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The latest superhero backlash: Disney CEO says Scorsese and Coppola can ‘bitch about movies’ if they want

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There’s a war brewing between some of Hollywood’s most revered directors and fans of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the latter camp just got some help from Disney CEO, Bob Iger.

At a Wall Street Journal conference in California on Tuesday night, Iger was asked about recent criticisms Academy Award-winning directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola leveled against comic book movies. Scorsese compared Marvel movies to theme park rides; while Coppola went one step further, calling superhero flicks “despicable.” Iger responded directly to Coppola’s choice of word, stating “I reserve the word ‘despicable’ for someone who committed mass murder.”

Various actors and directors involved in Marvel projects, including Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, and Jon Favreau have spoken out about the comments, but Iger’s are the most condemning. The Disney CEO said he was “puzzled” by the criticism, adding that it’s “disrespectful to all the people who work on those films.”

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“If they want to bitch about movies, it’s certainly their right,” Iger said, as reported by The Wrap. “Are you telling me that Ryan Coogler making Black Panther is doing something that somehow or another is less than anything Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola has ever done on any one of their movies? Come on.”

Scorsese and Coppola’s comments can be seen as inflammatory, but neither attacked any individual filmmaker. Instead, the comments were directed at the state of Hollywood right now. Netflix is distributing Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman,  reportedly in part because major studios didn’t want to take a chance on the $160 million budget. That’s less than what a studio might spend on a Transformers movie, but blockbuster films are seen as more potentially lucrative because they tend to perform better at the global box office. Director Ken Loach told Sky News that superhero films are “a cynical exercise that has nothing to do with the art of cinema.”

It’s true that blockbuster films, recently including a huge wave of superhero movies, dominate the theatrical calendar. Disney is set to release four Marvel movies in 2021: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and a third Spider-Man movie in partnership with Story Pictures. That doesn’t account for Warner Bros.’ DC film slate or other superhero projects from other studios. It also doesn’t include the slate of new Marvel Studios TV shows on Disney+ that will weave in and out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers,” Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn said in an Instagram post.

Studios’ current bias toward epic-scale escapist movies can be maddening for legacy directors of more adult-oriented dramas, many who have spoken out against the current film landscape. Netflix has become a go-to spot for directors who want to produce other types of films, with some crediting the streaming platform by taking a chance on more independent projects. Netflix is starting to release more of its original films in theaters, as part of a push to court awards and mainstream attention. That’s given directors a chance at theatrical releases, even though Netflix is still a subscriber-oriented streaming platform first and foremost.

Still, it’s important not to lose sight of what Scorsese actually said. His comments weren’t a condemnation of Marvel movies so much as a nostalgic longing for a version of Hollywood that doesn’t exist anymore. And Iger’s defense — or Stan’s and Downey Jr.’s…..isn’t a shot at Scorsese and Coppola’s brilliance; it’s embracing a cinematic world that has connected them with fans around the world.

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

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