quite excited whenever a new film is announced and gobbles down all the trailers as soon as they arrive. (On the gripping hand — a reference to the novel 'The Mote in God's Eye' by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for those who do not know the phrase — he also likes films like The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street.)

I think the Marvel films are well done and quite cinematic in their own way, but they are not providing much food for thought — "meat" as opposed to "sugar", so to say.

Looking down on them would, in my opinion, be a bit like looking down on a simple dessert after a gourmet dinner — I wouldn't, as the dinner and the dessert serve different purposes.

And I wouldn't really say that Scorsese's films are much more "meaty" than the Marvel films. They may be more realistic and you do not have to suspend belief to the same degree to watch them, but overall many cannot be deemed a particularly "healthy diet" to keep stretching the metaphor.

And now, can we turn our attention to Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick instead ...? ;-)

Christian Lainesse's picture

Someone should tell Scorcese that *real* cinema is black and white and silent.

Raging Bull was Black and White

Christian Lainesse's picture

It's not a silent movie though

I actually had a conversation before this comment was made, by Scorsese along the same lines
Movies are becoming more dependent on CGI as opposed to the skill of the actors to portray an emotion.As technology changes the landscape (as it always has and will) new people come on board and others drop off.Hmmmm evolution
I enjoyed the Joker because of this.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I think it's not CGI, but the stories that are based on fantasies which can't be made without CGI. There are lots of films that have a huge amount of invisible CGI and yet they are stories we can relate to. It's not CGI. It's the story.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Martin, with all due respect, you're being a bell-end.

You know people will go and say he‘s arrogant and not close to reality and what have you. I have no problem with his perspective. I feel the intellectual stimulation and emotional responses and acting is definitely a shortcoming of our times Not only in super hero movies. If you define cinema as being both intellectually stimulating and entertainment, if you think that movie makers have a responsibility beyond making money and pleasure, you would have to agree.

If you think of cinema as “bread and games“ for everyone, then he is wrong.

So what, it is his opinion. Agree or disagree.

Personally I’m tired of everything being continuously dumbed down. I appreciate the few Directors that are trying to project deeper meaning and also how hard it is. It’s the difference between Instagram Influencers and Photojournalism...

Michael Holst's picture

It's almost as if people enjoy/appreciate/value different things. Who would have thunk?!

Simon Patterson's picture

That's like Ronald McDonald saying Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn't count as fast food, because he doesn't like it. Some people take themselves a little too seriously...

Rex Larsen's picture

I'm not sure about being invaded, but I agree. A great many photoshopped composites and overly retouched images shouldn't be called photographs. Photographs are created with cameras, not computers.

Spy Black's picture

Depends on what kind of imagination you have...

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

And what kind of budget you have.

Michael Holst's picture

Sure, but I would argue that the use of the word "Cinema" is where the issue exists. Cinema represents a wide range of things.

Definition: Cinema
~a theater where movies are shown for public entertainment; a movie theater.
~the production of movies as an art or industry.

I don't see how the recent Marvel movies deserve to be excluded.

Arbitrarily categorising films into "cinema" and "not cinema" based on personal values seems completely pointless. Attacking Marvel films as individual films feels a little unfair. They're disposable, formulaic fast food films, but that type of film is nothing new, and these Marvel films are generally better than the equivalent films were a decade or two ago.

While the Marvel films can be pretty enjoyable in isolation, I think there's room to criticise the relentless, calculated barrage of Marvel and Star Wars films that Disney are putting out. When viewed as part of these 'cinematic universes' they feel like films written by algorithms, with release schedules designed by accountants, formulated to extract the maximum value out of popular properties as quickly as possible without making audiences sick of them. The result is a completely charmless procession of films that don't feel like they were anyone's passion projects. The Star Wars prequel trilogy were very bad films, but they somehow manage to have more soul than today's hyper-polished Star Wars films. They felt like a real person's (flawed) vision, not products designed by a committee of executives.

Marvel movies are definitely cinema. Just lazy cinema. That's not to say they aren't entertaining. Some of them are. Thor Ragnarok was very entertaining but I wouldn't put it up in the same league as movies like The Green Mile or Inception. Marvel movies or action movies like them are not meant to make you think. they are meant to be mindless action movies that most people can enjoy to maximize profits and hey, that's fair. Movies are cinema if they are good or bad. Scorsese has a bit of an elitist film maker " i KnOw WhAt ReAl CiNeMa iS" attitude i have run into all too often in the film community. These people believe the only "REAL CINEMA" is cinema that is thought provoking with top tier writing, story telling & cinematography. Not every movie needs to be like that. Sometimes a movie can be fun just for the sake of it being fun. killer clowns from outer space is very bad movie but it's hella fun to watch. Transformers movies hands down have some of the worst high budget writing in cinema IMO but i like them them because watching giant robots beat each other up is bad ass. Point is all movies are cinema and if you don't like a movie because you don't think it's "Good Cinema" then don't watch it. if you want more movies that make you think go make one or support some one who is making one.

Michael Holst's picture

"These people believe the only "REAL CINEMA" is cinema that is thought provoking with top tier writing, story telling & cinematography. Not every movie needs to be like that."

I'm glad all movies aren't all like that... I like the variety. If people are that pretentious about what films they allow themselves to enjoy then they're a boring lot. Some people take themselves a bit too seriously.

Werrd. I like watching all kinds of movies. I really enjoy seeing what ideas some one has in their head and how they bring it to a screen in the form of a motion picture. I watch movies and I am fascinated that people are able to create such a diverse range of experiences with that medium. It's really really cool.

Michael Holst's picture

Totally. I think some people get too obsessed with one style and then become snobs. I feel like I see it most with food. I can appreciate the new and exciting culinary establishment in town and still enjoy my quarter pounder at McDonalds the next day.

C Fisher's picture

A prime example of "No true scotsman"

Well, it's like McDonald's vs. three-star restaurants...

Wait, not really. McDonald's I like on occasion. That Marvel garbage I cannot stand.

Bahahaha! Down voted by Wonder Woman! She's DC!!! She should be up voting! Any who, I like your analogy . 3 star restaurant vs. Mcdinks. Both are food but it's clear which has better quality. I actually ate mcdinks for lunch lol. Cheap and fast. Can't eat it without ranch though. That meat tastes awful by it's self. It was fine before they went the whole fresh meat route. I preferred the taste of the pink sludge lol.