17:41 24 August 2020
There are more superhero movies than ever before. Love them or hate them, superhero movies are here to stay, but what is it that makes them so popular? With sell out midnight showings of the latest Avengers instalment and the often-rabid online discourse about missteps and mistakes in the film's content, it's almost impossible to avoid the cultural impact that superheroes have had. Here are the top three reasons why superhero movies are so popular and why they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Long gone are the days when comic fans were bullied during lunchtime at school by the jocks. Now, nerds are billionaires, and they have more power than ever. The rise of the internet saw geek culture reach entirely new levels, and the Venn diagram of comic fans and tech geeks is almost a perfect circle. Those nerds can look back at those bullies who still work dead-end jobs and dreaming about that touchdown they once scored, while nerds can watch on the big screen as the heroes that mattered to them growing up come to life in full HD glory. Now, nerds are the bosses, and those nerds want more superhero movies.
If you look at the most popular superhero movies by country, like in this superhero movie Cash Lady survey, some interesting patterns emerge. If you think that a superhero movie is nothing more than blockbuster entertainment with pretty colours and big explosions, then you're not looking closely enough. All fiction is saying something, and superhero themes and narratives are both reflective of the society they take place in and forging their own messages within those societies. Captain America punching Nazis, the X-Men fighting for civil rights, and Wonder Woman tackling misogyny and war, are all saying something that reflects social change. A small subset of comic fans think that diversity is ruining the industry, but comics have always led with social messages that impacted those that read them. In these politically turbulent times, having those messages on the big screen is therapeutic and persuasive.
Of course, the main reason why comic book movies are so popular now is that they can be made right. The best actors in the world would not have been able to overcome special effects issues, and previous attempts at Batman, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man were very limited in what they could translate from those comic book sources. This Inverse review of the 1970s Spider-Man highlights those issues. Now, CGI means that anything that can be imagined can be shown on the big screen, so those old Jack Kirby panels and Moebius covers can be shown in all their glory. Although there were some successes in the genre before CGI (the Hulk TV show, Batman '66), they had to be very creative in how they showed the comic book action. Just as other genres had their heyday, superhero movies are going through theirs. Look at classic genres like the Casino film, and how this type is harder to find these days (but not impossible). For filmmakers, it's simply a matter of looking at 80 years of the best comic book stories and images and turning them into something that will blow people's minds.
Now that they have a firm foothold on the pop culture landscape don't expect to see the hype around a new superhero movie fade anytime soon.