Could 2020 Be the Year of Superhero Horror?

Morbius - Publicity still - H 2020
Courtesy of Sony Pictures
'New Mutants' and 'Morbius' are two unlikely heralds of a new direction for the genre.

Less than two weeks into January, fans have already been treated to two trailers for upcoming 2020 superhero movies with an unexpected common thread connecting them. If New Mutants and Morbius prove to be what the audience wants, could this be the year where superhero horror goes mainstream?

This isn’t, it should be noted, part of any organized trend, or even an intentional zeitgeist of any sort; New Mutants will famously be arriving in theaters two years later than originally intended, having been shot back in 2017, while Morbius continues Sony’s somewhat trend of spinning horror-themed characters out of the larger Spider-Man franchise. (I mean, Rocket Racer, the Prowler and Man-Wolf are right there ripe for the taking, but somehow it hasn't happened yet.)

Nonetheless, the coincidental releases feel as if they have the potential to shape the year in superhero movies, if only in terms of expectation and anticipation for the next step. Part of this comes from, again, an accident of timing: with the release of Avengers: Endgame last summer — and, to a lesser extent, Dark Phoenix for Fox’s X-Men franchise — 2019 felt as if it was the end of an era, suggesting something new was to come, even if what that “new” would turn out to be was anything but clear. The cross-genre appeal of “superheroes, but also scary” might feed an unconscious need for the superpowered set to go in a different direction in the wake of watching what’s likely the biggest superhero story movies can handle, in terms of scope.

(In many ways, horror feels like the most obvious reaction to the scale of Endgame, in particular; horror, when done right, is as intimate in its appeal as Endgame was expansive, meaning the genre shift could be the perfect counterweight to an intentionally overblown, if massively successful, 2019.)

Both movies also seem relatively fresh in approach; Venom aside — and there’s an argument to be made that it was a movie that approached its subject almost entirely as a horror movie, rather than a superhero/horror hybrid — there haven’t really been many horror-themed superhero movies that have made a significant impact on the public consciousness, making it seem like relatively uncharted waters. That they’re waters to be explored with characters owned by Marvel — even if neither feature is technically a Marvel Studios movie — only adds to their legitimacy and likelihood of being remembered.  

A superhero horror movement is far from a fait accompli, of course. Beyond the fact that there are a number of non-horror related superhero movies also in the pipeline for the year — with Birds of Prey arriving in theaters ahead of both New Mutants and Morbius, running the risk of distracting viewers with its glam aesthetic — there’s also the potential factor of director Scott Derrickson leaving the second Doctor Strange movie, arguably reducing its horror quotient. And if Marvel Studios is against a superhero trend happening, does that leave it much chance to actually happen?

The ultimate signifier as to whether or not we’ll see a trend of superhero horror is whether or not New Mutants and Morbius are hits, which of course comes down to whether or not either movie is any good. The answer to that question won’t be known for a few months yet, but if Warners suddenly announces a movie version of its hit zombie comic DCeased, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether or not we’re on the verge of a new trend. Which studio will get Jordan Peele to sign on as director anytime soon?