Superhero movies popularity still flying high

Hollywood aims at themes that have built an audience

Can anything stop them?

In a world that delivers tragedy in minutes, today’s society is constantly battered by upsetting news. At the end of the day, the search for healthy ways to take a temporary leave from reality has led many people to movie theaters and into the exciting land of comic books.

Jan and her son, Matt, head into the AMC Cherry Creek 8 theatre on Dec. 5. Photo by Brianna Federico | bfederi4@msudenver.edu

In 2017 alone, DC Comics and Marvel came out with “Logan,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Wonder Woman,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Justice League.” Combined, those movies have earned over $1.9 billion this year, proving that they’re not just for comic book fans. Both studios have flourished in the last 20 years, with an abundance of movies still on the way. The superhero motion picture trend is flying faster than a speeding bullet, and not even the powerful Magneto is enough to stop its momentum.

“Hollywood loves blockbusters and intellectual property that has a built in audience,” said Eric Page, entertainment marketing professional and On Air promotion writer and producer. “After Marvel’s multi-billion dollar success, every studio wants to invest in the multiverse strategy and cash in on franchises that can generate sequel and prequel box office successes.”

Depending on one’s age, the era of cinema superheroes began with different movies for different fans. Professional actor Danny Vieira remembered watching the original “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve, released in 1978, at the age of five.

“It’s said to have been the most expensive movie made, up to that point, and was a critical and financial success,” Vieira said. “It was nominated for three Academy Awards, which I think helped show people that the superhero genre could be seen as more than just kids’ stuff. It also showed that you could make sequels based on a popular comic book character.”

For event host and creative director Elijah Montoya, the age of superheroes began with “Batman Forever,” which was one of the first comic book movies he remembered watching. Montoya said there was a big shift in the genre when Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy made an impact on how audience members viewed superhero movies.

“All the movies before that had this really campy atmosphere to them, they were kind of, like, silly,” Montoya said. “Then, the first time they were bad ass was when Nolan did ‘Batman Begins’, and I think that one was like putting your toes in the water. And then, I think ‘Dark Knight,’ with Heath Ledger, that one was like, holy crap, superhero movies have arrived.”

Although movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool” have a more comical flavor, the X-Men movies have been tackling serious issues, in the guise of mutants, for some time. The plight of mutants have often been compared to people of color or LGBTQ people. This year’s “Logan” took a more somber stance than previous Wolverine movies, but earned more at the box office than the previous Wolverine movies. Whether they are more fun or more dramatic, they’ve developed a formula that pulls in crowds.

“I’m guessing the timeline of successful superhero features had more to do with the ownership of movie rights as well as the state of technology required to create convincing superhero action on screen,” Page said. “Warner Brothers owned the DC titles while Marvel’s intellectual property was licensed to various studios. Marvel really came into its own with the release of ‘Iron Man’ and the initiation of their cinematic universe from Marvel Studios.”

Chris Hemsworth’s as Thor in “Thor: Ragnarok.” The movie is just one of many superhero movies from Marvel to hit the theatres in 2017. Photo courtesy of the Independent.

As long as people keep paying out, studios will continue to make the movies. Besides the films themselves, there is profit coming from other avenues. Vieira felt that superhero movies started to become popular and realize their profit potential with Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989.

“Movies create toy revenue, animated television potentially turns into feature length films, and the video game market really blew up around that time. So I think studios realized there was a potential gold mine there if they played their cards right,” Vieira said.

So far, they’ve played a full house at almost every hand, even when the movie is considered a failure. Both “Elektra” in 2005 and “Green Lantern” in 2011 did poorly compared to most superhero movies, but when the box office earnings are compared to production budgets, they still made a small profit. But with the familiar tropes in almost every film, it’s difficult to say how long the public will continue to look forward to the next big superhero movie with anticipation.

“Personally, I think the next evolution in the genre is going to come in the form of more idiosyncratic directors putting their stamp on some of these stories,” Page said.

“The genre needs room for the next wave of Tim Burtons to come along and explode the genre beyond the source material and still keep the essence of what made the characters so great in the first place. Taking these characters with abilities and moving into other genres like the western feel of ‘Logan,’ the comedic approach of ‘Thor: Ragarnok’ or next year’s horror tinged ‘New Mutants.’ I’m convinced that’s where the future of superhero film will bear new fruit,” he said.

The studios’ next moves will determine whether they continue to thrive. In the meantime, we can continue to temporarily escape from this world to the world of comic books, as our favorite heroes save the world and our state of mind.

 

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