I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we have very little access or exposure here in America to foreign “mainstream” films, with the exception perhaps of Asian horror or action movies, and the rare few European romantic and slapstick comedies hiding in the nooks and crannies of Netflix. So, it’s hard to know with certainty whether there are many foreign superhero movies to be found, but I think it’s safe to say that there aren’t. Even a simple Google search using those terms yielded few results.
I think it all boils down to this: our domestic box office numbers mean relatively little when compared to the big bucks that Hollywood now knows can be earned abroad. I’m sure it can be argued that even while comic book adaptations and superhero blockbusters seem to be an inherently American genre of film (a point which I’ll return to later), they seem almost destined to do well in foreign markets due to their universal appeal as flashy, action-packed, popcorn flicks. Big releases like those that Marvel’s been cranking out, that don’t happen to fare so well here (although, many of Marvel’s have done very well here), whether by critical or box office standards, may make an astounding amount of money overseas, turning failure or mediocrity to success. Whether as a sidekick to American audiences or as the sole superhero of this story, international audiences seem to really save the day.
I do not think that this is merely an assumption; I think it is an outright goal for studios to have these big budget superhero flicks do well abroad. Back in 2013, the Chinese version of Iron Man 3 made headlines because of the extra footage that was added which no other country would see, including Chinese actors and a moment of sheer product placement for a Chinese beverage (Source: Daily Mail .com, James Daniel. May 2013). Rumors swirled about what initiatives Disney had taken to circumvent strict censorship laws in China and how Ben Kingsley’s villain The Mandarin would fit into all of this, considering China is home to the second-largest movie-going public, a fact that has not been lost on American studio execs. To jeopardize tapping into the potentially billions of extra revenue in this market above all others and despite all obstacles would seem a grave misstep, especially since this is the portion of the film industry that is particularly business-driven and money-oriented. Superhero movies are often less about art than they are about entertainment, and they rely upon the assumption that entertainment rakes in the cash–everywhere.
If foreign film industries did produce their own superhero movies, they would more than likely be bound within that country’s cultural and linguistic borders in a way that ours are not. When I was studying abroad in Berlin, Iron Man 3 was in theaters. Friends of mine who decided to see the film while studying abroad had to scout out screenings in English, often having to decipher symbols that indicated this next to movie listings, or else they’d be sitting through a dubbed version. As much as I hear complaints from Americans who don’t want to read when they go to the movies, we’ve still made it a convention in this country to subtitle foreign films when we consume them, whereas other countries prefer dubbing, which to me seems even more distracting. That said, I can’t imagine that foreign superhero movies would gain traction here if we are to follow that convention of subtitling. I’m not generalizing when I say audiences of these films are often the same as those who’d complain about reading while watching. I think the fact of the matter is–no one wants to read when explosions and other exciting, special effects driven sequences might be going on in the same frame at the same time.
Speaking of Germany (as one of Disney’s many foreign markets): some independent German movie theater owners are boycotting Avengers: Age of Ultron–and they may do so with future Disney releases, too. They claim that Disney has increased rental fees, cut advertising contributions, and stopped offering advances on 3-D glasses, all of which they argue can drive them out of business. Whether this is true or accurate is not quite the point. Even though several hundred screens reportedly will be affected by the boycott, this quite frankly will do nothing (and has thus far done nothing) to Age of Ultron‘s overseas success. (Source: A.V. Club, Katie Rife. April 27th, 2015)
What this may prove though, is that our chokehold on foreign markets isn’t always necessarily as comfortable to them as it is for us, and yet, where are the German superhero films as any kind of economical replacement for those which we force-feed to smaller theaters in these other countries? In a way, it would seem that these films serve as a kind of pop culture imperialism. We still reign supreme as the producers of such films that are, in their content and form, as well as their distribution and production models, inherently American–patriotic and proud (verging on pompous), paired with plentiful merchandising opportunities, and poised to take over the world. So, German theaters may lose money by showing these films, and perhaps they’ll lose money by boycotting it, but the German film industry overall is not losing anything by opting in to a global plan centered on American superhero movies; why make your own superhero films when you can readily indulge in those already being thrown your way?
The only other film industry that seems to crank out any such similar films is Bollywood–arguably a bigger and more lucrative industry than Hollywood, or at least a close second to it, India’s Bollywood film industry has turned out an array of quirky (by our Marvel and DC Comics standards, anyway) superhero movies since the 1980s. The only one that comes to mind of late would be Ra.One (2011), a sci-fi, almost Tron-like superhero epic starring global icon Shah Rukh Khan, But, again, Bollywood can afford to take these kinds of risks and have them pay off to at least some degree. India’s films are arguably more widespread and more widely accessible than Hollywood films, due to language, censorship, and a whole slew of other factors. All that said, I don’t think America will ever cease to dominate the world when it comes to superhero movies. Part of me wants to argue that this is because we simply do this genre the best, and perhaps if there were enough competition, it would be fair of me to say that we do it best. But as long as we have such a monopoly on the superhero genre–for better and for worse–saying that we do superhero movies best will continue to be an unsupported, underdeveloped and yet somehow totally irrefutable statement.