Are Fanboys Over?

Something I've been wondering about for a while: Does the mainstream success of superhero movies, as well as genre entertainment in general, mean that fanboy opprobrium is pretty much a spent force?

There was a time back in the '90s and early '00s when fan reaction was, if ultimately irrelevant to the success or failure of a particular movie, still considered by the mainstream media to be a valuable index of a movie's cultural impact. Batman & Robin was ridiculed roundly in the fan press months before its premiere; the negative advance publicity stirred up by sites like Harry Knowles' then-fledgling Ain't It Cool News was considered to be a major factor in the movie's disappointing box office. The Phantom Menace was the biggest hit of 1999, and had a very high Cinemascore rating from moviegoers, but today it's remembered as a movie that everybody hated, due in large part to fans who despised Jar Jar and Jake Lloyd's acting. The Matrix received rapturous praise from fans who enjoyed the kung-fu cyberpunk action and meticulously developed future setting; the goodwill quickly ran out with the two sequels, which are considered by most people to be total failures, even though they collectively earned a billion dollars worldwide. Lost and Battlestar Galactica were much-loved, insanely popular series, followed by legions of viewers who pored over every detail, but thanks to abysmal finales they are effectively dead in the minds not just of those obsessive fans, but everybody else as well.

Flash-forward to the present and there's still plenty of contention among hardcore fanboys about movies based on comics, et al., but the controversies tend to be non-starters, like the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall, or Tauriel in the Hobbit movies. (Remember, Peter Jackson actually filmed scenes of Arwen fighting at Helm's Deep for Two Towers, but cut them for fear of fan backlash.) J.J. Abrams made a couple of Star Trek movies that Trekkers vociferously despised; they made a ton of money, though, and now he has the keys to the Star Wars franchise. The latest non-starter is probably the casting in the new Fantastic Four movie, though this seems to be generating very little controversy. Make no mistake, there probably are fans who hate the idea of Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, or, more discomfortingly, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. But the media doesn't seem to be courting them as aggressively as they would have in the early days of the Internet Flame Wars. Hell, even M. Night Shyamalan can keep making shitty adaptations of beloved anime classics — dude is fireproof, European Pacing and all.

My theory, then, is this: Fanboys aren't going anywhere, but they are no longer seen as the keepers of the lore. Everybody and their mom has seen Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, so even regular people know who Tony Stark, Loki, and Steve Rogers are. Plenty of people know that if you compare a business meeting to "the Red Wedding," it probably was an uncomfortable affair. You can probably even get away with Watchmen jokes now, this stuff is so ubiquitous. Where fanboys' opinions were once seen as authoritative, in a weird, esoteric fashion, now they're just mere consumers like the rest of us. And as much as they might rage about changes made to their favorite characters, like the portrayal of Superman in Man of Steel, or the casting of Affleck as Batman in the sequel/JLA spinoff/whatever, it's not going to have much of an impact on the public perception of such things, because now the public has its very fine opinions about the same things as well.