There may be a more specific rule governing how and why a genre sendup succeeds, one that has more to do with the maturity of the original genre. Looking back at at the spoof hits over the decades, it seems that in order to work a genre has to be at just the right stage, developed enough to be ripe for satire but not so tired the genre has already begun poking fun at itself (see under Zucker’s 1980 “Airplane,” which came at just the right post-“Airport” moment).
The first part is probably why one-off hits can’t be effectively sent up, as Bob Saget learned the hard way with his straight-to-video “Farce of the Penguins.” (And yet he never seems to learn…) The second part is why “Superhero” will eke out $40 or $50 million instead of twice that. Most actual superhero movies these days are post-superhero movies — see the self-mocking postmodernism in everything from “Superman Returns” to “The Incredibles” — so who needs a spoof? Not to mention that the definition of a superhero movie is a lot more expansive these days, as likely to encompass an anti-hero like “Hellboy” as fearless fighters in cape and spandex.
PS: When we first typed that headline we inadvertently wrote “troubling slop.” Make of that what you will.