For more than a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been dominating Hollywood like nothing else.
The franchise, which now spans more than 30 films and over a dozen TV series, has featured many of the biggest names in cinema, including Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson and Florence Pugh.
Among viewers and professionals, however, the franchise remains polarising. Many filmmakers and actors have condemned the MCU and its role in the recent superhero craze, which has restricted broader opportunities for original blockbusters.
Most famously, Wolf of Wall Street filmmaker Martin Scorsese compared the franchise to “theme park” attractions in 2019.
His comments were met with outrage from the Marvel fanbase. In recent years, however, the number of celebrities to have spoken out against Marvel movies has grown, with directors, actors and others complaining about the franchise’s dominance.
Sometimes, dissent even arises from Marvel stars themselves, including Anthony Hopkins and Christian Bale.
Here are 17 of the most prominent voices to have taken aim at the MCU….
Speaking to Variety in 2019, Aniston lamented the film industry’s obsession with Marvel movies, explaining that it was behind her decision to sign onto the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show. “It wasn’t until the last couple of years when these streaming services were just sort of exploding with this amount of quality that I actually started to think, ‘Wow, that’s better than what I just did’,” she said.
“And then you’re seeing what’s available out there and it’s just diminishing and diminishing in terms of, it’s big Marvel movies. Or things that I’m not just asked to do or really that interested in living in a green screen.”
The Thor: Love and Thunder star didn’t write off the MCU itself, but spoke negatively of his experience starring in the film in an interview last year.
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“I mean, the definition of it is monotony,” he said. “You’ve got good people. You’ve got other actors who are far more experienced at it than me.
“Can you differentiate one day from the next? No. Absolutely not. You have no idea what to do. I couldn’t even differentiate one stage from the next.”
Bale as Gorr the God Butcher in ‘Thor: Love & Thunder’ (Marvel)
Avatar filmmaker James Cameron criticised the MCU’s approach to character-building, telling The New York Times: “When I look at these big, spectacular films – I’m looking at you, Marvel and DC – it doesn’t matter how old the characters are, they all act like they’re in college. They have relationships, but they really don’t.
“They never hang up their spurs because of their kids. The things that really ground us and give us power, love, and a purpose? Those characters don’t experience it, and I think that’s not the way to make movies.”
In January 2022, the True Lies director further averred that Marvel films “don’t feel epic”.
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather and Apocalypse Now filmmaker didn’t mince his words when discussing Marvel films in 2019. Speaking at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, he concurred with Scorsese’s criticism of the franchise, which was then in the news.
“When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
He continued: “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
Francis Ford Coppola at the 2022 Oscars (A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)
In a 2021 interview with The Independent, Blade star Stephen Dorff issued a damning indictment of Marvel movies, stating that he was “embarrassed” for Black Widow actor Scarlett Johansson.
“I still hunt out the good s*** because I don’t want to be in Black Widow,” he said. “It looks like garbage to me. It looks like a bad video game. I’m embarrassed for those people. I’m embarrassed for Scarlett! I’m sure she got paid five, seven million bucks, but I’m embarrassed for her.
“I don’t want to be in those movies. I really don’t. I’ll find that kid director that’s gonna be the next Kubrick and I’ll act for him instead.”
He later doubled down on the criticism of superhero movies, telling The Daily Beast: “I mean, God bless them, they’re making a bunch of money, but their movies suck [laughs]. And nobody’s going to remember them.”
As Iron Man’s Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr can take a large part of the credit for the MCU’s success; he would go on to portray the quippy hero in 10 films across the franchise, ending with Avengers: Endgame in 2019.
While he has spoken positively about the series on plenty of occasions, a recent interview with The New York Times saw him throw a bit of shade in the direction of the franchise. Speaking about playing a role in Oppenheimer after a decade in the MCU, Downey said: “You start to wonder if a muscle you have hasn’t atrophied.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Downey was also presented with a list of movies, and was asked which of them he would describe as “content”. While he described his 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and 1986’s Back to School as “not content”, he branded Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) “content”.
Robert Downey Jr in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (Marvel Studios)
Independence Day’s Roland Emmerich accused Marvel, DC and Star Wars films of “ruining” the film industry in a 2022 interview.
The director said: “Naturally Marvel and DC Comics, and Star Wars, have pretty much taken over. It’s ruining our industry a little bit, because nobody does anything original anymore.”
