what is cinema?

Martin Scorsese Pens New York Times Op-Ed Unpacking How, Exactly, Marvel Movies Are Not Cinema

Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday night, Martin Scorsese digs deeper into his recent controversial comments that Marvel movies are not, in fact, cinema at all. It won’t surprise you to hear the director stands by his claim, but he’d like to clarify that it’s not the superhero storylines he takes issue with, but rather the fact that Marvel movies (and most other franchise films) are shaped within an inch of their lives by studios concerned more with mass marketability than artistry. “Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures,” writes Scorsese. “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.”

The director continues, “They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.”

If the sameness or guaranteed global palatability of Marvel movies were the only issues the director had with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scorsese explains, he wouldn’t be so vocal about his concerns. However, says Scorsese, we live in an era in which huge franchise movies are some of the only films available to most theater-going audiences. Netflix and only Netflix, Scorsese asserts, allowed him to make his most recent film, The Irishman, the way he wanted to make it.

By prioritizing the salability of films above all else, the director claims, movies lose the productive tension between a filmmaker and the studio. “Today, that tension is gone, and there are some in the business with absolute indifference to the very question of art and an attitude toward the history of cinema that is both dismissive and proprietary — a lethal combination.”

“The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema,” writes Scorsese. “They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.”

Concludes the director, “For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art. And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.” You can read Scorsese’s full op-ed here.

Martin Scorsese Pens Op-Ed on Why Marvel Films Aren’t Cinema