2022: The Year Superheroes Embraced Horror in a Massive Way

While there are no guarantees when it comes to predicting what audiences will show up for in theaters, horror and superheroes sit comfortably at the top of the reliable list. Transitionary phases in both MCU and DCEU resulted in more unpredictability than usual for superhero fare at the box office here in 2022. And though superhero movies have occasionally dabbled in horror over the years, 2022 undoubtedly saw them embrace the genre more than ever.

Before The Batman was released in March, director Matt Reeves described his take on the Caped Crusader as “almost a horror movie.” The suspenseful, unnerving opening sequence confirmed it. The Batman opens on Halloween, introducing this iteration of the Riddler (Paul Dano) as an eerie killer as he stalks and then murders the Gotham City mayor in his own home. It established a somber, gritty tone more akin to Se7en than your conventional superhero movie. 

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‘The Batman’

From there, the sadistic serial killer has set up a deranged game that forces Batman (Robert Pattinson) to investigate the city’s corruption and his involvement as the orphaned heir Bruce Wayne. Though the Fincher-like detective story provides most of the genre ambiance, Reeves drew from another surprising influence regarding the thrilling car chase sequence between Batman and the Penguin (Colin Farrell): John Carpenter’s Christine. In an interview, Reeves previously said of the Batmobile: “I liked the idea of the car itself as a horror figure, making an animalistic appearance to really scare the hell out of the people Batman’s pursuing.”

He succeeded; the blazing pursuit is as visually stunning as it is intense.

April finally brought the long-awaited release of Morbius, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe movie helmed by Life director Daniel Espinosa. The film follows Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto), a brilliant doctor determined to find a cure for the rare blood disease that’s afflicted him and his surrogate brother Lucien (Matt Smith) since childhood. With the help of fellow doctor Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), at least in keeping his work honest, Dr. Morbius experiments with the anti-coagulation in vampire bats. His tests cause him to inadvertently transform, granting him superpowers and a need to feed on blood.

morbius review


Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama‘s script includes a few wry winks that hint at an intended sense of humor and connections to the horror realm. Morbius transforms into the living vampire aboard the Murnau in international waters; the Murnau, of course, is a nod to Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau. The scene draws cheeky parallels to Dracula’s famous voyage across the sea on the Demeter, from Bram Stoker’s classic novel. It’s the closest Morbius comes to fully leaning into horror; it otherwise plays out as a quip-filled action-horror hybrid meant to set up future entries.

Sam Raimi returned to the world of superheroes this year, a first since 2007’s Spider-Man 3, with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Raimi easily slips back into his horror filmmaking roots and manages to infuse this sequel with as much horror as the MCU allows him. The plot sees Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) traversing the multiverse in a bid to protect America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from a now evil Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

Multiverse of Madness Disney+

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’

The script by Loki writer Michael Waldron lets demons and zombies run amok, but Raimi takes it a step further with his physical horror and horror-comedy sensibilities. Eyeballs get gouged, deaths hurt, characters literally wrestle with their inner demons, and the trademark demonic POV tracking shot makes an appearance. Callbacks to earlier works sneak in for the eagle-eyed fan, and Raimi even injects a few effective jump scares in his bid to make the antagonist an imposing and intimidating figure. Even though most of this sequel feels more about advancing the current phase of the MCU, Raimi’s filmmaking and horror sensibilities reinvigorate the formula a bit.

The MCU also kicked the horror into overdrive for Halloween with the October release Werewolf by Night. The nearly hour-long feature presents as a classic horror movie, dropping viewers into the middle of a secret world of monster hunters. Film composer Michael Giacchino directs the special, penned by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron. Giacchino focuses on evoking the classic horror vibe to assist in the initial worldbuilding. The events play out in monochrome, save for the vibrant red glow of the Bloodstone. Cigarette burns and film grain get added for that retro look. The rules of the hunt get relayed to the cutthroat candidates by way of reanimated dead, albeit in a much campier and family-friendly way via animatronics.

Aside from the aesthetics, Werewolf leans heavily into the mysterious. The black and white cinematography more than sets the retro vibe; it allows the feature to remain accessible to a wider audience even as it lets its monsters and monster hunters spill plenty of blood. Toss in a Jack Pierce-inspired beast with practical application, and you’ve got a modern superhero story with a classic Universal Monsters makeover. Here’s to hoping we see more from werewolf Jack Russell (Gael Carcia Bernal) and his monstrous Man-Thing buddy in the future.

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‘Werewolf by Night’

The horror-superhero crossover trend will continue beyond 2022, too. Currently, MCU’s reboot of Blade is set for 2024, with Mahershala Ali starring in the lead role. Horror’s mainstream appeal and a current reappraisal for 2005’s Constantine have officially reignited that property as well; an R-rated sequel is now in development. And The Toxic Avenger reimagining, helmed by Macon Blair (“Swamp Thing,” Green Room), is all but guaranteed to push the R-rating and horror further than its MCU and DCEU counterparts. It is, after all, rated R for “strong gore.

Who knows what other spooky superhero surprises are in store, but the more, the merrier. After all, horror bleeding over into different genres is always more than welcome.

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