Speaking to Radio Times in 2018, director and two-time Oscar-winning actor Jodie Foster likened superhero movies to fracking, and claimed that Marvel and DC movies were “ruining” the world’s viewing habits.
They’re made as commodities like hamburgers
“Going to the movies has become like a theme park,” she said. “Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking — you get the best return right now but you wreck the earth.
“It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world.”
Hopkins appeared in several MCU films, having been cast as the Norse god Odin in 2011’s Thor.
In interviews, the revered thespian has been dismissive of his role, telling The New York Times: “They put me in armour; they shoved a beard on me. Sit on the throne; shout a bit. If you’re sitting in front of a green screen, it’s pointless acting it.”
Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins in ‘Thor: The Dark World’ (Marvel Studios)
Acclaimed British filmmaker Ken Loach chipped in with criticism in 2019, comparing Marvel films to “commodities like hamburgers”.
“They’re made as commodities like hamburgers,” he told Sky News, “and it’s not about communicating and it’s not about sharing our imagination. It’s about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation – they’re a cynical exercise.
“They’re market exercise and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said ‘when money is discussed – art is impossible’.”
Controversial French filmmaker Gaspar Noé condemned Marvel films in strong terms in a 2022 interview with The Independent.
Noé said: “It’s like the question, did Hitler create Nazi Germany or did Nazi Germany create Hitler?
“Do you think the Marvel movies are turning the Americans stupid or is the whole of America turning so stupid that they need such stupid movies to represent their minds?”
In 2015, Mission: Impossible star Simon Pegg suggested that Marvel films were leading to the infantalisation of cinemagoing audiences.
“I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema,” he said. “But part of me looks at society as it is now and thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. We’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!
“It is a kind of dumbing down because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”
Simon Pegg (Getty Images)
Speaking to AP in 2021, Milk actor Sean Penn lamented that Marvel films have “taken up the space and claimed so much time in the careers of so many talented people”.
He then claimed to miss cinema that isn’t “just razzle-dazzle, Cirque de Soleil movies”.
The Wrestler star Mickey Rourke is no stranger to the MCU, having played a villain in the 2011 critical flop Iron Man 2. In 2021, while praising his co-stars on Law & Order: SVU, Rourke took a swipe at Marvel.
“Respect to all of you, the work that you all do is real acting, not like that crap that all on Marvel s***,” he wrote on Instagram.
He had previously criticised Iron Man2’s creators for cutting several of his scenes. “If they want to make mindless comic book movies, then I don’t want to be a part of that,” he said in the wake of the film’s release. “You know, I didn’t work for three months on the accent and all the adjustments and go to Russia just so I could end up on the floor.”
Mickey Rourke in ‘Iron Man 2′ (Marvel Studios)
In 2019, the monolithic Raging Bull director touched a nerve with Marvel fans when he claimed that the franchise was “not cinema” and was akin to theme park rides.
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” he said, in an interview with Empire. “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.”
Outspoken Gladiator filmmaker Ridley Scott let his opinion on the Marvel franchise be known in a 2021 interview, branding the superhero genre “boring as s***”.
“The best films are driven by the characters,” he said, “and we’ll come to superheroes after this if you want, because I’ll crush it. I’ll f***ing crush it. They’re f***ing boring as s***.
Describing his biggest “gripe” about superhero movies, Scott continued: “Their scripts are not any f***ing good. I think I’ve done three great scripted superhero movies. One would be Alien with Sigourney Weaver. One would be f***ing Gladiator, and one would be [Blade Runner].
“They’re superhero movies. So, why don’t the superhero movies have better stories? Sorry. I got off the rail, but I mean, c’mon. They’re mostly saved by special effects, and that’s becoming boring for everyone who works with special effects, if you’ve got the money.”
Ridley Scott is known for directing ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Gladiator’ (AFP via Getty Images)
The Pulp Fiction provocateur appeared to criticise “the Marvel-isation of Hollywood” in a 2022 podcast interview.
“Part of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood is… you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters,” he said. “But they’re not movie stars. Right?
“Captain America is the star. Or Thor is the star. I mean, I’m not the first person to say that.”
In another interview later that year, Tarantino said that modern filmmakers “can’t wait for the day” that superhero movies die out, condemning the genre’s “chokehold” on the industry.
From actors to filmmakers, the hit superhero franchise has ruffled more than a few feathers in its time. Louis Chilton looks at some of the most memorable criticisms Read More